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The Sierra Club is thrilled to announce that Mary Anne Hitt, director of the Club's history-making Beyond Coal campaign, has been honored by SNL Energy as one of ten most influential people in 2013 for her pioneering work to move the nation off polluting 19th Century fuels and onto clean sources of energy like wind and solar.
Joining her on the list are Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Gina McCarthy - plus a number of the fossil fuel industry executives that Mary Anne has been so effective in challenging. This recognition places the Sierra Club's Beyond Coal Campaign among the most significant forces shaping the energy sector in the US, along with the EPA, the U.S. Senate, and big energy companies of all stripes.
From the article: "the leaders who made the news in 2013 tended to be risk-takers unafraid of upsetting the status quo."
The Beyond Coal campaign has secured the retirement of 158 coal plants, and in other areas continues to demand that polluters be held accountable as the nation moves ever more quickly to wind, solar, and other renewables.
"I look forward to the day when this list is entirely leaders in the clean energy sector and not relics of a dirty-fueled past," said Mary Anne Hitt.
SNL Energy's 10 Most Influential People of 2013
Mary Anne Hitt, director, Sierra Club's Beyond Coal campaign
David Crane, president and CEO, NRG Energy Inc.
Lyndon Rive, co-founder and CEO, SolarCity Corp.
Lynn Good, president and CEO, Duke Energy Corp.
Bennett Hatfield, president and CEO, Patriot Coal Corp.
Doug Lawler, CEO, Chesapeake Energy Corp.
Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., chairman, Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee
Gina McCarthy, administrator, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
Norman Bay, director, FERC's Office of Enforcement
Donna Nelson, chairman, Public Utilities Commission of Texas
SNL Energy reporters and editors submitted nominations of people who impacted the U.S. electric power, natural gas, and coal sectors over the past year. The final list of people was selected by a committee of 10 veteran energy journalists at SNL Energy.
About SNL Energy
SNL Energy, a division of SNL Financial, redefines the energy information market by integrating news, data, and analytics in real time on a Web-based platform. Industry-leading access to comprehensive financials, breaking news, proprietary regulatory research, market pricing and fundamentals of supply and demand set the standard for intelligence on the power, natural gas, coal and renewable markets, driving critical energy investment decisions.
By Michael Marx, Beyond Oil Campaign Director
I've never been superstitious, but looking back on 2013 it's likely that oil company executives will be. In 2013 the Sierra Club's Beyond Oil campaign made huge strides in blocking some of the most polluting and carbon-intensive sources of oil. I’m especially proud of our successes when I compare the size of our campaign to the industry we’re taking on. Big Oil counts their profits in billions. They have an all-star bench of power brokers -– from lobbyists and PR firms to former administration officials, members of Congress, and the Prime Minister of Canada. Very impressive. But in 2013 a ragtag group of citizens, community groups, and environmental organizations have changed the calculus on Alberta tar sands and fired up a national climate movement. This will go down as the year that oil executives reached for their rabbit's feet and wondered just where their luck went.
In 2013 Keystone XL took center stage as the test of our commitment to address climate disruption. We kicked off Lucky '13 with Forward on Climate, the largest climate rally in U.S. history. Fifty thousand people joined us on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., for a new kind of environmental action. Forward on Climate was an invitation to the president to match the strong words in his second inaugural address with decisive action on coal, fracking, protecting the arctic, and stopping the tar sands pipeline. It was a cold day, but we sent a burning message that Americans are ready to act on climate.
The Keystone XL fight will continue into 2014, and maybe even beyond. But in the five years since Keystone XL was first proposed, we've fought the project to a standstill and kept at least 200 million metric tons of carbon pollution out of the atmosphere. We’ve turned a rubber stamp from the State Department into a new climate test for this and ultimately all new oil projects.
As the president laid out in his historic climate speech this summer, he will not approve this pipeline if it "significantly exacerbates carbon pollution." And certainly it would. That's why people are speaking up against this pipeline like never before. In the spring we and our partners gathered 1.2 million comments from American citizens taking the State Department to task for its faulty environmental review. We joined hundreds of citizens in Grand Island, Nebraska, for the State Department public hearing -- and hundreds met the president, vice president, and secretary of state as they traveled to more than 40 events around the nation. At one of these events in North Carolina, Vice President Joe Biden reached out to our great volunteer Elaine Cooper and told her, "I'm with you, but I'm in the minority."
Our report, FAIL: How Keystone XL Flunks the Climate Test, lays out the evidence that tar sands expansion is not inevitable (as the State Department contended in its draft environmental review), and that Keystone XL is a climate disaster in the making. It turns out that people who know the truth about tar sands, and know the risks of this pipeline, are quick to join us in the minority. And like all causes on the just side of history, we won't remain the minority for long.
Keystone XL may take the year's the top billing, but we also made great progress fighting for stronger regulations for railroad transportation of tar sands and other dangerous crude oil. We challenged tar sands refinery expansions in Delaware and export terminals in the Pacific Northwest. And we set a new standard for tar sands pipelines, so all proposals to move dangerous crude will now face the same level of scrutiny that Keystone XL faces.
We also fought for solutions. In 2013 we launched our Future Fleet campaign to push some of the nation's largest oil consumers -- including Coca-Cola and PepsiCo -- to slash their use of oil, and to stop using fuel refined from toxic tar sands altogether. Our work as part of the Clean Cars Coalition convinced eight governors to make a joint commitment to get 3.3 million zero-emission vehicles like electric cars onto the road in their states by 2025. We co-organized events to promote electric vehicles in nearly 100 cities with more than 36,000 people attending, and conducted thousands of test rides on the third annual National Plug In Day. The EPA released its Fuel Economy Trends Report in December, showing the second-largest annual increase in fuel efficiency in the last 30 years, reaching an all-time high of 23.6 mpg. Since President Obama took office, fuel economy has increased 12 percent, thanks to the vehicle standards he has put in place after years of advocacy work by the Sierra Club and our allies.
I've never been one to knock on wood, avoid a sidewalk crack, or hang a horseshoe. There's nothing magical about the success of the beyond oil campaign in 2013. It's the result of a hardworking, determined team of staff and volunteers who are standing toe to toe with the biggest, most powerful industry in the world -- a team of people in every state, who represent every imaginable cross-section of America, but who share an unfailing belief that we must move our nation beyond oil. That's bad news for Big Oil, because we are a movement that's only just begun our fight. And as I look forward to 2014, I don't need a four-leaf clover to know that we can expect more success ahead.
This coming Sunday, Dec. 22, marks five years since the Kingston Coal Plant’s ash dam in Tennessee ruptured, sending more than a billion gallons of toxic sludge into homes, onto farmland, and into the Emory and Clinch Rivers in Roane County - one of the biggest environmental disaster in U.S. history. Five years later, we're still waiting - and pushing - for the Environmental Protection Agency to put in place long-overdue protections to prevent more coal ash disasters.
We saw the photos of huge "ash-bergs" in the rivers, of homes decked out with Christmas wreaths buried in toxic coal ash up to their eaves, and of trees and farmland covered in disgusting, dangerous sludge.
In the disaster, Americans saw first-hand the consequences of allowing state regulators that lack the will and ability to protect communities, to handle the complex issue of ensuring coal ash pollution is kept in check. We thought this tragedy would be the final straw and that national safeguards to protect Americans from this coal ash would surely follow.
Sadly, we were mistaken. The coal industry has done everything in its power to block long-overdue safeguards that could prevent another Kingston from happening somewhere else. Since the Kingston spill, the coal industry has lobbied hard to block the Environmental Protection Agency from establishing strong new protections. Because, for the polluters, all that matters is keeping operating costs as low as possible.
Now, EPA has two important pending actions to finalize that would give our communities the much needed and long overdue protections from coal ash pollution that they need and deserve. Under the Clean Water Act, the EPA can stop coal plant pollution, like coal ash, from being mixed with water. This mixture, or slurry, creates the dangerous coal ash ponds, like the one that failed at the Kingston Coal Plant, and allows lead, mercury and other toxic metals in the waste to move into our waterways much more easily.
EPA has repeatedly acknowledged that their existing guidelines have not kept pace with developments in the industry and have failed to address the worst pollutants in our waterways. Thankfully, they proposed new toxic water pollution standards for coal plants earlier this year. But the standards aren't yet final, and industry is fighting them every step of the way, with political interference going all the way up to the White House, as we uncovered in a report we released earlier this year.
Just as importantly, under the federal Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) EPA can ensure that the disposal of coal ash requires adequate monitoring and lining of these coal ash dumps while ensuring that massive earthen dams are maintained safely to prevent another disaster like the 2008 coal ash spill in Kingston. These separate, but equally important, protections are needed to fully protect communities living in the shadows of coal plants. EPA proposed these draft coal ash standards way back in 2010, but the safeguards have languished in red tape ever since and still haven't been finalized.
Coal-fired power plants are the nation's biggest water polluters, spewing millions of pounds of toxic metals and other pollutants like arsenic, boron, cadmium, chromium, lead, mercury, and selenium into surface waters each year. Need an example of how close to home this contamination can be? Duke Energy's coal ash pollution is contaminating North Carolina's Mountain Island Lake - a drinking water source for more than 750,000 people in the greater Charlotte area.
Just recently we saw how Duke Energy's coal ash pollution from one coal plant in North Carolina kills 900,000 fish every year in Sutton Lake -- and that's just how it affects the fish!
Furthermore, dangerous byproducts from the burning of coal leech into groundwater and get blown around in the air we breathe. Many of these toxic pollutants pose serious health and environmental risks even in very low concentrations. For one example, just look at the ongoing battle between Louisville residents and the LG&E coal ash dump located right in one of the city's neighborhoods. The pollution is blowing onto their homes and into their lungs.
In order to protect public health and the environment from water and waste pollution from coal-burning power plants, EPA must quickly finalize both the Power Plant Toxic Water Rule and the Coal Ash Rule. These standards are long overdue - the EPA must protect our air and water now. Americans have waited long enough for these basic protections.
TAKE ACTION: Tell the EPA to protect our water by enacting coal ash safeguards!
-- Mary Anne Hitt, Beyond Coal Campaign Director
"This is not quite the vision Mandela had for the future of South Africa."
When I traveled to South Africa for the Sierra Club in the fall of 2010, I hoped to gain a better understanding of the lay of the land there on energy issues by meeting with some partner organizations to learn about their work fighting coal and creating access to clean energy in South Africa. We wanted to explore how - if at all - the Sierra Club could be an ally in their work around common goals of addressing climate change, protecting human health, and developing clean energy rather than coal.
We had been working hard with U.S. communities to stop new coal-fired power plants from being built, and with great success – we have prevented the construction of more than 150 new coal-fired power plants. We were then embarking on a new phase of our work to transition out the existing U.S. coal fleet starting with the country's oldest and dirtiest plants.
Circumstances in South Africa created a new lens to our work on coal in the U.S. The World Bank and the U.S. Export - Import Bank would be using U.S. taxpayer dollars to help finance the construction of the Medupi power plant - a colossal power station intended to be 4,800 megawatts in the Limpopo Province of South Africa - the largest operating coal-fired power plant in the world.
For some perspective, the largest coal plant in the U.S. is around 3,500 megawatts but most are more in the range of 400 to 500 megawatts. All of our work in the U.S. to stop proposed coal plants and to retire existing coal-fired power could be moot if we are funding projects like Medupi. But that’s just if we consider the amount of carbon pollution going into the atmosphere from coal. The Medupi power station is much bigger than an issue of climate change, and our dollars would be responsible for contributing to other problems. It is an example of the gross inequities and challenges that remain in post-apartheid South Africa.
South Africa is a country that is building some of the largest power stations in the world through Eskom, the state-owned utility that was developing coal-to-liquid-petroleum as a solution to the fuel shortage because of the international sanctions against the apartheid government. It is one of the greatest exporters of coal to other countries for electricity production. Yet despite that, a quarter of the population does not have access to electricity, much less electricity from sources that don't poison people.
Medupi will have no modern but only paltry pollution controls, spewing mercury soot, and smog into an agricultural community. This power station is not going to provide access to electricity for people, it's going to power other large industry in the region that is not necessarily going to make the vast majority of South Africans increase their quality of life or solve poverty. Even if it were going to be available to families, it would likely be far too unaffordable, leaving many still in the shadow of wealthy white homes, businesses, and sparkling tourist attractions.
This is not quite the vision Mandela had for the future of South Africa. Medupi is not necessarily contributing to creating long term jobs for local people either, much less ones that are safe and well paying in a country in which finding work is a central issue. The Medupi power station would be pulling water from a region that is an ecological wonder and already water scarce, affecting both subsistence and large scale farmers.
The complexities of this power station and the myriad ways to trace historic and present tension are vast. However, at risk of oversimplifying, one aspect that is worth noting is that the situation with the resistance to building Medupi is also one in which we see some of the successes of post-apartheid South Africa. It’s a place where white Afrikaner farmers have been working with social and environmental justice groups like "groundWork" South Africa.
"groundWork" South Africa is an organization which primarily works on toxics issues affecting black South Africans, to challenge the South African government on Medupi and draw attention to the huge problems Medupi poses for their community and for the country as a whole. Their organizing successfully drew a World Bank Inspection panel to Medupi based on the lack of pollution controls and failure to address concerns around climate change. Despite U.S. and World Bank support for the project, its construction has been delayed and with shaky finances, it has become among the most expensive coal projects in the world. The project has been also been delayed in part also because union construction workers on the plant went on strike over pay.
Organizing in South Africa is alive and well. Traveling to see Medupi and talk with some of the community members and document what exactly U.S. taxpayer dollars are funding, and to find out what small piece of this puzzle we could help with was a reflective journey across hundreds of miles North of Johannesburg past farm fields, savannas, game reserves, and small communities of people trying to build a more sustainable future. I was traveling with a recent law school graduate who had interned with groundWork and who was gracious enough to go as my guide because a foreigner like me would been lost in a heartbeat trying to find my way to and through such a rural area.
Two young women - black South African, white American -marveling together at spotting giraffes and warthogs from the road, talking about the differences in our countries’ regulatory structures, talking about how racism manifests in our respective communities, talking about our favorite music, and wondering what more can be done to address the problems we both care about. I couldn't help wondering what our conversation would have been like if we were around 40 years ago, and if Mandela and other South African leaders had not changed the course of history, if the two of us would have even ever had the opportunity to meet. It also impressed upon me the great responsibility we have to continue to unravel the problems that exist as vestiges of apartheid.
We must honor the work of those before us with a renewed commitment to carry that work forward and address the suffering and inequity that keeps us apart. It's the best respect we can pay to Mandela.
By Leslie Fields, Director of the Sierra Club's Environmental Justice and Community Partnerships Program.
A great man was laid to rest on December 15, 2013. Like millions around the world, I was inspired by the life and work of Nelson Mandela, his colleagues, South Africans, and the international movement fighting against apartheid and fighting to create a diverse and inclusive and just South Africa. As a college and law student, I demonstrated against the apartheid regime and supported the economic boycotts against the Afrikaner Nationalist government of South Africa.
As in the United States, the environmental justice movement was gaining momentum in the 1990s in South Africa. Former president Mandela, brought his particular frame of justice to these complex problems arising from South Africa's colonization, exploitation for extractive industries, privatization and industrial development. According to my colleague Bobby Peek, the director of groundWork, in 1995 then President Mandela met with activists protesting the Engen refinery's pollution in Durban.
Mr.Mandela also understood that the plight of workers dying from mercury poisoning from working at Thor Chemicals was also a part of the environmental justice movement, as he visited those sickened workers.
My chance to support the environmental justice struggles in South Africa came in 2001 as a delegate with the National Black Environmental Justice Network (NBEJN) to the UN World Conference Against Racism, Xenophobia and other Intolerences (WCAR) in 2001 in Durban, South Africa. We collaborated with the South African Environmental Justice Networking Forum (EJNF), the S. Durban Community Environmental Alliance (SDCEA), groundWork and other organizations. Black, Indian, coloured and poor communities in Durban were and are still exposed to pollution and hazardous wastes from the huge Port of Durban, two oil refineries (Engen and SAPREF) and about 300 hundred other smaller industrial facilities. Environmental racism and injustice were raised up at the WCAR to a level never seen before on an international level.
Nelson Mandela was not able to participate in the WCAR as he was battling prostate cancer at that time. He was however well enough to open the WaterDome at the UN World Conference on Sustainable Development (WSSD), which I attended as the International Director of Friends of the Earth in 2002. On August 28, 2002, his voice rang out clear:When I return, as I often do, to the rural village and area of my childhood and youth, the poverty of the people and the devastation of the natural environment painfully strike me. And in that impoverishment of the natural environment, it is the absence of access to clean water that strikes most starkly. That our government has made significant progress in bringing potable water nearer to so many more people than was previously the case, I rate amongst the most important achievements of democracy in our country.
Amongst the many things I learnt, as a president of our country, was the centrality of water in the social, political and economic affairs of the country, continent and indeed the world. I am, therefore, a totally committed "water person."
Nelson Mandela also co-founded the Peace Parks Foundation. He claimed, "If we do not do something to prevent it, Africa's animals, and the places in which they live, will be lost to our world, and her children, forever. Before it is too late, we need your help to lay the foundation that will preserve this precious legacy long after we are gone."
Robben Island a former leper and penal colony, where Mandela (along with many other activists and political prisoners) was imprisoned for 18 of the 27 years is now a UNESCO World Heritage Center. Robben Island is protected by the National Heritage Resources Act, the Cultural Institutions Act, the Environment Conservation Act, the National Environmental Management Act and the World Heritage Convention Act. Only 1,400 people are allowed to visit a day.
When my mother and I visited the island in 2007, we were pleased to learn of an Integrated Environmental Management Plan. Robben Island is one of three sites in the world where the population of the African penguin (an endangered species) is increasing. Robben Island hosts half of South Africa’s Swift tern, one-third of the world's population of Hartlaub's gull and two percent of the world’s population of the African oystercatcher. Its stark beauty however does not make up for the evidence of all deprivation and hardship all the prisoners faced in their long years of captivity. Actually seeing Mandela's prison cell and limited view made me admire him all the more because he did not lose sight of a long view toward a democratic nation.
While in South Africa this summer traveling to Swaziland to visit my friend the ambassador, I experienced rural Mpumalanga province as we traveled to Kruger National Park. During the apartheid era, Kruger Park was off limits to blacks except for those working for the white management and a few poor areas set aside nationals of neighboring countries. The Makuleke tribe was forced out and have since made land claims. As part of their settlement, the Makuleke have chosen not to resettle but are now working in tourism activities with the park. Due to this history, attracting a diverse crowd of tourists and conservationists has been challenging and is similar to diversity issues of the national parks in the U.S. Our trip exposed us to all of animals (the poor rhinos have their own security detail due to the poaching!) up close and personal and as equally amazing - the night sky of the winter southern hemisphere unobstructed from light pollution. I felt like I could grab fistfuls of stars as the Creator unveiled them to us.
This past week mourning Mandiba (Mandela's clan name) with the rest of world brought all these experiences back to me as I went to the candlelight vigil in front of Mandela's statue at the S. African embassy, and a screening of the new movie, Mandela: A Long Walk to Freedom (and Transafrica Forum sponsored reception). Nelson Mandela made no separation between the ideals of democracy and the ideals of the environmental justice movements that should be included within the rubric of sustainable development. I hope we call can keep working with Mandiba's life example as a guide:
"We in South Africa have ourselves faced hard questions and had to make hard choices in this regard. We know that political freedom alone is still not enough if you lack clean water. Freedom alone is not enough without light to read at night, without time or access to water to irrigate your farm, without the ability to catch fish to feed your family. For this reason the struggle for sustainable development nearly equals the struggle for political freedom. They can grow together or they can unravel each other. Threats to our governments in the century ahead will come from poverty, if anything."
Are you among the 56 million people planning a business trip or vacation to Orlando, Florida in the next year? Need a car for your trip? If so, I encourage you to rent an electric vehicle (EV) through Drive Electric Orlando.
I checked out the program for myself last week. Over the course of two and a half days, I drove more than 120 miles in a sleek, zero tailpipe emission Nissan Leaf to and from the airport and various meetings, charged up the car at my hotel and one of my meeting sites, and had plenty of electric charge to spare. In most cities, it's difficult to find a hybrid to rent, let alone an electric vehicle, so this was a real treat.
One of the best parts was zooming past all the Shell and Chevron stations giving them exactly none of my money. Instead, I filled up on electricity from the OUC utility, which recently announced an exciting new solar farm project.
In fact, EV expert Ann-Louise Seabury of the nearby Florida Power & Light utility told me that FPL also gets some of its power from wind and solar as well and provides people with electricity fuel about 70 percent lower in emissions than the pollution from an average gasoline-powered car.
How does the EV rental program work? Simply, visit http://driveelectricorlando.com/, book your fully electric or plug-in hybrid rental car through Enterprise (other rental companies expected to join the program soon), find a participating hotel on the site where you can book your stay and charge up your vehicle, and see what Orlando destinations offer EV charging options.
1) The rental agency and hotels are supposed to provide you with a swipe card to enable you to charge your vehicle (usually for free) at the 300+ Central Florida EV charging stations, but I recommend that as a back-up, you visit www.ChargePoint.com to sign up for and bring your own card.
2) For most people, the electric car will provide plenty of driving range for a typical day. However, if you're renting a fully electric vehicle, it's smart to plan out your trips and places to charge in advance (see the map of area charging stations).
3) Have a sense of adventure and flexibility, understanding that you're helping the operators of these rental car companies, hotels, and destination venues understand how EVs work -- even as you're experiencing for yourself the fun of driving electric.
The reason for my trip was to attend the Florida PEV Stakeholder Summit, organized by the Sierra Club Florida Healthy Air Campaign, Florida Power & Light, and Project Get Ready Central Florida. A recent study predicted that two percent of Florida's new vehicles will be electric by 2022, but "we're here today to make sure that we raise that number," said Helda Rodriguez of NovaCharge.
Pictured on the left are (L to R) John Park of Get Ready Central Florida, Britten Cleveland of Sierra Club Florida, Anne-Louise Seabury of Florida Power & Light, Britta Gross of GM, and Frank Jackalone of Sierra Club Florida.
At the EV summit were senior representatives in attendance from GM, Ford, Proterra (an electric bus company), Clean Cities, Suncoast Electric Vehicle Collaborative, Sierra Club, Florida Power & Light, NovaCharge, Orlando Utilities Commission, and several other groups. There were also car dealers from Nissan, Chevrolet, Mitsubishi, and Ford who showed us why they are selling more plug-in vehicles than most of their peers due to their specialized training, excitement for the technology, and smart sales pitches.
The group identified key priorities moving forward, including a focus on the strategic siting of charging infrastructure, a drumbeat of public education and 'ride and drive' events, and a focus with Florida policymakers on the economic and job growth opportunities that the EV market provides. There was also an interesting discussion about the requirements for Florida government agencies to purchase the least expensive fleet vehicles. The group discussed the need to get policymakers to consider not just purchase price, but "total cost of user-ship," which is often less with EVs, given significantly lower fueling and maintenance costs.
Florida is a major business and tourist destination, which is why the Electrification Coalition chose Orlando as one of its priority cities to scale up EV adoption through Drive Electric Orlando. Said the organization’s Ben Prochazka, "People are twice as likely to consider buying an EV if they've rented one." For people like me who already own a plug-in vehicle, it's also refreshing to have an EV rental option when traveling far from home.
-- Gina Coplon-Newfield, Director of the Sierra Club's Future Fleet & Electric Vehicles Initiative.
The extreme weather that has struck the United States over the last few years - record droughts, record storms, record temperatures, record wildfires, record floods - leaves no doubt that the threat of climate disruption has become a dangerous new reality. And the havoc wrought by these disasters is profound. As we’ve seen with Superstorm Sandy or Hurricane Katrina, it can take the places hit by extreme weather months and years to recover. Families’ stability has been shattered, neighborhoods have been devastated, and local economies have been crippled. Its happened in community after community, and - all too often - Americans have had to pick up the tab for climate disasters.
Take a look at the numbers -- they are stunning. Hurricane Katrina racked up $108 billion in property damage costs alone. Extreme weather last year cost Americans $140 billion. The costs of healthcare costs related to asthma and asthma attacks spurred by carbon pollution and smog are skyrocketing, currently at more than $50 billion a year and rising. Government spending related to climate disasters amounted to $100 billion in costs - about $1,100 per taxpayer. That’s real money coming out of our economy and out of the pockets of American families.
Its no wonder that vast majorities of Americans understand that climate disruption is happening - and those numbers are even higher in places where extreme weather has struck, like the drought-plagued Midwest.
People around the country aren’t the only ones taking notice of the cost of climate disruption. More than two dozen of the nation’s biggest corporations - including five major oil companies - recently announced that they are planning their future growth by accounting for the costs of climate disruption. In fact, they are expecting that they will have to pay a corresponding price for the carbon pollution they emit that makes our climate crisis worse and creates these costs for families in the first place.
It’s a critically important change in how some of the nation’s largest companies are perceiving of climate costs. ExxonMobil, ranked as the nation’s most profitable company last year and one of the biggest fossil fuel polluters around, is among those now recognizing the reality of climate disruption and seeing the calls for climate action resonating across the globe.
Earlier this year, the Obama administration proposed a new standard to help measure climate costs, estimating that each ton of climate-disrupting carbon pollution resulted in an average $37 in health, economic, and rebuilding costs. Yet, ExxonMobil’s estimate is almost double that amount.
That is clear evidence that the costs of climate disruption are real, and even fossil fuel companies know they aren’t immune from the effects of our climate crisis.
And its also a loud and clear signal from some of the companies that currently stuff the coffers of those Republicans who refuse to acknowledge there is even a climate crisis.
Taxpayers can’t afford any more Sandys, Irenes or Katrinas. Taxpayers can’t afford any more record droughts, temperatures, or storms. The real cost of climate is being recognized by industry -- its time our public leaders listened up.
--Liz Perera, Senior Washington Representative, Sierra Club
Since the President announced his plan to restrict U.S. government support for public financing of new coal plants overseas, executive agencies that make these funding decisions have been working to make good on this commitment. Last week, it was the U.S. Export-Import Bank’s turn, as its Board approved historic new guidelines to implement the President’s directive. Ex-Im is the first Export Credit Agency (ECA) to announce such restrictions, a testament to President Obama’s leadership in withdrawing public support for new coal plants overseas.
There is much to like in the new policy, as it will end Ex-Im’s support for new coal plants in all but the most unusual circumstances. As the President directed, Ex-Im support will now only be available for “(a) the most efficient coal technology available in the world’s poorest countries in cases where no other economically feasible alternative exists, or (b) facilities deploying carbon capture and sequestration technologies.”
The best part of Ex-Im’s new policy its common-sense approach to determining whether there are any “economically feasible alternatives” for meeting the energy needs of the poorest countries. Recognizing that saving a unit of energy is generally much cheaper, faster, and cleaner than generating a new one, Ex-Im will now require that the costs of a proposed coal plant be compared with the costs of reducing energy waste, upgrading grids to reduce transmission and distribution losses, and adopting new policies and regulations to catalyze savings. Moreover, sponsors of coal projects will also need to show that despite the plunging costs of renewables, no renewable energy alternatives are feasible. And, most important, they will have to make this case while factoring in the considerable health and environmental costs of coal burning, and the “social cost” of its carbon pollution.
The coal industry’s success has long depended upon its ability to keep these costs off the ledger. The truth is, coal simply can’t survive a rigorous assessment of its costs and impacts—its costs are too high and unpredictable, its health and environmental impacts are too grim, and the alternatives are too attractive. We don’t expect to see any new coal projects approved under this analysis.
But while Ex-Im’s new policy is clearly an important step forward, much work remains to be done to transform Ex-Im into an effective player in the President’s fight against climate change. The new policy does little to limit support for overseas coal mining, and does nothing to address Ex-Im’s massive support for other fossil fuel investments besides coal plants. In FY 2012, Ex-Im provided over $10.4 billion in credits to fossil fuel related exports. Much of this went to support investments in new oil and gas exploration, even though the carbon contained in existing fossil fuel reserves already far exceeds the amount of carbon that can be safely burned under any scientifically defensible scenario.
Moreover, Ex-Im provides only paltry support for renewable energy and other climate friendly technologies. In FY 2012, it provided just $301 million in climate-related export credits, less than 1 percent of its total financing. This despite the fact that Congress has directed Ex-Im to allocate at least 10 percent of its aggregate financing to renewable energy or end-use energy efficiency technologies. Had EXIM simply followed this instruction in FY2012, it would have provided over $3.5 billion to support clean energy exports.
Rebalancing Ex-Im’s portfolio to drastically reduce fossil fuel investment and ramp up support for clean technologies would have a number of benefits, both for climate and for the U.S. economy. First, it would advance Ex-Im’s job creation mandate, as clean energy exports create far more jobs than fossil fuel related exports. Studies by the Center for American Progress and WWF have estimated that clean energy exports generate about three times more American jobs per dollar spent than fossil fuel related exports.
Second, expanded support for clean energy exports is essential for American competitiveness in this fast growing, strategically important sector. By 2020, clean energy will be one of the world’s biggest industries, totaling as much as $2.3 trillion. The vast majority of this investment will take place outside of the United States. However, many observers have noted that American companies are in danger of being left behind by companies from countries such as Germany, China and Spain, whose governments have done much more to advance their clean technology sectors.
Third, increased exports of clean energy technologies will help drive down their domestic costs. One of the key determinants of how fast the costs of an emerging technology fall is how quickly it is deployed. For this reason, former Energy Secretary Chu emphasized the importance of exporting U.S. solar technology to achieving the goals of the SunShot Initiative to reduce the costs of solar power 75 percent by 2020.
In light of all this, the message to Ex-Im and the administration is clear -- nice job on the coal policy; now it’s time to get to work on the rest of the energy portfolio.
--Justin Guay, Sierra Club International Climate Program
All around the country and on Capitol Hill, the demand for clean energy is ringing loud and clear. We've been calling on Congress to support job creation and healthy communities by renewing the renewable energy Production Tax Credits that keep the clean energy sector thriving but are set to expire at the end of this year. Today, several key members of Congress are also calling on their colleagues to make the right choice.
Today in in the Senate, with Senator Ed Markey (MA) lead the way, releasing a letter in which Senators Barbara Mikulski (MD), Al Franken (MN), Jeff Merkley (OR), Jeanne Shaheen (NH), Angus King (ME), Tom Harkin (IA), Tim Johnson (SD), Dianne Feinstein (CA), Tom Udall (NM), Chris Coons (DE), Sheldon Whitehouse (RI), Amy Klobuchar (MN), Kirsten Gilibrand (NY), Chris Murphy (CT), Bernie Sanders (VT), Barbara Boxer (CA), Jack Reed (RI), Patrick Leahy (VT), Richard Blumenthal (CT), Elizabeth Warren (MA), Mazie Hirono (HI), Brian Schatz (HI), and Martin Heinrich (NM) calling for action on clean energy investments. In more great news, leaders in the House Sustainable Energy and Environment Coalition (SEEC) released a letter at the same time urging House leadership to take up legislation renewing these vital tax credits as well.
In recent years, beneficial policies like the wind production tax credit and the solar investment tax credit have helped the wind and solar industries power millions of American businesses and homes, while creating tens of thousands of jobs for Americans by scaling up production and driving down the costs of clean energy technologies.
The economic benefits of clean energy jobs are spread nationwide. Both wind and solar industries have hugely benefited from these tax credits. The American solar industry has grown from 15,000 employees in 2005 to over 120,000 today. The benefits don’t end with the blue states: more than 80 percent of our nation’s installed wind capacity is in districts currently controlled by Republicans. These thousands of clean energy jobs would be endangered if these critical tax credits are not renewed.
"Provisions like the production tax credit and the investment tax credit have helped technologies like wind and solar create tens of thousands of American jobs and generate an increasing share of America’s power," wrote Senator Markey and his Senate colleagues. "With continued support, clean energy will help Americans save money on their energy bills and reduce harmful pollution."
With so many members of Congress already on board, all that’s left for the remaining members of the Senate and the House is to vote to preserve beneficial investments that are already in place.
Check out Markey's full letter here and SEEC's letter here.
TAKE ACTION: Tell Congress to renew the PTC!
-- Radha Adhar, Sierra Club Associate Washington Representative
Today, the Sierra Club and nearly 200 organizations from the United States, Europe, and across the world joined together in a sending a simple, clear, and decisive statement to the United States Trade Representative Michael Froman and European Union Trade Commissioner Karel De Gucht: Keep investor-state dispute settlement out of the U.S.-EU trade pact.
The letter was delivered to the policy makers at the start of this week’s negotiations for the trade pact between the U.S. and the EU, officially called the Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, or TTIP.
Investor-state dispute settlement would give corporations just what they want -- new, broad rights, including the right to directly challenge government policies and actions that corporations alledge reduce their profits. Such cases would be heard in private tribunals for unlimited cash compensation.
Now, one might wonder why corporations are being given such broad powers in a so-called trade agreement? The secret is now out: This trade deal isn’t really about trade.
Corporations including Chevron and ExxonMobil have used similar rules in existing trade and investment pacts to challenge more than 500 policies of 95 governments. These cases are being used more and more often to attack public interest policies related to clean energy, land use, health, and labor. And this new, proposed agreement with the EU could lead to more attacks on public interest policies, especially because of the vast number of companies cross-registered in both the U.S. and the EU.
That’s why today, nearly 200 environmental, labor, consumer rights, food and farm, and social justice organizations stated our opposition to investor-state dispute settlement. Our organizations pointed out that investor-state dispute settlement forces governments to use taxpayer funds to compensate corporations for public health, environmental, labor, and other public interest policies and government actions. It undermines democratic decision making. And it is completely unnecessary given that European and U.S. legal systems are more than capable of handling investment disputes.
--Ilana Solomon, Sierra Club Responsible Trade Program
Thursday's release of the 2013 University of Notre Dame Global Adaptation Index (ND-GAIN) showed that it will take the world's poorest countries 100 years on average to reach the level of climate readiness that the wealthiest countries already have.
The index looked at 177 countries and analyzed their adaptive capacity in terms of vulnerability and readiness by looking at food supply, ecosystems, habitat, health infrastructure, water, economy, governance, and social readiness. The index shows how each country will be able to respond to extreme weather like droughts, blizzards, hurricanes, wildfires, and floods connecting to our changing climate -- and how long it will take for each to adapt. While each country has its own trajectory, the average time needed amounts to 100 years.
It is what Jessica Hellmann, associate professor and leader of Notre Dame's climate change adaptation program, called an "enormous climate challenge."
But it isn't just the poorest nations that have work to do. In the rankings of the world's countries, even the wealthiest countries have shown trends of increasing vulnerability and decreasing readiness.
"[ND-GAIN] also show[s] that the most developed countries are not doing enough either, which raises serious public policy questions no matter how well-developed a national economy may be," Hellmann said.
Additionally, countries that are not among those considered the poorest in the world may still be lagging behind.
"Given the recent typhoon in the Philippines, some people may be wondering where that island nation falls in terms of readiness," said Nitesh Chawla, associate professor and director of the Notre Dame Interdisciplinary Center for Network Science and Applications. "According to the data, the Philippines are more than 40 years behind the most developed countries in climate readiness. While that's better than the poorest countries, it shows that the Philippines still has a long way to go."
But this year's annual report was about more than ranking the world's countries based on a few factors; the overall goal conveyed for the ND-GAIN was to leverage the data collected for the common good. This information is available for anyone who may need it, including leaders in any of the 177 countries considered -- and it has already helped countries like Mozambique examine its own food security measures.
"Adaptive capacity and the ability to use information provided in the ND-GAIN will help direct investments to reduce vulnerability and increase preparedness," Chawla said.
The goal of future ND-GAINs is even more progressive, with the hopes that next year's report will look beyond just whole countries and focus on cities and regions so as to better prepare the countries for climate disruption.
-- Cindy Carr, Sierra Club Media Team Intern
As we've been discussing, in less than three weeks, certain tax incentives that encourage growth in the clean energy sector, resulting in thousands of jobs and improved public health conditions, are set to expire. Along with acting quickly to renew these investments for a cleaner energy economy, Congress must also act to incentivize offshore wind energy development if it has America's best interests in mind.
The development of offshore wind will dramatically reduce our dependence on fossil fuels and make a significant impact in acting against global climate change. Investing in offshore wind would result in huge payoffs: according to the Department of Energy, the U.S. has enough offshore wind energy potential to power the country four times over.
The Investment Tax Credit (ITC) is critical to kick offshore wind energy development into high gear. America has some of the best offshore wind resources in the world, and it's time to tap into that powerful potential. Over 1,300 gigawatts of energy generation potential have been identified along the Atlantic coast. Harnessing even a fraction of that potential could power over 14 million American homes with local, carbon-free energy and generate over $200 billion in revenues for local economies. Now those are some wind energy statistics to blow anyone away!
Implementing a long-term tax incentive would make offshore wind energy an affordable, viable option for American consumers and would launch this powerful energy source from margins to mainstream. Americans would benefit from the thousands of new jobs that would be created, healthier air and water for their children and communities, and a significant impact against global climate change. The potential is there along with the incentives - all Congress has to do is vote YES.
TAKE ACTION: Tell Congress to renew the clean energy and energy efficiency tax incentives!
-- Rudhdi Karnik, Sierra Club Beyond Coal Campaign Media Assistant. Photo is of the Lillgrund offshore wind farm in Sweden.
This year, the world saw tremendous momentum demanding a move beyond coal. From India to Germany, the United States to Indonesia, communities are standing up and demanding clean air and clean water. From global social media storms to local protests and marches with thousands of people, acts of grassroots activism are becoming the strongest tools we have to curb toxic coal pollution that has been killing people for hundreds of years. That growing movement is sounding a clarion call: it’s time to move beyond coal.
In 2013, one of the biggest steps forward was the large-scale withdrawal of public support for new coal fired power plants overseas. First, President Obama’s Climate Action Plan announced an end to financing new coal power plants abroad, which was echoed by five Nordic countries, the UK, and large multilateral development banks like the World Bank and the European Investment Bank. Just this week, the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development followed suit.
What those announcements reflect is a growing movement of local communities who are demanding an
end to dirty coal. From Germany to China to Australia and beyond, communities are standing up and fighting back against attacks on their air and water. And the results of this activism have been astonishing -- the people are winning.
Today, the Sierra Club’s International Climate Program has released its annual “Move Beyond Coal” report, highlighting several of these inspiring victories. Over the years, the Sierra Club has worked with activists and communities around the world to transition away from dirty fossil fuels and onto clean energy. That experience has demonstrated time and again that local communities are a powerful force for change.
Everywhere you look, communities are organizing to defeat power plants and mines that pollute air and water and cause harm to the health and safety of the environment. In Australia, a community can breathe easy, knowing that their tourism industry won’t be affected. In China, a tweet started a movement to shut down a proposed coal project that would pollute wildlife and sicken people nearby. In Bangladesh, people
organized in massive numbers as 20,000 protesters marched 250 miles in five days to oppose the construction of a coal-fired power plant.
Grassroots activism abroad is empowering people and protecting the planet. The Sierra Club is proud to tell these stories, and support this growing movement because we all have a right to a safe climate, a good livelihood, and a healthy future here at home, and around the globe.
To download the full report, click here: http://sc.org/MoveBeyondCoal2013.
--Justin Guay, Sierra Club’s International Climate Program
In less than three weeks, American public health could be in jeopardy if Congress doesn't act to renew the renewable energy Production Tax Credits (PTC) that keep the clean energy sector thriving.
As discussed in yesterday's blog, the PTC is one of several tax incentives that invest in job-creating, community-protecting clean energy solutions. Not only has the PTC helped to launch more than 110,000 jobs for Americans in clean energy, but generating electricity from renewable energy rather than fossil fuels offers significant public health benefits.
Did you know that the air and water pollution emitted by coal and natural gas plants is linked to breathing problems, neurological damage, heart attacks, and cancer? Replacing fossil fuels with renewable energy has been found to reduce premature mortality and lost workdays, and it reduces overall healthcare costs.
Currently, 2.5-3 million people worldwide, including nearly one million children younger than five, die prematurely each and every year from air pollution caused by the burning of biofuels and fossil fuels. Millions more become ill due to respiratory illness, cardiovascular disease, asthma, pneumonia and other diseases exacerbated by air pollution.
According to a recent study published in Nature Climate Change, up to three million premature deaths could be avoided globally each year by 2100 if aggressive emissions cut are made. Shouldn't Congress focus more on keeping the American people safe, rather than helping to fill the overflowing pockets of big coal, gas, and oil corporations with profits that come at a social cost?
In addition to preventing adverse effects on air quality, wind and solar energy require essentially no water to operate and therefore do not pollute water resources or strain supplies by competing with agriculture, drinking water systems, or other important water needs, unlike fossil fuels.
Congress has the power to continue keeping us safe - all they need to do is renew the PTC that will promote clean energy investments that are already in place.
-- Rudhdi Karnik, Beyond Coal Campaign Media Assistant
It’s official: international financial institutions (IFIs) don’t see any place for coal in a 21st-clean energy economy. Earlier this year, two of the world’s largest IFIs, the World Bank and the European Investment Bank (EIB), announced their first historic restrictions on coal financing. Since then, the momentum has picked up speed. Like dominoes falling in line, governments from around the world -- from the U.S. to Norway -- have followed suit. The latest development is the U.K. government’s announcement that it too will end support for overseas coal plant construction. Not to be left out, the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) officially joined the movement today by moving beyond coal.
Even if you haven’t heard of the EBRD, you’re probably aware that coal plants don’t build themselves. They need support from banks like the EBRD. The bank’s announcement to move beyond coal is important not just because it’s the latest clear example of progress, but because the countries where the bank operates are hooked on dirty coal. The EBRD is the biggest public lender in in former Soviet Bloc countries that are heavily reliant on the dirty fossil fuel. Big coal companies are proposing larger and dirtier coal projects in many of those countries all too often -- and it will take clean energy leadership from an institution like the EBRD to stop them. The problem is EBRD hasn’t been providing it until now.
Between 2006 and 2011, the EBRD increased annual coal finance from 82 million USD to 359 million. That’s a 437 percent increase. It’s the exact opposite direction the region needs to head, particularly when EU coal consumption as a whole is declining.
Luckily, today’s announcement will dramatically curtail those numbers and send the EBRD, and the region in which it works, down a better path. That’s thanks to the tireless efforts of grassroots and civil society organizations who came together to push the institution to change its policy on coal. It’s also thanks to President Obama’s Climate Action Plan which instructs the U.S. Treasury to replicate coal restrictions at the international financial institutions where the U.S. is a stakeholder.Photo by Mountain Xpress on Flickr
The EBRD is just the latest in a string of actions stemming from the U.S. climate action plan. First the U.S. Export Import Bank rejected a new 1,200-megawatt coal plant in Vietnam. Days later, the U.S. Trade and Development Agency shelved plans for a controversial new coal plant in the Ukraine. And just yesterday, the U.S. voted against a new coal plant proposed by the Asian Development Bank in Pakistan. Those decisions, along with the EBRD policy, have reinforced the fact that the U.S. is serious when it says it’s closed for overseas coal business.
But happy as we are today, a far more serious test looms. The controversial Kosovo coal project moving forward at the World Bank has been rumored to be seeking support from the EBRD as well. Approving this project would seriously undermine the progress and leadership shown by these policies. So while we applaud today’s announcement, all eyes are still on the EBRD, as well as President Obama. When it comes to coal restrictions, Kosovo is the world’s test.
--Justin Guay, Sierra Club's International Climate Program
On Monday, Ilana Solomon, Director of the Sierra Club's Responsible Trade Program, went on Huffington Post LIVE to discuss why the Trans-Pacific Partnership is bad for the environment, public health, and much more. Watch! Then TAKE ACTION.
If one thing can be said about energy trends from the past year, it's that dirty fossils fuels are out and clean energy is in. The renewable energy success stories are countless: 150,000 rooftop solar panels have been installed in California, states like Iowa and South Dakota already have 20 percent of their electricity generated by wind power, and the more than 50 gigawatts of installed wind capacity in the U.S. are enough to power over 15 million American homes.
With continued support, the growing renewable energy force is unstoppable. But sadly, putting a stop to this growth is exactly what Congress might do in less than three weeks by killing the renewable energy Production Tax Credit (PTC).
The PTC is one of several tax incentives that invest in job-creating clean energy solutions. It has helped kickstart the clean energy economy and drive the creation of 110,000 jobs as American companies have doubled down on wind and solar. The last time a PTC expired, wind installations dropped dramatically. Renewing it should be obvious. However, big coal, oil, and gas companies that love polluting freely and pocketing big profits that come with a social cost will do whatever it takes to keep clean energy solutions out of the picture.
What we need to do is remain focused on keeping our communities safe, creating jobs, and acting on climate change -- and that means remaining focused on clean energy. Increasing the supply of renewable energy would allow us to replace carbon-intensive energy sources and significantly reduce U.S. global warming emissions, one-third of which come from the electricity sector.
With continued long-term support, these technologies will help set on us on a path to a healthier future with a stable climate and a stronger economy. All we need to do is act to continue and strengthen incentives that are already in place.
-- Radha Adhar, Sierra Club Associate Washington Representative
This Tuesday, December 10, our nation's highest courts will hear two landmark Clean Air Act cases that have big implications for public health. First and foremost, the Supreme Court will hear arguments Tuesday on the Environmental Protection Agency's Cross-State Air Pollution Rule.
Back in 2011, EPA unveiled this update of a critical public health protection that would reduce power plant emissions of sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides, dangerous pollutants that form soot and smog and contribute to poor air quality days and respiratory illnesses affecting millions of Americans. They call this the Cross State Air Pollution Rule because it curbs the millions of tons of air pollution that travel downwind and across state lines each year. Pollution doesn't stop at state lines.
Unfortunately, the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals handed down an extremely controversial divided ruling in August of 2012 that vacated this rule.
The EPA and a coalition of environmental and public health organizations - including the Sierra Club - sought review by the Supreme Court, and on June 24, 2013, the Court granted cert. Briefs submitted by the EPA, our coalition of the American Lung Association, Environmental Defense Fund, the Natural Resources Defense Council, and many others make the case that the DC Circuit's ruling is unfounded, contrary to the Clean Air Act, based on a misunderstanding of interstate pollution, and seriously jeopardizes the ability of downwind states and the EPA to protect millions of people from dangerous ozone and particulate matter pollution.
The benefits of the Cross-State Air Pollution Rule are remarkable. According to the EPA, this standard would prevent up to 34,000 deaths annually, would prevent 1.8 million days of missed work/school annually, and would provide $120-280 billion in benefits every year at a cost of only $1.8 billion in the first year, ~$1 billion a year thereafter. The benefits-to-cost ratio is about 100 to 1!
What's more, for many downwind areas, 75 percent or more of local air pollution comes from upwind states. In parts of Connecticut, more than 90 percent of ozone pollution is due to pollutants flowing in from other states. Without this cross-state protection, these states simply cannot resolve their air quality problems, putting the health of their citizens at grave risk.
Industries and states and many others are standing together calling for implementation of the Cross-State Air Pollution Rule. Just today, underscoring the urgency of the problem, governors of eight Northeastern and Mid-Atlantic states petitioned EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy to reduce air pollution blowing into the region from nine Midwestern and Appalachian states.
The second major public health protection coming before a court this week is the EPA's Mercury and Air Toxics Standard. Coal plants are the largest source of mercury pollution in the U.S., so of course the industry is challenging this standard that requires them to stop dumping so much mercury into our air and water.
Mercury is a powerful neurotoxin that can damage the brain and nervous system. Mercury is of special concern to women who are pregnant or thinking of becoming pregnant, since exposure to mercury can cause developmental problems, learning disabilities, and delayed onset of walking and talking in babies and infants.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit will hold oral argument on December 10 regarding these challenges by industry to this critical public health mercury standard.
Make no mistake about it - this Tuesday, December 10, is a big day for clean air and public health in our nation's highest courts, and there are tens of thousands of lives on the line.
-- Mary Anne Hitt, Beyond Coal Campaign Director
The Trans-Pacific Partnership is about to be finalized. Or is it?
The U.S. Trade Representative and trade ministers from the 11 other nations in the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement are about to leave for their weekend meeting in Singapore, where they hope to be able to announce that a final deal on the controversial trade pact has been reached. But how close are countries to actually making a deal? Two days before the high-level meeting is set to begin, Members of Congress have spoken out about their bottom-lines for the pact and its many unresolved issues.
Yesterday, in a telepresser hosted by the Sierra Club, five Members of Congress voiced their concerns over the looming trade pact. And they made one thing very clear: Congress has the final say if a trade deal is approved, and they aren’t prepared to accept just any trade agreement.
Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro of Connecticut addressed currency manipulation, the process by which countries reduce the value of their currency in order to encourage exports.
"Currency manipulation has expanded the U.S. trade deficit and cost us jobs," she said. "Several countries involved in the TPP negotiations have a history of or are currently manipulating their exchange rates to promote their exports at the expense of American workers....Any deal announced that does not address this issue is not a deal in the eyes of Congress, which has the final say when it comes to trade."
Congressman George Miller of California focused on the question of labor protections in the agreement, expressing concern that American workers will be left in the dust if strong and binding labor standards are not included in the trade pact.
"Will labor rights be enforced in the Trans-Pacific Partnership? What will they be? If they are not enforced, that's very bad news for American workers and businesses," he warned.
Rep. Miller also stated that, "If the United States doesn’t insist on stronger, enforceable worker protections in the TPP, American workers will pay the price as more jobs are moved offshore and countries provide ever-fewer protections in a global race to the bottom."
Congresswoman Zoe Lofgren of California addressed issues related to internet freedom and innovation. She noted that the TPP would lock all signatory countries into new copyright terms rather than allowing copyright terms to be determined by each country. She also noted that the TPP is essentially "backdooring" that which could not be obtained through Congress.
“I think we all remember SOPA – the Stop Online Piracy Act,” she said. “It looks like there are some elements of SOPA that are being inserted into this trade agreement, and I don’t think the American people are going to put up with it.”
And, in an issue that is particularly near and dear to our hearts at the Sierra Club, Congressman Earl Blumenauer of Oregon added his concerns about environmental protections in the TPP.
"We should not let the Trans-Pacific Partnership slide by without building on previous progress in the environmental chapter," he said.
Rep. Blumenauer later added, "The Trans-Pacific Partnership must include robust and binding environmental provisions that conserve forests, oceans, and wildlife. TPP must build on the 2007 May 10th framework, and that's exactly what USTR has proposed, but they cannot back down. Our forests, oceans and wildlife depend on it."
Lastly, Congressman and DCCC Chairman Steve Israel of New York addressed transparency and the process for negotiating the trade pact.
"A good deal is more important than a final deal, and the only deal that I can support is one that has verifiable standards that Congress can oversee and monitor," he said.
The United States Trade Representative must keep these Congressional warnings in mind as he heads into this high-level meeting this weekend. As Congressman Israel noted, a good deal is more important than a final deal.
--Ilana Solomon, Director, Sierra Club's Responsible Trade Program
Evan Halper's December 2 article in the Los Angeles Times, "Power Struggle: Green energy versus a grid that's not ready" perpetuates the false narrative that renewable energy increases the risk of blackouts, when in fact the problem is centralized fossil fuel nonrenewable generation.
A more accurate, but perhaps less sensational, story would detail California's national leadership in reliably increasing the use of renewables -- like solar and wind energy. A recent report by the North American Electric Reliability Corporation and the California Independent System Operator, two entities charged with ensuring grid reliability, highlights the many solutions the state is already adopting to address concerns raised by Mr. Hapler.
For example, despite Mr. Halper's claim that "nobody can say for certain when the wind will blow or the sun will shine," the potential grid impacts arising from the variability of wind and solar energy are being addressed through improved forecasting and new regional partnerships that better leverage the geographic diversity of wind and solar resources, reducing overall variability in the energy system.
The article also suggests that California regulators recklessly disregarded cost concerns in requiring utilities to deploy energy storage. This couldn't be further from the truth. State regulators only adopted an energy storage requirement after an independent third-party analysis concluded that it is a cost-effective resource offering significant grid benefits.
As for renewables, the National Renewable Energy Laboratory recently concluded that if a third of the energy in the West were supplied by wind and solar, these resources would displace $7 billion in annual fuel costs and reduce greenhouse gas pollution from the energy sector by approximately 30 percent.
The article also devotes significant space to depicting the effects of a 2011 blackout in San Diego that the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission attributed to a faulty response by grid operators following an outage of a transmission line. This blackout had nothing to do with renewables. To the contrary, local clean energy like rooftop solar helps mitigate these types of events by generating energy locally and reducing reliance on imported power.
Of course, entirely missing from the article is the urgent need to reduce greenhouse gas pollution to avoid the increasingly catastrophic impacts to California and the rest of the world. As the LA Times reported the day after Mr. Halper's article was published, a new National Resource Council report warned that accelerating levels of greenhouse gas pollution are increasing the risk of abrupt and severe changes to the climate that will leave nature and society with little time to react. California's leadership in both increasing the use of renewable energy and proactively finding solutions to address any grid impacts should be commended and accelerated, not baselessly criticized.
-- Matt Vespa, Sierra Club Senior Attorney