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On Thursday night, a chemical spill on the Elk River in West Virginia, just two miles above the Elk River water treatment plant near Charleston, contaminated drinking water for more than 300,000 residents in central and southern West Virginia. Residents in nine counties have been advised not to use the water for any purpose other than flushing.
The spill, which occurred at a Freedom Industries storage facility, involved a 48,000 gallon tank of a chemical used to treat coal before it's sent off to be burned at coal-fired power plants. The chemical, called 4-methylcyclohexane methanol, may seriously impact the health and safety of local residents with symptoms including vomiting, skin blistering and burns in the throat.
Our thoughts are with the more than 300,000 people in West Virginia affected by this toxic chemical spill, upstream from the largest drinking water source in West Virginia.
Officials have no timeline for when the water will be back to normal, and federal authorities announced Friday afternoon that they would be investigating what caused the leak.
According to Appalachian Voices, Freedom Industries did not self-report the spill, and we encourage everyone to follow the local news media and local grassroots organizations in the area for the best updates.
We recommended supporting and following these local groups as this tragedy unfolds: the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition (OVEC on Twitter), the West Virginia Rivers Coalition (WVRC on Facebook), Coal River Mountain Watch, West Virginia Highlands Conservancy, and Sierra Club West Virginia. For news and technical updates, both West Virginia Public Broadcasting (on Twitter here) and Downstream Strategies are excellent resources.
Coal mining communities are faced with the dangers of water pollution from coal mining and pollution every day. This spill pulls the curtain back on the coal industry's widespread and risky use of dangerous chemicals, and is an important reminder that coal-related pollution poses a serious danger to nearby communities. Americans, and the people of West Virginia, deserve greater accountability and transparency about coal industry practices.
-- Mary Anne Hitt, Beyond Coal Campaign Director
One of the largest investment banks in the world has backed away from the Cherry Point coal export proposal in Washington.
Earlier this week, financial giant Goldman Sachs sold off its stake in the parent company of SSA Marine, the developer of the dirty and dangerous coal export terminal at Cherry Point.
This is the latest in a series of setbacks for the proposal, which aims to export 50 million tons of Western coal to Asia every year. If built, it would be the largest coal export terminal in North America. Cherry Point is one of six coal export terminals proposed in recent years, and three of those have already been abandoned after years of robust local opposition.
The decision by Goldman Sachs to walk away from the Cherry Point coal export terminal is one more strike against this polluting, climate-disrupting, highly controversial project. From Montana where the coal would be mined, all the way to Cherry Point, community members have opposed this project every step of the way.
Our groundswell of public opposition has shown that no one wants dirty coal exports in their community. From polluting communities with toxic coal dust to threatening our climate, thousands of Northwest residents have made it clear that coal exports pose too much harm for our communities.
While another investor (a businessman from Mexico named Fernando Chico Pardo) bought Goldman Sach's stake, this decision is one more big dark cloud on the coal industry's economic horizon. Goldman Sachs signaled their concern with coal investments in a report last July entitled "The window for thermal coal investment is closing." The report forecasts long-term economic headwinds for the coal industry and stated that "the potential for profitable investments in new thermal coal mining capacity is becoming increasingly limited."
This move by Goldman Sachs underscores the continued market uncertainty and doubt regarding coal, but of course grassroots activists in the affected communities are still up against a lot of money. Peabody and SSA can cycle through investors all they want, but communities across the Northwest will continue fight them every step of the way.
I'm inspired by the thousands of people - tribal members, parents, doctors, nurses, business owners, faith leaders, teachers, public officials, and more - who have spoken out against coal exports at all the recent hearings in Washington. More than 13,000 people attended public hearings over the past two years to express overwhelming opposition to these projects.
This news comes on the heels of another victory by Northwest residents who are holding companies accountable for their pollution. On January 2, a judge ruled against BNSF Railway Company's motion to dismiss and said that a lawsuit over water pollution from their train cars can go forward.
In the summer of 2013, the Sierra Club, Puget Soundkeeper, Columbia Riverkeeper, Spokane Riverkeeper, RE Sources for Sustainable Communities, Natural Resources Defense Council, and Friends of the Columbia Gorge filed the lawsuit against BNSF after finding substantial amounts of coal in and along several Washington waterways near BNSF rail lines. A similar case is also pending before the Western District of Washington in Seattle.
Across the U.S., people from all backgrounds are demanding accountability from polluters and calling for clean energy instead of dirty fuels.
Goldman Sachs sees what so many business owners, doctors, environmental advocates, and local elected leaders are saying: coal exports are a bad bet for the Northwest.
-- Mary Anne Hitt, Beyond Coal Campaign Director
Today, Congress pulled a rusty, old tool out of bottom of their toolbox. Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) and Representative Dave Camp (R-MI) introduced the Bipartisan Congressional Trade Priorities Act of 2014, otherwise known as “fast track,” that could facilitate passage of deeply flawed trade agreements such as the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade pact with limited public and Congressional input. If fast-track legislation were approved by Congress, the President would be able sign the TPP and then send it to Congress for straight up-or-down vote -- with no room for amendments and limited floor debate. If that sounds backwards, it’s because it is.
First, fast track is an outdated and inappropriate mechanism. It was first passed in 1974 when trade pacts focused on traditional trade issues, like tariffs and quotas. Today, trade pacts like the TPP cover a broad range of issues including the environment, investment, labor, government procurement, consumer protections, and many more things we face in our everyday lives. It is therefore critical that Congress maintain its constitutional authority to oversee trade policy and ensure that trade pacts protect communities, workers, and the environment before the pacts get finalized.
Second, fast track is undemocratic. If approved by Congress, the President could submit signed trade pacts to Congress for an up-or-down vote within 90 days with all amendments forbidden and a maximum of 20 hours of debate. Even more atrocious is that it would actually allow the President to write legislation that would change U.S. laws to make them conform to the terms of the secretly negotiated trade agreement.
In other words, fast-track authority eliminates a critical constitutional check-and-balance structure that aids most other democratic processes. By stripping Congress of its ability to fully debate and amend the language of today’s all-encompassing trade pacts, fast-track authority renders Congress unable to ensure that trade negotiations result in agreements that benefit communities and the environment.
Third, it's a risky endeavor that could help rubberstamp very harmful trade pacts such as the TPP. The TPP agreement could devastate communities, our climate, and our environment. It would elevate corporations to the level of nations, allowing foreign companies to directly sue governments in private trade tribunals over laws and policies that corporations alledge reduce their profits. It would also open the floodgates for the expansion of natural gas exports and, therefore, fracking across the United States.
And the real kicker is that--despite these any many other consequences--there has been virtually no opportunity for public discussion of the trade pact, as no draft text has been publicly revealed. So Congress is actually voting on whether to quickly pass trade agreements they’ve never even seen!
Now is the time we need a full discussion about the true costs of the TPP and other trade pacts -- not a process to haphazardly rush flawed deals through the finish line.
The bottom line is that fast track would set us up for failure. It's critical that Congress has the ability to effectively oversee trade negotiations and ensure that the contents of our trade agreements protect our workers, communities, and environment in the U.S. and abroad. The public and Members of Congress have effectively been left in the dark long enough. Now it's up to Congress to take the reins and oppose fast track. On behalf of the Sierra Club and our 2.1 million members and supports, I urge Members to oppose this fast-track bill and retain their right to ensure that the U.S. trades responsibly. You can urge your Member of Congress to oppose fast track, too.
--Ilana Solomon, Director, Sierra Club Responsible Trade Program
Clean energy continues to make the news nationwide as solar and wind power continue expanding at an exponential rate.
"Solar is a better deal."
That's the ruling from a judge in a case about whether Xcel should replace its Minnesota Black Dog coal plant with natural gas or solar. The solar plan is a 100-megawatt project from Geronimo Energy that would span 20 sites across the state. Minnesota's Public Utilities Commission must still approve the plan, but it's great news for clean energy and clean air and water.
This Minnesota news is the latest in the string of good clean energy stories. Earlier this week, when much of the U.S. was in the grips of a sub-zero "Polar Vortex" - wind energy kept the power on in Texas:
Coal and nuclear power plants couldn't handle the strain, so wind once again picked up the slack. This happened back in the summer of 2011, too, when the Texas grid was overloaded due to excessive heat.
Meanwhile, in Missouri, Kansas City Power & Light announced this week it will expand an energy efficiency program and "double its wind-generating capacity to serve 124,000 homes."
This new energy efficiency and wind expansion came after the Sierra Club threatened legal action when KCP&L didn't fulfill its legal agreement to expand its wind power capacity by the end of 2013.
We could go on and on with great clean energy news (Did you see all the wind manufacturing hiring? Or the Massachusetts town that's saving $2.5 million annually because of a solar array over a former landfill?) - but we'll leave it there for now.
Clean energy is right now.
-- Heather Moyer, Sierra Club Media Team
Solar crowdfunder Mosaic is the latest entrant into clean energy’s next big market – off-grid clean energy. Thanks to a top prize of $1 million from Verizon Powerful Answers, Mosaic will be developing a mobile app and expanding to international markets in possible locations ranging from Guatemala to India. With Machine to Machine (M2M) technology poised to unlock clean energy for hundreds of millions around the world, the move couldn’t be more timely.
Making solar work for people is a key part of Mosaic’s mission. Nearly half of its projects have focused on providing solar for underprivileged schools and community centers here in the U.S. Making solar work for the world’s poor is a logical extension.
“By providing reliable energy to these previously unserved parts of the world, students can study after dark, medical supplies can be refrigerated, appliances can enhance productivity, and access to information and financial services can be increased, improving lives and alleviating some of the harshest poverty on earth,” said Daniel Rosen, Mosaic’s CEO.
But make no mistake: This isn’t all butterflies and lollipops. The truth is, it’s a multi-billion dollar market and the world’s next wireless revolution. Mosaic, and other companies using crowdsourcing to make investments, stand to make billions if they position themselves well.
While some of the biggest names in solar from First Solar to SunEdison to SolarCity have created energy-access programs, the off-grid opportunity is still largely untapped. That leaves a wide open market for Mosaic to address. If the company is able to capture even a fraction of the retail investment market, it’s looking at a $90-billion opportunity (total crowdfunding in 2013 was somewhere near $5 billion). If even a portion of that is deployed in the estimated $40-billion off-grid lighting market, it will make a huge difference.
That’s because despite all the opportunity, the space is cash-starved. Large development institutions like the World Bank have simply failed to invest – largely because they’ve failed to realize that small is big. That’s not the only lesson they could learn from crowdsourcing investments. Crowdsourcing could be the fastest way to quickly and effectively jump-start the off-grid clean-energy market. Think of organizations like Mosaic as the speedboats that can help lead the supertankers (i.e., the World Bank) to finally invest in the sector and bring it to scale.
If they’re successful, Mosaic will not only catalyze the sector, they’ll recapture the development narrative. No longer will we read cringe-worthy op-eds in the New York Times that argue in favor of saddling the poor with the world’s most toxic and outdated technologies. Instead, we’ll finally enter the 21st century where the world’s most sophisticated technologies are made available for the world’s poorest populations. It’s only appropriate we’ll need mobile phones and crowdfunders to make it happen.
--Justin Guay, Sierra Club’s International Climate Program
The new year is here, and the Environmental Protection Agency is sticking to its resolutions by kicking off 2014 with some major climate action.
Today, the Environmental Protection Agency has taken another step forward in protecting American families and environmental health by publishing its proposed standards to limit toxic carbon pollution from new power plants in The Federal Register, the government's official newspaper, starting off a 60-day period for public comment.
Power plants are responsible for much of our country's air pollution. In fact, coal- and gas-fired plants emit more than 2.3 billion metric tons of carbon emissions, approximately 40 percent of U.S. energy-related carbon pollution. These dangerous emissions make their way into our air, food, and bodies, threatening the health of our children and communities. As if that weren't bad enough, carbon pollution is also the main contributor to climate disruption.
By establishing strong carbon pollution protections, the EPA is acting on President Obama's pledge to take action on climate disruption. These protections will help us clean up and modernize the way we power our country -- a move that will make for healthier kids, families, and workers, while creating badly needed jobs, fighting climate disruption, and keeping America competitive in the global economy. Several states and foreign countries already have limits on carbon pollution from new power plants, including Oregon, Washington, California, Montana, Illinois, Maine, Australia, and the European Union. It's time for the first-ever national standards for coal-fired plants to be set in place.
These carbon pollution standards will be a powerful tool to keep our air clean, but they could be even better. These standards should control pollution from natural gas plants, just as we're doing for coal. If implemented, the current proposed standards would not require any reduction in carbon pollution from the majority of planned new gas plants. We cannot keep giving a free pass to natural gas -- more gas in the electricity sector means more fracking and pollution that contributes to rising global temperatures.
The EPA has taken some important first steps, but now it's your turn to take action. The fossil fuel industry and its political allies are doing everything they can to block the EPA's efforts, but you can push back and make your opinion count.
The official public comment period starts today and won't last long. Make your voice heard by submitting a comment here to the EPA in support of strong standards for reducing dangerous carbon pollution from toxic coal- and gas-fired power plants today. Together, we can make 2014 the cleanest year for energy yet!
-- Rudhdi Karnik, Beyond Coal Media Assistant
It’s not a moment too soon for climate action and clean energy in Florida. As global temperatures rise, so does sea level. And, with experts predicting a sea level rise of anywhere from two to six feet in the next century, the Sunshine State’s ample coastline is vulnerable to one the most devastating manifestations of climate disruption -- putting nearly two out of every five Floridians at risk.
Across the country, investors, entrepreneurs, activists, and elected leaders are recognizing that climate disruption doesn’t just create an obligation to act immediately, but also an opportunity for progress by pursuing climate solutions. Clean energy solutions that don’t emit the toxic carbon pollution fuelling the climate crisis are on the rise and spurring economic growth across the country. Electricity generation from wind and solar power has doubled over the last four years, sales of electric vehicles are up almost 450% in 2013, and tens of thousands of jobs have been created – all by pursuing clean energy that fights back against the climate crisis.
All of those eyes that see the promise of climate action should turn to Florida. The potential there is boundless - after all, they call it the Sunshine State for a reason. But, sadly, its been unrealized by recent leaders.
Right now, Florida is the number 10 producer of solar energy in the country – but it is also ranked third in the country for solar potential, according to recent reporting byPolitifact. Florida’s installed solar capacity is behind states considerably less-sunny, like North Carolina, Massachusetts, and Pennsylvania. Why the gap? One reason is that the state is one of just 13 that doesn’t have a renewable portfolio standard policy for clean energy solutions like solar.
Some in Florida are stepping up to try and change that. Former Governor Charlie Crist hit the nail on the head during a November 18 appearance on MSNBC’s the Ed Show when asked what’d he do to create jobs in Florida.
“Alternative energy, I mean I would start there. We’re the Sunshine State, and we’re hardly doing any solar energy production. And we should be the global leader in solar energy. Also in wind,” said Crist.
“Florida is a beautiful place to visit. A lot of people want to come here, and thank God they are. But the only way they keep coming is if we keep her beautiful and take care of her,” Crist added.
Crist has the right idea, taking an example from states across the nation that are amping up on solar and wind jobs and transitioning from dirty fuels that pump out carbon pollution and only make our climate crisis worse.
During his previous term as governor, Crist pushed hard to achieve a renewable portfolio standard -- only to be thwarted by the state legislature.
“To the extent that Florida has put solar capacity to use, most of it occurred when Crist was governor,” Politifact noted. “As it happens, when Crist was governor, he directed the Florida Public Service Commission to develop a state renewable portfolio standard policy, with a goal of 20 percent renewable energy production by 2020.”
Crist’s outspoken support is a good sign that policy may be back on the radar again soon -- - and it’s even better for those in Florida and across the country who know that climate action is needed now to protect a healthy future for our economy and our families.
--Cindy Carr and Lauren Lantry, Sierra Club Media Team
Ever wondered why we can't just stick solar panels on top of cars to fuel them even more cleanly and easily than today's plug-in electric cars? Engineers have actually been working on this challenge for a number of years. The main speed bump has been that the solar panels sized for the top of a car would not be sufficiently powerful, efficient, or large enough to actually power the vehicle. Also, cost has been prohibitive for commercial viability.
However, Ford has just come a lot closer to making this pie in the sky a reality.
At this week's annual International CES technology convention in Las Vegas, Ford will unveil a concept car that is actually powered by solar panels on the roof of its C-Max Energi plug-in hybrid electric vehicle (EV). In 2013, Ford sold about 7,000 units of the non-solar plug-in C-Max Energi, which I enjoyed test-driving last summer.
Mike Tinskey, Ford's global director of vehicle electrification, told me last week that Ford pursued this solar car roof idea because today's solar cells are many times more efficient than they were just a few years ago. Ford and SunPower, said Tinskey, jointly created a solar concentrator array for this concept vehicle that multiplies the solar energy eight times.
While EVs are already cleaner to drive than conventional vehicles -- even taking into account the pollution from the electricity used to power them -- EVs fueled by solar power are even cleaner. This makes sense to environmentalists. A 2012 survey found that more than a third of plug-in drivers in California have solar panels on the roofs of their houses. My March 2011 blog post, where I interviewed the creator of SolarChargedDriving.com, showed how EV+PV works and why it's so appealing.
In fact, later this month Ford and SunPower will announce a newer, less expensive version of their Green for Life solar EV charging system that works for today's EVs and house roofs.
Some vehicles, such as a high-end version of the Nissan Leaf, have used solar panels on top of the car to power certain functions, such as the computer system. But if Ford can find a way to commercialize this solar C-Max Energi, it would be the first EV to actually move from its own internal solar power system.
There are complications to overcome. Most notably, Ford's concept model needs to move autonomously several feet throughout the day while charging in order to best capture the sun's rays.
But Tinskey says he's optimistic that Ford will work out the engineering challenges and prove there is a viable business case for this type of vehicle in the near future. Let the heated debate on that begin!
-- Gina Coplon-Newfield is the Sierra Club's Director of Future Fleet & Electric Vehicles Initiative
As you reflect on your year, remember 2013 as a momentous year for clean energy. Solar and wind generation hit record highs, prices plummeted, and wind and solar took on increased market share from coal. Installation of renewable energy capacity outpaced coal, oil, and nuclear growth combined. The coal industry saw numerous setbacks, and nationwide thirty percent of existing coal plants in the United States are now announced to retire -- 158 plants, representing over 20 percent of the nation’s coal power. Not a single coal plant has broken ground over the past three years. Not bad for just 365 days.
This is great news for Americans: "Thanks to the Sierra Club's Beyond Coal campaign, American citizens will breathe cleaner, healthier air this holiday season," said Michael R. Bloomberg, founder of Bloomberg Philanthropies which has committed $50 million to the campaign. "Coal use is down in almost every region of the country, and carbon pollution is at its lowest level in almost two decades. We have a lot to celebrate - and a lot more work still to do."
A growing movement
With an overarching goal to move America off coal and slash carbon pollution no later than 2030, an unprecedented coalition including Sierra Club and more than a hundred local, regional and national organizations has helped to secure a record number of coal plant retirements. The campaign now includes legal and grassroots fights to transition to cleaner and more modern sources of power in more than forty states and has grown to become one of the largest and broadest grassroots environmental campaigns in the nation's history. This year, more than 2,000 activists nationwide showed up to Environmental Protection Agency hearings to protect the public from carbon pollution, and more than 10,000 showed up to oppose coal exports out of the Pacific Northwest. And over 200,000 people submitted comments to curb coal pollution and invest in clean energy.
Moving beyond coal
The year saw 39 existing coal plants retired or announced to retire (total 22,164MW), an average of three coal plants per month. American Electric Power announced this year that it would add enough wind energy to power 200,000 homes in Oklahoma, having decided to increase its wind investment threefold after seeing how affordable wind power had become. AEP added that the increase in wind "would provide substantial savings to our customers."
Additionally, 2013 was the year that leading investors like Warren Buffett publicly announced that coal will decline in importance. Last week, his utility MidAmerican ordered $1 billion worth of wind turbines for Iowa, where wind is the cheapest source of power. MidAmerican's CEO Bill Fehrman announced at their launch event that "wind power provides a hedge for our customers going forward in an era of reduced coal generation."
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, the European Investment Bank, the ERBD and the US Ex-Im Bank.
Beyond Coal 2013 - By The Numbers
- 2 proposals for new coal export facilities defeated in the Pacific Northwest and 3 defeated on the Gulf Coast
- 10 proposed coal plants abandoned or defeated
- 39 coal plants retired or announced to retire this year, with a grand total of 158 coal plants announced for retirement since January 2010
- 3 out of ten coal plants in the country now slated to retire, representing 19% of all coal capacity in operation in 2010
- 60% drop in the cost of solar panels over the past three years
- 30% drop in the cost of wind power over the past three years
- 2,485 megawatts of solar power installed as of September 2013 -- bringing the total amount of solar operating in the U.S. to 10,250 megawatts -- enough to power 1.6 million homes.
- 60.5% record-setting percentage of energy generation from wind in Colorado in May. In total there are now 60,000 megawatts of wind power operating in the U.S. -- enough to power 17.7 million homes.
- 19 million homes – can currently be powered by the amount of solar and wind generated in the U.S.
- 100,000 workers currently employed by the solar industry in 2012
- 39% of overall electricity generation provided by coal through September 2012, a historic decline from 50 percent less than five years ago
- 200,000 comments submitted to curb coal pollution and invest in clean energy.
- 13,000 people attended coal export hearings in Washington and Oregon over the past 18 months -- with a solid majority of them opposed to the new coal export terminals.
- Overseas, 7 countries and 4 international financial institution all adopted coal bans
So, as you sit down to make your new year resolutions, commit to helping make 2014 an even bigger year for clean energy. If 2013 has taught us anything, it's that people have the power to stand up to say no to dirty, dangerous fossil fuels and yes to powering their homes and lives with modern, clean technologies that also create hundreds of thousands of jobs. Together, let's make 2014 the year that America moved beyond coal -- cheers to that!
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