Alert! Omnibus Spending Bill Favors Wall Street and Wealthy Donors

Dolla dolla bill

Congressional Democrats, in an attempt to prevent another government shutdown this year, may agree to let some troubling provisions into this year’s omnibus spending bill. Among the concessions made to the newly GOP-controlled legislature, the bill would strip critical restrictions on Wall Street under the Dodd-Frank Act. It would also permit a 3-fold increase in the amount of money a […]

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Amazon Takes a Step Forward on Climate?

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Amazon has added a line to the sustainability page of the Amazon Web Services site stating: In addition to the environmental benefits inherently associated with running applications in the cloud, AWS has a long-term commitment to achieve 100% renewable energy usage for our global infrastructure footprint. It’s always good news when a large company recognizes that it needs to shift […]

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President Obama clears the air on Keystone XL

  For many months, it’s been hard to determine the President’s exact position on the Keystone XL pipeline.  The President has frequently said that he is relying on the State Department’s review of the pipeline in order for the Secretary of State to decide whether to approve or reject it, and that review has been delayed several times. However, with the House of Representatives’ vote today in favor of the Keystone XL, the President made his clearest statement yet on the pipeline, and it was breath of fresh air.  According to the Washington Post: In a news conference Friday in Burma, the president rejected two of the most frequent arguments the project’s proponents have made on its behalf, saying he had “to constantly push back against this idea that somehow the Keystone pipeline is either this massive jobs bill for the United States or is somehow lowering gas prices.” “It is providing the ability of Canada to pump their oil, send it through our land down to the Gulf where it will be sold to everyone else,” he said. “It doesn’t have an impact on U.S. gas prices.” These are two of the most potent critiques of the pipeline, and are completely based in fact.  Analysis from Cornell Global Labor Institute demonstrates that the Keystone XL will only produce 35 permanent jobs.  No one disputes that oil produced by the Keystone XL is destined for boats that will take if […]

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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 […]

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

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 […]

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Green America supports limiting carbon from new power plants

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 […]

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This Valentine’s Day: Ditch a Megabank Zero and Take Up With a Hero

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 […]

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Newsflash: Regulating Banks is Good for Credit Card Customers

When Congress decided to reign in the abuses of the credit card industry four years ago through the Credit Card Accountability Responsibility and Disclosure Act (the Card Act), a lot of industry observers declared that increased regulation would lead to high costs for consumers overall.  Not so.  As reported in the New York Times, a recent study by Neal Mahoney, an economist at the University of Chicago found that federal regulation of credit card abuses has been unequivocally beneficial to consumers, to the tune of $20 billion per year. Before the Card Act, megabanks would regularly charge excessive fees and interest rates to cardholders, particularly low-income cardholders.  For example, banks would regularly jack up the interest rate on credit card holders for no reason – the cardholders were not delinquent in their payments – often to rates exceeding 25%.  Banks also played with the due dates for payments to engineer more late fees, and charged customers extra for paying by phone or over the internet.  These interest rates and fees boosted profits at megabanks, and acted as an enormous transfer of wealth from mostly working class and poor Americans to our wealthiest financial institutions, helping to drive record salaries for CEO and upper management. When the Card Act passed in 2009, the industry warned that consumers would be penalized overall with less access to credit and higher rates in general.  Overall, that has not happened.  While banks have pulled back […]

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Green America supports the EPA in regulating power plants

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has been hosting a listening tour across the country to gain feedback from citizens and organizations about proposed regulations of carbon emissions from existing power plants.  Green America has already supported the EPA’s proposal to regulate emissions from new power plants.  Now, the EPA is proposing to regulate existing power plants — a far greater source of carbon emissions in the US — particularly emissions from coal-fired plants. At a number of listening sessions, the coal industry has presented testimony that EPA regulations of coal-fired power plants will harm the U.S. economy.  However, all of the evidence demonstrates that the opposite is true.The continued reliance on coal as major source of electric power in the U.S. is harming our economy and preventing job growth. On behalf of Green America, I presented the following remarks at the listening session in Washington DC today. Thank you for hosting these listening sessions across the country to receive input from Americans on the important issue of regulating greenhouse gas emissions from existing 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 […]

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