Archive for the ‘Consumer Protection’ Category

Tuesday marked the beginning of a series of public hearings on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) proposed rule to limit carbon emissions from our nation’s power sector. The hearings took place over the course of four days in Atlanta, Denver, Pittsburgh and Washington, D.C.

The proposal – and subject of the public forums – aims to cut overall carbon pollution from existing power plants to 30 percent below 2005 levels by 2030, a goal the U.S. is already halfway to achieving. According to U.S. Energy Information Administration data, current carbon emissions from the energy sector have fallen nearly 15 percent from 2005.

That’s why the proposal not only is achievable, but we can do much better. In fact, the science demands – and our technological advancements allow for – a more aggressive plan to cut climate-causing pollution.

Public Citizen staff and activists turned out to each hearing to deliver to the EPA the message that we all support an aggressive plan that uses our vast renewable energy sources and cost-saving efficiency technologies to address the largest source of U.S. climate altering pollution (power plants).

Public Citizen Standing up to Dirty Energy, Standing up for Consumers and the Climate:

On the first day of testimony in Denver, I told the EPA that “Public Citizen supports strong carbon emissions regulations. The unlimited dumping of carbon into our atmosphere has led to a global climate crisis. We can no longer afford inaction or half measures. We urge the EPA to strengthen its proposed plan by adequately reflecting the role of energy efficiency and renewable energy in transitioning to a clean and affordable energy economy.

Allison Fisher testifying at the EPA hearing in Denver on July 29.

Allison Fisher testifying at the EPA hearing in Denver

That same day in Atlanta, Public Citizen member, Albert Roesel, a retired teacher, told the EPA, “I have been distraught watching this climate catastrophe cascading in the late years of my life, having grown up with the idea that each generation is obligated to leave succeeding generations better off, knowing that instead, we have loaded the dice against the dreams of our children. Now with EPA’s Clean Power Plan, I have a glimmer of hope. It’s not enough, but it’s a start.”

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Thirty-three years ago today, the World Health Organization adopted the International Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes (AKA the “WHO Code”) to promote breastfeeding and limit formula companies’ influence over women’s infant feeding decisions. Today, most health care facilities and the largest formula makers continue to violate the Code in the U.S. and worldwide.

To mark the anniversary of the WHO Code, more than 20 organizations and thousands of moms and citizens today are participating in a day of action led by Public Citizen, directed at the largest formula makers in the U.S. and Canada – Mead Johnson (of Enfamil), Abbott (Similac) and Nestle (Gerber Good Start). Participants are urging the companies to end the unethical practice of promoting formula in health care facilities, particularly through the distribution of commercial discharge bags with formula samples – a longstanding violation of the code.

Mothers and leaders are delivering a petition with more than 17,000 signatures to Mead Johnson at its headquarters outside of Chicago. The petition will also be presented to Abbott and Nestle. Thousands of others are taking action remotely, sending photos and messages to companies on Facebook, Twitter and other online platforms. A diverse group of consumer rights, public health, women’s health, corporate accountability and breastfeeding advocacy organizations are co-sponsoring the effort. The day of action is not meant to advocate against formula use if necessary but to focus on the need to give mothers information that hasn’t been influenced by formula companies.

Most health care professionals and the American Academy of Pediatrics recommend that mothers exclusively breastfeed for six months. A large body of research shows that antibodies passed from a nursing mother to her baby can help lower the occurrence of many conditions among infants including ear and respiratory infections, diarrhea, meningitis and higher risks of allergies, sudden infant death syndrome and other health risks. Mothers also benefit, with a reduced risk of type 2 diabetes, breast cancer, obesity, ovarian cancer, post-partum depression and bladder infections.

Public health experts overwhelmingly discourage hospitals and doctor’s offices from distributing formula company-sponsored gift bags and formula samples – common marketing tactics – but formula companies still find ways to market formula in facilities nationwide. Studies show such formula sample distribution undermines women’s breastfeeding success because the practice is viewed as an endorsement of formula by health care providers. In 2011, then-U.S. Surgeon General Regina A. Benjamin called for more enforcement of the WHO Code through the Baby-Friendly Hospital Initiative, which requires designated hospitals to comply with the code.

Nearly half of the world’s countries have adopted legislation to implement the Code, but in the U.S. — as a result of formula industry lobbying and political influence— legislation currently remains out of reach.

But advocacy efforts have led many hospitals to end formula promotion over the past decade. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Maternity Practices in Infant Nutrition and Care (mPINC) surveys, 27.4 percent of hospitals had discontinued the formula discharge bags for breastfeeding mothers in 2007, and by 2011, 45.5 percent had ended the practice. All hospitals in Massachusetts and Rhode Island have voluntarily banned discharge bags, and a recent Public Citizen and Ban the Bags report found that 82 percent of the U.S. News and World Report’s top-ranked hospitals, and more than two-thirds of the highest ranked hospitals in gynecology, no longer hand out commercial formula discharge bags with samples. However, formula companies have increasingly managed to push formula samples in doctor’s offices and clinics, often without the knowledge of health care providers within those offices.

Diverse organizations are co-sponsoring the day of action with Public Citizen. They include the U.S. Breastfeeding Committee (composed of more than 50 member organizations), the Best for Babes Foundation, Food and Water Watch, Corporate Accountability International, the National Women’s Health Network, Our Bodies Ourselves, La Leche League USA, HealthConnect One, the National Alliance for Breastfeeding Advocacy, the California WIC Association, Power U Center for Social Change, Breastfeed Chicago, the Chicago Region Breastfeeding Task Force, the Massachusetts Breastfeeding Coalition, the North Carolina Breastfeeding Coalition, the Coalition of Oklahoma Breastfeeding Advocates, the Pennsylvania Breastfeeding Coalition, the New York State Breastfeeding Coalition, United States Lactation Consultants Association and Women Empowered Systems Enrichment (WISE).

To learn more about the Public Citizen’s campaign to stop infant formula marketing in health care facilities, visit http://citizen.org/infant-formula.

Eva Seidelman is a Researcher for Public Citizen’s Commercial Alert.


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In the aftermath of the tragic deaths associated with General Motors’ faulty ignition switches, two questions present themselves:

1. How can we save lives by stopping corporations from ever again suppressing life-saving information about dangerous products?

2. How can we hold corporate bosses accountable for suppressing life-saving information?

Last week, activists tuned in to an online conversation about reforms Public Citizen is advocating that will answer these questions and how to support those reforms by calling your members of Congress.

Miss the webinar? Catch up by watching the video below:

To make sure you’re invited to the next live online discussion, sign up today.

Rick Claypool is the online director for Public Citizen’s Congress Watch division. Follow him on Twitter at @RickClaypool.

We just filed a protest at the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission challenging a group of financial institutions’ efforts to create a new loophole. First, a little background:

On February 27, a group of private equity and investment bank lien holders of a collection of US power plants called MACH Gen filed for permission to restructure. The lien holders are the private equity firms Angelo Gordon (through its control of Silver Oak); Cayman Islands-based Solus, and Deutsche Bank.

Deutsche entered into a Total Return Swap with the private equity firm Energy Capital Partners which, among other things, gives Energy Capital Partners the ability to direct and control the way Deutsche’s MACH Gen board member votes. In their own words: “The Applicants do not concede that the indirect interest of ECP Polaris through the TRS equates to ownership or control of the voting securities of a public utility for the purposes of the Commission’s consideration of this . . . Application.”

So Energy Capital Partners, which will in fact control a board seat through its Total Return Swap with Deutsche Bank, is claiming at FERC that this Total Return Swap does not in fact constitute control.

Similarly, Citigroup, through an affiliate it created SOL, entered into a total return swap with Solus, providing Citi with 5.8% of the equity in MACH Gen. But this total return swap does NOT convey control over a board seat.

Determination that a Total Return Swap conveys control of a public utility is important, in part, because the U.S. Executive Branch, the Federal Reserve and Congress are actively engaged in a robust debate about defining and limiting control that certain financial institutions have over energy commodity assets. I first testified before Congress in 2008 about the dangers of financial institutions controlling energy assets, and testified again before the Senate in 2011.  The U.S. Senate Banking Committee held a January 2014 hearing, “Regulating Financial Holding Companies and Physical Commodities,” which included testimony by the Federal Reserve, FERC and the U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission.  The U.S. Federal Reserve in January 2014 announced an Advanced Notice of Rulemaking concerning its authority allowing certain financial institutions to control physical energy assets.

If FERC allows this Total Return Swap loophole to stand, Public Citizen predicts expanded use of such financial agreements to undermine various federal government efforts to regulate control over energy assets. Allowing this loophole will establish a dangerous precedent that will harm the public interest.

Tyson Slocum is Director of Public Citizen’s Energy Program. Follow him on Twitter @TysonSlocum

Tom Donohue, president and CEO of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, gave his annual “State of American Business” speech this week.  It came with the usual complaints about how corporations are “burdened” by important public protections needed to hold corporations accountable for wrongdoing, such as access to the civil justice system.

One example of such “burdens” according to the U.S. Chamber and it’s so called Institute for Legal Reform is an individuals’ right to turn to the court system when they suffer losses at the hands of Big Business. The U.S. Chamber has continuously sought to restrict consumers’ right to go to court.  Individuals already face numerous and unreasonable obstacles to access the courts, but based on Donohue’s speech, the industry still wants more. And it is seeking to combat any potential advances that would restore some of our rights as consumers in the marketplace.

One such advance which the U.S. Chamber and its financial industry friends are apoplectic about, are some recent developments at the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB). The CFPB is in the midst of studying one of industry’s more forceful tools to restrict consumers’ rights: the use of forced arbitration and bans on class actions in financial services contracts.

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