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Tomorrow, the Biden administration is expected to announce a long-awaited executive order that will temporarily pause new drilling and fracking for fossil fuels on publicly-owned lands and waters. Permanently halting new fracking on federal land was one of Biden's clearest commitments during the presidential campaign.
In response, Food & Water Watch Executive Director Wenonah Hauter released the following statement:
"A pause on drilling and fracking is good news, but only if it is followed by a strong plan to permanently ban all dirty energy extraction on public lands. The simple truth is that we need to stop drilling and fracking everywhere, as soon as possible. The federal government has the power -- and the moral responsibility -- to get off fossil fuels, and doing so on publicly-owned land sends a positive message that the Biden administration is serious about confronting this issue head-on. Now they must prove it by making this temporary fracking pause permanent and continuing to tackle fossil fuel development and infrastructure everywhere it exists."
Food & Water Watch in 2011 became the first national organization to call for a national ban on fracking, and in 2013 helped form and lead the national coalition Americans Against Fracking, which championed a ban on fracking on public lands.
Food & Water Watch mobilizes regular people to build political power to move bold and uncompromised solutions to the most pressing food, water, and climate problems of our time. We work to protect people's health, communities, and democracy from the growing destructive power of the most powerful economic interests.(202) 683-2500
"Piping water into the sea is an outrage," said one Japanese fisher angered by the plan to release radioactive wastewater into the ocean. "The sea is not a garbage dump."
Critics of a Japanese plan to release filtered radioactive wastewater from the Fukushima nuclear disaster into the Pacific Ocean intensified their opposition to the proposal on Wednesday after the United Nations agency responsible for promoting nuclear energy said the company that operated the plant has adequately demonstrated its ability to measure the water's radioactivity.
The U.N.'s International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) this week released a report that found the Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO)—the operator of the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station that was catastrophically damaged during a 2011 meltdown in three reactors caused by an earthquake and tsunami—"has demonstrated its capabilities for accurate and precise measurements of the radionuclides present in the treated water stored on site."
While proponents of the Japanese government's 2021 proposal to gradually release more than 1 million metric tons of filtered Fukushima wastewater into the Pacific view the IAEA's latest findings as a milestone on the road toward realizing the plan, opponents renewed their calls to keep the radioactive water out of the ocean.
"It's applying a 19th-century 'dilution is the solution to pollution' approach to a problem that really should be dealt with in a much more modern way."
"Piping water into the sea is an outrage. The sea is not a garbage dump," 71-year-old Haruo Ono, who has been fishing off the coast of Fukushima his entire life, toldCBS News. "The company says it's safe, but the consequences could catch up with us 50 years down the road."
Kinzaburo Shiga, a 77-year-old, third-generation fisher from Fukushima, toldCNN the government's plan makes his "blood boil."
"I know that the government has decided to go ahead with the policy of releasing treated wastewater into the sea, but for us fishers, it really feels like they made this decision without our full consent," he said.
\u201c12 years after the Fukushima nuclear disaster, Japan is set to gradually release tons of filtered wastewater from the nuclear plant.\n\n@MarcReporting speaks to fishermen who fear that the move will undermine consumer confidence in their catches.\n\nRead more: https://t.co/07TCL0lmMs\u201d— CNN International PR (@CNN International PR) 1681912354
Fears of radioactive contamination from the planned wastewater release have prompted protests from the governments of China, South Korea, some Pacific island nations, and international environmental groups like Greenpeace, which argues the proposal violates international law.
"Continuing with ocean discharge plans at this time is simply inconceivable," Henry Puna, secretary general of the Pacific Islands Forum intergovernmental group, wrote earlier this year. "I fear that, if left unchecked, the region will once again be headed towards a major nuclear contamination disaster at the hands of others."
Lee Jae-myung, a South Korean opposition lawmaker from the centrist Democratic Party, said earlier this month that "Japan is putting forward claims that the contaminated water from the Fukushima nuclear power plant, if treated, is safe enough to drink."
"If it is safe enough to drink, they should use it as drinking water," he added.
Last week, a team of 21 South Korean nuclear experts visited the Fukushima site to inspect equipment and facilities that would be used during the proposed wastewater release.
\u201cS. Korea's Fukushima inspection team says "further analysis" needed to verify wastewater's safety\n\nhttps://t.co/kfnhWunNhG \n\n#Fukushima_inspection #Fukushima_nuclear_power_plant #YooGukhee #radioactive_water #\uc720\uad6d\ud76c #\ud6c4\ucfe0\uc2dc\ub9c8_\uc6d0\uc790\ub825\ubc1c\uc804\uc18c #\uc624\uc5fc\uc218\uc2dc\ucc30\ub2e8 #Arirang_News #\uc544\ub9ac\ub791\ub274\uc2a4\u201d— Arirang News (@Arirang News) 1685510269
"This visit has made significant progress in the process of scientific and technological review through direct on-site confirmation and more detailed data acquisition, but additional analysis and confirmation work is planned for more precise judgment," said Yoo Gook-hee, head of the inspection team, according to World Nuclear News. "Based on this, we plan to comprehensively evaluate Japan's plans for Fukushima-related water pollution and disclose the results."
The Korea Heraldreported Wednesday that the team of experts would conduct an additional review.
The wastewater release plan has also sparked popular protests in South Korea, where 85% of people oppose the proposal, according to a survey released last week by the Korea Federation for Environmental Movements.
\u201cA new study by @kfem found that 8 out of 10 Koreans oppose the Japanese government\u2019s plan to discharge contaminated water from the #Fukushima nuclear plant into the ocean. https://t.co/fUYRLzTnN9\u201d— FoE Asia Pacific (@FoE Asia Pacific) 1685464829
"The Pacific Ocean is not some dump where contaminated water from Fukushima can be deposited. Japan must comply with [United Nations] conventions and the U.N.'s vision of protecting the oceans," a coalition of South Korean activists said in a statement ahead of a May 22 demonstration in Seoul's Gwanghwamun Plaza, according toThe Hankyoreh.
"Since the Pacific is the largest ocean in the world, pollution in the Pacific would soon spread to every ocean in the world," the activists added.
Common Dreamsreported in 2012 that fish contaminated with radioactive cesium from Fukushima were found off the California coast months after the disaster.
Nuclear and public health experts have also weighed in against dumping radioactive wastewater into the ocean, even as others argued the plan poses "zero risk to human life."
\u201cWhat will happen when a million tons of Fukushima's nuclear wastewater is released into the ocean? \n\nJapan's government says there's no risk, but local fishermen and environmentalists are concerned.\u201d— DW News (@DW News) 1678507609
Tilman Ruff, an Australian infectious diseases and public health physician who co-founded of the Nobel Peace Prize-winning International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons, said during a Friday Australian Broadcasting Corporationinterviewthat dumping Fukushima water into the Pacific would be "a really unfortunate regressive step."
"It's applying a 19th-century 'dilution is the solution to pollution' approach to a problem that really should be dealt with in a much more modern way," he continued. "They haven't really considered adequate alternatives to store this water to use it in ways that don't have long-term transboundary and transgenerational impacts across the Pacific."
Ruff said the best course of action would be to "clean the water as best you can, then use it in concrete for structural applications like building foundations, bridges, under roads, where it's not gonna have a lot of contact with people, and where some of the important radioactive releases… will be trapped in the concrete, where it's much safer."
"There are also options of long-term storage, because radioactive materials decay over time," he added.
\u201c'Tilman Ruff says the danger is that dumping the contaminated water could settle on the sea floor or concentrate up the food chain.'\n\n#Fukushima #nuclear #nuclearenergy\nhttps://t.co/4inM9q5LU2\u201d— Dr Paul Dorfman (@Dr Paul Dorfman) 1685265051
Marcos Orellana, the United Nations special rapporteur on the implications for human rights of the environmentally sound management and disposal of hazardous substances and wastes, toldAl Jazeera earlier this month that he does not believe the IAEA is the neutral body it claims to be.
"The IAEA has a mandate to accelerate and enlarge peaceful atomic energy," he said. "Why would the IAEA, on the same day that Japan announced its decision to discharge the contaminated water... come out publicly in support of Japan?"
"How this impacts the food chain, how this impacts human health, this is not at all clear," Orellana added. "Alternatives are expensive, but even more expensive is the cost of contaminating the Pacific Ocean for hundreds of years with radioactive substances."
"Over a five-year period, defendants engaged in over 130 violations of federal law, thereby posing health and safety risks to the public and the environment," said U.S. Attorney Christopher R. Kavanaugh.
The U.S. Department of Justice on Wednesday sued Republican West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice's family coal empire in federal court for millions of dollars in unpaid penalties, fees, and interest for dozens of legal violations.
The two-term governor—who is seeking U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin's (D-W.Va.) seat in next year's election—is not named in the civil suit but his son, James "Jay" Justice III, is, as the owner or operator of the 13 defendant companies.
Politiconoted that "although the suit doesn't name the elder Justice, he's faced scrutiny before for the unpaid fines as well as reports that he's still maintained a firm grip on the family business."
Assistant Attorney General Todd Kim of the Justice Department's Environment and Natural Resources Division said in a statement that "our environmental laws serve to protect communities against adverse effects of industrial activities including surface coal mining operations."
"Through this suit, the Justice Department seeks to deliver accountability for defendants' repeated violations of the law and to recover the penalties they owe as a result of those violations," Kim added.
"The filing of this complaint continues the process of holding defendants accountable for jeopardizing the health and safety of the public and our environment."
The department's complaint accuses the 13 coal companies of violating their legal obligations under the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act (SMCRA), or permits issued under the law, and failing "to pay uncontested penalties assessed for their uncontested violations."
"Defendants have been cited for over 130 violations and have failed to pay over $5 million in civil penalties assessed by the Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement (OSMRE)," the filing states. "In addition, certain defendants also collectively owe, and have not paid, over $190,000 in abandoned mine land (AML) reclamation fee debts."
When interest, late payment penalties, and administrative expenses are included, the defendants owe approximately $7.6 million, according to the Justice Department—which took legal action on behalf of the OSMRE, a branch of the Interior Department.
"Over a five-year period, defendants engaged in over 130 violations of federal law, thereby posing health and safety risks to the public and the environment," said U.S. Attorney Christopher R. Kavanaugh for the Western District of Virginia.
“After given notice, they then failed to remedy those violations and were ordered over 50 times to cease mining activities until their violations were abated," Kavanaugh explained. "Today, the filing of this complaint continues the process of holding defendants accountable for jeopardizing the health and safety of the public and our environment."
Justice took office as a Democrat in January 2017 and later that year, at a rally with Republican then-President Donald Trump, announced he was returning to the GOP. His online biography boasts about various business ventures, stating that after his father's death, "Jim launched a massive expansion of multiple businesses which included significant coal reserve expansion, Christmas tree farms, cotton gins, turfgrass operations, golf courses, timber enhancement, and land projects."
The 72-year-old "has dozens of business holdings listed on his annual state ethics disclosures," West Virginia's MetroNewsreported Wednesday. "The governor has not placed most of his family's holdings in a blind trust but has repeatedly said the responsibility of running the businesses has been passed on to Jay and adult daughter Jill Justice."
During a Wednesday briefing, the governor reportedly reiterated that he does not control the coal companies' day-to-day operations and said that "the Biden administration is aware of the fact that with a win for the U.S. Senate, and everything, we could very well flip the Senate. You know, government agencies can sometimes surely react, and this could be something in regard to that."
"But with all that being said—as I've said over and over, and you've seen it a thousand, million times—when something comes up and someone rears an ugly head, do we run and jump in a hole and die? We don’t do that," Justice added. "You know, my son and my daughter and our companies will always fulfill obligations, every single one, and absolutely at the end of the day have we not done it and done it and done it?"
MetroNewspointed out that in 2019, under Trump, federal prosecutors filed a similar $4.7 million lawsuit against several Justice coal companies stemming from nearly 2,300 citations—which resulted in a 2020 settlement. Earlier this month, prosecutors filed a motion over those companies' failure to make four consecutive payments since February.
The new suit comes after the East Carolina University Center for Survey Research on Tuesday released polling results which show that in a hypothetical 2024 U.S. Senate race between Justice and Manchin, the governor has a 22-point lead, securing support from 54% of registered West Virginia voters compared with the 32% who said they would support the incumbent.
The 75-year-old Democratic senator—who has come under fire nationally for serving fossil fuel interests and thwarting his own party's agenda—has not yet said whether he plans to seek reelection. However, there has been speculation that he may instead run for president next year. Manchin
said in a statement last month, "Make no mistake, I will win any race I enter."
Sens. Bernie Sanders and Patty Murray warned that the looming expiration of emergency funds "will likely force providers to lay off staff or shut down."
Already among the worst and least affordable in the developed world, the U.S. childcare system could soon be "pushed closer to the brink of collapse" if Congress doesn't act before emergency federal funding runs dry at the end of September.
That grave warning is at the heart of a report released Tuesday by Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Patty Murray (D-Wash.), top members of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee.
Sanders, the chair of the panel, summarized the report's findings during a HELP Committee hearing on Wednesday, noting that more than $37 billion in pandemic relief funding approved under the American Rescue Plan and other legislation helped keep the nation's fragmented childcare sector afloat during the deadly public health crisis.
"This funding kept over 200,000 childcare providers in business, sustained childcare for nearly 10 million kids, and prevented a million childcare workers from losing their jobs," the Vermont senator said Wednesday, referring to the $24 billion in Child Care Stabilization Grant (CCSG) funds approved under the American Rescue Plan, which Biden signed in March 2021.
All 50 states as well as Washington, D.C., Puerto Rico, Guam, Northern Mariana, and the U.S. Virgin Islands operated Child Care Stabilization programs during the pandemic, according to the Biden White House, and 90% of providers that received funding from the federal grant program said the money helped them keep their doors open during the coronavirus crisis.
"That is the good news," Sanders said Tuesday. "The bad news is that if Congress does nothing, this funding will expire on September 30th of this year, making a very bad situation even worse."
\u201cLIVE: Every family in America deserves high quality, affordable child care and every child care worker deserves a livable wage. The HELP Committee is holding a hearing NOW on how we can make that a reality. https://t.co/ogDf1n1TV0\u201d— Bernie Sanders (@Bernie Sanders) 1685541749
Citing survey responses from more than 12,000 early childhood educators, the new report says the end of the emergency federal funding could force many childcare providers to raise prices for families, serve fewer children, or slash wages for childcare workers who are already badly underpaid.
By law, states have until September 30 to distribute the federal money provided under the American Rescue Plan.
"Just as these grants helped to temporarily fill a gap in funding in the childcare sector," the report notes, "they will likely leave programs with a significant hole when funding runs out on September 30, 2023."
Childcare workers and advocates across the country have been bracing for the end of federal funding for months and sounding the alarm about the consequences of inaction.
In a July 2022 letter, dozens of national organizations warned congressional leaders that failure to make new investments in the nation's funding-starved childcare sector would shove the system "closer to a catastrophic funding cliff that will affect America's entire economy, resulting in higher prices and longer waitlists for families and reduced access to quality care for children, while lower wages push more early educators out of the field."
That letter was sent shortly before Congress passed the Inflation Reduction Act, legislation that was gutted by Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and other right-wing Democrats.
Childcare provisions were stripped out of the bill entirely.
"How can a working family, making $50,000 or $60,000 a year, afford to spend $15,000 or $30,000 on childcare?"
Murray, the former chair of the Senate HELP Committee, said in a statement Tuesday that "failing to invest in childcare means failing to invest in our economy—it means worsening an already serious workforce shortage."
"Our nation's childcare sector was hanging on by a thread before the pandemic, and it was headed straight for collapse when Covid hit our country and providers prepared to close their doors for good," she said. "The historic federal investment in our nation's childcare sector that I fought tooth and nail to deliver saved the childcare sector from collapse."
"But the funding we provided will expire this fall—which will likely force providers to lay off staff or shut down, force parents to leave work when they lose their child care, and take a wrecking ball to our economic recovery—unless we take action," the Washington Democrat added.
As of 2021, The New York Timesreported that year, the governments of rich countries spent an average of $14,000 per kid on childcare annually. The U.S., by contrast, spent just $500 per child.
During Wednesday's hearing, Sanders stressed that in addition to renewing the federal funding that is set to lapse in a matter of months, Congress needs "a vision for the future which understands that every family in America has the right to high-quality, affordable childcare."
"I think that all of us pride ourselves as a nation that loves our kids. We all understand that our children are the future of America. But, we have a funny way of showing that love," Sanders said. "Today, it costs about $15,000 a year, on average, to send an infant to childcare in our country and in D.C. it can cost, in some cases, $30,000 a year. How can a working family, making $50,000 or $60,000 a year, afford to spend $15,000 or $30,000 on childcare?"