Recently, Bank of America announced a new debit card where card holders will be charged $4.95 per month for overdraft protection. The pitch to cardholders is that if they overdraw their accounts they will not rack up sizable overdraft fees. On the surface, this might sound like a good deal to people who keep a low balance in their account and worry about accidentally triggering overdraft fees.
But, the reality is quite different. That’s because bank customers can’t overdraft their accounts unless they opt in for overdraft protection. Gone are the days when banks could opt you in (without your knowledge) for overdraft protection and then charge you hefty fees ($35 per overdraft) for going pennies below your balance when you use your debit card.
Allowing unaware customers to overdraft their account and then forcing them to pay $35 for this “privilege” mobilized consumers and their advocates to press for reform. Thanks to banking reform legislation passed in 2010 (which Green America and its members supported), bank customers have to opt-in for overdraft protection. If they don’t opt-in for the protection, and they attempt to overdraft their account, their card is simply rejected and no fee is charged. Unfortunately, many consumers don’t understand this. A 2011 survey of consumers who opted in for overdraft protection found that 66% of them mistakenly signed up for the service because they thought that if their debit card was rejected for trying to make an overdraft they would be charged a fee simply for being rejected. They didn’t realize that the law prohibited the bank from charging any form of overdraft (or attempted overdraft) fee without the customer’s consent.
Bank of America is preying on this misperception to offer consumers a new “benefit” – an account that prevents overdraft fees – that no one actually needs. And, consumers will pay almost $60 per year for this faux benefit. Sadly, it is consumers who have the most to lose, those that are low- or moderate-income, that will fall for this latest megabank scheme to help the gullible part with their money.
Consumers would be much better off banking with a local community development bank or credit union that doesn’t seek to profit from gotcha clauses and ever-expanding fees. You can bring in $60 to open an account, and support your local community. Hundreds of options are available at Green America’s Break Up with Your Mega-bank site. And, while you’re at it, if you are still carrying a Bank of America credit card, you can get a great credit card from a community development bank or credit union with Green America’s Take Charge of Your Card campaign. Then, make sure to let Bank of America know you are leaving them because you don’t approve of the way they do banking.
The current proxy season has set a record with the filing of 417 social and environmental shareholder resolutions urging US companies to improve their policies and practices across a wide range of issues. The majority of resolutions this year focus on climate change issues and on corporate political spending. Other key issues being addressed at shareholder meetings nationally in the months ahead include human rights, toxic chemicals, GMOs, responsible banking, deforestation, and recycling. Green America’s Shareholder Resolution Focus List provides a snapshot of a number of the resolutions investors should support this proxy season. And whether you own direct company stock or not – as consumers there are many Green America actions you can take all year long to improve corporate conduct across all of these issues and more.
The Proxy Preview, published today by As You Sow, provides a detailed review of the resolutions filed this season with updates on their status and information on the broader context in which the resolutions were filed. The Proxy Preview is available free of charge and is an indispensable resource for anyone seeking to understand the present shareholder resolution landscape.
Investor action on climate change fits in perfectly with Green America’s long-standing focus on addressing the climate crisis. Investors are filing increasing numbers of resolutions that call for: company goals to reduce greenhouse gas emissions; reports on climate risks; reports on natural gas fracking impacts; and even a resolution at PepsiCo on the elimination from its trucking fleet of fuel from the Canadian tar sands via the Keystone XL pipeline if the pipeline is constructed.
Investors are also taking an interesting approach on GMOs – another major Green America issue campaign. Resolutions at Coca-Cola, Dow Chemical, DuPont, General Mills, and Kraft Food Groups have been filed to ban the companies from making political contributions – these companies were selected because of their significant financial support for efforts to defeat GMO labeling ballot initiatives at the state level.
As Andy Behar, CEO of As You Sow, stated: Shareholders today are looking not at these issues in isolation. Instead, they articulate a systemic critique, pointing out the connections between excessive political spending, inadequate energy policy, the dangers of our changing climate and its damaging impact on water and agriculture, toxic hazards, and how these are related to human rights.”
So vote your proxies when they come in! If you need help deciphering the ballot, Green America can help. We need more shareowners asserting their power to help make crucial changes in corporate America.
As climate change and rising fuel costs, especially natural gas prices, generate headline news, it becomes ever more apparent that we need to invest in renewable energy. Clean Energy Victory Bonds can play a crucial role in securing the financing necessary to shift our energy sourcing to cleaner options. This bond evokes the spirit of one of the greatest fundraising efforts in our nation’s history. During World War II, over 80% of American households bought at least one victory bond, raising the equivalent of over $2 trillion in today’s dollars. Inspired by the efforts of previous generations, the victory bond is being rebooted to face the energy challenges of the 21st century. The Clean Energy Victory Bond would support solar, wind, second generation biofuels, and energy efficiency programs needed to build the clean U.S. economy that the times require.
Americans are increasingly aware of just how large a challenge climate change poses to our communities, as well as the role of fossil fuels in creating this global crisis. Fortunately, the shift from dirty energy to clean sources is well underway. For example, in 2013, a new solar energy system was installed every four minutes. By the beginning of 2014, the US had installed 12 gigawatts of solar capacity, producing as much energy as 14.5 coal-fired power plants. Wind power in the United States has been rapidly increasing as well, with over 14.2 gigawatts of capacity installed since 2012. According to the American Wind Energy Association, the projects currently under construction have the potential to power 3.5 million American households, or all the homes in Iowa, Oklahoma, and Kansas combined.
Financing for clean energy like wind and solar complements these observed increases in capacity. Annual solar installation, both residential and commercial, has grown by more than 1,600% since the Investment Tax Credit was implemented in 2006. Funding for large-scale solar projects announced in 2013 reached $13.6 billion, up from $8.7 billion the previous year. Similarly, the US Wind industry has attracted nearly $90 billion of private investment into new infrastructure over the past five years. The Production Tax Credit has been instrumental in encouraging this growth – in December of 2012, wind producers installed 5.5 gigawatts of capacity as the expiration of the PTC neared. Both wind and solar energy employ significant sections of the American workforce. Wind power currently employs more than 75,000 Americans, and for the first time ever, the US solar industry now employs more workers than the US auto manufacturing industry. 
While this growth is monumental in its own light, it still pales in comparison to the portion of our energy mix that fossil fuels provide. From 2002-2008, traditional fossil fuels received $70.2 billion of federal subsidies, while renewables received just $12.2 billion over the same time period. Legislators allow federal incentives like the Production Tax Credit to expire and then retroactively reinstate them, creating uncertainty in renewable energy markets. This limits growth in sectors like wind energy, and shifts support to more favorable countries like China and Germany.
The Clean Energy Victory Bond will protect the tax incentives essential to clean energy sources and energy efficiency initiatives, while simultaneously offering a reliable investment vehicle backed by the full faith and credit of the United States. By fostering these sectors of the green economy, the bill stands to create more than 1 million high-paying jobs that cannot be shipped overseas.
Thousands of Americans have already pledged to purchase the bonds once they become available, and you can too. You can also call your representative and urge him or her to support the bill once it is on the floor. We must work on both sides of the aisle to reduce our dependence on dirty, imported fossil fuels, create jobs for millions of Americans, and protect our environment with clean, American-made energy sources. As Green America’s CEO and President Alisa Gravitz put it, “Clean energy is joyfully bi-partisan.” The only side you need to choose here is the one that leads the US into the future running on clean, safe, domestic power!
 U.S. Energy Information Administration and Solar Foundation
Today, I spoke at an EPA hearing in support of rulemaking to limit emissions from new power plants. The rules would be an important first step in regulating power plants, the largest stationary source of carbon emissions in the U.S.
The pro-coal lobby was at the hearing in full force, arguing that they could not implement technologies to mitigate carbon pollution from new coal plants that would meet the EPA’s limits. Of course, these are the same industries that have been touting carbon capture and sequestration technology as a solution to lowering carbon emissions for years. While Americans firmly support regulating carbon emissions, we are badly outspent in Washington.
That’s why it’s essential that all Americans voice their support for carbon regulation. You can take action with Green America online here: http://action.greenamerica.org/p/dia/action3/common/public/?action_KEY=12768
Following are the comments I delivered to the EPA:
Thank you for hosting this public hearing to receive comment from Americans on the important issue of regulating greenhouse gas emissions from new power plants.
My name is Todd Larsen, and I serve as the corporate responsibility director of Green America, a national non-profit organization with 170,000 individual members and 3,500 business members nationwide. Our green business network is the largest network of certified green business in the United States. Green America is also a member of the American Sustainable Business Council, which represents over 150,000 businesses nationwide.
On behalf of our members, Green America strongly supports the EPA’s new rules under the authority of the clean air act to address carbon pollution from new power plants. The proposed new limits will create a standard of environmental responsibility and lay the groundwork for encouraging innovation and investment in lower-carbon technologies, new energy infrastructure, and increased energy efficiency. At the same time, the rules will create only negligible costs.
The need to regulate carbon from new power plants is clear. We are already experiencing the impacts of climate change, and those impacts will only increase. If we build highly polluting power plants, the increased carbon pollution will contribute to increased natural disasters, air pollution, and negative health impacts, as well as severely weakened ecosystems. The two groups that Green America represents, consumers and small to mid-sized businesses, will be hard hit.
Consumers will face increased risks to their health and property, and rising costs of basic goods and services over time, as climate change impacts important systems such as food, water, and infrastructure. Lower income Americans, those who can least afford it, will be the hardest hit.
Recent polling shows that 70% of Americans want the EPA to regulate emissions from power plants. The vast majority also support a shift to clean energy sources. Americans across the country and across political parties understand that we need to shift to clean energy sources to protect our lives and our economy.
Small and mid-sized business owners, America’s main street businesses, will also be negatively affected by climate change. From disruptions in their supply chains, to physical damage and disruptions of their operations from increasingly extreme weather, small businesses are at a high risk from rising greenhouse gas emissions.
That is why polling conducted by the American Sustainable Business Council found that 63 percent of small businesses owners support EPA regulation of carbon emissions from power plants and 72 percent support incentives for clean energy.
EPA regulations of new power plants will also encourage greater innovations in clean energy technologies, which will boost the economy, job creation, and small businesses nationwide. Clean energy and energy efficiency jobs offer competitive pay and are stable. These technologies are revitalizing communities nationwide. They are also producing lower energy costs already. America needs more innovation to remain globally competitive, and regulating carbon will help lead to that innovation. These rules are an important first step in carbon regulation.
For all of the above reasons, Green America and its members support the EPA proposing strong carbon pollution standards for new power plants.
Valentine’s Day is a time to celebrate the ones we love. But what if your love is one-sided and you are on the losing end? If you are giving your hard-earned dollars to a megabank – such as Citi, Bank of America, Chase, Wells Fargo – you might want to look at ending your relationship soon. Ask yourself these questions:
- Do you want to be in a relationship where your partner abuses the planet? If not, you should be aware that Citi, Bank of America, and Chase are all major funders of coal mining and coal-fired power plants.
- Do you want to be in a relationship where your partner rips you off? If not, you should know that all the major banks and credit card issuers have been sued by federal and/or state authorities for abusive mortgage, credit cards, or other products. And, big banks keep looking for ways to pile on fees.
- Do you want to be with a partner that has a total disregard for others and takes no responsibility for its actions? Chase, Wells Fargo, Citi, and Bank of America were all involved in fomenting the mortgage crisis that crashed the economy in 2008. They gambled with our money and then made us bail them out.
It can be hard to leave a long-term relationship. You get used to a bank and think that it will be a big hassle to change, or you’ll lose out on some key benefits you love. But, consider this:
- Responsible credit card issuers that use your funds to actually help build communities offer credit cards (Visa or Mastercard) with all the benefits you have come to expect – online billing, points that you can use for merchandise or travel, and acceptance worldwide.
- Responsible community development banks and credit unions offer checking, savings, and certificate of deposit accounts with competitive rates and more and more offer online banking.
- Responsible banks and credit unions offer accounts and credit cards with lower fees, and are more upfront with their customers about fees (they don’t try to sneak the fees in or trick you into signing up for “programs” you don’t need or want).
Ready to make a responsible bank or credit union your Valentine this year? Go to www.breakupwithyourmegabank.org to find hundreds of great banks and credit unions nationwide. And, go to www.takechargeofyourcard.org to find responsible credit cards.
Late in the day on Friday, January 31, 2014 the State Department released its Final Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement for the Keystone XL Project. The new report contains the important statement that “The total direct and indirect emissions associated with the proposed Project would contribute to cumulative global GHG emissions.” This is a crucial, over-due acknowledgement by the State Department and an important one because President Obama has stated that climate impacts will influence his decision-making on the pipeline: “Allowing the Keystone pipeline to be built requires a finding that doing so would be in our nation’s interest, and our national interest will be served only if this project does not significantly exacerbate the problem of carbon pollution. The net effects of the pipeline’s impact on our climate will be absolutely critical to determining whether this project is allowed to go forward.”
Unfortunately, the report also states that “approval or denial of any one crude oil transport project, including the proposed Project, is unlikely to significantly impact the rate of extraction in the oil sands….” So advocates both for and against the pipeline are finding support for their positions in the latest governmental report. The report is not definitive in its assessment and is flawed in a number of ways:
• The report fails to capture the full scope of the climate, environmental, economic and health consequences of proceeding with the Keystone XL pipeline. For a more comprehensive understanding of the pipeline’s contributions to the climate crisis read Fail: How the Keystone XL Pipeline Fails the Climate Test. And for a more truthful assessment of the job creation potential of the pipeline, contrasted with the claims touted by the oil industry, read the Cornell report Pipedreams: Jobs Gained, Jobs Lost by the Construction of the Keystone XL Pipeline. In addition to the Cornell research, the State Department itself has concluded that ultimately the pipeline would only create merely 35 permanent jobs.
• The report has been issued amidst unresolved conflict of interest charges between the State Department’s research contractor and TransCanada, the pipeline company. The very credibility of the report is in question as highlighted and investigated by Friends of the Earth.
The reasons Green America as well as Nobel laureates, environmentalists, small businesses, ranchers, farmers, physicians, indigenous communities, and many others opposed the pipeline several years ago remain the same:
• The pipeline will exacerbate the climate crisis. The dirty tar sands oil production process alone generates three times as much global warming pollution as conventional crude oil generates.
• Tar sands extraction and transport will result in leaks and spills that harm human health, especially in indigenous communities and those along the pipeline route.
• Tar sands extraction and transport will pollute and harm the environment including water, land, forests, air, and wildlife.
• Only 35 permanent jobs will result from the project.
• The pipeline will not increase US energy security because the oil is intended for export from the Gulf of Mexico.
• The sustainable business community opposes the Keystone XL pipeline because it takes our nation in the wrong direction economically and is bad for business over the long term.
• We need to move immediately toward mass investment in clean energy and energy efficiency to secure our energy needs, decrease carbon pollution, and create millions of good domestic jobs.
Hundreds of vigils are taking place nationally today, opposing the Keystone XL pipeline and calling for a clean energy future. We need every American to urge President Obama to live up to his words and to take strong action on climate. The President can be the climate leader the times demand by rejecting the Keystone XL pipeline now.
Green America is pleased to serve as a convening organization of the Good Jobs Green Jobs Conference to be held in Washington, DC, Feb. 10-11, 2014. There will be more than 1,000 participants representing academia, labor, the environmental movement, sustainable business, community organizations, and more!
Exciting news! We just learned that EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy will speak at the conference as well. Ms. McCarthy has worked at the federal, state, and local levels on crucial environmental issues and helped coordinate policies on economic growth, energy, transportation and the environment.
The conference will provide an important opportunity to hear from leaders who are building a green economy, to ask questions about policy and action plans, and to network with people from across the country on a wide range of issues facing our nation and the need to “Repair America” – the 2014 conference theme.
Register for one day or both days!
And be sure to come to the session on February 11th with Green America and our colleagues on the Role of Business in Repairing America and Building a New Economy. We look forward to seeing you there!
There’s good news for the longer term financial well-being of cash strapped individuals. Several major banks targeted by Green America and our allies – Wells Fargo, Regions Financial, US Bank and Fifth Third – are all phasing out short term loans that have had interest rates of up to 365%. These loans, known as “deposit advance loans” or more commonly as “payday loans” have trapped people in ongoing cycles of debt resulting in ever more borrowing.
Last spring Green America wrote to the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (OCC) and to the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. (FDIC) calling attention to the problem of bank payday loans. This product is exploitative when offered by storefront payday lenders, and no less exploitative when offered by a bank. Green America was pleased that the Comptroller of the Currency Thomas Curry went on record saying: “We have significant concerns regarding the misuse of deposit advance products.” Similarly, when financial regulators issued new proposed guidance on bank payday loans, FDIC Chairman Martin J. Gruenberg stated that: “The proposed supervisory guidance released today reflects the serious risks that certain deposit advance products may pose to financial institutions and their customers.”
Research from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau found that more than 50% of bank payday loan borrowers took loans totaling at least $3,000 and of these borrowers, more than half paid off a loan only to take out another loan within just 12 days. We also know that more than a quarter of payday loan borrowers are senior citizens.Clearly the need for low dollar loans to individuals needs to be met with financial products that foster financial stability rather than increased indebtedness.
We now urge the Federal Reserve to set forth the same guidance as the OCC and FDIC have issued and we urge the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau to take action to restrict harmful payday lending. If you are fed up with the practices of many mega-banks you can switch your banking to a financial institution that actually supports communities. Learn more at: www.BreakUpWithYourMegaBank.org
According to a recent poll, 34% of Americans aged 18 to 50 do not have a credit card. For most young people, the word “finance” conjures up little more than images of suits on Wall St and a dangerously low checking account balance. Fears of crippling debt (often the result of massive student loans), predatory mega-banks, and identity theft deter us from applying for a credit card. Paying for all of your expenses with cash is a responsible option, and it is entirely possible to live a life without credit. There are, however, many advantages to educating yourself about credit cards and using them wisely. They’re small, convenient, and easy to monitor, and they allow us to accomplish a range of activities that we couldn’t with just cash or a debit card. Here are a few examples:
- Housing – Before you sign a lease on a house or apartment, your landlord will want to check your credit as a gauge of how good you are at paying your bills. If you have bad credit or no credit, a landlord will be very wary of renting their property to you. Utilities companies also use credit as a gauge of financial responsibility. Even if you can convince a landlord to rent you their property, convincing the electric utility to turn on your power without good credit could be a real challenge.
- Employment – Employers may check candidates’ credit to judge financial responsibility. Your credit is a reflection of your expenses, and many employers want to make sure that you are not in serious financial difficulty that could compromise your work.
- Travel – You will need a credit card to rent a car, and book a hotel if you plan on doing any traveling. This is to cover the costs of any incidental damage to the vehicle or room.
- Loans – Having a good credit history is crucial for securing longer-term loans for a variety of purposes. This could include a mortgage, financing a car, or even taking out a loan to start your own business. Lenders will be more willing to do business with you if they can see that you pay your bills on time.
- Get Free Stuff- Who doesn’t love gifts? As an incentive to use their credit card, many financial institutions offer rewards to their customers. Based on the amount you spend, you can receive cash back or points that you can redeem for merchandise, travel expenses, and a wide range of offerings.
If you think you may be interested in any of the things above, then it might be time to seriously consider building a good credit history. Your credit score is a number that is calculated based on your expenses, and is meant to reflect how quickly and thoroughly you pay your bills. Your credit score is shared with anyone who might be in a position to lend you money, and by paying your balance in the full amount, on time, you can make the most of your borrowing abilities. To be a responsible credit user, you must internalize one golden rule: don’t spend more money than you have. This will help you keep track of your spending and avoid debt that can add up rapidly. It requires organization and self-control to responsibly use credit, but you can increase your long-term purchasing power to a large extent. Responsible spending is also good for the planet; purchasing only what you need lowers your impact on the environment.
At Green America, we encourage responsible consumers to obtain “green” credit cards, offered by community investment banks and credit unions. These cards are unique in that they donate a portion of their transaction charges to organizations that support the environment and communities in need. Most major credit cards, by contrast, direct their transaction charges to executive compensation or investing in environmentally harmful activities, like coal-mining. If you are thinking that using credit is the right next step, we urge you to look at our list of recommended green credit cards. You can begin building a stable financial future for yourself, prevent your purchases from supporting harmful mega banks, and support the environment and communities in need.
The next step is up to you: by learning to responsibly use credit and choosing a card that benefits the people and the planet, you can be a part of the generation that changes the credit industry for the better! If you’re curious to learn more about credit, here are some great resources.
Just a few days into the new year, we have our first victory of 2014 to celebrate.
After a year of pressure from you and other Green Americans, General Mills announced on its corporate Web site that its “original” Cheerios are now produced without genetically modified ingredients. General Mills announced that the company was “able to change how we source and handle ingredients to ensure that the corn starch for original Cheerios comes only from non-GMO corn and our sugar is only non-GMO pure cane sugar.”
This announcement comes after tens of thousands of you called, e-mailed, and posted on Cheerios Facebook page demanding non-GMO options for the US market.
One year ago, in November 2012, Green America’s GMO Inside campaign starting organizing consumers to put pressure on General Mills to make Cheerios without GMOs. Cheerios are a top-selling cereal in the U.S. and often one of the first solid foods fed to children. As soon as the campaign launched, tens of thousands of consumers started flooding Cheerios’ Facebook page with concerned comments regarding GMOs in Cheerios, and used an app put out by Cheerios to spell out anti-GMO messages in the Cheerios font. In October 2013, Green America issued a real corporate responsibility report for General Mills, and called on consumers to email and call the General Mills to get GMOs out of Cheerios. Our GMO Inside campaign also put out a video highlighting the GMOs in Cheerios that was watched by over 200,000 viewers. Over 25,000 people took part in the email actions and calls to the company. In the last week of 2013, callers to the company were told that Cheerios would have a big announcement about GMOs soon.
“Removing GMOs from original Cheerios is an important victory in getting GMOs out of our food supply and an important first step for General Mills,” says Todd Larsen, Green America’s Corporate Responsibility Director. “Original Cheerios in its famous yellow box will now be non-GMO and this victory sends a message to all food companies that consumers are increasingly looking for non-GMO products and companies need to meet that demand.”
This is a great victory for the non-GMO movement, as a major manufacturer of a top breakfast cereal proves that it is possible to shift a supply chain to non-GMO ingredients in response to consumer demand.
Throughout 2014, Green America’s GMO Inside campaign will push for more food brands to follow General Mills’ lead, and we’ll push for General Mills to shift the rest of its cereal, and other products, to non-GMO sourcing. We’ll also push to make sure that all companies who remove GMOs from their food, provide supply chain transparency and verification.
For now, only “original” Cheerios in the iconic yellow box have been announced as GMO-free. General Mills continues to manufacture 11 other varieties of Cheerios. Please take a moment today to thank General Mills for its first step toward non-GMO breakfast cereals. General Mills listened to YOU. Please let them know you appreciate it.