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March 24, 2014 / Elizabeth

You’re Invited: Regional Fair Trade Campaigns Gatherings

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Fair Trade Campaigns will host a Midwest and Mid-Atlantic one-day gathering for all fair trade town and university campaigners and anyone interested in joining the movement. These workshops are free and you are invited!

These events are taking place on April 5th in Milwaukee and Philadelphia.

Green America has served on the steering committee of Fair Trade Towns for four years and we are excited to take part in the Philadelphia workshop.  At these events you can meet other Fair Trade advocates in your region, explore community organizing, and learn about Fair Trade.

Midwest Event Details
Date: Saturday, April 5th
Time: 10:00 am-4:00 pm
Location:  Cardinal Stritch University in Milwaukee, WI

REGISTER HERE

Mid-Atlantic Event Details
Date: Saturday, April 5th
Time: 9:30 am-3:30 pm
Location:  Friends Center in Philadelphia, PA

REGISTER HERE

On the Agenda:

  • Fair Trade 101 – Refresh with the Basics
  • Event Best Practices and Brainstorming
  • Social Media Training
  • Plenty of time to network and meet other Fair Trade advocates!

Who is Fair Trade Campaigns?

Fair Trade Campaigns is a powerful grassroots movement mobilizing thousands of conscious consumers and Fair Trade advocates on campuses and communities across the USA.  Fair Trade Campaigns is part of a global effort to normalize Fair Trade as an institutional practice and consumer preference across 24 countries and on six continents.

Fair Trade Campaigns recognizes towns, colleges, universities, schools and congregations in the US for embedding Fair Trade practices and principles into policy, as well as the social and intellectual foundations of their communities.

Fair Trade Campaigns provide tools, resources and support events to launch and grow local Fair Trade Campaigns in your town, university, school or congregation.

Check out Fair Trade Campaigns website to find a campaign near you or discover how you can start one today!

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March 21, 2014 / Todd Larsen

When in Doubt: Commit Forgery?

This week, Linda Tirelli, a lawyer representing a client in a foreclosure case with Wells Fargo came across a very disturbing piece of evidence: a company manual instructing the bank’s staff in how to forge documents to proceed with foreclosures.  The manual instructs employees how to process [mortgage] notes without endorsements and obtaining endorsements and allonges.  In essence, if employees lacked the documents needed for foreclosure, they were instructed to make them up.  As Tirelli stated to the Washington Post:

“This is a blueprint for fraud,” said Tirelli, who attached a copy of the manual as evidence in the lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in White Plains, N.Y. “The idea that this bank is instructing people how to produce these documents is appalling.”

The disclosure of the manual has been duly reported in the business sections of major media, but has not made a huge splash.  It’s shocking that the media and the public are this numb to the latest revelations of fraudulent behavior by megabanks.  Two years ago, several banks paid a settlement of $25 billion for their fraudulent conduct in robo-signing mortgages (although much of that money never actually benefited the people who lost their homes).  Apparently, the money paid by Wells Fargo for its portion of the settlement was not enough to deter ongoing wrongdoing.  The bank is so emboldened by the failure of the US government to truly crackdown on bank fraud that it was actually willing to create a manual for engaging in fraud.

How is it possible that 5 years out from the financial crash, the steps taken by the federal and state governments to address widespread fraud and abuse in the financial sector are sorely lacking?  In a letter to the Justice Department sent on the same day that the Wells Fargo fraud manual was disclosed, three members of Congress – Elizabeth Warren, Elijah Cummings, and Maxine Waters – asked Eric Holder why the Justice Department was not prosecuting mortgage fraud more aggressively.  The letter calls out the fact that even though $200 million was appropriated to the FBI to investigate mortgage fraud between 2009-11, the FBI ranks investigating mortgage fraud as its lowest priority.  When nearly five million families have lost their homes due to the financial crash brought about by Wall Street, and when many of these homeowners lost their homes through suspect foreclosure proceedings, it is an outrage that the Justice Department is failing to take mortgage fraud more seriously.

What can we do as individuals?  One important step to take is stop banking with megabanks.  If you have a bank account with Wells Fargo, go to our Break Up With Your Megabank site to find community development banks and credit Unions that support people and communities instead.  If you have a credit card with Wells Fargo, use our Take Charge of Your Card site to get a card with a responsible bank or credit union instead.

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March 20, 2014 / Elizabeth

Tim Cook, Are You Listening?

ImageSince the launch of our Bad Apple: End Smartphone Sweatshops campaign last week we’ve received a huge response from consumers and media outlets all around the world!

In the first twenty-four hours, more than twelve thousand consumers signed our petition and sent a message to Apple’s CEO Tim Cook, asking him to protect workers in Chinese electronics factories by removing the most harmful chemicals from the production processes.

The campaign was also covered in more than 300 news stories on the radio, TV, the internet and in print. The world is watching to see what Apple does next, so we are now asking: Tim Cook, are you listening?

In the statement Apple shared with media last week the company pointed out how it has led the industry in the past in removing other toxic chemicals from its products. Our campaign is calling on Apple to once again lead the industry and remove harmful chemicals from not only its products, but also the manufacturing processes, to ensure workers are not endangered while making iPhones.

Sign our petition to Tim Cook today>>

Even if you have already signed you can send another message and add “Are You Listening?” to the subject field of the petition.

Here are just a few articles in which the Bad Apple campaign was featured:

  • The Guardian: Apple urged to stop using harmful chemicals in its factories
  • Huffington Post: Factory Workers May Be Getting Sick From Chemicals Used To Make Your iPhone
  • Salon: Apple urged to stop using toxic chemicals in its factories, Tim Cook’s chance to prove that he wants to make the world a better place
  • The Telegraph UK: Cancer and nerve damage: is this the human cost of an iPhone?

Filmmaker Heather White also authored a great piece in the Huffington Post! Her film, Who Pays the Price?, is a powerful ten-minute expose on the lives of the young workers working in electronics factories.

Over the next few weeks we’ll be keeping the pressure on Apple. Please join us by following us on Facebook and sharing our updates and actions with your friends.

March 18, 2014 / Sam Catherman

Why a Central Banking System Doesn’t Work for Everyone

Green America’s Take Charge Program urges consumers to support smaller, local financial institutions in lieu of megabanks. Here are a few reasons why local banks and credit unions benefit smaller communities across the country. 

Since the early 20th Century, The United States has relied heavily on its centralized banking system. Represented by the Federal Reserve and top-tier financial institutions, (such as Citi and Bank of America), a centralized system is one in which a single entity regulates a state’s currency, money supply, and interest rates. The Federal Reserve has many responsibilities, including regulating and supervising private banks, protecting the credit rights of consumers, and issuing the nation’s currency.

The role of large, wealthy private banks is important in understanding how the central banking system works. The Fed is not controlled by the government, but rather by a group of governing board members who are often employees of private megabanks. Private banks give the board information related to their particular economic situation, and Federal Reserve policy is based on their suggestions. In turn, Federal Reserve policy largely influences to whom, and by how much banks should lend their money.

www.freefoto.com, Ian Britton

The centralization of banking benefits wealth concentration and increases risks

Research suggests that “high-ability entrepreneurs” tend to gravitate towards a central banking system. Essentially, wealthy individuals and institutions enjoy the connectedness that a centralized system offers. Pooling together the resources of powerful entrepreneurs, however, increases the risk of losing all of that money by making poor lending decisions. Large, wealthy banks are able to spend more on screening potential borrowers so that they have the lowest chance of losing a large amount of money. Even so, due to their sheer volume of lending, a megabank’s ability to evaluate the underlying credit-worthiness of their borrowers is compromised at such a large scale. Despite their best efforts, risk is always present.

On the other hand, as a part of a decentralized system, banks face lower screening costs. Community investment banks and credit unions focus primarily on the specific regions they serve. Local banks spend less on the evaluation of potential small-scale borrowers, in part because of the modest needs of their customers and in part because they have less to lose by lending in the first place. As such, local banks can consider factors other than the bottom line, like a project’s potential benefit to or impact on the surrounding community or environment.

The difference in risk management costs leads to what researchers call a spatial bias. Think of New York City, where some of the largest banks in the nation are headquartered. Communities surrounding the central banks benefit from their proximity to the hub. After all, it’s much riskier to lend money to someone across the country than it is to lend to a neighbor. But what about the communities that are nowhere near a banking center? Credit-worthy businesses and consumers in these areas often have a hard time obtaining financing from megabanks, which prevents smaller communities from growing.

The higher risk faced by lending megabanks also steers their preference toward larger borrowers. It is less costly to screen one large entity seeking a loan than many small individual requests for risk. The problem is, large borrowers often need financing for some of the most damaging activities, like dirty energy and sub-prime mortgages (which helped trigger the economic malaise of the past 5 years). In addition to making those involved quite wealthy, these activities can have serious societal consequences – consequences that small, regional, low-impact borrowers would not likely cause.

Local Banks support what Megabanks Don’t

Areas with limited access to capital are best served by community investment banks and credit unions to finance homes and build infrastructure. These communities have relatively little to offer towards the megabanks’ record-breaking profits, and they frequently emerge as losers against investment opportunities considered to be “safe bets” by large banks.

What is particularly troubling about the influence megabanks have on our central system is that there is ample room for abuse – we have seen countless examples of megabank misconduct, and we know that the forces at play can be damaging to both the environment and communities.  For example, many large banks were recently fined billions of dollars for their role in the mortgage fraud that precipitated the Great Recession and are currently being sued by the FDIC for their role in manipulating LIBOR (an international interest rate).

Given this misconduct, we, as everyday consumers of financial services like modest lines of credit and checking/savings accounts, should support community investment banks and credit unions outside of the centralized sphere. Instead of supporting coal mining or questionable mortgage-lending practices, the fees paid for your bank’s services could go directly back into your own world, supporting community development and environmental protection projects. Unless your megabank can offer you something your local financial institution cannot, the decision to Take Charge should be a no-brainer.

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March 13, 2014 / Elizabeth

Apple responds to campaign, but falls short of progress

Co-authored by Kevin Slaten, China Labor Watch & Elizabeth O’Connell, Green America

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Yesterday in partnership with Students and Scholars Against Corporate Misbehaviour and the activism arm of the Nation, Green America and China Labor Watch launched a petition to Apple to improve worker health and safety in the factories that make Apple products.

Apple was quick to respond to our campaign, in a statement shared with Computer World, however, their statement falls far short of meeting the demands of the campaign.  

First, we are calling for the elimination of the most dangerous chemicals used to make Apple products. Two dangerous chemicals known to be used by Apple include benzene and n-hexane, but there are more.  Thousands of chemicals can be involved in making one electronic device, many of which are newly developed and not sufficiently tested. Apple does not disclose the list of chemicals used at its supplier factories.  Transparency will be the first step in eliminating the most dangerous chemicals, removing them is next.

Apple pointed out it has led the industry in removing other dangerous chemicals from its products, but its statement did not include benzene or n-hexane. Nor did it indicate that Apple had removed toxic chemicals from the processes of making the parts–simply the final products themselves.

In cases where workers are still exposed to dangerous chemicals, workers must be provided with proper training and protective gear. In China, the legal minimum requirement for health and safety training is 24 hours. Apple’s new EHS training program provides no evidence that trainings will be enforced for workers at supplier factories, only that management will be trained. Additionally, China Labor Watch has issued reports revealing that at one of Apple’s main assembly factories, safety trainings were sometimes only 10 minutes long.

Secondly, we are calling on Apple to ensure that all workers who have been injured are receiving appropriate care. At present, Apple has no mechanism to track worker health and safety at its supplier factories, and therefore has no idea of the pervasiveness of occupational illnesses.  Tracking will be the first step, but to be a leader, Apple should ensure that any worker who has become ill making iPhones is receiving proper diagnosis, can access appropriate care, and can afford the care he or she needs.  The current process for workers to receive occupational diagnosis and access treatment is bureaucratic, time-consuming, and the care is not sufficient. Apple needs to step in to expedite this process.  For workers that have already become ill, sometimes gravely, time is of the essence.

It’s true that Apple has led in its industry, which is why Apple can and should be the first tech company to take this next step for workers.

Additional reforms Apple should take to protect the workers making its products include:

  • Disclose the chemicals used in products and to make products at supplier and assembly factories, and a mitigation plan for all chemicals considered to be dangerous
  • Disclose incidences of worker injuries and illness
  • Require all supplier and assembly factories to conduct pre-hire and post-resignation health exams, while at the same time ensuring that workers are not tested for pregnancy or discriminated against for other diseases like hepatitis B or HIV.
  • Disclose all manager safety trainings (including the training content), audit results, inspection results, and steps it took to resolve problems. (Including locations of inspections.)
  • Disclose inspection/audit findings to the public

Until this information is public, it’s difficult for consumers to trust what Apple says it is doing. Greater transparency is the first step towards worker safety, and it must be followed by action.

People interested in joining us to push Apple to protect workers and move towards true sustainable manufacturing should sign our petition to the Apple’s CEO, Tim Cook.>>

March 12, 2014 / Elizabeth

Announcing Bad Apple: End Smartphone Sweatshops!

Our new campaign, Bad Apple: End Smartphone Sweatshops, is working to bring light to the issue of unjust labor conditions in electronics factories in China, particularly regarding chemical use and worker health and safety.

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Why Smartphones?

Roughly 75% of the world’s population now has a cell phone, and demand for newer, smarter, and cheaper gadgets is on the rise. Smartphones, like many electronics, are made in factories where workers regularly do not have adequate protective gear or training for handling toxic substances.  Exposure to dangerous chemicals can lead to cancer, leukemia, nerve damage, liver and kidney failure, and reproductive health issues, depending on the chemical and level of exposure.

There are thousands of chemicals that could be used in electronics manufacturing process—some are known carcinogens and others are largely untested.  Protective gear and rigorous trainings on safe handling are needed but rarely enforced, and often problems of exposure are not detected until workers are already sick.  In the case of benzene, there are suitable and safer alternatives that are only slightly more expensive.[1] Chemicals known to be harmful to human health should be banned and for chemicals with unknown toxicity, more testing is required.

Why Apple?

Despite Apple’s Code of Conduct that prohibits the handling of dangerous chemicals without training or protective gear, extensive problems persist.  Recent cases in Apple supplier factories have occurred in which workers have contracted leukemia due to benzene exposure[2], nerve-damage due to n-hexane exposure[3], and skin conditions due to handling acidic chemicals without protection[4].

Apple is the pioneers in the smartphone industry, and is the self-proclaimed leader on corporate social responsibility.  As a massive global company, Apple has the power to improve working conditions throughout the electronics-manufacturing sector by influencing both its suppliers and its competitors. There are safer alternatives to the most dangerous chemicals available and Apple can take the lead in using them until it becomes an industry norm to use chemicals that are not endangering workers.

Apple is also highly profitable, earning $37 billion in profits in 2013 in one year.  On average, Apple’s profit margins on iPhones are close to 40 percent, higher than any of Apple’s competitors. Industry experts have estimated that Apple could remove dangerous chemicals from its supply chain for less than $1 per phone.

Eliminating benzene and other chemicals known to be harmful to human health from Apple’s supply chain would help prevent more workers from losing their lives or livelihoods themselves because of occupational illnesses from making iPhones.

Join us in sending a message to Apple>>

 

March 11, 2014 / franteplitz

Looking Forward to Next Steps by New Senate Climate Caucus

burning-coalThis morning, 28 senators concluded their all-nighter – an around-the-clock event to draw urgency to the need to address the climate crisis. Green America welcomes this visibility action by the Senate’s new “climate caucus” and we look forward to big steps to come, joined by members of the House.

For years now the US Congress has been stuck in a partisan impasse that has not only prevented enactment of comprehensive climate legislation, but has also stymied more moderate efforts to advance energy efficiency and other measures to build a clean energy economy. Creating good domestic jobs, cutting carbon pollution, and securing our energy future through renewable sources should all be bi-partisan issues. But even among Democrats, too many have been quiet on climate for too long. Perhaps now the tide will turn and we’ll see the leadership that’s required to cut greenhouse gas pollution and build our renewable energy sectors.

The senators used an all-night session, a rarely used strategy, to build positive momentum for addressing climate change, to attract media attention, and to go on record more forcefully as legislators committed to creating the conditions necessary for meaningful action on climate to take place. That is, all the senators except for Senator Jim Inhofe, a long-standing climate change denier. Understanding the current political constraints, the caucus wants to lay the foundation now for future success.

This Senate climate “talk-a-thon” could be an important step toward something important – but we’ll need ongoing public pressure to make that happen. Constituents can urge your Senators and Representatives to take action, urge the Obama Administration to reject the Keystone XL pipeline, and support the EPA’s proposed regulations to cut carbon pollution from new power plants. To support strong power plant standards, you can use Green America’s action through May 9th.

We need everyone’s participation to make climate change a top priority – one that moves from words to actions.

March 10, 2014 / Todd Larsen

Bank of America Announces a New Plan for Taking Money from Those Who Can Least Afford It

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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.

 

March 5, 2014 / franteplitz

2014 Shareholder Season Sets Record!

2014ProxyPreviewThe 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.

February 26, 2014 / Sam Catherman

New Financing for Clean Energy – Clean Energy Victory Bonds

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.

Green America CEO and President Alisa Gravitz speaks at a briefing on Capitol Hill, Feb 24, 2014.

Green America CEO and President Alisa Gravitz speaks at a briefing on Capitol Hill, Feb 24, 2014.

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. [1]

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!


[1] U.S. Energy Information Administration and Solar Foundation

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