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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
The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) promotes some pretty odious ideas. The right-wing think tank has been behind efforts to kill job-creating clean energy projects, penalize American homeowners who install their own solar panels, and force public schools to teach climate denial to students. They've even named the Sierra Club as one of their enemies. That's not surprising, given that their members have included a who's who of the dirty energy industry -- BP, Shell, Chevron, Peabody Energy, and the Koch Brothers.
ALEC's reckless policies extend beyond the energy and environmental realm to laws that suppress voting rights and threaten the safety of American workers, communities, and families. Now, just as the organization holds its annual conference in Washington, DC this week, the Guardian newspaper reports that ALEC is on the ropes. Its extreme policies are now so far out of the mainstream that they've sent many one-time donors running for the hills rather than have ALEC's stink rub off on them. The organization's staunch support of so-called "Stand Your Ground" laws following the 2012 killing of Trayvon Martin may have been the last straw, as over 50 big-time ALEC donors and supporters like General Electric, Kraft, and McDonald's have fled -- and ALEC is crawling on its knees to try and gain them back.
But as all these companies are fleeing ALEC for fear of damaging their reputations, a few others are inexplicably signing up and signing checks to the floundering right-wing extremists even now. The most surprising among them? Google.
For a company celebrated around the world for its innovation and imagination, Google's new allegiance with ALEC doesn't make much sense. After all, Google made investments in clean energy projects across the world -- and the company has made a remarkable commitment to be powered by 100 percent renewable energy.
So, why is Google heaping money and support into one of the nation's most notorious opponents of clean energy and climate action? It's illogical.
As Sierra Club's Executive Director Michael Brune said, "Google should Google ALEC's agenda. Funding right-wing extremists at ALEC is a guaranteed way for Google to undermine its own admirable clean energy goals. It's like building a new house only to set it on fire after defunding the fire department."
ALEC's list of attacks on clean energy is as long as it is dangerous. At its conference this week, ALEC representatives and supporters are plotting ways to stop the first-ever protections from carbon pollution. The Guardian reported ALEC wants to push legislation in states to levy fines against American homeowners who put solar panels on their own homes. For 2014, ALEC plans to continue its attacks on Renewable Portfolio Standards that would otherwise create jobs by expanding consumers' access to wind and solar energy. They've pushed the dirty and dangerous Keystone XL pipeline. And they've successfully lobbied for oil and gas industry-sponsored fracking bills in five states.
All this -- and they are using Google's money to do it.
If Google is for 100 percent clean energy, their new pals at ALEC are for the exact opposite. That's why the Sierra Club's SierraRise community has been part of an effort including Forecast the Facts, SumOfUs, RootsAction, and the Center for Media and Democracy that has rallied more than 225,000 Americans to call on Google to keep its admirable commitment to clean energy, and leave ALEC behind. Google’s motto is "Don't Be Evil" -- but they shouldn't fund evil, either.
--Nathan Empsall, SierraRise Senior Campaigner
Activists across California continue to pressure Governor Jerry Brown and the state Public Utilities Commission to replace the retiring San Onofre Nuclear Power Plant with clean energy.
On the heels of an announcement that the plant may be replaced with new natural gas facilities, today the My Generation campaign released a new video and online petition urging the Public Utilities Commission and Governor Brown to reject a plan that would add new air pollution to Southern California and move California backwards on its climate goals.
"The retirement of the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station is a key opportunity to demonstrate how California can meet its future energy needs without new fossil fuels plants," said Evan Gillespie, Director of the Sierra Club's My Generation campaign. "Unfortunately, Governor Brown and state regulators are rushing through a flawed plan and using San Onofre as an excuse to build new polluting gas plants in Southern California."
On November 24, clean energy supporters protested outside the dirtiest power plant in all of California - the Mountainview natural gas plant in Redlands - to keep up the pressure as well.
The proposed new gas plants would be built in Southern California as part of a plan being supported by Governor Brown. Southern California already suffers from some of the dirtiest air in the nation. In the American Lung Association's 2013 State of the Air Report, Los Angeles County, Orange County, and San Diego County each received "F" grades for particulate matter and ozone, the two primary byproducts from gas peaker plants.
New gas plants would lock in more carbon pollution for decades to come and would undermine California’s climate targets. According to the California Air Resources Board, greenhouse gas emissions rose for the first time since 2008 because of increased reliance on gas plants after San Onofre closed. The state is already feeling the impacts of climate change with record droughts and increased frequency and reach of wild fires.
"We cannot claim to other states and the world that California is leading the charge against climate change while permitting huge new fossil fuel plants in our backyard. That's not leadership," said Gillespie. "California can either continue to lead on climate protection, or move backwards with new natural gas pollution."
Today, Appalachian community leaders are in Washington, D.C., to protest a Virginia coal boondoggle that has set its sights on $2 billion of your federal tax dollars. Mountaintop removal coal mining is already a shocking, devastating, and destructive practice on its own - but what happens when you add in coal companies making deals with state and federal transportation agencies in order to seize private land and blow it up for coal? Well then you get the planned Coalfields Expressway in Southwest Virginia.
The project is a public-private partnership between the Commonwealth of Virginia and coal mining companies, including Alpha Natural Resources. The coal companies would get to strip mine the land and leave it razed for building the highway (which may not ever be completed). In order to make this bad deal work, the coal companies were allowed to re-route the highway's proposed route, moving it away from local business districts and threatening to take thousands of acres of privately-owned land through eminent domain.
Clearly, land and water would be ruined by this mountaintop removal coal mining project, and public health would be put at risk. But on top of all that, the companies are also gunning for $2 billion in federal funds to help make this happen.
"The Commonwealth has put our future in the hands of mountaintop removal mining executives," said Diana Withen, a high school teacher in Wise County, Virginia, where this project is located. "They're letting out-of-town mountaintop removal companies, which have no business planning our roads, redraw the route away from our communities. This isn't a highway; it’s a 50-mile-long strip mine in our backyards."
This terrible plan is why a huge crowd of people showed up to rally on the doorstep of the Federal Highway Administration today in Washington, D.C., including our partners from Southern Appalachian Mountain Stewards and Appalachian Voices. Holding photos of land devastated by mountaintop removal and shouting, "This is not a highway," people demanded that the Federal Highway Administration review the effects of the project.
Last summer more than 85,000 comments were submitted to the Virginia Department of Transportation requesting that a more detailed study be conducted to investigate the social, environmental and economic impacts of the re-routed road. The Army Corps of Engineers, Environmental Protection Agency, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service all submitted comments strongly urging a closer look at the project.
This project is poorly planned, a threat to local public health, land, and water, and a waste of taxpayer dollars.
We urge the Federal Highway Administration to stand up for Appalachian communities, and complete a full study of the threats this road would pose to local communities. There are better ways to improve transportation options in southwest Virginia.
As Diana Withen told me, "We need smart, forward-thinking transportation improvement projects such as fixing existing roads, ensuring access to existing highways for rural towns, improving public transit access and promoting multi-use trails that attract tourism and boost local economies."
Virginia's transportation agencies shouldn't be in the business of lining the pockets of multi-million dollar mountaintop removal mining companies. The Federal Highway Administration must take a hard look at this project, and it should not commit our federal tax dollars to prop up this multi-billion dollar coal industry scheme.
-- Mary Anne Hitt, Beyond Coal Campaign Director. See more photos of today's rally right here.
Spoiler alert: the answer is no.
This is the question that climate policy analysts, scientists, and activists have been toiling over, in great detail, since President Obama unexpectedly mentioned Keystone XL in his Climate Action Plan speech this past summer -- and even before.
On that hot day at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., President Obama said, “Our national interest will be served only if this [Keystone XL] project doesn’t significantly exacerbate the problem of carbon pollution.”
“The net effects of the pipeline’s impact on our climate will be absolutely critical to determining whether this project is allowed to go forward,” he added.The panel's Q & A session
Now, less than six months later, back at Georgetown University, NextGen Climate Action and the Center
for American Progress Action Fund hosted a summit to answer the question of whether or not Keystone can pass the President’s climate test.
Scientists, politicians, investors, and more gathered not just with a resounding “no” but to seal any cracks that might be left open by that burning question. To make it clear, they posed three main questions:
1. What is the carbon footprint of the proposed pipeline?
Climate wonks would recognize the charts and graphs that university professors and policy think-tank experts shared showing how our planet is being affected by carbon pollution, where the tipping point is for our climate, and how much the Keystone XL pipeline will make our climate crisis worse.
Dr. John Abraham of St. Thomas University, Dr. Danny Harvey of the University of Toronto, and Clare Demerse of the Pembina Institute in Canada concluded that while Canada has made strides to reduce carbon pollution from coal-fired power plants, approving the Keystone XL pipeline would negate all of that progress.
And approving the Keystone XL pipeline would only mean more tar sands production, Demerse said.
“The debate isn't over ‘Keystone or,’ it's over ‘Keystone and,’” she said.
More tar sands production means more carbon pollution -- and it doesn’t take a fancy graph to see that.
2. What would it take to offset the pipeline?
If the Keystone XL pipeline was to be built and leave this inevitable carbon footprint, could it be balanced out by anything or anyone?
As CEO of TerraPass -- a leading retailer of carbon credits and carbon offsets that companies use to make that kind of balance -- Erin Craig is the perfect person to answer this “what if” question.
Joined by Dr. Mark Trexler, an advocate for climate change risk management, and Dr. Michael Wara, providing a legal perspective as an associate professor at Stanford Law School, Craig made it clear that it was impossible to offset Keystone XL’s climate consequences.
The impact is too severe. There are not sufficient rules, regulators, or markets in place for that to even be fathomable, the experts said.
3. Where do we go from here?
By making it crystal clear that Keystone XL would add significantly to carbon pollution that could not possibly be offset, Governor Jennifer Granholm asked a critical question to a circle of experts -- what do we do?
Canadian and American academics agreed -- we must put pressure on our elected leaders to reject the Keystone XL pipeline. We also need to bring this conversation to our dinner tables, if it’s not already there. And, in all conversations about Keystone XL, we need to make the connection between the pipeline and our climate -- something that is so vulnerable amid a crisis so severe that we can’t afford to disrupt it any more.
--Dan Byrnes, Sierra Club Media Team
While it's potentially clean energy's next big market, off-grid clean tech suffers from an acute lack of finance. That's the barrier to ramping up efforts to finally move 1.3 billion people around the world from darkness to light.
Entrepreneurs have responded by repeatedly demanding $500 million in finance to catalyze the sector. Unfortunately, multi-laterals like the World Bank have been reluctant to join the fray leaving a yawning chasm between capital needs and capital flows. Luckily entrepreneurs are stepping in to fill this gap. One of the first to step up to the plate is Village Infrastructure Angels (VIA) – an organization worth knowing.
VIA is perhaps the world's only angel investment group solely focused on emerging market micro/village infrastructure. Their business model is predicated on the notion that finance, particularly consumer finance, is the key to unlocking this market. As co-founder Stewart Craine puts it, "I firmly believe that everything - technology, field partners, knowledge – is in place to deliver clean energy for all. Everything that is, except investor appetite for the risk of consumer lending."
Their strategy for addressing the challenge is pretty simple: mobilize the money sitting in every potential 'angel's' pocket and put it to work. That makes their founding philosophy a belief that anyone can be an angel investor and therefore a participant in alleviating energy poverty. Judging by experience they may be right. They've organized angel investors from all walks of life - from retirees to people with decades of experience in this space. They've also had some strong institutional supporters such as Rotary Club Melbourne, Rotary Club and IRENA plus early support for technical assistance and feasibility from the multilaterals such as the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank.
VIA puts these angels money to work as a project developer organizing projects end to end while providing 1-3 year loans or longer. Their model enables them to take all the risk while asking field partners to deliver the product/service to villages. That expands the payback horizon, making clean energy radically affordable for poor populations around the world.
Their financing is unlocked by initial risk guarantees that leverages private investment by covering cases of default which offers an attractive, low risk option for investors looking to use their money to reduce energy poverty while earning a return. Given the relatively short payback periods enabled by long term financing, investors can expect to see returns within the first six months to one year.
But easy as it may sound, getting long-term finance secured for these markets was anything but. The key for VIA was mobilizing debt and risk guarantees - something multi laterals like the IFC and World Bank should be providing today. Stewart believes that over time, these risk guarantees can drop away, but they are the most important form of missing finance right now. "Put those guarantees in place, and the debt will come faster, which means scale will come faster, which means equity will follow. This is how we solve energy poverty."
Of course securing the money is one thing, investing it appropriately is another. VIA's approach to the latter is also unique - rather than acting as 'micro-VCs' they place a priority on securing shares in field projects, not companies. That means they are a mini version of the World Bank - they are trying to increase the amount of project finance available to entrepreneurs. They invest this way due to the belief that long-term cheap debt is what will ultimately unlock this market. "Equity is just the oil that lubricates the engine. What we really need is gas in the tank - 'venture debt' to provide project finance and long term scale," says Stewart.
While finance is the name of the game, VIA also takes on a number of technical assistance projects to help jumpstart the industry while paying the bills. Much of that work is based on Stewart's decades of expertise in the field. Perhaps the most exciting is a campaign to map all off-grid households in the world (www.developmentmaps.org ), so the industry can better map and plan how it's going to reach everyone. That work has found village locations from existing data is badly misleading. "It will help if we can see where the people live that we're all trying to help," says Stewart.
While they have yet to unlock finance from the multi-laterals, VIA believes their studies and tools will help mobilize investment from these institutions in the next 1-2 years. But this market, and the billion plus people living in the dark today, simply can't wait. That means we need finance to fill this gap by forging ahead and investing in projects immediately. Which is exactly why VIA was formed and they have a message for you: Calling all angels - it's time to put your money to work.
-- Justin Guay, Sierra Club International