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News Release | U.S. PIRG | Consumer Tips, Consumer Protection

Largest bank hack ever, of Capital One, exposes 100 million to identity theft

Everyone should assume that their social security number has been exposed between this breach and breaches of other major companies’ databases, such as Equifax’s. With that in mind, U.S. PIRG recommends all Americans should use their right by law to freeze their credit reports for free

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News Release | U.S. PIRG Education Fund | Consumer Protection, Financial Reform

Equifax penalty is a “sweetheart deal” that leaves consumers at risk

Our response to Equifax paying a $650 million penalty for exposing the social security numbers of 148 million Americans to identity theft.

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Blog Post | Transportation

Electrify METRO Coalition Letter | Bay Scoggin

Dear Chair Patman,

We write you today to urge METRO to transition its buses to a clean, all-electric fleet.

We applaud the work METRO employees do every day, safely carrying thousands of people, including many who cannot or do not wish to drive, to work, school and more. METRO buses and light rail are playing a critical role in reducing traffic and air pollution. Furthermore, we appreciate the efforts METRO has taken to convert buses to hybrid technology, limit idling, and initiate an electric bus pilot program. 

However, most METRO buses are still powered by diesel—a dirty fossil fuel that gives off toxic emissions—endangering the health of the people who ride them and contributing to global warming. 

The good news is we have the technology to start building cleaner, healthier cities and neighborhoods. Dramatic declines in battery costs and improvements in performance, including expanded driving range, have made electric buses a viable alternative to diesel-powered and other fossil fuel buses. 

Replacing all of METRO’s diesel-powered transit buses with electric buses could reduce greenhouse gas emissions by more than 43 million pounds each year. 

Electric buses can also be more affordable than fossil fuel buses in the long run, since they have 30 percent fewer parts, no exhaust systems, their braking systems last longer, and they don’t require oil changes or fossil fuels. Over the lifetime of the bus, an electric transit bus can avoid hundreds of thousands of dollars in operating costs over an equivalent diesel or natural gas bus, from lower fuel and maintenance costs. 

We urge you to no longer purchase any more diesel buses. Putting new diesel buses on the road today will pollute our city for at least twelve more years. Instead, as buses are ready to be retired, please replace them with clean electric ones.

The Houston region is receiving $32 million from the Volkswagen Settlement funds, but that money is yet to be dispersed. This is a great opportunity for METRO to start transitioning to clean electric buses. 

 

We look forward to working with you to one day give all Houstonians the opportunity for a “whisper-quiet, green ride.”

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Media Hit | Transportation

Report lists I-45 rebuild project among nation’s biggest highway boondoggles

A massive remake of Interstate 45 from downtown Houston north to the Sam Houston Tollway that would be among the largest road projects in the region’s history also is one of the nation’s biggest highway boondoggles, according to an updated list released Tuesday.

The North Houston Highway Improvement Project — the umbrella term for the entire $7 billion-plus plan to remake Interstate 45 — is listed in the latest installment of unnecessary projects compiled by the U.S. Public Interest Research Group and Frontier Group. Nine projects across the country made the 2019 list, the fifth annual report from the two groups that have argued for greater transit investment.

“We believe that to fix congestion problems we need to take cars off the road,” said Bay Scoggin, director of the TexPIRG Education Fund, a subset of the national group. “We could do far better investing $7 billion in public transit.”

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News Release | TexPIRG Education Fund | Transportation

“North Houston Highway Improvement Project” makes national list of highway boondoggles

Despite boasting one of the most extensive highway systems of any city in the country, Houston is planning to spend $7 billion on the “North Houston Highway Improvement Project.” According to a new report from TexPIRG Education Fund and Frontier Group, the project would expand I-45 through the middle of Houston, displacing homes and dividing communities.

“The fundamental law of road congestion is that if you build it, they will come,” said Bay Scoggin, TexPIRG Education Fund director. “More highways means more cars, so policymakers are living in a ‘Field of Dreams’ if they think this project will reduce congestion.”

“To improve Houston’s transportation system, we have to reduce our reliance on cars and highways,” Scoggin continued.  “This project does the opposite, doubling down on a car-centric system that will lead to more traffic, pollution and sprawl.”

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News Release | TexPIRG Education Fund | Transportation

“North Houston Highway Improvement Project” makes national list of highway boondoggles

Despite boasting one of the most extensive highway systems of any city in the country, Houston is planning to spend $7 billion on the “North Houston Highway Improvement Project.” According to a new report from TexPIRG Education Fund and Frontier Group, the project would expand I-45 through the middle of Houston, displacing homes and dividing communities.

“The fundamental law of road congestion is that if you build it, they will come,” said Bay Scoggin, TexPIRG Education Fund director. “More highways means more cars, so policymakers are living in a ‘Field of Dreams’ if they think this project will reduce congestion.”

“To improve Houston’s transportation system, we have to reduce our reliance on cars and highways,” Scoggin continued.  “This project does the opposite, doubling down on a car-centric system that will lead to more traffic, pollution and sprawl.”

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News Release | The Public Interest Network | Public Health

Hurricane season coverage: Data, resources and interview opportunities

The 2019 hurricane season officially gets underway tomorrow (June 1) with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) predicting between 4 and 8 hurricanes this year. On the heels of the devastating Hurricane Florence and Hurricane Michael in 2018, The Public Interest Network (which includes U.S. PIRGEnvironment America, and state groups in often-impacted states such as Florida, Georgia, North CarolinaTexas and Virginia) is sharing information to help contextualize the major environmental, health and consumer concerns posed by the hurricanes that will inevitably come this season.

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News Release | TexPIRG Education Fund | Transportation

Texas receives "D" grade for Volkswagen settlement spending plan

When it comes to clean transportation, Texas got a “D” for underutilizing funds from Volkswagen’s nearly $3 billion settlement with federal authorities, according to a new report card from U.S. PIRG Education Fund and Environment America Research & Policy Center.

After Volkswagen was caught three years ago violating emissions standards in 590,000 cars marketed as “clean diesel,” the German automaker agreed to create an “Environmental Mitigation Trust” to be distributed across all 50 states (along with the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico. Texas got its grade because the funds were made available for dirty fuels like compressed fracked gas, with no extra decision criteria for zero emissions vehicles.

“The Volkswagen settlement gave Texas the opportunity to make huge strides in the essential transition to a cleaner and healthier electric transportation system,” Bay Scoggin, TexPIRG Director said. “It’s deeply disappointing that there’s a lot of good is coming out of how some states are spending this money -- but we are not going nearly far enough.”

Texas placed near the bottom of states overall. The report gave only 15 states a C or better for money-spending policies that increase access to electric vehicle charging and bolster electric school and transit bus fleets. Fourteen states, along with Puerto Rico, received a failing score.

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News Release | TexPIRG Education Fund | Transportation

Report: Roadmap for a stronger, more sustainable American infrastructure

Three years after candidates from both parties made infrastructure a key presidential campaign issue, it’s finally the long-awaited “infrastructure week.” Democratic congressional leaders and the White House announced two weeks ago that they would commit $2 trillion to the cause. But a new report from U.S. PIRG Education Fund, Environment America Research & Policy Center and Frontier Group cautions that before allocating that money, our elected officials need to determine which investments will alleviate the most dire problems America faces as a result of crumbling or outdated infrastructure -- climate change, pollution and threats to public safety.

“Deciding how much to spend before deciding what to spend it on puts the cart before the horse,” said Andre Delattre, senior vice president for program at The Public Interest Network, which includes the three groups that wrote the report. “If Congress and the Trump administration avoid the temptation to spend indiscriminately and instead develop a bold new infrastructure vision, we have the opportunity to give our children and grandchildren a stronger, healthier and more sustainable future.”

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News Release | TexPIRG | Transportation

Capital Metro makes Earth Day Announcement

Today, Capital Metro announced its plan to build a new, first of its kind, electric bus charging facility. The new facility, stationed off Burnet at the transit agencies’ northern depot, will be capable of charging over 200 buses, roughly half of the current size of the fleet.

Advocates like the Texas Public Interest Research Group (TexPIRG) and the Texas Electric Transportation Resources Alliance (TxETRA) applauded the move.

“What an exciting Earth Day announcement,” said Bay Scoggin, TexPIRG Director. “Investing in infrastructure at this scale shows the deep commitment that Cap Metro has for a sustainable transportation future. Cleaner, healthier, and money-saving, electric buses are a win-win-win for the transit agency and everyone in the Austin metro area.”

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Report | TexPIRG | Transportation

Growing Greener

Austin is one of America’s fastest-growing cities. This growth has brought dynamism to the city, but has also created environmental problems. Because much of Austin’s growth has taken place at the urban fringe, the addition of new residents and businesses has caused persistent and worsening problems with traffic congestion, air pollution and water quality, as more undeveloped land is converted into new development. To accommodate the continued influx of new people to the city, Austin is currently revising its land development code in a process called CodeNEXT.

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Report | TexPIRG Education Fund | Tax

Offshore Shell Games

In 2016, 73 percent of Fortune 500 companies – including 37 headquartered in Texas- maintained subsidiaries in offshore tax havens, according to “Offshore Shell Games,” released today by TexPIRG Education Fund and the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy. Collectively, multinationals reported booking $2.6 trillion offshore, with just 30 companies accounting for 68 percent of this total, and just four companies accounting for a quarter of the total.

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Report | U.S. PIRG Education Fund | Public Health

Chain Reaction III

The third annual Chain Reaction report, which grades companies on their antibiotics policies and practices, found that 14 out of the top 25 restaurants in the U.S. have taken steps to restrict the routine use of antibiotics in the production of the chicken they serve, up from nine just one year ago. While restaurant chains made great progress on chicken, the groups who authored the report found that there were no new commitments to limit antibiotic use in beef and pork.

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Report | USPIRG Education Fund | Transportation

From Deceit to Transformation

Volkswagen (VW) perpetuated a fraud on the American people, deceiving consumers into believing that they were getting the best possible combination of performance and sustainability. But VW’s promises were nothing more than lies that significantly harmed our collective health and the health of our environment. As a result of the settlement that followed this fraud, an Environmental Mitigation Trust (EMT) was set up with $2.9 billion dollars to be distributed to states to reduce transportation emissions.

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Report | TexPIRG Education Fund and Frontier Group | Budget

Following the Money 2017: Special Districts

Citizens’ ability to understand how their tax dollars are spent is fundamental to democracy. Budget and spending transparency holds government officials accountable for making smart decisions, checks corruption, and provides citizens an opportunity to affect how government dollars are spent.

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Blog Post | Consumer Protection

Event 5/11 re new book on black box decisionmaking & consumers | Ed Mierzwinski

UPDATED TO CONFIRM CFPB Speaker. We are hosting an event Monday, 5/11, from 9am-noon ET to discuss a new book, The Black Box Society, with author Frank Pasquale. Click Keep Reading to RSVP to attend in person or to watch the livestream. While credit bureaus have long functioned as black box gatekeepers to opportunity, panelists will discuss the growing use of more and more, even less transparent black boxes to categorize consumers in the digital economy.

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Blog Post | Consumer Protection

CFPB Begins Payday Regulation Push In Richmond | Ed Mierzwinski

We joined the CFPB in Richmond Thursday for a field hearing on a proposed rule to regulate payday lending and similar high-cost short-term loans. The CFPB's draft rule is comprehensive, covering a variety of loans, but it contains potential loopholes that we and other advocates will urge the bureau to close before it finalizes this important effort. Here's a short blog with some photos from Richmond.

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Blog Post | Consumer Protection

CFPB Adds Consumer Stories to Public Complaint Database | Ed Mierzwinski

Today, the CFPB took a step to make its excellent public database of consumer complaints even better, by adding complaint narratives (stories), but only with the consumer's consent. It's a step we've long urged. It will enrich our research into the marketplace, help consumers make choices and help good-actor firms avoid bad practices by others.

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News Release | TexPIRG Education Fund

On Wednesday, the Texas Transportation Commission came out with a plan to fully fund the proposed expansion of Interstate 35 through downtown Austin. The following can be attributed to Bay Scoggin, TexPIRG Education Fund Director. 

“Time and again, we see Texas’ transportation priorities are headed in the wrong direction.For eight billion dollars, we could do far better than a project that won’t solve congestion, will increase our burden on the environment, and will exacerbate our reliance on cars.”

News Release | TexPIRG Education Fund

Americans are not hearing about food recalls, and that communication breakdown is having serious repercussions for public health. For example, less than two years ago, people kept getting sick for months after 12 million pounds of Salmonella-contaminated beef was recalled. The pattern has repeated for other recalls even when news outlets have publicized warnings from food safety agencies.

A new report finds that most grocery stores -- which should be some of the best sources for consumers to learn about recalls -- don’t make it easy for consumers to find. TexPIRG Education Fund’s Food Recall Failure: Will your supermarket warn you about hazardous food? scorecard gave a failing grade to 84 percent of the nation’s 26 largest supermarket chains. Chains receiving a failing grade include HEB,and Whole Foods. Shoppers can search for their grocery store on the organization’s website.

News Release | U.S. PIRG

Congress must hold companies accountable for failing to protect condumers' confidential information.

News Release | TexPIRG Education Fund

Contaminated food, from Tyson's chicken strips containing chunks of metal to E. coli-laden romaine lettuce, posed a serious danger to Americans’ health in 2019. TexPIRG Education Fund crunched last year’s numbers for its How Safe Is Our Food? report and found that while recalls for produce and processed food have fallen 34 percent since 2016, recalls for meat and poultry have increased slightly since then -- and are up 65 percent since 2013. 

 

“Consumers shouldn't have to worry that their next bite might sicken or kill them, especially when food safety agencies leave so many solutions in the pantry,” said TexPIRG Director Bay Scoggin. “Our analysis suggests that when commonsense protections are implemented, our food gets safer.”

Report | TexPIRG Education Fund

Citizens’ ability to understand how their tax dollars are spent is fundamental to democracy. Budget and spending transparency holds government officials accountable for making smart decisions, checks corruption, and provides citizens an opportunity to affect how government dollars are spent.

State and local governments spend billions of dollars every year on economic development programs in the form of forgone tax revenue and direct cash grant payments to corporations in an effort to stoke investment and job creation in a particular city, state or industry.

A review of economic development subsidy reporting in all 50 states finds that a majority of states fail to meet minimum standards of online transparency, leaving residents, watchdogs and public officials in the dark about key public expenditures. States should shine light on economic development subsidies by requiring the online publication of key transparency reports and inclusion of economic development spending in the state’s online checkbook portal to meet the expectations of citizens seeking information in the 21st century.

Economic development subsidies – be they tax exemptions, credits, or direct cash grant payments – are a form of public spending, but are rarely held to the same transparency standards as other government expenditures.

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