Director of Media Relations, The Public Interest Network
Director of Media Relations, The Public Interest Network
A glance at the plans of U.S. PIRG and the state PIRGs to improve American health, safety and well-being in 2021 and beyond
DENVER – The new year is just around the corner. In 2021, the U.S. Public Interest Research Group (PIRG) and the state PIRGs will work to improve our health, safety and well-being by bringing Americans together to advocate for new laws and other positive changes
“In 2021, whether from our separate bubbles or back in our more traditional offices, we will continue to focus on bringing Americans together around policies that will improve our quality of life by making all of us healthier and more secure,” Faye Park, president of U.S. PIRG, said. “We’re ready to work on building a better country for next year and beyond.”
Looking ahead, here is a list of public health, consumer, environmental and other issues that U.S. PIRG and state PIRGs will prioritize in 2021:
The United States has lost more than 330,000 lives — about 1 in every 1,000 Americans — to COVID-19 in 2020. While more Americans get inoculated against the virus each day, vaccine distribution is moving more slowly than promised, and meanwhile, the numbers of cases, hospitalizations and deaths are climbing. With mass vaccination still months away, for now, we can simultaneously save tens of thousands of lives and millions of livelihoods by shutting down non-essential activities.
In addition to asking governors to shut down their states, U.S. PIRG is calling for Congress to immediately pass the Medical Supply Transparency and Delivery Act, which would establish a central, transparent system for procuring and distributing critical medical supplies directly to impacted areas. The advocacy group is also imploring the federal government to fully employ the Defense Production Act to increase domestic production of personal protective equipment (PPE) for nursing homes, hospitals, schools and businesses.
To address the surge of nicotine use among young people, OSPIRG argues that Oregon should ban online and other remote sales of vaping products, making it more difficult for underage users to purchase vaping devices and e-liquids.
Maryland PIRG supports the Protect our Kids from Nicotine Addiction bill, which would stop the sale of all flavored tobacco products, including e-cigarettes, menthol cigarettes and cigars.
In an effort to make it more difficult for underage users to purchase vaping devices and e-liquids, CoPIRG will advocate for a ban on vaping products in Colorado.
Landmark health care legislation signed into law in late December will protect consumers from surprise medical bills from most out-of-network medical providers. It also sets up guardrails to prevent increases in health care costs by establishing an arbitration system to settle payment disputes between providers and insurance plans. U.S. PIRG will work to ensure this new law works as intended.
Americans spend $1,000 more per person per year on prescription drugs than people in other wealthy nations, despite receiving the same medications. Pharmaceutical companies abuse the patent system, which drives up costs for brand-name drugs and limits access to lower-cost alternatives. U.S. PIRG will advocate for proactive federal enforcement against this type of anti-competitive behavior and for patients to get faster access to lower-cost generic drugs.
In the states, OSPIRG will advocate for the creation of a public option health plan, which would help reduce costs and increase choice for consumers. Additionally, OSPIRG and CoPIRG will support bills to rein in prescription drug costs.
CALPIRG supports the creation of an Office of Health Care Affordability to figure out ways to measurably lower overall health care prices, promote transparency and competition to prevent price gouging on prescription drugs, and increase the quality and efficiency of care.
Stop price gouging:
U.S. PIRG is calling for federal legislation to prohibit price gouging of essential medical supplies. Currently, 38 states and several territories have laws that protect consumers from price gouging of essential supplies during an emergency, but the federal government has yet to pass legislation protecting consumers against this form of price gouging.
At the state level, TexPIRG is pushing for a law against price gouging on pandemic-related goods in both storefront and online shopping centers.
Defend the consumer bureau:
The Trump administration and Wall Street’s allies in Congress have severely undermined the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), an independent federal agency that was formed following the 2008 financial crisis to ensure fair, transparent and enforceable rules to protect consumers. In recent years, the bureau has ironically worked against consumers’ interests.
To redirect the CFPB toward its intended mission, U.S. PIRG is calling on President-elect Joe Biden on his first day in office to remove and replace Trump-appointed CFPB Director Kathy Kraninger with someone who will actually protect consumers’ interests. From there, President-elect Biden and Congress must work together to strengthen the severely weakened bureau and reinstitute discontinued policies — for example, restoring payday lending protections that were rolled back in July 2020.
Fair credit reporting:
Current federal law under the CARES Act, the initial coronavirus relief bill passed last spring, gives Americans free access to their credit reports once a week until April 2021. Then, consumers once again will only get free access once per year. Going forward, U.S. PIRG is advocating for legislation to provide free credit report access once every month as well as free access to credit scores from the three credit bureaus.
Americans throw out 416,000 cell phones per day and only 15 to 20 percent of electronic waste is recycled. That’s both a waste of money and an environmental nightmare, with new electronics draining people’s wallets and the old electronics bleeding toxic metals into our soil and water. U.S. PIRG imagines a different kind of system, where instead of throwing things out, we reuse, salvage and rebuild.
To stop buying as much stuff and to start fixing more, several state PIRGs, including CALPIRG, CoPIRG, Maryland PIRG, MASSPIRG, Illinois PIRG, OSPIRG and PennPIRG, will urge state governments to adopt “right to repair” reforms. These right-to-repair bills would make it easier for consumers and small businesses to fix their property and devices to reduce waste and save money.
FOR A CLEAN AND HEALTHY ENVIRONMENT:
The U.S. PIRG Transform Transportation campaign aims to electrify buses and cars and reduce the need to drive — so the easiest, cheapest and most pleasant ways to travel are also the cleanest and healthiest. Therefore, one priority is convincing the federal government to pass a comprehensive infrastructure package that includes transit expansion, money for electric buses, and emergency operating funds for transit agencies.
When Congress revisits the long-term transportation reauthorization bill in September, U.S. PIRG will ask legislators to prioritize highway repairs, safety and emissions reductions over adding lanes to roads, and spend the same amount on transit as on highways. In the last transportation bill, more than $40 billion was allocated to highways and only around $10 billion to transit.
CALPIRG aims to transform California transportation by supporting investments in “complete streets” that offer safe spaces for pedestrians and bikes, as well as cars. CALPIRG also is calling for investment in public transit and encouraging development only near it.
CoPIRG will work to reorient Colorado’s transportation investment to focus on fixing and maintaining current infrastructure and expanding multimodal options like transit, walking and biking. The group will advocate for people-friendly street policies like reducing speed limits to 20 mph in neighborhoods and making temporary shared street projects permanent.
To ensure that a high speed rail project between Houston and Dallas goes forward, TexPIRG will oppose legislation that would make the rail line harder to build. The train would cut travel time down from the 3 hours and 30 minutes it currently takes to drive between the two major cities to just 90 minutes.
Electric school buses:
To ensure children are breathing cleaner air on their way to school, U.S. PIRG supports creating a new large grant program to deploy electric school buses across the nation.
At the local level, TexPIRG will work to protect dedicated funding for the Texas Emissions Reduction Plan, which would fully fund electric vehicle rebates and the Clean School Bus Program.
In a zero-waste economy, all products and materials would be reused, recycled and composted in a continuous cycle. A zero-waste system would protect public health and the environment, conserve natural resources and landscapes, and address the mounting crisis of global warming.
To move us closer toward the vision of a zero-waste economy in 2021, CALPIRG, CoPIRG, Illinois PIRG and OSPIRG will take on a particularly harmful single-use material: polystyrene, what most people commonly call Styrofoam. Following successful PIRG campaigns in states such as Maryland, the PIRGs aim to pass statewide bans on polystyrene in 2021.
Maryland PIRG and OSPIRG are calling for restrictions on “chemical recycling” facilities in Maryland and Oregon. The process, which breaks down plastic then rebuilds into new plastic or fuel, creates excess greenhouse gases, exacerbates climate change, and distracts from effective waste solutions like reducing single-use plastic production.
Maryland PIRG and CoPIRG are supporting bills to ban single-use plastic bags. Maryland PIRG also supports a bill requiring large facilities to divert organic waste from landfills or incinerators if a compost or anaerobic digestion facility is located within 30 miles.
OSPIRG, MASSPIRG, Maryland PIRG, WashPIRG and CALPIRG all will support policies that hold producers responsible for the waste they create, which can incentivize a shift to a circular economy. Specifically, the groups are calling for state legislatures to adopt policies that reduce the amount of single-use plastic waste created and ensure that waste is recycled. CALPIRG is also calling on California’s state legislature to ban clothing companies from incinerating overstock apparel that was never sold or sending it to a landfill.
At the federal level, U.S. PIRG will support reintroducing landmark legislation in the House and the Senate to stop plastic pollution. The existing bill, which has not been voted on, assembles several policies that have been successfully implemented in the states such as the bottle redemption program, bans on single-use plastic products, and a producer responsibility law.
Get lead and other toxic chemicals out of the water:
No one should be exposed to lead or other known toxic chemicals in their drinking water. CALPIRG is calling on the state government to pass a law requiring schools to prevent lead contamination at every tap used for cooking or drinking and require “lead-free” faucets and fixtures to be truly lead-free.
Maryland PIRG supports similar anti-lead protections in Maryland schools, as well as the PFAS Protection Act, a bill that would restrict the use and disposal of PFAS (per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances) “forever chemicals.” This bill stops their use in firefighting foam, food packaging and textiles and would stop mass incineration and landfilling of PFAS chemicals that then contaminate drinking water supplies.
Reinstate the polluters tax:
When the EPA created its Superfund toxic waste clean-up program in 1980, it was funded by a “polluter tax” on industries that produce toxic waste. Since the polluter tax expired in 1995, taxpayers and individuals have had to pay for the bulk of any cleanup costs. U.S. PIRG is launching a campaign to reinstate a federal Polluter Pays Tax to fund the EPA Superfund toxic waste program. This will ensure that polluters are held accountable for the contamination they produce.
End fossil fuel subsidies:
Climate change presents a serious threat not only to our future but also to our children’s and grandchildren’s future. To prevent a global rise of more than 1.5 degrees Celsius and save millions of people’s homes and lives, we need greenhouse gas emissions to drop by about 50 percent between now and 2030, and reach net zero by 2050. As a first step to address climate change, U.S. PIRG is calling on Congress to immediately end subsidies and tax incentives for fossil fuel companies and projects.
Over the past few months, statements by government officials in support of suppressing and not counting votes have harmed our political system. We should do everything we can to ensure that all eligible voters are able to cast a ballot on Election Day.
To modernize elections, Maryland PIRG and OSPIRG are advocating for strengthening voter participation on campuses and expanding voter registration options for active military. The groups are also calling for a campaign finance program to provide limited matching funds for small donations to candidates who don’t receive or won’t accept large or corporate campaign contributions.
OSPIRG aims to establish ranked-choice voting in state and local elections to give voters more options when they go to the polls and ensure the winners of our elections represent a majority of voters, not just a plurality. The group also is calling for limiting campaign contributions and strengthening current disclosure requirements for political advertising.
The Lone Star State is notorious for its obstacles to voting. TexPIRG will be at the forefront of the effort to ensure free and fair elections by opposing laws that would purge voters from rolls, reduce the number of polling places, and make it harder to vote. The advocacy organization will support laws that enfranchise voters such as online registration.