EWG News and Analysis
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EWG News Roundup (1/20): Pruitt, Perdue, Big Poultry and Organics
Last weekend, EWG reported that after taking $40,000 in campaign contributions from poultry industry interests, Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt – President Trump's nominee to head the Environmental Protection Agency – stymied cleanup of a protected river polluted by factory farms’ chicken manure. The New York Times cited EWG’s work and Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., grilled Pruitt on his connection to the polluted river during the Senate confirmation hearing.
Later in the week, Trump tapped former Georgia Republican Gov. Sonny Perdue to be the next agriculture secretary, and EWG didn’t mince words in the media with our concerns over that choice.
There was also coverage of EWG on a range of other issues, including organic foods, cosmetics, and new guidance from the federal government on mercury in seafood.
Here is some news you can use as we head into the weekend.
Scott Pruitt’s Confirmation Hearing
As Mr. Pruitt ran for election, at least $40,000 in contributions poured into his campaign from nearly 30 executives at poultry companies named in the lawsuit or attorneys at law firms representing them, including Mark Simmons, the founder of Simmons Foods; Donald J. Smith, then the chief executive of Tysons Foods; and Gary Weeks, a lawyer listed on the court papers as representing George’s, another company targeted in the lawsuit, according to data assembled by the nonprofit Environmental Working Group and confirmed by The New York Times.
“Not a single American voted for dirtier air and drinking water, but if Mr. Pruitt takes the helm at the EPA, that’s what millions of Americans and thousands of communities will face,” said Ken Cook, co-founder and president of the Environmental Working Group. “Every senator, regardless of party, should reject this nomination on behalf of their constituents’ health.” Reprinted 113 times.
“He’s kind of covered the full spectrum of EPA law in suits that he’s chosen to bring,” Melanie Benesh, a legislative attorney with the Environmental Working Group, a nonprofit dedicated to environmental protection told me on a phone call. “He’s challenged the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, and its implementation under other statutes.”
A new investigation by the Environmental Working Group advocacy organization revealed that Pruitt received more than $40,000 in campaign donations from executives and lawyers who represented poultry companies named in a lawsuit brought by Pruitt’s predecessor, Drew Edmondson. Reprinted five times.
“During the campaign, Mr. Trump regularly threatened to dismantle the EPA and roll back many of the gains made to reduce Americans’ exposures to industrial pollution, and with Pruitt, the president-elect would make good on those threats,” said Ken Cook, head of the Environmental Working Group, a Washington research and advocacy organization. “It’s a safe assumption that Pruitt could be the most hostile EPA administrator toward clean air and safe drinking water in history.” Reprinted four times.
But as the Environmental Working Group points out in an investigation released January 14, Pruitt might have had more than philosophical reasons for quietly letting the lawsuit against major poultry firms languish in court: political donations.
Energy companies that litigated against the EPA alongside Pruitt contributed nearly $240,000 to his campaign or political action committees that supported him between 2010 and 2016, according to the Environmental Working Group, a research and advocacy nonprofit. Reprinted by Yahoo! News and Yahoo! Finance.
Pruitt, who declined requests for an interview, has been less active than his predecessor in the Oklahoma attorney general's office in pursuing environmental cases. Court records and data collected by the Environmental Working Group also suggest Pruitt stalled a state lawsuit regarding water pollution from chicken manure after receiving contributions linked to the poultry industry.
A report by the nonprofit Environmental Working Group verified by StateImpact shows at least $40,000 for Pruitt’s 2010 campaign was contributed by executives of poultry companies and lawyers of firms representing the companies named in a high-profile pollution lawsuit filed by his predecessor Drew Edmondson. Reprinted six times.
Trump’s USDA Pick
“It should be no surprise that the incoming Trump administration, which has proposed putting executives from Big Food and Big Oil in top cabinet positions, would pick someone like Governor Perdue – who has received taxpayer-funded farm subsidies – to lead the Department of Agriculture,” the Environmental Working Group said in a statement Wednesday night. “It’s certainly hard to imagine that a former fertilizer salesman will tackle the unregulated farm pollution that poisons our drinking water, turns Lake Erie green, and fouls the Chesapeake Bay and the Gulf of Mexico.”
It’s certainly hard to imagine that a former fertilizer salesman will tackle the unregulated farm pollution that poisons our drinking water, turns Lake Erie green, and fouls the Chesapeake Bay and the Gulf of Mexico,” said Scott Faber, senior vice president of government affairs at EWG, an environmental research group.
The Environmental Working Group called out the more than $278,000 in taxpayer-funded farm subsidies that Perdue received from 1995 through 2014, a practice that many advocates deem unfair to small, family-run farms. The organization also expressed alarm over Perdue’s past gubernatorial campaign contributions from chemical companies (a former Democrat, he switched to the Republican party for that candidacy), and over his work in fertilizer sales.
“I can see why voters he courted so effectively in rural America wonder why President-elect Trump took so long to pick a secretary of agriculture, but put yourself in his custom-made shoes,” said Kenneth A. Cook, president of the Environmental Working Group, a Washington think tank that tracks USDA subsidy payments to agribusiness. Reprinted 74 times.
Craig Cox, a senior vice president for agriculture at Environmental Working Group, said he’s worried that USDA spending on conservation — efforts that prevent soil erosion, improve water quality — could get gutted as Republicans seek to pare back government spending and oversight.
According to the checkoff’s supporters, farmers and processors wouldn’t be the only ones to benefit, however. Together, greater supply and more efficient farming should make organic a more affordable option, said Ken Cook, president of the Environmental Working Group.
The growth of the organic market overall has been attributed to rising income levels, improvement of organic farming techniques, and increased awareness regarding the health advantages of organic food and beverages, including the popularity of the Environmental Working Group’s Dirty Dozen list of produce particularly affected by pesticides in conventional agriculture.
The Environmental Working Group has been advocating for organic food and farming for more than two decades, with much of our research documenting how the practices and finished products of both conventional and organic agriculture influence our health and the environment.
Mercury in Tuna
Critics aren’t happy with the recommendations, though. The Mercury Policy Project and the Environmental Working Group, for example, warned that pregnant women who follow this advice could be exposed to “far too much mercury.”
Sonya Lunder of the Environmental Working Group says that their recent study demonstrates that following the updated US guidelines will put babies at risk. The EWG looked at the diet of 254 women who ate at least two meals of fish every week and measured mercury levels in their hair to assess neurotoxin levels in their bodies.
Natural cosmetics and personal care brand, Mineral Fusion, has announced its color cosmetics collection has been officially verified by the Environmental Working Group (EWG). The brand's packaging will now carry the "EWG Verified" mark.
A recently released study found that beauty products marketed towards black women contain more harmful chemicals than ever before. The report by the nonprofit, Environmental Working Group, examined a total of 1,177 beauty and personal care products.
Oil and Gas Wastewater in Calif.
Ms. Sanders unfortunately engages in name-calling (calling Clean Water Action, and by implication, Environmental Working Group and others, “radical environmentalist groups”) and states that these groups’ concerns are simply meant to “ridicule” farmers and oil companies and this particular irrigation practice.
Bill Allayaud, of the Environmental Working Group, points out in his Community Voices column of Jan. 16 that I did not identify myself as a former State Division of Oil and Gas supervisor in defending Lois Henry’s columns regarding produced oilfield water being sent to the Cawello Water District for the purpose of agriculture irrigation.