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Becoming more energy efficient, which has long been one of the keys to a sustainable future, may have just gotten a little easier. TopTen USA, a new non-profit group, just launched a new website that ranks electronics based on energy efficiency. The website contains information on virtually every electronics product category.  It has an attractive easy-to-use interface that makes it very easy to find what you are looking for.

The World Wildlife Foundation, which is a partner in the project, wrote on its blog yesterday:

Since energy efficiency is one of the quickest, cheapest and easiest routes to significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions, one of TopTen’s goals is to generate greater demand for efficient products, helping to catalyze a market shift toward more climate-friendly products.

One problem with TopTenUSA is that it only ranks based on energy usage. It appears that the environmental impact of the manufacturing process is not considered. Nor does the website have any information on recyclability of products. Hopefully, as it develops, TopTenUSA will add information about those factors as well.

TopTenUSA  has exciting potential and  will hopefully prove an invaluable resource to consumers.

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An editorial in yesterday’s New York Times calls on Congress to take action on pending mine and workplace safety legislation before another tragedy like the Upper Big Branch mine disaster or the Deepwater Horizon explosion occurs.

The House and Senate are each considering similar versions of the “Robert C. Byrd Mine Safety and Health Act,” legislation that would promote safer workplaces by protecting whistleblowers who report unsafe conditions, increasing penalties for mine and workplace operators who endanger the lives of their workers, and giving the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) and Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) more authority to force employers to quickly abate hazardous conditions.

Earlier this summer, the House voted its bill out of committee and it currently awaits a floor vote. As usual, the Senate is moving at a slower pace. Public Citizen has called on Congress to take action to reduce the 5,000 worker fatalities that happen each year by passing this important legislation.

For more information on this legislation, check out our fact sheet, letter to Congress, and backgrounder (all are in PDF format). Or view the text of the House and Senate bills.

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A new video from our friends at FairElectionsNow.org features real people describing in their own words the profound impact of corporate corruption in Washington. You can see from the video that big agriculture, corporate coal and BP are all playing the money game to make government work for them and not the American public.

As long as members of Congress must rely on donations from corporations and lobbyists to fund their campaigns, these special interests will continue to have a huge advantage over real people when it comes to finding policy solutions for the people’s problems.

After you watch the video, urge your members of Congress to end the political money chase by supporting public financing of elections via the Fair Elections Now Act at http://www.citizen.org/supportfairelectionsnow.

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Political cartoonist Tom Toles has an excellent cartoon in today’s Washington Post about DISCLOSE and Citizens United.

By pointing out the importance of knowledge, Toles suggests something important about one of the fundamental pillars of our country. The media shapes the national debate. From discussions around the dinner table at home to debates in corporate boardrooms, this country is driven by the stories on television, in newspapers, books, magazines, on the radio, etc. Knowledge, as Toles notes, is power. Therefore those who control what knowledge we get and what knowledge remains hidden have immense power.

So even if Congress and the Supreme Court do not protect our right to know what our government does and who is behind its actions, the media has the ability to correct that wrong. In fact, the media must tell the country who are involved and what they are doing. To put it colloquially, the media has to tell us what’s up.

Some readers might see an immediate problem. There is a serious conflict of interest in the media. The media is funded almost exclusively by corporations running advertisements alongside the news. One can see how this precarious situation might pose a very serious dilemma.

Luckily for us, we have one more tool for those times (and they are increasingly more frequent) when the media fails to report or misrepresents an important issue. We have each other. We can fact-check and report stories on blogs,  Twitter, Facebook and in so many different ways. We can petition the government and media outlets for fairer reporting and for more transparency. Public Citizen fights for all people, because, as global citizens, people are the ones who must run the world.

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Robert Weissman speaks about oil companies' influence in Congress at a demonstration on Capitol Hill July 20.

We just got back from Capitol Hill where Public Citizen President Robert Weissman spoke about the powers of corporations in Congress and about shifting our economies to sustainable forms of energy.

Weissman noted:

The first step is to get the oil money out of Congress. We’ve got to clean up Congress. We need clean money in our elections.

The demonstration marked not just the three-month “anniversary” of the BP oil spill but also the 41st anniversary of the moon landing. Echoing similar speeches by former Vice President Al Gore, activist Ted Glick called for the United States to use the same motivating energy that (more…)

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ThinkProgress.org blogged over the weekend about BP’s attempts to “control scientific research of [the] oil disaster.” Essentially, BP has been buying up researchers in the Gulf Coast region and asking to review all their data before it is released to the public. The company is adding to its payrolls (either directly or through grants to Gulf Coast are Universities) many of the scientists working in the Gulf Coast are who are best qualified to study the spill. Because BP has such deep pockets, it can afford to pay all of these scientists to study the effects the oil is having on wildlife. In return for being paid by BP, the scientists will now send all their research to the oil giant for review before it is released to the public. Needless to say, this goes a long way towards eliminating any hope of transparency we might have.

While it is understandable and entirely legal for BP to hire these scientists and to control the data, it is not right to the American people if BP does not disclose all the research the company receives. Failing to disclose the data and reports could seriously inhibit recovery and restoration efforts.

There is only one entity with the power and financial weight to challenge BP. The federal government must both force BP to disclose all its findings and counter BP’s army of scientists with a government-sponsored team.

The oil spill seems to be coming to an end. As we hope and pray that stage two of this disaster is coming to a close, we must begin to focus on the next step. The government has failed to adequately deal with the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. President Obama and Congress must ensure it does not fail to handle the aftermath of this disaster.

Boycott BP: http://www.citizen.org/page.aspx?pid=3311

Join us to demonstrate on Capitol Hill on the three-month anniversary of the Deepwater Horizon’s explosion.

You can also sign the “Congress: You Have Oil on Your Hands” petition.

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On Tuesday, Public Citizen researchers published an article in PLoS Medicine about the safety of various medical devices. The authors of the article found that the FDA approval process does not adequately weed out ineffective and sometimes dangerous devices. From the press release issued Tuesday:

The weaknesses identified by the authors include:
• A lower approval standard for devices than for drugs;
• Lax interpretation of the requirements for the medical device approval process;
• A loophole that allows manufacturers of novel devices to circumvent the premarket approval process;
• Failure of the FDA to appropriately regulate many types of devices that were first marketed prior to the 1976 enactment of the current regulatory scheme; and
• A superfluous appeal mechanism that gives manufacturers a second go for approval after FDA has rejected a device.

The authors enumerated specific cases where FDA allowed dangerous products to be sent to market. In one particularly egregious instance, a device was approved by the FDA director after other FDA board members had expressed significant concerns about the device, the vagus nerve stimulator, which is supposed to treat severe depression. Currently, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid considers the device to be of such questionable value that it refuses to reimburse for it.

In the words of one of the researchers, Dr. Sidney Wolfe,

“The FDA’s mission is to protect public health, but allowing questionably effective products onto the market is inconsistent with that mission.”

The article can be found in the latest issue of PLoS Medicine.

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In a Rose Garden announcement today, President Obama signed a memorandum ordering the Department of Transportation (DOT) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to take steps to cut oil dependence by issuing the first ever efficiency standards for heavy duty trucks.  With existing technology, President Obama said, the efficiency tractor-trailers could be increased by 25 percent.

Flanked by EPA administrator Lisa Jackson, Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood, energy and climate czar Carol Browner, and half a dozen representatives of the heavy duty trucking industry, the President also announced that he would direct the agencies to outline plans for light duty efficiency standards beyond 2017 by November.  The agencies just finished work on standards through 2016 on April 1.

The memorandum also called for increased support for new infrastructure for electric vehicles.  This kind of support could make the transition to electric vehicles more successful by encouraging infrastructure to be built along with the vehicles.

The BP oil spill in the Gulf, which took the lives of 11 workers and will cause untold economic damage to the Gulf states for years to come, is a grim reminder why today’s announcement is so important.  The problems and failures of oversight that led up to the oil spill still must be addressed. BP must be held accountable for the damage it has caused.

But the political and economic pressure to take risks such as this and drill in deeper water or more remote locations cannot be alleviated without efficiency improvements in the transportation sector.  The President’s announcement today shows his commitment to putting the nation on track to cut oil dependence.  The standards announced for 2016 will cut oil consumption by 1.8 billion barrels of oil over the lifetime of vehicles sold from 2012-2016.

Moving forward with heavy duty efficiency standards and pushing ahead to set the stage for greater improvements in light duty vehicles are the best response to the BP oil spill. Public Citizen will continue to watch as these standards develop to ensure that these standards push technology forward and bring the best possible efficiency improvements.

Lena Pons is a policy analyst at Public Citizen.

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In the last several months, there have been a shocking number of workplace tragedies.  On April 2, an explosion at the Tesoro oil refinery in Washington killed five workers.  On April 5, an explosion at Massey Energy’s Upper Big Branch mine in West Virginia killed 29 miners.  And then on April 20, a BP oil rig explosion in the Gulf of Mexico killed 11 oil rig workers.

Last week, Senators Byrd and Rockefeller introduced two amendments that would require corporations with high-risk workplaces to disclose health and safety violations in reports filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC).

One of the amendments, led by Sen. Byrd, would require disclosure about all high-risk workplaces including violations, pending lawsuits concerning health and safety violations, and negative trends in health or safety conditions.  The other, led by Sen. Rockefeller, would require disclosure from mining companies about serious violations that posed an imminent hazard, or required mine workers to be removed from areas of mines.  Both amendments would require this information be included in reports filed with the SEC. (more…)

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Remember back in November, when the public’s outrage with Wall Street in general and Goldman Sachs in particular led the firm – which claimed to be doing “God’s work” – to forego bonuses for its top seven executives?

 Well, it turns out they weren’t exactly telling the truth.

Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein and his cronies hardly suffered from this obvious public relations stunt. Blankfein alone received $68.5 million in salary and bonuses the year before, so one would think he could somehow manage to pinch pennies – maybe by dining out a little less or postponing a few home improvements – and make that 2008 payment stretch throughout 2010.

But no. Reuters reports:

Blankfein received $18.7 million in distributions from investment funds open to executives and employees of the firm, according to a regulatory filing on Friday.

Goldman Chief Operating Officer Gary Cohn received $15.1 million, Chief Financial Officer David Viniar $11.5 million, and former President and Chief Operating Officer Jon Winkelried $9.8 million, the filing said.

The funds managed by Goldman Sachs are available to clients, and certain executives and other employees. The funds invest in private equity, venture capital and other assets.

The distributions came to $55.1 million, more than double the $24.2 million total in 2008 when $9.6 million went to Blankfein, $6.3 million to Cohn, $5.1 million to Viniar and $3.2 million to Winkelried. (more…)

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