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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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Report | TexPIRG Education Fund | Transportation

Highway Boondoggles 5

America’s aging roads and bridges need fixing. Our car-dependent transportation system is dangerous, harms our communities, and is the nation’s leading source of global warming pollution. And more than ever before, it is clear that America needs to invest in giving people healthier, more sustainable transportation options.

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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 | U.S. PIRG Education Fund | Antibiotics

Consumer campaign calls on Wendy’s to “hold the antibiotics” from its beef supply chain

Consumer and public health advocacy organization U.S. PIRG Education Fund is calling on Wendy’s to stop serving beef raised with the routine use of antibiotics. The U.S. PIRG Education Fund and its partner groups are calling on the third-largest burger chain in the United States to follow the lead of its rival, McDonald’s, which recently announced a detailed antibiotics policy for its beef supply chain. 

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News Release | U.S. PIRG Education Fund | Public Health, Consumer Protection

Tyson chicken strips recalled, may contain pieces of metal

Just seven weeks after Tyson Foods recalled chicken nuggets that could contain rubber, the poultry giant is recalling chicken strips that might contain metal. 

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News Release | U.S. PIRG Education Fund | Consumer Protection

Boeing Max planes have ‘optional’ safety mechanisms

Newly-revealed details by the New York Times about of the crash of two Boeing 737 Max 8 planes may stun even the most hardened observer. The planes lacked a safety feature that may have warned pilots about problems because it was not required and Boeing charged airlines extra to include it. Adam Garber, U.S. PIRG Education Fund Consumer Watchdog issued the following statement.

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News Release | TexPIRG Education Fund | Health Care

Prices of common medications can vary by hundreds of dollars

While many Americans struggle to afford their prescription drugs, TexPIRG Education Fund’s survey of retail prices of commonly-prescribed medications found patients can save hundreds, even thousands of dollars in some cases by shopping around at pharmacies within their communities.

"Texans shouldn’t have to forgo life-saving medicines. But when they don't realize there are more affordable options at a different pharmacy, some have to do exactly that,” said Bay Scoggin, TexPIRG Education Fund’s Director.  “Our medications don’t work any better when we pay more for them. We need a transparent prescription drug system that delivers value to patients at a reasonable price, instead of confusing and price-gouging them."

Retail prescription drug spending represents about 10 percent of the overall national health expenditures in America, while nearly 1 in 4 Americans struggle to afford their prescription drugs primarily because of inflated prices.

TexPIRG Education Fund’s report, The Real Price of Medications: A Survey of Pharmaceutical Prices, released today, reveals a wide variation in the retail pricing of prescription drugs by pharmacies large and small, urban and rural. The report looked at prices in Dallas, El Paso, and Gainesville.

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Report | TexPIRG Education Fund | Budget

Picking Up the Tab

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Report | TexPIRG Education Fund | Democracy

Following the Money 2015

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Report | TexPIRG Education Fund

Open for Business

Government transparency is a vital part of an inclusive and well-functioning democracy, especially when it comes to how our tax dollars are spent. At all levels – federal, state, and local –governments spending and revenue collection should serve the public benefit. Therefore, it is our right to have the necessary access to information that allows us to be knowledgeable citizens, voters, and participants in our government. This includes information about how our state is spending its’ money.

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Report | TexPIRG Education Fund | Transportation

The Innovative Transportation Index

This report reviews the availability of 11 technology-enabled transportation services – including online ridesourcing, carsharing, ridesharing, taxi hailing, static and real-time transit information, multi-modal apps, and virtual transit ticketing – in 70 U.S. cities. It finds that residents of 19 cities, with a combined population of nearly 28 million people, have access to eight or more of these services, with other cities catching up rapidly.

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Report | TexPIRG Education Fund | Consumer Protection

Trouble in Toyland 2014

Among the toys surveyed this year, we found numerous choking hazards and five toys with concentrations of toxics exceeding federal standards. In addition to reporting on potentially hazardous products found in stores in 2014, this installment of the report describes the potential hazards in toys and children’s products.

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News Release | U.S. PIRG Education Fund

The novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has left many Americans wondering how they’re going to pay their monthly bills. U.S. PIRG Education Fund new advice on how to negotiate with banks, utilities delaying payments, waiving of overdraft fees and other ways to stay financially secure.

News Release | TexPIRG Education Fund

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton did not join in the call to the country’s top online marketplaces to crack down on price gouging amidst the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak. A bipartisan group of 33 attorneys general, led by Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro along with co-leading Attorneys General Hector Balderas (NM), William Tong (CT), and T.J. Donovan (VT), sent a letter today urging the companies -- Amazon, Craigslist, eBay, Facebook and Walmart -- to quickly implement preventative measures on their platforms to ensure that consumers don’t get taken advantage of during this public health crisis.

News Release | TexPIRG Education Fund

As the coronavirus continues to spread across Texas and the nation, advocacy groups and health professionals sent a letter today to Governor Abbott asking him to protect state employees by requiring non-essential state employees to switch to telework.

Today, Governor Abbott expressed concern over compliance with his measures to curb the spread of the novel coronavirus. Yet as Texans across the state adjust to telework, online school and social distancing there were several reported instances of pressure from state agencies for employees to go into their office or field or take vacation time.

“Governor Abbott must lead by example and deliver a clear message that requiring remote work can save lives,” says Lauren Banister, TexPIRG Associate. “While we don’t know the extent of the problem, we are disappointed to see that any state employee has to choose between their job and public health.” 

Blog Post

As the second week of spring break begins, I wanted to update the student resources I sent last week and give you some ways to help others during this unprecedented moment. 

As you know, on March 30th, all classes will resume online and students who live on campus are asked to move out throughout this week. 

Here are a few resources to turn to if you need them:

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