3p Contributor: Jan Lee

Jan Lee Jan Lee is an independent journalist who lives in Idaho and British Columbia, Canada. Her articles on business, eco-travel, history and culture have been published in the United States, Canada, Australia and the United Kingdom. Visit her blog at multiculturaljew.blogspot.com

Recent Articles

The Fight Over Chemical Flame Retardants

Jan Lee
| Wednesday July 30th, 2014 | 2 Comments

Kaiser_sacramento_chemical_fire_retardantsLurking inside your bed, your couch, your carpet and the upholstery of your car is a secret arsenal. You can’t see it, you can’t usually smell it, and most of the time, you’re likely unaware that it’s even there.

The U.S. chemical industry will tell you that it’s there to save lives. And the truth is, in many cases it has. Since 1976 when the federal Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) was passed, says the North American FlameRetardant Alliance (NAFRA), deaths from furniture and furnishing fires have dropped dramatically. According to studies conducted during 1981-1985 and 2000-2007, “The number of fire deaths fell by 64 percent for furniture and furnishings [f&f] fires.” The American Chemistry Council (ACC) attributes that reduction to flame-retardant chemicals that slow the spread of a devastating house fire.

Chemical flame retardants: Are they helping?

But critics ask, at what cost? Improved technology now places the cause of some cancers, developmental problems and other diseases squarely on the types of chemicals we use in our homes. Substances that have long been used with the blessings of TSCA, such as polybrominated diphenyl ethers and phosphate esters, are now showing up in our water, our food and have been detected in the air we breathe. Research has also linked childhood developmental problems to the chemicals found in our furniture and other upholstery

Organizations like Center for Environmental Health (CEH), Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families and Health Care Without Harm and Practice Green Health have long argued that spraying the interior of our beds and upholstery doesn’t just change the flammability of the furniture, it just subjects their users to an onslaught of toxic chemicals on a daily basis, and that there are better, safer ways to address f&f fire risk in our homes. 

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Obama’s ‘Economic Patriotism’ Won’t Win Until Firms Do

Jan Lee
| Tuesday July 29th, 2014 | 0 Comments

Obama_economic_patriotism_Nick_KnupfferThis week, President Barack Obama lashed out at corporations that have taken up the legal but questionably ethical practice of tax inversion.

For those who aren’t familiar with the expression, tax inversion occurs when companies purchase property in another country in order to change their tax base to another, more financially advantageous location. Northern Ireland is the latest geographic sector to benefit from burgeoning U.S. firms like Google and Facebook, which are said to be thriving under more generous tax provisions. Biopharmaceutical giant Pfizer, which earlier this month attempted to purchase U.K. pharmaceutical firm AstraZeneca, is also suspected of trying to change its physical address.

“My attitude is: I don’t care if it’s legal,” Obama said in a speech in Los Angeles this week. “It’s wrong.”

What I often appreciate about Obama is his ability to come right to the core of the issue, which often doesn’t have to do with pragmatism, or partisanship (although, he’s been known to trump that card as well), but ethics. Few presidents have had the moxie to aim for the moral bull’s-eye as many times as Obama and hit it squarely on the mark.

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Shrink the Solar Power Inverter and Google Will Pay You $1 Million

Jan Lee
| Monday July 28th, 2014 | 12 Comments

LITTLE_BOX_POWER_INVERTER_GOOGLE_2What’s the size of a clunky ice cooler and essential to that off-grid lifestyle you’ve always dreamed of? If you guessed a solar power inverter, then you may be just the techie Google is hoping to hear from. At a time when computers can fit in the palm of your hand and miniaturized pacemakers can be less than 42 millimeters in size and less than 2 cubic centimeters in volume, it may seem surprising that we’re still dealing with solar inverters that can be as big as your grandmother’s knitting chest.

Google’s Green Team has come up with an ingenious answer: Offer what every hobby industrialist has always wanted – $1 million for the guy or gal that can come up with a way to shrink the technology.

For those who are unacquainted with power inverters, it’s that essential piece of equipment that allows us to actually utilize the power we gain through the solar panels or wind turbines. It converts the direct current (DC) that’s stored from say, a solar array, to the alternating current (AC) we use to power appliances.

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Poll: Carbon Tax Reused for Renewables Could Work for U.S. Voters

Jan Lee
| Thursday July 24th, 2014 | 1 Comment

Thousands rally for climate action and a carbon priceThe concept of a national carbon tax is a hard sell for most people these days. According to a recent poll, only 34 percent of U.S. respondents said they would support taxing fossil fuels like oil, gas or natural gas.

But support for a carbon tax changes dramatically when it comes to scenarios in which the funds are either reimbursed to taxpayers or used to fund renewable energy projects. The 798 respondents were surveyed for each question according to their political affiliations in order to determine what resonated with each of three specific political groups (Republican, Independent and Democrat). The poll was conducted by the Muhlenberg College Institute of Public Opinion and the University of Michigan Center for Local, State and Urban Policy this year.

Sixty percent of those surveyed gave thumbs-up to the more creative form of a carbon tax where it is then used to fund renewable energy. Half (51 percent) of those who identified themselves as Republican said they would support a tax that was then reused for greener purposes. An estimated 54 percent of Independents and 70 percent of Democrats said they would support the idea as well.

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Manufacturers Back Bill to Limit Liability for Energy Star Ratings

Jan Lee
| Wednesday July 23rd, 2014 | 1 Comment

ENERGY_STAR_WASHER_LGIf U.S. appliance manufacturers have their way, consumers who purchase washers, dryers and other appliances based on their Energy Star ratings won’t be able to sue their makers if the energy savings aren’t as good as promised.

A House bill sponsored by Robert Latta (R-Ohio) and co-sponsored by Peter Welch (D-Vt.) would remove consumers’ ability to launch class-action litigation against a manufacturer if actual energy savings did not reflect what the Energy Star rating stated at the time of sale.

The bill, which was submitted for review July 12, has the backing of several large appliance makers, including Whirlpool and LG, which are members of Alliance to Save Energy (ASE). Welch was an honorary co-chair of ASE at the time of the bill’s submission. He now serves as honorary vice-chair.

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California City Blocks New Power Plant, Cites Climate Change

Jan Lee
| Monday July 21st, 2014 | 6 Comments

oxnard_climate_changeWhen it comes to updating your neighborhood power plant these days, nothing is certain. But for NRG, California’s largest power plant operator, that message came home last month with an odd twist: The city of Oxnard voted to place a moratorium on the construction of a plant that would replace the current structure at its oceanside location. The reason? Climate change.

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Eden Foods Endures Customer Backlash for Birth Control Stance

Jan Lee
| Wednesday July 16th, 2014 | 1,078 Comments

Eden_Foods_Seth_AndersonUntil June 30 of this year, Hobby Lobby was best known for its arts and craft supplies and do-it-yourself home decor options. But on July 1, that all changed.

As a result of a Supreme Court decision that its owners – and those of other “closely held” companies – did not have to provide insurance coverage for birth control, Hobby Lobby was catapulted into the partisan spotlight. A name that was once synonymous with candle-making supplies is now the poster child for businesses that object to Affordable Care Act regulations on what a company must provide for its workers.

But it isn’t the only business fighting this battle. Hobby Lobby’s unexpected court win gained the most attention, but the ACA was actually being challenged by approximately 100 small, privately-owned businesses. These companies, largely because of religious views, took exception to the idea that the insurance they provide might make it easier for women to access birth control.

And what many have been surprised to hear is that one of the largest proponents of this view (and a litigant in a battle against ACA) is the owner of an organic foods label. He’s well known for his sustainability outlooks and wholesome focus on principles that are often assumed go with, well, more liberal values.

But Michael Potter, owner of Eden Foods, makes no apology for the dichotomy between his objection to being required to pay for his workers’ birth control and his progressive stance on back-to-basics farm food.

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The Real Power of Shareholder Advocacy

Jan Lee
| Tuesday July 15th, 2014 | 0 Comments
Stockholder_Advocacy_Edmond_Meany_addressing_A-Y-P

Edmond Meany passionately addressing Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition stockholders and president, Seattle, Washington, September 19, 1908: Frank H. Nowell, 1864-1950/PD

Last January, while protesters gathered outside of a shareholders meeting at Monsanto’s St. Louis headquarters, another smaller, less vocal but just as impassioned discussion was taking place inside.

As protesters chanted slogans and rallied for attention in the parking lot of one of the world’s largest biotech companies, stockholders were quietly adding their own form of input regarding GMO technology: shareholder resolutions.

Investors had asked the company to file a report answering key questions about genetically modified organisms (GMOs). They also asked the company to stop opposing the labeling of GMO foods.

Although neither resolution was adopted, the shareholders’ message was clear and their effect immediate. Within hours, news media around the world was reporting that Monsanto investors were calling for accountability. They weren’t just listening to the company’s financial report; they were signaling to the board – and to the world – that some of Monsanto’s smallest investors were speaking up.

And the board got it.

“There is a recognition that we need to do more,” said Monsanto CEO Hugh Grant after the meeting.

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Foster Farms Recalls Chicken, Sues Insurer for Rejecting Claim

Jan Lee
| Monday July 14th, 2014 | 17 Comments

Foster_Farms_chickenFoster Farms has a problem, a big problem.

No, it isn’t its long-standing battle with Salmonella Heidelberg infections in the chicken in its processing centers, or the ongoing investigations by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, whose enforcement arm announced a recall of Foster Farm chicken the day before the Fourth of July holiday.

Its looming problem is with its insurance carrier, which is refusing to accept a claim for the $14.2 million that the manufacturer says it has lost from tainted chicken.

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Are We Really Ready to Divest from Fossil Fuels (and Plastics)?

Jan Lee
| Friday July 11th, 2014 | 1 Comment

Divestment_fossil_fuels_plastic_industry_Cpj24Former Secretary of the California Environmental Protection Agency Terry Tamminen came up with an interesting question the other day. In a post on Fast Company, the author and founder of the NGO 7th Generation Advisors asked a simple question regarding the carbon-producing fuels that we are now bent on relegating to the environmental trash heap: Can we really afford to divest from fossil fuels?

What a great question. It’s the kind that only one who has sat in the proverbial hot seat and lobbied for consensus and compromise would be asking right now.

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Climate Change: Old Cell Phones Can Now Protect Old Growth Forests

Jan Lee
| Thursday July 10th, 2014 | 0 Comments

A-RainForest_phonesEnvironmental groups have long been searching for a way to stop illegal deforestation in old growth forests. According to Interpol, up to 90 percent of the logging that takes place in tropical rainforest areas like Africa, Asia and South America isn’t by large corporations that own the tracks of land, but by illegal poachers who can use stealth and advance planning in dense areas where surveillance is difficult and costly.

The environmental advocacy organization Rainforest Connection (RainforestCx) has figured a way to get around this problem and make it easier for law enforcement agencies and advocacy organizations to stop illegal cutting while it’s happening. And like any great ecological brainstorm these days, they’ve also figured a way to underscore the importance of what musician Neil Young refers to as the connection between the “rainforest and you”: the cell phone.

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Successful Sourcing for LEED: From Building to Maintenance

Jan Lee
| Wednesday July 9th, 2014 | 0 Comments

143070812_Hires_FFor many of us, green building design is still a confusing concept. Even though LEED, the U.S. Green Building Council’s signature environmental rating system, has been around since the 1990s, figuring out what makes a “green building” and what steps are associated with meeting LEED requirements often seems challenging to prospective home owners.

That’s in part because of a simple, underlying principle of the LEED rating system, says Josh Jacobs, UL Environment’s technical information and public affairs manager: It’s always improving.

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Advocacy Orgs Back Vermont In Suit Against GMO Labeling

Jan Lee
| Monday July 7th, 2014 | 1 Comment

gmo_vermont_suit_lloydthevoidWith the lines drawn over Vermont’s recent passage of a GMO labeling law, two advocacy organizations have announced that they will file a motion to intervene in a lawsuit launched against Vermont by national food manufacturers.  A third has stated it will file an amicus curiae in support of the embattled state law. A motion to intervene is usually filed when an organization or person feels they would be affected by the suit, such as consumers, grocers and farmers in Vermont.

Paul Burns, executive director of Vermont Public Interest Group, said in an interview last week that VPIRG will be filing a motion to intervene in the lawsuit filed by the Grocery Manufacturers Association et al. With approximately 30,000 members, VPIRG is one of the largest consumer and environmental groups in the state.

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When Does Generosity Become Educational Control?

Jan Lee
| Monday June 30th, 2014 | 0 Comments

Koch_Bros_UNCF_funding_Elvert_BarnesLast October we reported on an effort by JPMorgan Chase & Co. to donate money to the University of Delaware. The financial institution’s generous donation of $17 million wasn’t the reason it was in the news. After all, UD is already home to the JPMorgan Chase Innovation Center, and Delaware has received other donations as well from the institution. But the announcement set off warning bells when it became clear that the donation would be provided to fund a PhD program, and the financial institution would have the right to sit in on candidate selections.

Well, the concept seems to be gaining steam. Earlier this month, the United Negro College Fund (UNCF) announced that it had received a donation of $25 million from Charles and David Koch, otherwise known as the Koch brothers.

According to the Charles Koch Foundation website, the funding was issued jointly by the foundation and Koch Industries. Of the $25 million, $18.5 million will go toward funding scholarship for “exemplary students with a demonstrated financial need” who are seeking to address specific topics related to entrepreneurship. Funding will also support school programs and other auxiliary projects. The remaining $6.5 million will provide general funding for historically black colleges and universities (HCBUs) and the UNCF, with $4 million going toward helping the institutions and students affected by funding shortfalls as a result of the Department of Education’s criteria change to the PARENTS PLUS program.

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San Francisco: No-Go to Sharing Economy Parking App

Jan Lee
| Thursday June 26th, 2014 | 7 Comments

San_Francisco_parking_meter_JasonTester_GuerrillaFutureHas the sharing economy concept gone to far?

This week San Francisco City Attorney Dennis Herrera issued a cease-and-desist demand to the mobile-to-mobile bidding app that’s been gaining a popular footing in the parking-poor Bay Area, MonkeyParking. The service, which is currently used on iOS devices, allows drivers to auction off their public parking places. As of this week, it was still available on the Apple Store, with the tagline that the app “lets you make money every time that you are about to leave your on-street parking spot.”

And that, says the city, doesn’t fly.

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