EWG's Top 10 Good Environmental News Stories of 2010
By Nils J. Bruzelius, EWG Executive Editor
Ok, our list of the "worst" environmental stories of the year was a bit of a downer. So here are EWG's Top 10 good environmental news stories. Yes, good things happened, too. And on some issues, there was both bad news and good news. That's life.
1. Beginning to take a hard look at fracking The growth of gas drilling using hydraulic fracturing has been, er, explosive, but it's no longer getting a free pass - from Congress and regulators, in particularly. EWG has been pointing to fracking's potential risk of groundwater contamination for some time, and this year Josh Fox's acclaimed documentary "Gasland" powerfully dramatized the reality of those risks. By year's end, Wyoming had passed a law requiring disclosure of what's in fracking fluids and some drilling companies began voluntarily providing that information. In New York, outgoing Gov. David Paterson extended that state's moratorium on gas drilling until the middle of 2011, at least.
2. Californians stand up for their climate change law Texas-based oil companies poured millions into a referendum campaign to put the Golden State's path-breaking climate change law into cold storage until the unemployment rate drops to unrealistic levels. It was a hard-fought campaign, but in the end Californians voted overwhelmingly to reject climate change denial. The NO side got more votes than any other individual or issue on the ballot. 3. San Francisco says consumers have a right to know The city became the first jurisdiction in the U.S. to require that cell phone retailers provide point-of-sale information on how much radiation each model releases, information shoppers can weigh on the spot as they make their buying decisions. EWG was the leading advocate for this ordinance. The cell phone industry fought it hard, and in the aftermath they moved their annual convention out of the city and filed suit to try to block it.
4. Finally, EPA will regulate perchlorate An ingredient in rocket fuel, this toxic chemical contaminates water, food and milk and is known to disrupt thyroid hormones that are essential to brain development. Concern over its effects has been building for years, but industry and military interests long resisted any regulation, and EPA had declined to step in. But after revisiting the issue this year, EPA announced in October that it will move to set safety limits on the chemical in drinking water.
5. Safer, healthier food for everyone In December, Congress passed and President Obama signed two hugely important pieces of legislation that should mean fewer cases of food-borne illness and healthier meals for school children. The Food and Drug Administration gained important new powers to monitor and inspect food producers and to order recalls of tainted food. Days earlier, the President signed a bill that renewed and greatly expanded the Child Nutrition Act, which will bring healthier school lunches and breakfasts to many more children from low-income families. It will also provide training on healthy food preparation to cafeteria workers and help schools link up with local farmers who grow fresh produce. These are big steps forward in the battles tainted food, hunger and obesity.
6. States and cities dump BPA Even though lawmakers on Capitol Hill declined to vote on banning the endocrine-disrupting plastics chemical in baby bottles and sippy cups, a number of states and cities went to bat. Massachusetts is only the most recent state to restrict BPA's use. Ironically, industry has already responded to consumer concerns even when Congress won't. Everywhere you look, products are being labeled "BPA-free." And in response to the new evidence from EWG that cash register receipts can shed BPA, a number of retailers said they would switch to BPA-free paper. The power of the market strikes again. 7. Baby steps toward better controls on toxic chemicals Legislators introduced long-awaited bills in the House and Senate to update and strengthen the Toxic Substances Control Act, long a signature issue at EWG. Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.) filed one version and Reps. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) and Bobby Rush (D-Ill.) submitted another. While industry and consumer/health groups remain far apart on major details, there may be enough consensus on the law's deficiencies to make action possible in 2011, even in a more conservative Congress. 8. Presidential advisors take a fresh look at cancer causes The prestigious President's Cancer Panel released a 200-page report in April that concluded that the "true burden of environmentally induced cancer has been grossly underestimated," bolstering the argument long made by EWG and others that the conventional medical view that focused mostly on the role of lifestyles and genetics in cancer was too narrow. The panel called for a big increase in funding for studies of environmental carcinogens, and EWG hopes to see action on that front in 2011.
9. Ditching plastic bags, coast to coast Around the world and across the country, laws that ban or charge for the use of plastic grocery bags are gaining popularity. Once these laws take effect, the often vocal initial opposition tends to fade to a whisper very quickly. It's not a big adjustment for shoppers, and the payoff in reducing litter and the burden on landfills is almost immediate.
10. Some brands take the lid off cleaning ingredients S.C. Johnson, the privately held maker of major brands including Windex, Nature's Source and Shout, announced around Thanksgiving that it would disclose the ingredients in its cleaning products, and then mounted a big marketing campaign to tout that pledge. In 2010, the cleaning products industry launched a voluntary initiative to begin disclosing more of what's in their products. There's still a long way to go before all products are similarly transparent, but EWG hopes that S.C. Johnson's competitors will respond to consumer demands and follow suit.
Got any positive stories to add?
[Thanks to Flickr CC & striatic for the appropriately positive hand gesture]