EWG news roundup (9/30): Few USDA conservation dollars fund ‘climate smart’ efforts, Biden administration expands plant-based options at federal facilities and more

An EWG investigation released this week found two of the Department of Agriculture’s principal conservation programs paid out almost $7.4 billion to farmers between 2017 and 2020, but few dollars funded practices the USDA has designated “climate-smart.”

“Agriculture is increasingly regarded as a vital part of any climate solution, and our investigation provides the first look ever into how much the USDA’s conservation programs are paying farmers to cut greenhouse gases,” said EWG Midwest Director Anne Schechinger, author of the analysis and a food and agricultural economist. “We found that even though the agency already knows the best ways for farms to help combat the climate crisis, it has not prioritized them.”

EWG applauded California Gov. Gavin Newsom for signing several game-changing bills into law this week. First was a set of bills to improve the removal of lead paint from buildings and streamline blood testing for lead levels. Then later in the week, Newsom signed a law that bans intentionally added toxic “forever chemicals” known as PFAS from cosmetics sold in the state.

The Biden administration held the White House Conference on Hunger, Nutrition, and Health on Wednesday. In advance of the event, the administration pledged to increase the availability of plant-based and vegetarian options at federal facilities.

“The Biden plan makes it a priority to improve access to healthy options, including plant-based and vegetarian options,” said Scott Faber, EWG’s senior vice president for government affairs. “Everyone has a role to play if we want to address diet-related disease, and the federal government should lead by example.”

Last week, testimony by Duke Energy showcased the North Carolina energy giant’s flawed carbon reduction plan, which relies too heavily on nuclear power. Duke fails to consider how the climate crisis undermines the reliability and affordability of costly and dangerous nuclear energy.

Finally, EWG detailed a recent study linking consumption of artificial sweeteners to a 9 percent higher risk of cardiovascular disease – the leading cause of death in the U.S. and globally.

Here’s some news you can use going into the weekend.

Agricultural conservation

New York Times: Federal Government’s $20 Billion Embrace of ‘Climate Smart’ Farming

Scott Faber, the vice president for government affairs at the Environmental Working Group, said that farmers played a critical role in ensuring a habitable planet. “We tend to believe that farmers are good stewards of that land,” he added, but said that positive perception could change. “That belief will be shattered if and when agriculture is 30 percent of U.S. emissions.”

Bloomberg: Most Agriculture Conservation Spending Doesn’t Help Climate, Environment Group Finds

Of the two largest conservation programs, one devoted less than a quarter of funds to projects the Agriculture Department deemed “climate smart” and the other devoted about 5% to such projects, according to an analysis by the Environmental Working Group of $7.4 billion in projects funded from 2017 through 2020.

Inside Climate News: Billions in USDA Conservation Funding Went to Farmers for Programs that Were Not ‘Climate-Smart,’ a New Study Finds

“With the climate crisis quickly intensifying, the USDA and Congress urgently need to retrofit these programs to meet the moment by prioritizing funding for climate-smart practices,” said Anne Schechinger, a director with the Environmental Working Group, which published the analysis. “Accurately tracking and reporting these funds is just as imperative. Yet the USDA has a serious transparency problem when it comes to its conservation data.”

Plant-based options in federal facilities/White House Conference on Hunger, Nutrition, and Health

Food Dive: Food industry makes commitments at White House summit on hunger

The industry group will work with Chef Andrew Zimmern, the Environmental Working Group, the James Beard Foundation and the Independent Restaurant Coalition to encourage chefs, restaurant owners and operators to offer at least one plant- based or vegetarian option on their dinner menus.

A.B. 2247: California’s PFAS reporting bill

The Hill: Newsom signs ban on ‘forever chemicals’ in cosmetics and clothes, but vetoes tracking program
But Susan Little, an advocate for the Environmental Working Group, stressed that the “intentionally added” refers to any PFAS added as an ingredient to a product. The phrase only excludes PFAS that appears in a product as a contaminant, according to Little, the group’s senior advocate for California government affairs.

Inside EPA: Newsom Vetoes PFAS Reporting Bill But Signs Textile, Cosmetic Bans

Many of the same groups had also argued that AB 2247 was needed to help regulators identify the sources of PFAS coming into the state. “It is long past time we turned off the tap on PFAS pollution,” said Melanie Benesh, vice president of government affairs for Environmental Working Group, in response to Newsom’s veto of AB 2247.

Skin Deep® cosmetics database

PBS News Hour: Why getting PFAS out of our products is so hard — and why it matters

Skin Deep. This database from the Environmental Working Group, a nonprofit advocacy organization, evaluates ingredients in personal care products and gives them a score based on their known safety and data availability.


Inside EPA: Environmentalists Slated To Resume PFAS TRI Suit As Both Sides Press OMB

Over the past few weeks, a host of groups has met with OMB to make competing arguments over the rule, including the American Chemistry Council (ACC), representing the chemical industry; PFAS manufacturer Chemours; U.S. Chamber of Commerce and American Fuel & Petrochemical Manufacturers; as well as environmental advocates such as the law firm Earthjustice, Sierra Club, Union of Concerned Scientists and Environmental Working Group (EWG).

Tap Water Database

CBS Boston: Massachusetts communities concerned about water supply after recent contamination issues

E. coli has been found in the water of five different Massachusetts towns this month alone, including Wilmington, Mansfield and North Attleboro. Sydney Evans is a science analyst with the non-profit Environmental Working Group (EWG). "They are going to see contaminants. That's just the reality of drinking water in the United States," said Evans.

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