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WASHINGTON, Dec. 26, 2019 – Advocates for consumer, public health and environmental issues made great strides in 2019, while simultaneously defending existing policies that protect Americans from regressive changes by the federal government and unsustainable corporate practices.
“Too many of the federal regulations that keep our water, air and bodies clean and healthy — or that protect consumers and their financial well-being — came under attack in 2019,” said Andre Delattre, the senior vice president and chief operating officer of The Public Interest Network, a transpartisan national advocacy group. “Whether in the Capitol, courts or corporate boardrooms, we have never had more urgency about the need to protect the public interest.”
Despite challenges and setbacks, we have been able to accomplish a great deal this past year. Here is a list of 2019 highlights at the national level from The Public Interest Network’s two largest groups, U.S. PIRG and Environment America:
A beef about beef (raised with routine use of antibiotics)
We’ve been building a network of leading health professional advocates, and urging the country’s biggest restaurant chains to stop serving meat raised with routine antibiotic usage, to preserve the effectiveness of these life-saving drugs. This year, we started the “Superbugs Unplugged” podcast with George Washington University’s Antibiotic Resistance Action Center, and got more major restaurant chains, from Darden (parent of Olive Garden and Longhorn) to Taco Bell to commit to phasing out routine antibiotic use from its chicken supply chain. We have started focusing on beef production, and after a commitment last December from McDonald’s to address the issue in its supply chain, we’re optimistic other restaurants will follow suit in 2020.
The CFPB complaint database survives
As of mid-January 2019, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s public database had published nearly 1.2 million consumer complaints, including 257,000 in 2018 alone. That’s why, when the new CFPB leadership threatened to take the database offline, we fought for continued transparency. The CFPB eventually not only maintained the visibility of the database, but also promised to enhance and upgrade the site.
Clean cars lawsuits to protect our climate
The Trump administration’s attempt to revoke California’s ability to set its own tough tailpipe emissions standards wasn’t just reckless. It was also illegal, according to two lawsuits filed by Environment America. We joined 10 other organizations in filing suits in federal district court, where we’re defending states’ ability to do all they can under the law to combat climate change.
Credit freeze information for a public beset by data breaches
After significant data breaches at Capital One, Marriott, Facebook and others, our consumer protection team provided Americans with timely, user-friendly and accurate advice. Through our outreach and extensive media coverage, we provided the information people needed to freeze their credit reports at all three major credit bureaus to keep their data safe from identity theft.
Inadequate infant sleeper recall exposed
Just because a dangerous baby product has been recalled, that doesn’t mean it’s been removed from local child care centers. After PIRG’s Consumer Watchdog team alerted the public to the threat of an inclined infant sleeper, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission proposed a new rule to virtually end the sale of all models. The rule, if adopted, would help protect millions of infants while they sleep. Then, right before the holidays, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the Safe Sleep for Babies Act of 2019 with bipartisan support. It bans inclined sleepers and crib bumpers known to be potentially deadly threats to infants. The Senate will hopefully act early in 2020.
Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) permanently reauthorized
By a big bipartisan majority, Congress voted to permanently reauthorize the Land and Water Conservation Fund, America’s most successful conservation and recreation program. Environment America had lobbied to save the program ever since it was allowed to expire in 2017. Now that we know the program’s future, as 2019 comes to a close, we’re calling on Congress to allocate the maximum amount to the chronically underfunded program.
We won two votes on the House floor to prevent the expansion of oil and gas drilling off our coasts. HR205 from Rep. Francis Rooney (FL) would make a moratorium on oil drilling in the eastern Gulf of Mexico permanent. HR1941 from Rep. Joe Cunningham (SC) would block new drilling efforts off the Atlantic and Pacific coasts.
The Paris Agreement isn’t dead yet… and we’re working on a Plan B
While President Donald Trump says he’ll remove the United States from the multinational Paris climate accords, we’ve worked with Congress to ensure that Americans do whatever we can to keep mitigating the climate crisis. The first climate bill in a decade passed in the House of Representatives. HR9, the Climate Action Now Act sponsored by Rep. Kathy Castor (FL), would keep the United States in the Paris Agreement. It would defund any effort to withdraw and require the Trump administration to submit a plan to meet the U.S. commitment to reduce carbon emissions by 26 to 28 percent below 2005 levels by 2032.
Rep. Don McEachin (VA) also introduced the 100% Clean Economy Act of 2019, legislation to empower all federal agencies to do everything in their power to put the U.S. on a path to net zero emissions by 2050. A companion Senate bill is expected in 2020.
PFAS — the “forever chemicals”
As 2019 comes to a close, we are gratified that Congress heeded our call and compelled the military to phase out its use of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) by 2024. These toxic, carcinogenic chemicals contaminate drinking water sources across the United States. The military has been one of the largest contributors to this widespread drinking water contamination due to its use of toxic firefighting foams; the Pentagon’s adoption of safer alternatives will significantly limit pollution going forward. While we had hoped for stronger action to spur cleanup and limit dumping into waterways, we remain hopeful that Congress will pass into law provisions that would utilize the Superfund program and Clean Water Act, respectively.
“Right to Repair” movement takes flight
We testified before federal decision-makers about how manufacturers of cell phones, refrigerators, computers and other products make it hard for consumers to repair the things they own by not sharing the parts and service information required to fix them. We’re working with legislators to draft language for state bills, building coalitions and training supporters. In 2019, more than 20 states filed Right to Repair legislation, and we’re working to get these bills passed.