What have we done for you lately?
See below for some highlights of recent media coverage of OCE Foundation's achievements, as well as information on our current advocacy work.
We are constantly developing cases and campaigns, engaging with communities impacted by pollution, and working toward cleaner and healthier ecosystems to help humans and wildlife thrive. Our lawsuits and other advocacy efforts focus on protecting the most vulnerable, especially children, seniors, and threatened species.
Follow us on social media for updates on what we're reading, researching, thinking about, and other musings about why we do what we do.
Improving Recycling on Long Island
The Long Island Recycling Initiative is a team of concerned citizens focused on recycling practices and programs in Long Island. Its mission is to bring transparency, efficiency and best practices to recycling programs across Long Island. Because of the patchwork-quilt of townships, villages, hamlets, and garbage districts that currently oversee the waste management and recycling functions of Long Island, it is especially challenging for policy makers and waste management businesses to identify and resolve problems in the system and adopt best practices proven to work in other jurisdictions across the country. Through research into the current state of affairs as well as best practices and policies, Long Island Recycling Initiative intends to identify opportunities and aid the towns and villages of Long Island in increasing their recycling rates. Learn more and access resources at https://www.lirecycling.org.
Governmental Transparency & Public Advocacy
Throughout its history, OCE has successfully challenged and exposed governmental agencies that fail to meet their responsibility to protect and serve the public. This anti-corruption and pro-transparency work reflects our commitment to educate communities about environmental issues, to investigate noncompliant and negligent polluters, to enforce environmental laws and regulations, and to encourage reform at the highest levels of government. From its start, OCE has built a strong reputation as an effective public interest watchdog by enforcing laws that require governmental agencies to disclose key information about how they manage our natural resources.
OCE is committed to holding publicly-funded agencies and governmental staff accountable to ensure that the public interest remains a central component of our democracy. We fight for full enforcement of public disclosure laws like the Freedom of Information Act (“FOIA”), including the provision that records be provided without charge when disclosure of the requested information is in the public interest. In the most recent development in our multi-year legal campaign to get documents from the National Marine Fisheries Service, we beat back the federal government’s attempts to sharply limit when public interest groups could be reimbursed for the time they spend trying to get information from agencies.
For more insight into how we have obtained information from agencies and prevailed in our appeals for fee waivers, or to share your experiences seeking documents from state and federal agencies, please contact us!
National Marine Fisheries Service: Stanford’s Searsville Dam & FOIA Backlog
From 2014 until early 2016, OCE took action to obtain key information from federal agencies related to Stanford University’s 125-year old Searsville Dam and other campus water diversions, and the ongoing impacts of these diversions to habitat for threatened steelhead trout. Through multiple FOIA requests and related lawsuits, OCE obtained documents detailing the National Marine Fisheries Service’s past investigations of Stanford University as well as other agency input related to Stanford’s water infrastructure. Our lawsuits also revealed important details about the National Marine Fisheries Service’s internal operations as a publicly-funded agency; how they respond to public records requests, why there have been such extreme delays in our cases, and how the agency has attempted to comply with deadlines for public disclosure. After many months of delay, OCE prevailed. The National Marine Fisheries Service released key documents to us and cleared its longstanding “backlog” of FOIA requests. In February 2016, we also won our appeal for a fee waiver by demonstrating that this work was in the public interest.
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency / Sewage Discharges to the Pacific Ocean
From 2007 until 2009, OCE led a formal effort to obtain documents from EPA pertaining to the discharge of raw or partially-treated sewage from the City and County of Honolulu's publicly-owned sewage collection and treatment facilities, including the Sand Island Wastewater Treatment Plant, the largest wastewater treatment plant in Hawaii. OCE recognized that these facilities were seriously violating the Clean Water Act by regularly discharging raw and partially-treated sewage into the Pacific Ocean. We filed requests for public records to document the extent of this problem, and to learn more about any attempts to curtail sewage spills by the City and County of Honolulu. After failing to meet the deadline for responding to OCE’s FOIA, EPA indicated that it was “backlogged,” and eventually responded but withheld key documents. OCE filed a lawsuit in March, 2008 citing EPA’s wrongful withholding of public documents and EPA’s failure to provide OCE with reports in electronic format even though they were readily available. OCE subsequently settled this lawsuit with an agreement requiring EPA to release improperly withheld documents and provide them in electronic format, thus vindicating FOIA's purposes of ensuring open government.
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency / Air Quality State Implementation Plans
Between 2001 and 2004, OCE was again represented by the Environmental Law & Justice Clinic at Golden Gate University School of Law in litigation aimed at requiring the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to publish information related to regional efforts to meet national air quality standards. The Clean Air Act requires states to develop plans to meet air quality standards, known as State Implementation Plans or “SIPs,” which are submitted to EPA for approval. SIPs describe how states and local air districts will reduce emissions to come into compliance with the Clean Air Act. Each SIP is comprised of many rules which lay out emissions requirements, and SIPs often contain other key elements as well, for example, specific studies on transportation patterns or other emissions-related issues. Previous to our litigation, SIPs were only available in hard-copy form at each regional EPA office. OCE entered agreements with EPA in September 2001 and April 2003 to require the text of each SIP to be placed online, as well as summaries, the federal register citation of EPA’s approval of the SIP, and any other applicable local or state rule number and citation. Publishing this information makes enforcement easier for EPA and public interest groups alike, clarifies which rules are in effect and which have been superseded, and perhaps most importantly, allows the public to understand and become involved in air quality protection in their regions.
San Francisco Bay Area Air Quality Backlog
In early 2001, OCE, represented by the Environmental Law & Justice Clinic at Golden Gate University School of Law, filed suit under the California Public Records Act to force the Bay Area Air Quality Management District (BAAQMD) to release a backlog of approximately 1,200 “notices of violation” issued to Bay Area industries. BAAQMD agreed to settle the case and turned over the relevant public documents. This unprecedented action illustrated to the public that the Air District was failing to prosecute violators of air pollution laws and forced a significant sea change at BAAQMD. OCE shined a bright light on the BAAQMD’s longstanding inaction and inadequate protection of the public’s health.
Public health concerns at Elkhorn Slough
Our Children's Earth is working to protect public health in the Moss Landing area, where anglers and their families are being exposed to dangerous levels of mercury and PCBs in certain fish tissues, especially leopard shark and bat ray.
California's Office of Environmental Health and Hazards Assessment (OEHHA) recently issued a consumption advisory urging children and women of child-bearing age to avoid eating these species entirely while also limiting consumption of several other species: asian clam, speckled sanddab, and surfperches.
If you or anyone you know fishes at Elkhorn Slough, please take note of OEHHA's important health guidelines, read OEHHA's full report, fill out the short survey on our Elkhorn page, and contact us with any questions.
Sick of Sewage in Florida
Our Children's Earth Foundation has a long history of advocacy related to protecting people and ecosystems from one of the more disgusting realities of modern life: sewage pollution. We've brought lawsuits and worked with cities throughout the United States to ensure that aging, leaky, and otherwise inadequate sewage infrastructure is updated, and that impacted residents have a voice in developing solutions. Spills and overflows of raw and partially-treated sewage occur regularly in metropolitan areas, and the worst instances result in massive die-offs of fish, birds, and other animals that rely on nearby waters. We are currently involved in a regional effort in Florida's Tampa Bay area to address sewage system failures that have garnered national and international headlines since mid-2016, when hundreds of millions of gallons of raw and partially treated sewage were discharged to Tampa Bay, Boca Ciega Bay, and other waters adjacent to the Gulf of Mexico.
Tampa Bay Times, 12.5.2016: Environmental groups sue St. Petersburg over sewage mess
Tampa Bay Times, 9.9.2016: While St. Petersburg waits for sewage details, health risks emerge
New York Times, 9.16.2016: Sewage Overflow Again Fouls Tampa Bay After Storm
The Economist, 10.22.2016: A View from the Bridge: It will take more than just money to get America moving
KQED | QUEST, 5.26.2009: Wastewater Woes: Sewage Spills in SF Bay
OCE @ RWF!
We spent October 1 at the Right Whale Festival in Jacksonville Beach, Florida, chatting with kids and parents, and making hundreds of gyotaku-inspired fish prints.
The Right Whale Festival raises local awareness for the endangered North Atlantic Right Whale (E. glacialis), so-named because it was deemed to be the "right" whale to hunt during the height of the whaling industry, because its docile and curious nature made it easy to kill. Sadly, Right Whales were hunted nearly to extinction, and remain in peril.
Check out the coverage of the event including a short interview with us via Channel 4 News at: http://www.news4jax.com/news/florida/duval-county/jacksonville-beach/festival-works-to-save-right-whales-from-extinction
Nature is special.
This is one of OCE's short interviews with cute kids talking about ecological issues. Children tend to intuitively understand the fundamentals of what we need to do to protect the environment and live more sustainably: treat animals with respect and empathy, waste not, keep learning, try to live in harmony with the natural resources and ecosystems that support and sustain life on Earth.
Above all, we must continue to work toward healthy air, water, and ecosystems so that future generations have the chance to thrive in an ever-changing world. As Chester notes, "we have to, we have no choice."