Sign up for electronic communications and never miss what the Sierra Club is working on! Members who currently receive the printed newsletter can use this form to opt for electronic-only delivery.
In the wake of dangerous coal chemical and coal ash spills in their states already this year, West Virginia and North Carolina voters have gotten a wake-up call on the need for environmental and public health protections - and they know it.
According to two recent polls conducted by Hart Research on behalf of the Sierra Club, a majority of West Virginians and North Carolinians believe that it is high time to get serious by taking action on policy that protects our families and communities.
On January 9th, a coal chemical plant owned by Freedom Industries spilled 7,500 gallons of toxic 4-methylcyclohexane methanol - part of the coal production process - into the Elk River, just upstream of the largest water treatment plant in West Virginia. The contamination affected drinking water for 300,000 people across nine counties in the Kanawha Valley. Local emergency rooms treated 169 patients for symptoms related to chemical exposure, and ten people were admitted to hospitals for non-life-threatening symptoms.
West Virginians were shocked and angry. According to a poll conducted between February 4th – 7th, 73 percent of Mountain State voters agree that their state "has spent too little attention to addressing threats to air and water, and that the Elk River spill is a wakeup call that things must change."
More than two in three voters across the political spectrum say that "stronger regulations and better enforcement of existing regulations would have prevented the spill" (79 percent of Democrats, 71 percent of independents, and 57 percent of Republicans).
And 62 percent of voters say they would be more likely to support a candidate who favors "strong regulations and enforcement to protect the water, air, and health of West Virginians."
"You can throw the coal industry's conventional wisdom out the window," says Mary Anne Hitt, Director of the Sierra Club's Beyond Coal Campaign. "[These polls are] yet another indication that Republicans, Democrats, and Independents in coal-dependent states want leaders who will stand up to big coal companies and enact common-sense initiatives to protect our air, our water, and our families from toxic coal ash and pollution."
North Carolinians received a similar shock in early February, when a Duke Energy facility spilled tens of thousands of tons of coal ash into North Carolina's Dan River. What's more, the Southern Environmental Law Center says that this plant has been leeching arsenic, boron, and sulfate into groundwater for years, and that "Duke Energy had experienced coal ash structural failures at three of its other facilities in North Carolina."
Voters in the Tar Heel state responded powerfully. A March 10th - 13th poll found that 63 percent of voters think state leaders are not doing enough to protect the state's rivers and streams from contamination. And an overwhelming 83 percent of North Carolinians feel that coal ash should be treated as a hazardous substance that needs to be regulated.
The issue crosses party lines here too, with overwhelming majorities of Democrats (91 percent), independents (85 percent), and Republicans (75 percent) all supporting designating coal ash as a hazardous substance.
If all of this wasn't bad enough news for big coal and special interests, voters in both states hold the coal industry responsible. Two-thirds of West Virginians say that the coal industry bears some or a lot of the responsibility for air and water contamination, while 70 percent of North Carolinians say Duke Energy is totally or mostly to blame for the spill.
The so-called conventional wisdom peddled by the coal industry has been turned on its head, and even in coal country the results are clear: voters want leaders who won't cave to the special interests in the coal industry and who will stand up for clean water and public health protections. It's time our elected officials started paying attention.
-- David Shadburn, Sierra Club Intern
Yesterday afternoon, the Senate Finance Committee advanced a critically important package of renewable energy tax credits, moving one step closer toward renewing these expiring or expired investments that help support clean energy jobs all over the country. The package includes the progressive renewable energy production tax credit (PTC) - key policies originally enacted to support the development of renewable energy production facilities here at home, boosting the American wind industry. But four months ago, those credits expired, resulting in job losses nationwide as the rug was pulled out from under the thriving wind sector - all while fossil fuel companies counted among the most profitable in the world continued to get massive tax handouts.
Today, the Senate Finance Committee gave a bipartisan vote of support to these wind investments, passing a successful mark-up of legislation including the wind energy PTC that should lead to consideration on the Senate floor soon.
The clearest sign of support for wind jobs and clean energy came in the face of opposition. Senator Pat Toomey, a Republican from Pennsylvania, attempted to pass an amendment that would have crippled clean energy investments -- only to be met by a stiff wind of bipartisan support for these vital job-creating credits.
Toomey was only able to rally five Republicans to his side. Republican Senators John Cornyn, Mike Crapo, Rob Portman, and John Thune joined 13 Democrats in supporting wind energy, sending Toomey’s amendment to the scrap heap by a vote of 6 to 18.
Senator Chuck Grassley - an Iowa Republican from a state with a thriving wind industry - dismissed the argument that supporting the wind PTC is akin to “picking winners and losers” as intellectually dishonest, pointing to long standing oil, gas, and nuclear subsidies.
Michigan Democrat Debbie Stabenow agreed, saying oil and gas tax credits were not part of the package under consideration “because we picked them to win a long time ago.”
As wind power supports tens of thousands of American jobs and powers homes and businesses across the country, its a wonder that the package didn’t receive unanimous support. That’s particularly true when you look at the impact wind has had in the home states of the small handful of Senators who opposed the package.
Kansas Republican Pat Roberts opposed the wind investments in spite of the fact that more than 870,000 homes in the Jayhawk state are wind-powered, and upwards of 5,000 Kansans work in the wind industry.
North Carolina’s Richard Burr seemingly voted in opposition to the 23 wind facilities currently operating in his home state, where combined production from offshore and onshore wind power is capable of exceeding the state’s energy needs seven times over.
Georgia serves as one of the headquarters for GE - the second largest manufacturer in the wind industry in the world. Yet, Georgia Republican Johnny Isakson voted against the jobs in his state.
Wyoming wind powers 400,000 homes, but Senator Mike Enzi opposed wind investments. Utah’s Orrin Hatch rejected wind tax credits while hundreds of Utah residents work in wind.
Most egregious, though, is Toomey, who sponsored the assault on wind energy in spite of 4,000 Pennsylvanians working in the wind industry, 300,000 homes running on wind power, and 18% of his state’s energy pledged to come from clean energy by 2021. Had Toomey’s amendment passed, he would have undercut not just this goal, but all of the Pennsylvania jobs wind will create.
Senators from both parties stood up for wind today - and we expect them to again do so when this legislation reaches the Senate floor. The numbers don’t lie - wind is creating jobs and powering homes and businesses from coast to coast.
Money Out, Voters In: Unity at the Supreme Court and Nationwide against McCutcheon’s Assault on Democracy
Protesting the McCutcheon decision outside the Supreme Court on Wednesday
Just hours after the Supreme Court declared aggregate campaign contribution limits unconstitutional, opening the floodgates to even more corrupting corporate money in politics, Sierra Club members joined our allies from the Democracy Initiative and other organizations at rallies across the country to express outrage and unity.
At a rally on the steps of the Supreme Court in Washington D.C., George Kohl, Senior Director of the Communications Workers of America (CWA) eloquently expressed what everyone was thinking.
“It sucks, and our members are pissed off about it!”
This ruling will only directly affect about 1,200 people who had hit the previous limit of giving a total $120,000 directly to candidates and parties - an amount out-of-reach for almost every other American. Now, they’ll be legally allowed to dump upwards of $3.6 million every election. But though just a handful are directly impacted by the change, Nick Nyhart, President and CEO of Public Campaign, made it clear the impact on the rest of the country would be hard to ignore.
“This is a political gift for millionaires and billionaires,” Nyhart said, declaring that the ruling amounted to “Government of, by, and for the campaign contributors.”
These 1,200 people will be sure to take advantage of the new ruling. Courtney Hight, Director of the Sierra Club’s Democracy Program, pointed out that after the Court’s 2010 decision in the Citizens United case allowed unlimited outside spending, the Koch Brothers alone spent more in 2012 than the entire McCain campaign did in 2008.
That’s of particular concern to those of us fighting for healthy communities and a healthy planet, as these decisions allow oil barons like the Kochs to pour even more money into elections.
An outspoken champion for protecting the public interest, Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) joined the rally in Washington and told of the dangers of the Supreme Court’s flawed decision.
“What the Supreme Court has said today is that big money should be the dominant factor in the U.S. political process,” the Senator shouted. “This is not what people fought and died for.”
But amid all the anger and frustration with the conservative justices of the Roberts Court, faith was not lost. The parade of speakers had a message of hope.
Jotaka Eaddy, NAACP's Senior Advisor to the President and CEO and Senior Director for Voting Rights (right), was one of many who exclaimed, “Organized people always beat organized money.”
Miles Rapoport, President of Common Cause, proposed several needed changes to the system, including increasing the power of small dollar donations, fighting for stronger contribution disclosure laws, and halting assaults on voter rights across the country.
Representative Keith Ellison (MN-05) reminded those gathered that terrible decisions that came out of the Supreme Court in the past, such as Dred Scott and Plessy v. Ferguson, were resolved through legislative action. In particular, Ellison referred to the Government By the People Act, a bill to lift up small-dollar donors that he cosponsored and the Sierra Club supports.
Drew Courtney, Director of Communications at People for the American Way, called the day “a step forward, because we are together.” He went on to say that “we have a powerful coalition right here, but there are a hundred rallies going on today across the country.”
In fact, about 130 rallies across the country gave concerned citizens—including Sierra Club members—a chance to speak out about the disastrous McCutcheon decision.
In Massachusetts, Sierra Club activists stood with our friends from Common Cause and other advocacy groups against corruption. In San Francisco, Sierra Club Deputy Executive Director Bruce Hamilton spoke out about why environmentalists care about getting big corporate money out of politics.
Sierra Club Deputy Executive Director Bruce Hamilton Speaks at a Rally Opposing the Decision in San Francisco
"Environmentalists are standing shoulder to shoulder with civil rights champions, organized workers, good government advocates, and concerned citizens who are sick and tired of our democracy being bought and sold to the highest bidder,” Hamilton said.
Going forward, we are united and motivated, nationwide.
As George Kohl from CWA said, “We are more than them, and we will win.”-David Shadburn, Sierra Club Intern
Today, the US Senate is casting a vote critical to the future of the U.S. wind industry. Wind power has grown by leaps and bounds in recent years, and the wind industry now employs more than 80,000 Americans and generates enough electricity to power 15 million homes. Wind is providing affordable, reliable electricity from coast to coast - in 2013 Iowa got 27 percent of its electricity from wind power, while South Dakota got 26 percent. Despite this momentum, wind power's full potential continues to rest in the hands of members of Congress, including some with close ties to fossil fuel industries.
The Senate Finance Committee is voting today on legislation that includes an extension of critical clean energy tax incentives, namely the Production Tax Credit (PTC) and Investment Tax Credit (ITC) for renewable energy, as well as key energy efficiency tax credits. This is a critical step in ultimately renewing these provisions.
These clean energy incentives support tens of thousands of American jobs -- jobs that are at risk if Congress does not act immediately.
Despite all the economic and environmental benefits the wind industry provides nationwide, Congress allowed the wind Production Tax Credit to expire at the end of 2013. The resulting uncertainty has slowed new investments in wind generation and hampered the massive growth the industry saw in 2012.
It’s incredibly frustrating to see some Members of Congress turn a blind eye to the benefits of wind power - from jobs and local economic growth, to clean air and water. While the Senate Finance Committee is moving proactively, the House of Representatives hasn’t yet moved off the dime, leaving tens of thousands of wind jobs hanging in the balance. Unfortunately, some of those Members of Congress are dragging their feet at the behest of fossil fuel interests, and blocking American innovation in the process.
Americans across party lines want the U.S. to be a clean energy leader, and the economic benefits of wind power are flowing to red and blue states. In fact, more than 80 percent of our nation's installed wind capacity is in US Congressional districts represented by Republicans. Last week, Texas set a wind power generation record - topping 10,000 megawatts, enough to power five million homes.
Clean energy is here to stay, and its future is even brighter. For the economy and for our environment, we need Congress to renew the Production Tax Credit, and ensure America continues to lead the way in developing the technologies that will power the world in the twenty-first century. TAKE ACTION: Tell Congress to protect American clean energy jobs!
-- Mary Anne Hitt, Director of the Sierra Club Beyond Coal Campaign.
Fourteen solar panels crown the entrance to the First Congregational Christian United Church of Christ in Chesterfield, Virginia. The small array generates 10 percent or so of the church's electricity, but the project is notable for a different reason: it was the first solar system installed anywhere under a new kind of contract called a Customer Self-Generation Agreement. The agreement allowed the church go solar with no money down, and without increasing its electricity costs.
The Customer Self-Generation Agreement (CSGA) is the brainchild of Tony Smith, founder and CEO of Secure Futures LLC, a solar developer based in Staunton, Virginia. Under its agreement with the church, Secure Futures owns the solar panels and reaps the federal tax benefits that make solar affordable. The church gets the electrical output of the system over the twenty-year life of the contract. Neither a lease (which would bar the church from getting the tax benefits) nor a third-party power purchase agreement (which the incumbent utility would have opposed), the CSGA occupies a financing niche all of its own.
For Secure Futures, the CSGA was born of necessity. In 2011, the company was blocked from completing a solar array at Washington and Lee University when Dominion Virginia Power sent "cease and desist" letters claiming the parties' use of a third-party power purchase agreement (PPA) violated the utility's monopoly on the sale of electricity. Although convinced it had the law on its side, Secure Futures backed down in the face of expensive litigation. The solar installation was only completed by turning the PPA into a lease and losing some of the tax benefits.
Secure Futures had been building a place for itself in the nonprofit world, appealing especially to colleges and universities that want solar power as part of their sustainability goals. The company's 104-kW solar array at Eastern Mennonite University in Harrisonburg, Virginia, completed in 2010, was the first PPA in Virginia and, at the time, the largest solar array in the state. But that project was not in Dominion's territory.
For a state like Virginia with few policies to support solar, accessing the federal tax credits is critical to financing a solar project. Tax-exempt entities like municipalities, schools, and churches are a natural customer base for solar, but because they cannot use the federal tax credits themselves, they must partner with a tax-paying company that can own the project. Third-party PPAs have been the answer in states that allow them. PPAs also frequently offer a no-money-down option, which has proven a huge market driver in recent years for homes and businesses as well as non-profits.
But after the Washington and Lee experience demonstrated both Dominion's hostility to PPAs and its willingness to use its legal firepower, Tony Smith decided to seek another way through the legal thicket. Working with regulatory lawyer Eric Hurlocker and tax specialists at Hunton and Williams, Secure Futures developed an innovative contract model that could provide the tax benefits of a PPA without running afoul of utility monopoly claims. CSGAs are contracts for solar services but, crucially, don't involve the sale of electricity.
Although Dominion Power eventually relented enough to cooperate on a bill passed in 2013 that allows a small number of PPAs within its territory on a "pilot project" basis, Secure Futures has continued to use the CSGA model in subsequent projects because it offers features that a standard PPA does not.
Perhaps more importantly, neither Dominion nor any other utility has signaled opposition to CSGAs. Suddenly, Secure Futures' niche looks huge. The ability to use CSGAs wherever PPAs would make financial sense opens up new opportunities among non-profits not just in Virginia, but in all of the 28 states where PPAs are currently either illegal or of uncertain status. As Smith notes, no state bars customers from generating electricity for their own use.
While Smith is eager to see his company grow, he says his larger goal has always been to open the floodgates for solar projects across the country where they are held back now only by outdated laws and flawed policies. He hopes to license the CSGA approach, ideally to a non-profit that could work with developers across the South to make this contract model widely available.
Virginia has always been a hard place to do business for solar companies, so much so that Smith refers to it as a "dark state." Knocking down the PPA barrier won't bring the sunshine in all by itself, but it does create an opening.
-- Ivy Main, Sierra Club Virginia
Have you heard this one before? A PepsiCo representative walks out of an industry conference...and his buddy tells him that they’re going to hand him over to the Sierra Club tar sands protesters.
Actually, it's no joke - that's exactly what happened last week at the Food and Beverage Environmental Conference in Napa, California.
The Sierra Club's Future Fleet campaign, is targeting corporations to slash oil consumption and to stop using tar sands in their gigantic vehicle fleets. Nineteen companies have already made a tar sands commitment, but PepsiCo has been lagging behind its peers.
Last week, we got creative. PepsiCo was sponsoring an industry event called the Food & Beverage Environmental Conference, which was themed around water. Tar sands, of course, spell disaster for clean water and everyone who drinks it, so the Sierra Club and our friends at ForestEthics turned out in Napa to make sure PepsiCo and its peers know that tar sands and water don't mix.
On Sunday, the day that conference attendees were arriving in Napa, Sierra Club volunteers took over downtown Napa - and the opinion page of the paper - to petition PepsiCo to make good on their public commitments around clean water by saying no to tar sands in their vehicle fleets. And meanwhile, our friends at ForestEthics hung a huge banner over the highway leading to the conference center right where conference attendees would see it.
But the action was just getting started. On Monday, conference attendees walked out of their morning sessions to a lunchtime rally outside the conference hotel that made front page news in Napa. With activists of every generation chanting, "Hey Pepsi, listen up! Don't use tar sands in your trucks!" the picket caused a stir among conference attendees, who commented about the conference never having been protested before and joked about handing the PepsiCo representatives at the conference over to the activists.
And the actions just kept on coming. On Tuesday, the Sierra Club released a report called "The Toxic Waters of the Tar Sands Industry" and invited company representatives and the general public to watch a special web session in which guest speakers with expertise on the devastation wrought by tar sands on water, including one representative from an impacted First Nations community, spoke about the issues highlighted in the report. You can watch the session here.
Just to make sure the report got into the hands of the industry representatives, early Wednesday morning, a team of activists ensured it was delivered it to nearly all conference attendees' hotel rooms. That same night, ForestEthics activists in Seattle at the Sustainable Packaging Conference shined a giant light projection onto the outside of the conference hotel that said, "Coke and Pepsi: Stop Using Tar Sands Fuel."
We got word from PepsiCo that last week's actions were definitely noticed. It wouldn't be possible without folks' support in calling on PepsiCo and other companies to step up and do the right thing: Join the call to PepsiCo to get off tar sands here.
-- Rachel Butler is a campaigner with the Beyond Oil Campaign's Future Fleet Initiative. Photos courtesy of Ethan Buckner and Peter Menchini.
As if fossil fuel's massive climate impacts weren't enough, there is another powerful reason we should leave them in the ground: they're a bad investment.
DC Divest's Matt Grason and graphic designer Stephanie Lenorovitz have put together this infographic based on research from eight financial firms, and major media and financial media outlets. It challenges the conventional wisdom that fossil fuels are "safe" investments, giving seven compelling "reasons to sell your stocks now."
Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune recently said "We should be exporting clean energy innovation, not the dirty fuels of the 19th century." That logic applies to investments too, and this graphic suggests that investors should view fossil fuels with the same wariness as horse and buggy enterprises.
Click through to see the whole thing!
-- Courtenay Lewis, Sierra Club Beyond Oil Campaign
The 112th Congress was saturated by more than $34 million in direct campaign contributions from oil, gas, and coal interests. In addition, dirty fuel interests spent $270 million on television ads in just the last two months of the 2012 electoral cycle. And, on top of all that, the Koch Brothers reportedly spent $400 million in 2012. That's a pair of oil barons spending more in one cycle than John McCain's entire Presidential campaign spent in all of the 2008 cycle. It's an unbelievable state of affairs. And, today, with their ruling in McCutcheon v. FEC, the Supreme Court made a terrible situation much, much worse.
Four years ago, the court opened the floodgates to unlimited outside money in politics with its decision in Citizens United, letting a handful of big money campaign donors spend whatever they wanted to push their agenda and their allies into government. Today's decision in McCutcheon does the same thing for inside money, upping the amount of money these donors can give directly to candidates. The current limit is around $120,000. The McCutcheon decision will increase that to around $3.6 million. As you can guess, that doesn't affect a lot of everyday Americans.
It's as if the majority on the Supreme Court has had its eyes shut ever since Citizens United. Since that ruling, any progress in our government has ground to a dead stop, as obstructionists supported by big polluter dollars have distorted our government’s priorities and halted any effort to change the status quo. If Citizens United were a movie, no one but big money campaign donors would want a sequel - but the Supreme Court has delivered them just that today with McCutcheon.
Are you wondering who exactly will benefit and who will they be donating to? Take a look at who the case is named after: Shaun McCutcheon, an Alabama Republican activist who made his fortune in - what else? - the coal industry. It's McCutcheon and other dirty fuel executives like him who wanted to pump even more money into the system - and the Supreme Court has rolled over and let them.
At the Sierra Club, we know that protecting our environment and our democracy go hand in hand - and when those who view contaminating our air, our water, and our climate as collateral damage are free to flood our government with millions more in unlimited cash, it drowns out the voice of everyone else.
Fortunately, big money campaign donors aren’t getting away with this corruption of our democracy without the American people putting up a fight - and the situation is far from hopeless. In a recent poll by Greenberg Quinlan Rosner, results showed 91 percent of respondents want elected officials to "reduce the influence of money in political elections." Grassroots movements are emerging calling for public financing that levels the playing field and lifts up the voices of small donors. More and more Americans are demanding initiatives that pull back the curtain on political spending.
And, today, in dozens of locations across the country, Sierra Club activists are standing with labor union members, civil rights champions, and good government advocates at rallies demonstrating against the McCutcheon decision. We're showing that the people are more powerful than the polluters, no matter how much they want to pour into our elections. And we're demonstrating we’re ready to fight back. All told, the call for a democracy that is of, by, and for the people is growing louder and louder as more and more money pours in.
That is why we refuse to see the McCutcheon decision as a loss. Dozens of groups representing tens of millions of Americans opposing unlimited corporate money in politics will not just use this moment as a chance to speak out, but as an opportunity to organize together to make this a turning point in the fight to get money out of politics and get voters in.
The Supreme Court and the big polluters have made it clear what side they are on -- now, it's time we made it clear that its the wrong side.
-- Courtney Hight, director of the Sierra Club's Democracy Program
When we imagine what the future will look like in books and movies, we see flying cars, teleportation, and computer superintelligence. But what if in reality our future instead involves food shortages, extreme weather, and sea level rise?
If we continue on our current climate disruption path, scientists say that's exactly what will happen.
Today, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)'s Working Group II released a report that examines the impacts climate change has on our current and future environment, where we are most vulnerable, and the adaptation that must take place to deal with a changing climate.
"Managing the risks of climate change involves adaptation and mitigation decisions with implications for future generations, economies, and environments," the IPCC summary states.
What they found is that climate disruption is already occurring on every continent and in every ocean, and it disproportionately affects some communities. They also found that while adaptation can reduce the impacts of climate change, "greater rates and magnitude of climate change increase the likelihood of exceeding adaptation limits."
"Observed impacts of climate change have already affected agriculture, human health, ecosystems on land and in the oceans, water supplies, and some people's livelihoods," the IPCC press release states. "The striking feature of observed impacts is that they are occurring from the tropics to the poles, from small islands to large continents, and from the wealthiest countries to the poorest."
Areas around the globe are experiencing phenomena such as extreme hurricanes, severe drought, and exceptionally hot and cold weather. One of the most drastically affected locations is the Arctic. The sea ice has already reached its maximum extent and is beginning to shrink at an alarming rate. If this trend continues, the Arctic conditions will continue to be warmer than average, causing potentially irreparable damage to the planet.
Where the differences lie is in the resilience of the areas after an extreme weather event. Poorer communities and individuals who directly rely on the environment for housing or income are frequently ill-prepared for extreme weather events and unable to recover once they're over.
"Climate change often interacts with other stresses to increase risk," said Chris Field, co-chair of Working Group II.
Scientists recognize that working to help these communities cope with climate disruption is critically important for their survival. But it is only one small faction of the solution.
What scientists are looking at now is how the entire world will be able to handle continued climate disruption in the future and how to prepare for that future.
"The world, in many cases, is ill-prepared for risks from a changing climate," the IPCC press release states.
Scientists know that climate change adaptation is a major component to ensuring our ability to avoid frequent and widespread catastrophes in the future.
"Part of the reason adaptation is so important is that the world faces a host of risks from climate change already baked into the climate system, due to past emissions and existing infrastructure," said Vicente Barros, co-chair of Working Group II, in the IPCC press release.
Without global adaptation to climate disruption, we can expect the next century to be "hotter, drier and hungrier."
"Maladaptation can increase the vulnerability or exposure of the target group in the future, or the vulnerability of other people, places, or sectors," the IPCC summary states.
But while some may tout adaptation as a "cure-all", it is not without limitations that may hinder its effectiveness. Limitations that are directly proportionate to accelerating climate change and increasing global emissions.
"Limits to adaptation emerge from the interaction among climate change and biophysical and/or socioeconomic constraints," the IPCC summary continues. "Opportunities to take advantage of positive synergies between adaptation and mitigation may decrease with time, particularly if limits to adaptation are exceeded. In some parts of the world, insufficient responses to emerging impacts are already eroding the basis for sustainable development."
So, as the planet continues to warm, adaptation becomes increasingly difficult. But "reducing climate change can also reduce the scale of adaptation that might be required," the IPCC summary states.
It's now time for the world's governments to do just that. We need our leaders to take action on this information and move away from dirty fossil fuels and continue to invest in clean energy sources like wind and solar. There are countless ways to start, beginning with the U.S. government rejecting the Keystone XL pipeline and putting a moratorium on leasing for oil drilling in the Arctic Ocean.
The opportunities are endless, but action needs to be taken now. Only then can we protect the environment and the economy for generations to come.
The future may be unclear, but one thing is certain. Science has spoken: it's time to act and adapt.
-- John Coequyt, Director of the Sierra Club's International Climate Program
By Michael Marx, Beyond Oil Campaign Director
Proposed Upper Midwest Tar Sands Pipeline Expansion Threatens Great Lakes and Climate
Last week the BP Whiting tar sands refinery in Indiana dumped more than fifteen hundred gallons of crude oil into Lake Michigan. BP isn’t saying exactly how much they spilled or whether it was tar sands or conventional crude oil. But we know that Lake Michigan was poisoned by the nation’s largest tar sands refinery. Tar sands are the dirtiest source of oil on Earth. They're more toxic, more corrosive, and more polluting than conventional sources of oil. And once again BP has proven that it can’t be relied on to prioritize safety, or tell the truth about oil spills.
The Sierra Club has fought the Keystone XL pipeline because tar sands pipelines are unsafe for the people in their path. From the mining operations along pipeline routes to refinery fence-line communities, these pipelines are disastrous. This week the Beyond Oil campaign and 13 other groups are releasing All Risk No Reward, a new report on the proposed Alberta Clipper tar sands pipeline expansion.
The Alberta Clipper, also known as Line 67, is an existing pipeline that currently pumps up to 450,000 barrels per day of tar sands crude from Hardisty, Alberta, to Superior, Wisconsin. From the Canadian border, the pipeline traverses 327 miles of North Dakota, Minnesota, and Wisconsin, passing through tribal lands, forests, and farms, rivers, and lakes, before terminating at Lake Superior. Enbridge, the company that owns the pipeline, is asking the State Department for an amended Presidential Permit to almost double the pipeline’s capacity to 800,000 barrels per day and to construct two new tar sands storage tanks on the shores of Lake Superior.
Expanding the Alberta Clipper tar sands pipeline to move more dirty, dangerous tar sands crude through the Upper Midwest would greatly increase the risk to American and tribal lands and waters, including the Great Lakes, of devastating tar sands spills. Like exploding crude oil rail cars, earth-scraping mining operations, and the heavily polluting tar sands refineries, these pipelines are not safe. And higher capacity means more crude pumped at higher pressure, raising the risk of accidents and exposing communities to tar sands’ full complement of disturbing climate, safety, and environmental implications.
Enbridge, the company behind the Alberta Clipper proposal, has a dismal safety record. From 1999 to 2010, Enbridge was responsible for more than 800 spills that released 6.8 million gallons of hydrocarbons. Canada’s National Energy Board and the U.S. Department of Transportation Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) have repeatedly cited the company for safety violations, including a record $2.4 million fine in connection with an explosion that killed two workers in Minnesota. Enbridge is also responsible for the worst onshore oil spill in U.S. history, the 2010 Kalamazoo River disaster, in which a ruptured Enbridge pipeline poured nearly a million gallons of tar sands crude into Michigan's Talmadge Creek and Kalamazoo River. Four years and a billion dollars later, oil is still being found and parts of the Kalamazoo remain poisoned by tar sands crude.
That tragedy in Michigan, like the more recent one in Arkansas that sent tar sands crude flowing across lawns and driveways, is a grim illustration of the threat tar sands pipelines pose to families, homes, and waterways. The Alberta Clipper route crosses the Mississippi River, the drinking water source for 15 million people, five times. And a rupture anywhere in the Great Lakes region could be devastating. The Great Lakes provide drinking water for more than 40 million people and support tourism, recreation, a $7 billion fishery industry, and a $16 billion boating industry. But even those numbers don’t begin to reflect the cultural and environmental importance of protecting the Great Lakes from toxic tar sands pollution. And as with the Keystone XL pipeline, the Sierra Club is prepared to fight the Alberta Clipper expansion proposal to the end.
The proposal still needs to secure permits from the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission and an amended Presidential Permit from the Obama administration. We expect that President Obama will hold this proposal to the same climate test that he articulated for Keystone XL: the project will not be in the national interest if it would significantly exacerbate carbon pollution. We remain confident that Secretary Kerry and President Obama will recognize how Keystone XL flatly fails that test, and that the same will hold true for the proposed Alberta Clipper expansion. This proposal would accelerate tar sands industry growth, generating massive carbon pollution at a time when neither the U.S. nor Canada can waste any more time in our transition away from dirty fuels and toward renewable energy.
On Thursday, April 3, residents of the the Upper Midwest will have a chance to help stop this expansion from happening. Join us in St. Paul to stand against tar sands and Alberta Clipper!
The Daily Show with Jon Stewart has taken a look into fracking and has uncovered the “minor downsides” to natural gas extraction.
In a segment that aired March 27 on the satirical comedy show, correspondent Aasif Mandvi interviewed local residents of Bradford County, PA and - for a pro-industry point of view - Marita Noon, the executive director of the pro-fracking group Energy Makes America Great, Inc.
“Fracking has ruined our quality of life,” one Bradford County resident said.
“Our water contamination here is moving through all of Bradford County,” another added.
“I had rashes, neurological problems, sleep disruption,” a third continued.
Noon, who is self-described as “America’s voice for energy”, doesn’t see a problem with fracking and said the oil and gas companies are doing a good job of regulating themselves.
“Is there a way that oil and gas companies could be better than they are?” Mandvi asked.
“I would say no, actually,” she responded. “These oil and gas producers that are there care about the community.”
So what are the residents of Bradford County so angry about then? Their county only has 1,100 active wells and 696 violations, a small amount compared to the “teeny tiny snafus” such as earthquakes, well explosions, pipeline punctuations that have been happening all across the country.
When a well exploded in Greene County, PA killing one person, Chevron “came to the rescue with immediate compensation”: they offered 100 residents $12 gift certificates to a local pizzeria.
Taking a page out of Chevron’s book, when the residents seemed to be getting upset, Mandvi offered them a pizza.
“We want our water back. Period,” one resident demanded. “We want our life back. We don’t want your pizza.”
Take a look for yourself:
I can only imagine the fear that must grip a parent when their child suffers an asthma attack, and I can only imagine how much time and energy they spend doing everything they can to avoid triggers for these potentially deadly attacks. A major trigger is smog pollution - also known as ground-level ozone. When smog is inhaled, the harm it does has been likened to getting a sunburn on your lungs, and these asthma attacks send tens of thousands of kids to the emergency room every year. Kids and seniors are especially at risk from smog pollution.
This is why the Sierra Club is so adamant in urging the Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee, which provides independent advice to the Environmental Protection Agency, to recommend a strong, science-based standard to protect Americans from smog (you can read our comments right here - PDF) Right now the EPA is updating the country's smog pollution limits as required by the Clean Air Act.
Asthma is the number one health problem that causes American children to miss school, and it costs taxpayers tens of billions of dollars each year in missed work and health care costs. Research has shown that exposure to smog causes respiratory problems including asthma, may affect the nervous and cardiovascular systems, and can lead to premature death.
As the proud mom of a busy, active three-year-old, it's hard for me to imagine keeping her inside on a beautiful summer day. But that’s exactly what parents of kids with asthma must do, all too often. Those parents, kids, seniors and people with chronic respiratory ailments know what it's like to learn that your day will be cut short by an Orange, Red or even Purple Air Quality Alert.
When smog hits these levels, those people are stuck inside waiting for outdoor air quality to return to safe levels for them to breathe. One needs to look no further than the American Lung Association's annual "State of the Air" reports to see the cities where bad air days are most frequent -- days that air quality is so poor that being outdoors could kill them.
With the technology readily available to dramatically reduce smog, it would be unconscionable not to act. We need standards that reflect the latest science. For example, in Pittsburgh, coal plants are the single biggest contributor to smog pollution, but those facilities could cut that pollution by more than a third just by operating the pollution controls that the plants already have. They could cut it even further by installing modern controls!
The American people should not have to wait any longer for action to clean up dangerous smog pollution. It’s time to clean up our air and protect our families. Join us - tell the EPA to finalize strong protections on smog pollution.
-- Mary Anne Hitt, Beyond Coal Campaign Director
Though there are no leaves on the trees yet, my home state of Massachusetts became a greener place to live this week. Governor Deval Patrick announced Thursday a rebate program that will provide state residents who purchase or lease an electric vehicle (EV) a rebate of up to $2,500 - an incentive that we in the Massachusetts Electric Vehicles Taskforce enthusiastically recommended.
In the past, I've blogged about Massachusetts lagging behind other states, like Oregon and Georgia, in EV incentives and sales. The new rebate program, expected to go into effect early this summer, will allow for catch-up and help clear the air from Cape Cod to the Berkshires.
On Thursday, the governor also celebrated the launch of six new fully electric public transit buses in Worcester, MA. "This is wicked cool," said Governor Patrick (that means "really, really great" for you non-New Englanders). State transportation officials said each of the new buses is expected to eliminate 130 tons of carbon dioxide emissions per year compared to diesel buses and will cut operating costs by nearly $3 million over 12 years. The buses are manufactured by Proterra, headquartered in Greenville, SC. The growing company has e-bus contracts with transit agencies in a number of other cities, including Nashville, San Antonio, and Tallahassee.
The governor was on a roll because he also announced nearly $600,000 in Massachusetts Electric Vehicle Incentive Program (MassEVIP) grants for 16 municipalities, two universities, and one state agency to install EV charging stations and acquire about 200 EVs for their fleets. This is the second round of grant awards through MassEVIP since its launch last year.
As a parent whose children take the school bus every day, I'm also excited to learn that, working in partnership with the Clinton Global Initiative, the Massachusetts Department of Energy Resources will provide $1.8 million in grants for eight electric school buses. These e-buses will have vehicle-to-grid capability to serve as back-up energy resources during natural disasters. It would be exciting if my daughters could ride on one of these clean driving technological marvels in our home city of Cambridge.
Massachusetts, which has signed an eight-state agreement to significantly ramp up EV programs and sales, has a long way to go to reach its commitment of getting 300,000+ plug-in vehicles on the road in Massachusetts alone by 2025. But this week, there was a jolt of real progress.
-- Gina Coplon-Newfield, Director of the Sierra Club Future Fleet & Electric Vehicles Initiative. Photos by XhaoZhi Lim of the Massachusetts Department of Energy Resources.
Across the world, there are still 1.3 billion people living in severe energy poverty, and almost half of them—587 million—live in Sub-Saharan Africa. In an attempt to expand energy access for people in Sub-Saharan Africa, President Obama announced the Power Africa initiative in June 2013, and today, the Sierra Club submitted written testimony for a Senate hearing on the ambitious initiative.
The initiative has brought much-needed attention to the critical problem of energy poverty in Africa. Today, the U.S. Senate Committee on Foreign Relations’ Subcommittee on African Affairs sought to examine the power of that initiative.
While commendable, this initiative should include avenues for small-scale, clean energy projects. These are called “distributed renewables,” and are often owned by individuals or groups instead of utilities. In the written testimony, the Sierra Club calls for the Power Africa Initiative to expand its support for distributed renewables in the form of off-grid and mini-grid energy access projects. So far, support from the Power Africa Initiative has been skewed toward large-scale power plants. Clean energy has received significantly less support.
The traditional approach to the problem of energy poverty has been powering homes and buildings with large-scale power plants connected to a geographically extensive grid. It’s becoming clear that this approach won’t be sufficient or economical. In many cases, distributed renewables are the best tool for the job as they’re better suited for many of the rural areas where people lack electricity. This is because grid extension is often slow and expensive, and is many times unreliable even in the areas where it reaches.
On the other hand, distributed renewables are quickly becoming reliable, rapid, and affordable. Entrepreneurs have developed innovative financial models that help the poor avoid paying up-front costs. These models, including pay-as-you-go systems and mobile phone-enabled money transfer platforms, make energy more affordable for poor families. Additionally, game-changing efficiency improvements in appliances such as lights, cell phone chargers, fans, and televisions have enabled smaller, cheaper solar systems to deliver more energy services at lower costs.
The Sierra Club’s written testimony argues that, to capture the benefits of new technologies and financial models and move beyond outdated approaches, Power Africa should strike a balance among grid extension, mini-grid, and off-grid solutions. Of these three approaches, we currently see the least emphasis on, and most need for, distributed clean energy sources that power mini-grids and off-grid solutions. The testimony recommends that Power Africa implement a dedicated loan guarantee for distributed clean energy projects.
If we are able to move beyond business as usual, we can help catalyze a 21st-century transition in Africa. Just as mobile phones have leapfrogged landlines, distributed renewables can leapfrog centralized grids in energy-poor places like Sub-Saharan Africa. It’s time we unlock the world’s most sophisticated technologies for the world’s poorest populations.
--John Coequyt, Director of the Sierra Club's International Climate Program
What do a Grammy-nominated singer-songwriter, a comedian, a hip hop artist, a minister, a global sustainability expert, and a civil rights leader have in common?
They all want you to act on climate disruption.
Raheem DeVaughn, Amanda Seales, Dee-1, Rev. Lennox Yearwood Jr., Dr. Micheal Dorsey, and Rev. Dr. Gerald L. Durley will be speaking and performing at the Hip Hop Caucus’ Act On Climate campus tour starting tonight.
The Hip Hop Caucus (HHC) was founded in 2004 by Rev. Lennox Yearwood “to organize young people to be active in elections, policymaking and service projects. [They] mobilize, educate, and engage young people, ages 14 to 40, on the social, issues that directly impact their lives and communities.”
This includes issues like economics, education, healthcare, housing, environment, and social justice.
The HHC “harnesses the platforms of our celebrity, media, and entertainment partners to inform and move the urban community to action.” That diverse community includes more than 650,000 people. Seventy percent of them are under the age of 40, 60 percent of them are women, and a majority of members are African American and Latino.
One of the main challenges facing these communities is climate disruption, which already disproportionately affects communities of color and low-income communities, and will only get worse unless major changes are made.
“The effects of climate change are expected to be more severe for some segments of society than others because of geographic location, the degree of association with climate-sensitive environments, and unique cultural, economic, or political characteristics of particular landscapes and human populations,” a study from the United States Department of Agriculture states. “Social vulnerability and equity in the context of climate change are important because some populations may have less capacity to prepare for, respond to, and recover from climate-related hazards and effects.”
That’s why the HHC is hosting the campus tour this year to reach out to young people around the country. Their message for our leaders is clear: “we need them to act on the issue of climate change.”
Their campus tour has gained major notoriety and is supported by the Obama administration, the Environmental Protection Agency, and Reps. Keith Ellison (D-MN) and André Carson (D-IN). EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy is expected to make an appearance during the tour.
The Sierra Club’s Environmental Justice program has been working for over 20 years to link environmental quality and social justice, and the Sierra Club is proud to support the Act on Climate campus tour.
The tour begins tonight at 6 p.m. EST at Hampton University in Virginia and will continue on to Central State University in Wilberforce, OH, Wayne State University in Detroit, Howard University in Washington, D.C., North Carolina A&T University in Greensboro, NC, and conclude at Clark Atlanta University in Atlanta.
--Cindy Carr, Sierra Club Media Team
Let's be real: tar sands are a disaster for the climate, for water, for public health, for Indigenous communities that live in tar sands extraction sacrifice zones, and for communities along existing and proposed pipeline and rail routes. If they have their way, the industry's plans for tar sands extraction would destroy a swath of boreal forest the size of Florida, and already the toxic tailings lakes of mining wastewater can be seen from space.
North America's biggest corporations, as the biggest consumers of oil, need to sit up and pay attention. Any company with a concern for sustainability and public health, including water conservation and protection, has a responsibility to move its vehicle fleet/product shipping fueling away from tar sands-derived petroleum, end of story.
The Sierra Club's Future Fleet campaign is putting pressure on corporations to get off tar sands and reduce their overall oil use, and this week, the Sierra Club released a new report that highlights a tar sands issue of growing concern: The Toxic Waters of the Tar Sands Industry - An Opportunity for Companies to Reduce Their Consumption of Tar Sands Fuel.
Let's look at the report by the numbers:
- At least seven: The number of poisonous chemicals released by the tar sands industry into freshwater systems each day.
- 11,000 cubic meters: The amount of wastewater that seeps from toxic tailings lakes into adjoining ground each day.
- Two to four: The number of barrels of fresh water used per barrel of tar sands oil produced through mining.
- Three times more: The amount of water used by tar sands operations compared to conventional oil.
- 0.2 percent: The amount of land disturbed by tar sands development that has been certified as reclaimed.
- 68 square miles: Size of toxic tar sands tailings lakes.
- 170 percent: The expected growth in freshwater use by the tar sands industry by 2030.
- Zero: The number of oil sands companies complying with 2009 Alberta regulations on tailings waste management
To release the report this week, the Sierra Club invited industry representatives and activists from across the country to join a web session on the water impacts of tar sands. Speaking at the session were Sierra Club's Future Fleet & Electric Vehicles Initiative Director Gina Coplon-Newfield; Environmental Defence Canada's National Program Manager Hannah McKinnon; and Sierra Club Canada's Prairie Chapter Climate & Energy Campaigner Crystal Lameman, who is a member the Beaver Lake Cree Nation directly impacted by the tar sands industry. If you missed the live broadcast, you can see the session here.
In short, the report lays out for corporate tar sands consumers what is already clear to communities in the path of tar sands extraction and export: tar sands destroy the climate and pollute water. The report identifies steps that major fuel buyers, such as companies with large shipping and vehicle fleet operations, must take to get off this dirty fuel.
The good news is that companies such as Walgreens, Trader Joe's, and Columbia Sportswear have publicly committed to reduce their reliance on tar sands fuel by working with their fuel and transportation providers to make sure that the fuel, whenever possible, is coming from refineries that do not process tar sands.
It's time that America's other corporations - we're looking at you, PepsiCo - put their money where their marketing is and say no to tar sands.
-- Rachel Butler is a campaigner with the Beyond Oil Campaign's Future Fleet Initiative
They say that with age comes wisdom. But 25 years after the Exxon Valdez catastrophe, the oil industry isn’t any wiser.
Four years ago, the BP Deepwater Horizon oil disaster devastated the Gulf Coast’s habitats and businesses, and now a barge has crashed off the coast of Texas, leaking as much as 168,000 gallons of tar-like bunker fuel into the Gulf.
This past Saturday, March 22, the Cleopatra Shipping Agency owned-barge, Summer Wind, collided with a ship in the heavily-trafficked Houston Ship Channel in Galveston Bay. The barge was being towed by Kirby Inland Marine’s tow boat, Miss Susan.
Not only has the heavy fuel oil spread miles out into the Gulf of Mexico and affected 15 miles of shoreline, but most ships are unable to travel the channel.
The immediate environmental burden is not yet known, but if this spill is anything like the BP disaster or the Exxon Valdez spill, they’ll have years of environmental costs and clean-up ahead of them.
A study published Monday by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration found that the oil spilled from Deepwater Horizon severely harmed the embryos of several different fish species. These species—including Atlantic bluefin tuna, yellowfin tuna, and amberjack—that were exposed to the toxic polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) developed an “irregular heartbeat, circulatory disruption and pericardial fluid accumulation.”
"For a species like bluefin tuna, whose populations have crashed due to overfishing and are fighting to rebuild their former abundance, BP's oil was a shot to the heart," Jacqueline Savitz, a spokeswoman for Oceana, told the LA Times.
But the oil didn’t just remain on the surface.
Dr. Paul Montagna, the Endowed Chair for Ecosystems and Modeling at Texas A&M Corpus Christi, studied the oil from Deepwater Horizon.
He told NPR’s StateImpact, “That was something that was unexpected — oil floats, so everybody expected the oil to come to the surface and not impact the deep sea. But we found the opposite was happening.”
The crude oil sank to the bottom of the Gulf, threatening creatures and ecosystems thousands of feet below the surface. This could happen again with the Summer Wind disaster.
The oil that doesn’t sink is at risk of spreading further into the water and coating the nearby shore lines. A crucial shorebird habitat on both sides of the channel is currently home to thousands of wintering birds.
Authorities aren’t yet sure how many birds are oiled, but at least 10 have died so far.
And this destruction isn’t the only recent oil-related disaster we’ve seen in the U.S. Last week, nearly 20,000 gallons of crude oil leaked from Sunoco-owned piping onto a acre of protected marshland in Ohio’s Oak Glen Nature Preserve. On Monday, 500 gallons of oil leaked into Lake Michigan from one of BP’s Indiana refineries.
Albert Einstein once said, “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”
The oil industry is doing just that. For decades, they have drilled and shipped oil at an alarming rate, leaving disaster in their wake so they can continue to rake in billions of dollars each year. Countless oil spills have threatened sensitive habitats, coated animals, and contaminated both land and water.
How many more oil spills will it take before the oil industry starts putting people and the environment before profits?
--Cindy Carr, Sierra Club Media Team
The controversy continues almost two months after a Duke Energy spill of toxic coal ash into the Dan River. First, the Waterkeeper Alliance discovered Duke Energy dumping some 61 million gallons of coal ash wastewater into yet another waterway - the Cape Fear River. Duke Energy has been cited eight times since the Feb. 2 Dan River spill!
Now, state regulators have withdrawn the sweetheart coal ash violation settlements offered in previous years and instead have asked the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to step in to further investigate coal ash violations.
Today we released a poll showing that these inexcusable and shocking continued water violations are taking their toll on North Carolinians. Some highlights from the poll:
- A stunning 90 percent of North Carolina voters want Duke to clean up all coal ash sites in the state, including the Dan River spill, and 88 percent feel coal ash should be stored away from water in specially lined landfills.
- A large majority of North Carolina voters – 75 percent – are aware of the Dan River coal ash spill and there is broad concern about it within the state's electorate.
There is strong bipartisan support for regulating coal ash as a hazardous substance, to the tune of 83 percent of North Carolina voters, including super majorities of Democrats (91 percent), Independents (85 percent), and Republicans (75 percent).
- North Carolinians, particularly those who have heard the most about the spill, place the blame for it squarely on Duke Energy.
- North Carolinians strongly favor more regulation and enforcement when it comes to coal ash, and overwhelmingly believe that without this another spill will occur.
- 70 percent of voters would support a candidate who favors strong regulations and enforcement to protect the water, air, and health of North Carolinians and to prevent future incidents like the recent coal ash spill, including 55 percent of Republicans, 69 percent of Independents, and 87 percent of Democrats.
These results are strikingly similar to the poll we recently conducted in West Virginia. Taken together, the two polls demonstrate a clear finding that turns conventional wisdom on its head - people in states where the coal industry is still powerful want protections against coal pollution, and they want to support independent leaders who will stand up for clean air and water safeguards.
This story is not going away, in part because residents of the affected states continue to suffer from these spills. In Charleston, residents are still not drinking their water and new test results revealed just today that the coal chemical MCHM is still leaking into the Elk River and showing up in household drinking water.
In North Carolina, officials say it will take at least two years to clean up the Dan River spill, while more coal ash problems are being revealed all the time. In Virginia, which also received some of the Dan River pollution, residents are angry and worried about their health, safety, and economy, and Governor McAuliffe has called on Duke to cover the costs of the cleanup.
The EPA has the tools it needs to prevent another Dan River spill from happening. As Politico reported this week, the EPA is coming under increased scrutiny for failing to finalize long-overdue coal water protections. No more delay – just ask the people of North Carolina. TAKE ACTION: It's time to protect our water from coal pollution.
-- Mary Anne Hitt, Director of the Sierra Club Beyond Coal Campaign. Photo of the Dan River coal ash spill courtesy of Appalachian Voices.
Against the fervent protests of global coal lobbyists, Norway is considering divesting from coal while doubling down on investments in renewable energy and sustainable development internationally. These unprecedented initiatives could unleash billions in investments in renewable energy around the globe. This is great news, but we can’t forget that how we get people access to solar and other clean energy is just as important as whether we deploy them at all. That’s why Norway should include a commitment to transition energy access investment away from large-scale, centralized energy projects to small-scale, distributed clean energy like off-grid solar that turns on the lights while benefitting local economies.
No country is better placed to take advantage of these resources than India. Current estimates peg the Indian off-grid solar market at three gigawatts. That’s enough to get 75 million off-grid homes powered with basic services like lighting, mobile phone charging, and fans. But right now, Indian banks have a cap on investments to the power sector, limiting the solar industry’s access to finance because it’s all going to the struggling coal sector. It’s hard for the solar industry as a whole to get finance from public institutions compared to other energy sources, and it’s particularly hard for off-grid companies, given the banks’ current predisposition to support large-scale, centralized solar arrays.
That’s why Norway could soon be in a position to help India’s off-grid solar sector. If high-profile calls from leading solar entrepreneurs like Jigar Shah, founder of solar technology manufacturer SunEdison, are heeded, Norway could make $500 million available to off-grid renewables around the world. If this money is used in a strategic way, as loan guarantees that unlock billions more, we could see this sector explode like the mobile phone business in the early years.
Already the off-grid solar lighting market in sub-Saharan Africa, aimed to improve access to better lighting in areas not yet connected to the electricity grid, is almost doubling every year according to an international program called Lighting Africa. In Bangladesh, renewable energy company Grameen Shakti and others are deploying 30,000 to 40,000 solar home systems every single month. But India is already falling behind these fast-moving markets, even though states like Uttar Pradesh are housing a hotbed of distributed solar activity.
Despite the solar industry’s initial success in parts of the world, these markets are suffering from a lack of finance, making it hard for entrepreneurs to raise the money they need to get up and going. That means billions wait in the dark, living in energy poverty, the term for the situation that so many in developing nations find themselves: negatively affected by a lack of of energy, use of dirty fossil fuels, and inefficient time spent collecting fuel to provide for families. One quarter of that population resides in rural India with hundreds of millions more only receiving a few hours of electricity from the grid every day.
Luckily, small amounts of financial support from mainstream, hard-nosed investors have helped to transform investment in the sector in just the past six months. But financial capital from the private sector isn’t enough. We need the scale that only public institutions can bring. That’s why India needs this commitment from Norway to carve out support for off-grid clean energy access.
Norway has already heard the call for a $500 million fund from 20 of the world’s leading off-grid clean energy entrepreneurs. That’s why the government’s Energy+ Initiative has supported India’s national solar mission to provide solar in off-grid areas. Now it’s time to actually unlock this money and end energy poverty in India once and for all.
As Shah said, we have a once-in-a-generation opportunity to do something that matters. The eradication of energy poverty is an essential step to the education of children, effectiveness of health care, and attainment of the millennium development goals. Around the world, there are over one billion reasons for Norway to help make this happen. India is home to 300 million reasons alone. It’s time Norway helped provide the investment India’s entrepreneurs need to turn the lights on.
--Justin Guay, Associate Director, Sierra Club International Climate Program
I am thrilled for students at the University of Georgia: After more than four years of campaigning, gathering more than 5,000 signatures and 100 faculty endorsements, and a slew of community and campus events, the UGA Beyond Coal Campaign is seeing some serious results. Last week the UGA administration announced that the campus coal boiler will be replaced!
Students at UGA were among the first to bring the Campuses Beyond Coal Campaign to their campus. Their movement started with just a few students in the Fall of 2009 and grew exponentially, so much that hundreds of students, faculty and community members turned out to their first on campus rally. This inspiring group of students forged ahead through a change in campus administration and multiple negative outlooks to continually recruit new leaders who carried on the campaign each year.
I couldn't be happier for these inspiring young people. Their work has been tireless.
From panels of guest speakers, to nightly ghost tours of the campus coal plant, to movie screenings and ample press coverage, the UGA Beyond Coal students have strived to educate the campus about coal's health effects. They know burning coal contributes to increased heart disease and asthma rates, premature death and is also one of the biggest contributors to climate disruption. From the mountaintop-removal coal mining in Appalachia, to the recent coal ash spills in North Carolina, coal is poisoning our air and water - even on college campuses.
The UGA students are not patting themselves on the back just yet - their push now is to get the school's administration to retire the coal boiler by 2018 and commit to clean energy for campus. This past year administrators began studying alternatives to burning coal on campus. Yet, even during that time, the administration refused to speak openly about the need to retire the coal boiler.
So the students made a bold move. They presented their Administration with two options: Announce the intent to replace the coal boiler and the students run a positive ad in local papers; or if the administration continued its silence, the students would run a negative ad in local papers and call out the administration on its lack of action.
You can imagine how thrilled the students were when the administration publicly stated, for the first time in four years, that the coal boiler must be replaced with a cleaner fuel source.
This welcome news comes at a time when we are pushing the entire state of Georgia to invest more in clean energy, and move away from the dirty fuels of the past. Georgia Power has announced it intends to make one of the biggest solar purchases in Southern history, as part of its future energy plan. UGA's leadership in moving beyond coal is another step in the right direction for the state.
But as I said, the students aren't resting now. They will continue to hold the administration to a strict timeline to retire the coal boiler by 2018 and switch to real clean energy solutions. You can help - tell UGA President Jere Morehead to move UGA beyond coal.
-- Mary Anne Hitt, Director of the Sierra Club Beyond Coal Campaign