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Fracking in Weld County, Co. Photo by Shane Davis, Rocky Mountain Chapter Sierra Club/Lighthawk, courtesy Sierra Club Library
By Sammy Roth, Sierra Club Beyond Natural Gas Intern
From the contamination of drinking water to the release of powerful greenhouse gases, the list of dangers posed by fracking and natural gas production seems to grow longer by the day. It has become increasingly clear that fracking—which involves pumping water, sand, and chemicals deep underground to create cracks in shale formations and release the natural gas trapped inside—is unsafe, unhealthy, and unsustainable. And as gas companies across the country have ramped up their fracking efforts, the drilling technique has started to exacerbate another serious concern: water scarcity.
Fracking a single well just once can require millions of gallons of water—sometimes up to 10 million—and wells are often fracked several times. When you consider the many thousands of wells that are fracked in the United States each year, it's no surprise that in water-scarce regions, fracking is already threatening the availability of clean, affordable water, and the viability of fisheries and other aquatic habitats. In states like Texas, Colorado, and Wyoming—where the natural gas industry is booming—the vast majority of fracking is taking place in extremely water-stressed areas, many of them plagued by drought.
Take, for example, Colorado's Weld County, which the World Resources Institute has categorized as an "extremely high stress" county in its water stress index. Last year, Weld suffered a drought so severe that the county commissioners declared a disaster situation. Weld is the largest agricultural county in Colorado, and as water supplies have dried up, farmers have been forced to cut back on production and sell off their cattle early.
"Giant agribusinesses have water rights secured, so they can continue their operations," says Dave Bryan, chair of the Sierra Club's Rocky Mountain Chapter. "It's small and medium-sized farmers who are having this issue."
In addition to suffering from water shortages, Weld is one of the most heavily fracked counties in the United States. In 2011, natural gas companies reported fracking more than 1,500 wells there—nearly 60 percent of all wells reported fracked in Colorado that year. In 2012, the number of fracked wells in Weld County jumped above 1,600, making up 65 percent of all fracked wells reported in the state.
No one knows exactly how many gallons of scarce water resources are used for fracking in Weld County each year, but the number is easily in the billions. And unlike municipal and agricultural wastewater—about half of which can be treated and reused—most fracking wastewater is so badly contaminated that it can't be returned to area streams or reused for non-fracking purposes, even if it's treated. To put those facts in context, the Western Resource Advocates organization has estimated that the amount of water needed to drill and frack new oil and gas wells in Colorado each year would be enough to serve between 150,000 and 300,000 people annually. The population of Weld County is approximately 250,000.
Weld County farmers have been hit especially hard, because on top of their water scarcity concerns, they've started to see themselves priced out of the water market. One farmer recently told the Associated Press that while he used to be able to pay between $9 and $100 for an acre-foot of water at auctions, energy companies are now paying between $1,200 and $2,900 per acre-foot. With prices skyrocketing, it's becoming harder and harder for farmers to afford to irrigate their crops.
"What oil and gas has done, and drilling operations specifically, is hike up the price for water resources, making it more difficult for farmers to compete for water rights or forcing them to sell off water rights," Bryan says. "I don't think there are many options for farmers—I don't see what solutions exist for them."
By draining billions of gallons of water away from aquifers, rivers, streams, and wetlands, fracking also threatens fish and other aquatic wildlife. Several Colorado cities, for instance—including Greeley, the largest city in Weld County—have begun selling water to fracking companies from the Upper Colorado River, which is already highly diverted. This practice hurts fish, birds, and other wildlife, not only by reducing habitat sizes but by altering water temperatures and increasing the concentration of waterborne pollutants. Water withdrawals for fracking have already been cited as a factor in several endangered species determinations across the country.
Fracking operation in Weld County, Co. Photo by Shane Davis, Rocky Mountain Chapter Sierra Club/Lighthawk
Weld is an important case study, but it's far from the only place where diverting billions of gallons of water to the gas industry is exacerbating serious water shortages. In Texas, the start of a fracking boom on the Eagle Ford shale coincided with the worst year-long drought in state history, and at least one town has already run out of water largely due to fracking. In Louisiana, regulators had to order oil and gas companies to stop taking groundwater from the Carrizo-Wilcox Aquifer after it started to run dry. And in California—an agricultural powerhouse, and a state with a long history of severe droughts—oil and gas companies are planning a major surge of new fracking. Across the country, 47 percent of shale and tight oil wells are being developed in counties with either "high" or "extremely high" water stress, according to a recent report by the nonprofit organization Ceres.
As clean, affordable water supplies run low in these places and others, it's clearer than ever that we should not expand fracking into areas where it's not already occurring. It's also clear that where fracking is taking place, we need to do a better job of protecting local freshwater supplies, because water is more than just a valuable natural resource. Water is life—and we need to stop wasting it on gas drilling and start embracing a sustainable, clean-energy future.
Biking is on the rise in major cities across the country, and not surprisingly, technology is keeping pace. Years ago, we saw Google Maps include bike directions in many cities, and this year has brought a few new innovations in the way of bike maps. San Francisco's BikeMapper and the New York Times' Bike Wisdom are two new examples -- with these interactive tools, people can plan their bike trips to work, errands and groceries better than ever before.
Among other functions, San Francisco's BikeMapper lets cyclists plan routes that avoid (or take on!) San Francisco's gnarly hills while simultaneously checking out the street view for any point along the route. BikeMapper lets you choose your routes for errands, business or leisure, with an option to avoid busy streets, and choose the fastest or most bike friendly route. The route breaks down total distance traveled, the time duration, pounds of CO2 saved, and calories burned. Green bike lines illuminate the map to mark your way to your destination.
Bike Wisdom, on the other hand, is a map with "wisdom" dots from fellow bikers that lets cyclists crowd source information about great rides, problem areas, and other tips and tricks about biking around cities across the country. These "wisdom dots" sprinkle large U.S. and Canadian cities, including New York, Seattle, Portland, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Phoenix, Denver, Austin, Atlanta, St. Louis, Miami, Chicago, Minneapolis, Toronto, Boston, and Washington, D.C.
As more people are (or want to be) pushing the pedals for work, life, and play, our infrastructure and policies will need to keep pace. Young people are driving less, and research shows that across the demographic spectrum, but especially among young people and people of color (pdf), people are biking more. The benefits of more people biking are clear for everyone -- not only are cyclists keeping the air cleaner and improving public health, but research shows that more bicyclists on the road improves the safety for all -- cyclists, motorists, and pedestrians alike.
Bike Wisdom's "wisdom points" can serve as a key feedback tool for planners and decision-makers. These dots and routes point out effective city street design and where improvements are needed. Likewise for San Francisco's Bike Mapper: if there isn't a route available allowing a user to "avoid busy streets," that should be a red flag for city planners.
These new tech-powered bike maps are more than just guides for cyclists; they're evidence of a larger culture change taking place across the country. Technology is responding to the needs of its users; our cities should continue to follow suit in making our streets welcoming for everyone on a bike and off.
-- Rachel Butler and Annie Szotkowski, Sierra Club's Green Transportation Campaign
Activists from 350.org protest outside of GVK meeting
In India, the grassroots fight to move the country beyond coal is going strong, but it’s not always smooth sailing.
On August 12, grassroots activists from 350.org, the Indian Youth Climate Network, the National Alliance of People's Movements, and the Animal Rehabilitation and Protection Front gathered in Hyderabad, India outside GVK’s Annual General Meeting to urge the Indian energy conglomerate and its investors to stop dirty coal imports and to speak out against their ill-advised investments in Australian coal. The activists wanted to remove the blinders from GVK’s shareholders, and to highlight what a risky choice the company is making by investing in coal mines in Australia.
GVK’s investments would go toward an alpha coal project (a combination of coal mines, ports and railway lines) smack dab in the middle of the Great Barrier Reef Heritage Site, one of the world’s most famous natural wonders with extremely sensitive ecology. This project is not only harmful to the environment, it’s also harmful to public health. Coal power plants kill 120,000 people each year in India, and many more people worldwide. Coal-fired power plants release dangerous pollutants like soot, smog and sulfur dioxide, which increase the frequency of asthma attacks and emergency room visits.
But these health and environmental risks aren’t the only problems with the project. According to a recent report commissioned by Greenpeace Australia Pacific, the investment in this project -- billions of dollars -- is risky because there’s a good chance that the project might fall through. The report accurately described the project as “a quagmire, not an investment.”
But what effect does this bad investment have on us as American citizens?
Although the United States’ own Export-Import Bank has been tight-lipped about the connection, the taxpayer-backed lender has been linked to funding this dangerous and risky project.
Meanwhile the Australian Government has delayed a final decision for the second time on their project to build one of the world’s largest coal terminals in the Great Barrier Reef, claiming that they need more information.
This hasn’t stopped concerned citizens from protesting in India this week at GVK’s meeting. Led by Chaitanya Kumar of 350.org, the activists displayed posters showing the ill effects of coal pollution in India and distributed pamphlets to shareholders. The activists also held solar panels above their heads, symbolizing clean energy, a more sound investment for GVK and other energy and infrastructure companies.
The demonstration was non-violent, yet within a half an hour, police gathered in the area and told people to move out. Activists were told they weren’t allowed to protest in that space, and some were eventually arrested. One activist captured video of the arrests. Still, the arrests won’t hold these activists back from standing up for their communities. A bad investment for GVK is also a bad investment for the Export-Import Bank of the United States, hardworking American taxpayers, the health of millions, and the environment.
--Nicole Ghio, Sierra Club International Program
In case you missed it, the tectonic plates just shifted in the world of international financial institution (IFI) energy lending. Just weeks after President Obama announced an end to U.S. taxpayer support for overseas coal plants, two of the world's largest IFIs, the World Bank and the European Investment Bank (EIB), followed suit. Now the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) is considering coal restrictions of its own. Once final, these restrictions will reinforce a message that is growing louder every day -- coal has no place in the 21st century clean energy economy.
Before we get to what's going on at the EBRD, let's summarize the policies that have been put in place over the past month at the IFIs. They've helped set the tone for the EBRD and will likely be incorporated in whatever policy is ultimately adopted. Remember these institutions have collectively provided $37.5 billion to the coal industry since 1994 so they're pretty important. Here goes.
First, as a part of his climate plan, President Obama has outlined a ban (with rare exceptions) on U.S. public financing of overseas coal plants. The president wasted no time implementing this policy with the US Export Import Bank (the most heavily impacted and fossil fuel friendly U.S. agency) rejecting a new 1,200 MW coal plant in Vietnam just weeks later. This was a huge decision given the U.S. Export-Import (Ex-Im) Bank funding has supported over $7 billion in coal finance over the past few years. Days later, the U.S. Trade and Development Agency shelved plans for a controversial new coal plant in the Ukraine. Those two decisions reinforced the fact that the U.S. is serious when it says it's closed for overseas coal business.
At almost the same time, the World Bank and EIB introduced stringent restrictions on coal financing of their own (see here and here). Both were put in place after long deliberations which in the case of the World Bank took almost two years only to be finalized thanks to the leadership of Dr. Kim.
The significance of these two policies following on the heels of President Obama's overseas coal ban is enormous. Both provided billions to the coal industry over the past few years -- $5 billion from the World Bank and $1.5 billion from the EIB. But the impact of this funding is even larger than it appears, because it helped leverage several times more in private investment while providing a cover to the coal industry by ensuring public acceptance of this destructive energy source.
It is into this whirlwind of activity that the EBRD stepped when it released a draft of its new energy policy. As currently drafted the policy won't past muster given what has happened at other institutions. So what exactly does the EBRD need to do to be up to snuff?
First and foremost it would need to create an official policy statement that restricts support for coal projects by declaring an end to finance for both new and refurbished coal plants. To reinforce this policy it can, and should, follow the EIBs lead and include a carbon intensity metric to help screen out dirty projects. The EIB has proposed 550 grams/kWh which means for all intents and purposes the only fossil fuel plants the institution can support are natural gas. But even this standard may be strengthened as the EU is pressured to ratchet that down to 350 grams/kWh to reflect best in class gas plants.
But the EBRD can't stop there. It must also extend the air emissions standards outlined in the Industrial Emissions Directive (IED) to rehabilitated as well as new coal plants. The IED sets important limits on the level of air pollution fossil fuel plants can create (and therefore the type of pollution control technology that must be deployed). Exempting rehab projects exposes local communities to dangerous and deadly air pollution. This loophole must be closed.
Currently half of the EBRDs $8.9 billion energy portfolio supports fossil fuels (including ~$1 billion in past financing for coal). Getting this policy right is incredibly important for tackling climate change and shifting scarce public resources to clean energy. So let them know you’re watching.
All eyes on @EBRD: Time to move #BeyondCoal. #coalfreeEBRD
-- Justin Guay, Sierra Club International Campaign
Lincoln is at a fork in the road when it comes to energy, and many are hoping the city chooses the right path.
Faced with a future of clean-energy investment or more-of-the-same coal burning from their utility, about 60 people from Nebraska's capital participated in a "solar tour" this past weekend. The coalition-led event was designed to urge Lincoln Electric System (LES) to adopt a "CLEAN" contract that would help boost solar for homeowners, landlords, schools, businesses, and churches.
LES is the most coal dependent public power utility in the state, with more than 70 percent of its energy sources coming from dirty coal transported in from Wyoming. The solar tour's message presented a better alternative: Clean energy invests locally and generates jobs.
The tour came ahead of LES's annual budgeting process that will consider the utility's future energy portfolio. Clean-energy supporters are calling for a CLEAN contract program that would incentivize "going solar" in order to generate clean energy locally that can be bought back by LES and used to power the entire Lincoln community. The idea has backing from a broad coalition, including the mayor's office.
"CLEAN -- Clean Local Energy Accessible Now -- contract programs allow energy project owners to sell power to utilities at a predetermined, fixed price for a long period of time, cutting down on uncertainty, reducing market risk and lowering costs of installing solar, wind or bio-gas systems," reported the Lincoln Journal Star.
The tour started at the Jayne Snyder Trails Center, one of three local government buildings that have gone solar. The panels were made possible by federal stimulus funding designated for clean energy. The rest of the tour included stops at the University of Nebraska East Campus, Hyde Memorial Observatory, and a Lincoln police building. Similar successful tours have taken place in Los Angeles, Long Island, and Gainesville, Florida, a notable leader in solar production per capita.
"Increasing local clean energy can help LES reduce dependence on outdated coal plants across the state of Nebraska. Rather than sending hundreds of millions of Lincoln's energy dollars to Wyoming for coal and costly upgrades at outdated coal plants, our public power leaders should look to local energy solutions to help reduce our economic and environmental risks," said Graham Christensen, a clean energy consultant working for the Sierra Club in Lincoln.
The successful tour included the home of Mary Pipher, who said, "My husband and I had solar panels installed for many reasons, but one of them was to be part of the change we want to see in the world."
Check out this infographic and learn more at PowerLincolnLocally.com.
Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons
Biking is becoming more mainstream nationwide with more and more bike lanes being built, more bike racks being installed, and more cyclists hitting the streets and the trails across the States. Even celebrities are catching onto this trend. For example, Beyonce biked to her concert in Brooklyn. It’s a welcome change, because choosing a bike helps to address many social challenges like improving community health and fitness, protecting the environment by taking one more car off the road, relieving congestion, and growing and strengthening neighborhoods.
Although biking has become popular in the United States, the sport hasn’t caught on with all demographics. In 2009, women only accounted for 24 percent of all bike trips in the U.S.
Is there a way to decrease the gender gap in biking?
In other parts of the world, a greater percentage of women ride bikes. For example, in Germany, women account for 49 percent of bike trips, and in the Netherlands, 55 percent.
The good news is that there are a lot of people doing a lot of work to get more women on bikes. In fact, the League of American Bicyclists has formed the Woman Bike Program, which recently released a new report on the issue, Women on a Roll. Carolyn Szczepanski, the program's Director of Communications explained the reasoning for putting together this report:
"Increasingly, advocacy groups and industry leaders are recognizing the gender gap as a clear -- and critical -- limitation to growing the bike movement and the market.” She continued, "This report puts hard data behind that imperative -- and reveals what's working in getting more women on bikes and where there is clear opportunity to increase female leadership and participation.”
According to the report, the program’s goal is “to unite efforts nationwide and act as a hub of best practices and information on women’s bicycling.”
But just how will they go about accomplishing this goal?
In the report, they’ve identified what they call the five Cs to get more women biking:
1. Comfort: making biking safe and inviting
2. Convenience: addressing practical realities for women and families
3. Confidence: tools to ensure women feel secure in their skills
4. Consumer products: fashion and function in bikes and gear
5. Community: building connection and cultivating diverse bicycling interests
The movement to get women on bikes has already had some remarkable achievements. In fact, from 2003 to 2012, the number of women and girls who ride bikes rose 20 percent compared to a 0.5-percent decline among men. Women are the new majority: 60 percent of bicycle owners aged 17-28 years old are women. In 2011, women accounted for 37 percent of the bicycle market, spending $2.3 billion on bikes. Forty-five percent of local and state bicycle advocacy organization staff are female. However, women are still underrepresented in leadership positions, including the boards of national industry and advocacy organizations -- and their membership.
Let’s keep the momentum going to get more women on bikes, while helping to move America beyond oil and improving overall health.--Lindsay Garten, Sierra Club Media Team Intern
Oil production in North Dakota’s Bakken Shale formation has increased 40-fold between 2007 and mid-2013, from 18,500 to 760,000 barrels per day, according to a recent report by Ceres, a nonprofit organization focused on sustainability. In fact, flaring from the Bakken Shale is visible from space. Surpassing Alaska in May 2012, North Dakota became the second-largest oil producing state after Texas. This tremendous growth in oil production has led to the simultaneous increase in the production of natural gas. However, unlike in most other states, a significant portion of the gas that is co-produced with oil production in North Dakota doesn’t make it to the market.
What happens to the gas? Nearly 30 percent of the gas produced in the state is flared during oil production. This process, “flaring,” is the controlled burning of natural gas that commonly occurs during oil production. A flare system consists of a flare stack and pipes that feed gas to the stack. The absolute volume of flared gas in North Dakota has increased 2.5 times between May 2011 and May 2013. Sadly, this has propelled the United States to join Russia, Nigeria, and Iraq among the world’s top-10 flaring countries.
Although some might argue flaring doesn’t harm the environment as much as venting natural gas directly, flaring does significantly contribute to carbon pollution from the Bakken Formation. In fact, in 2012, natural gas flaring in North Dakota emitted 4.5 million metric tons of carbon dioxide, which is the equivalent of the emissions of 1 million cars! Flaring only partially combusts the natural gas, and it releases many other hazardous pollutants such as black carbon, a major component of soot, which poses many adverse health risks and also contributes significantly to climate disruption.
Unfortunately, under current North Dakota rules, companies get a free pass to flare natural gas for the first year of a well’s production, when a majority of natural gas is emitted. Producers can obtain yet another free pass to flare in the second year if they can show that capturing the natural gas doesn’t make sense economically. But given the significant environmental and public health impacts of flaring, like respiratory and cardiovascular disease, these rules are disastrous and should be overhauled.
Although North Dakota regulators have indicated that their ultimate goal is that only 5 to 10 percent of the state’s co-produced natural gas will be flared, they haven’t specified a date by which they will achieve this goal. However, steps are being taken to reduce flaring. The North Dakota legislature has passed new statutes that will offer tax incentives for producers to capture and use gas, instead of flaring it. Although many oil and gas companies have tried to reduce flaring, the amount of gas actually flared has increased by more than 50 percent between September 2011 and May 2013. It’s projected that the total percentage of flaring will decrease, but the total amount of flared gas will increase until 2020. In fact, in 2012 flaring amounted to a loss of $1 billion in fuel. Until clean energy replaces dirty fossil fuels, the industry should work to find best practices to curb flaring.
Fracking and natural gas production is harmful to communities and families and flaring is but one example of the dangerous effects of this dirty fossil fuel. Ultimately, the only way to ensure a safe, clean, and sustainable energy future is to invest in renewable sources of energy like wind and solar. The time has come to move beyond fossil fuels, save lives, and save the environment.
[Information from Ceres’ report, Flaring Up: North Dakota Natural Gas Flaring More Than Doubles in Two Years]
--Lindsay Garten, Sierra Club Media Team Intern
Oklahoma Republican Congressman Markwayne Mullin represents a state plagued in recent years by devastating tornadoes, droughts, and storms - severe weather that has disrupted life for hundreds of thousands of residents, exacerbated by climate change. There have been nearly 40 weather disaster declarations across the state since 2011 -- so it would be natural to think that the Congressional delegation from the state would be eager to take action to address the crisis. Well, think again. When approached by ThinkProgress recently, Representative Mullin denied there was even a problem. Check out his comments here:
MULLIN: I haven't seen the reports that would get me to believe that anything’s different than the patterns that we had that we've gone through through the time of records.
Haven't seen the reports? Let us google that for you, Congressman Mullin.
Here's the draft of federal government's climate assessment report - an ongoing project authored by 240 scientists that asserts - point blank - that "climate change is already affecting the American people."
In fact, two authors FROM Oklahoma contributed to the section on the effects of climate disruption on Great Plains state like the one where Mullin's constituents live. What'd they find?
The number of days with temperatures over 100 degrees Farenheit are expected to quadruple my mid-century
The number of days when Oklahoma will get no precipitation will increase
Water supplies will decrease, constraining development and stressing natural resources while increasing competition for water
Livestock and agricultural production will be stressed, potentially moving these operations further north
Communities already experiencing extreme weather will only be stressed further by more frequent storms and droughts
And the magnitude of these changes will be much greater than anything we’ve seen in the last 100 years.
And there's more. Scientists just down the road from Mullin's district at the University of Oklahoma in Norman have worked on major research reports highlighting the serious risks of climate change and how Oklahoma policy makers should respond.
Markwayne Mullin may not be a scientist, but he should at least listen to those who are. Their reports aren't hard to find, whether he is in Washington or Oklahoma -- and they are sounding the alarm bell for climate action now.
---Lauren Lantry, Sierra Club Media Team
In recent days, there were new developments in the fight against Northwest coal exports that stopped me in my tracks. Last week, the news broke that the official review of the largest proposed coal export terminal in Washington State will be unprecedented in scope, and will include not only the health and environmental effects of the project, but also the climate impacts of burning the coal in Asia.
This announcement by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the Washington State Department of Ecology, and Whatcom County comes after a blockbuster comment period on the project, where 10,000 people attended standing-room-only public hearings and more than 120,000 submitted written comments.
The agencies announced they will conduct an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for the proposed Cherry Point terminal near Bellingham that will consider the human health effects from coal dust near the proposed terminals as well as in communities along the rail line. They will also assess the effects of the increased marine traffic. And, in an unprecedented move, they also plan to study the massive increase of carbon pollution from burning the exported coal in Asia.
We cheered this response, as it's a true sign of the power of a movement, one that's been built over the past two-and-a-half-years among a very diverse coalition that includes businesses, political officials, the faith community, Native Americans, public health officials, and many more. As demand for coal is plummeting in the U.S., coal companies looking for new overseas markets for their coal are running into a wall of public opposition from local residents and state leaders, who are alarmed about the danger coal exports pose to public health, local economic vitality, clean air and water, and our climate.
On top of that, financial firms are calling coal export terminals a bad investment.
But wait – there's more!
During a press conference announcing the broad scope of the EIS, the Army Corps of Engineers said that they had not heard that the Lummi Nation opposed the project, stunning many observers. This was a strange and confusing statement from the Army Corps, given the powerful public testimony by Lummi leadership at the Cherry Point hearings, several pages of public comments by the Lummi Nation on the scope of the EIS, a resolution passed by the Affiliated Tribes of Northwest Indians opposing this export project and others, and multiple news stories, including this gripping image of tribal members from the Lummi Nation ceremonially burning a symbolic check last year to demonstrate their opposition to the project.
So last week, the Lummi Nation issued a letter to clarify that they are officially opposing the plan to build this coal export terminal near Bellingham that invoked treaty rights, which one media outlet called the "trump card that could kill the coal terminal."
While the Army Corps has a track record of ignoring such vast public outcry, as they did in refusing to conduct a broad review of the cumulative impacts of the multiple coal export proposals in the Northwest, local communities and local decision-makers are standing up to Big Coal to protect all of our futures. The Lummi Nation's leadership on this issue, both over the past year and with this new letter, is a powerful example of that leadership.
I found this section of the Lummi Nation's letter of opposition particularly powerful:
From one recent news report: "Fishing is who we are. Fishing is our culture. And to us, culture is fish. It's just in our blood," said Jerimiah Julius, a Lummi fisherman.
The people are making a difference in this fight against dirty coal exports. Together we are demanding an end to the air and water pollution from the coal industry.
But while we celebrate this good news, the fight is not over. While it's true that the actions of thousands of people brought about this decision to conduct a robust EIS, now, the same must be done for the other proposed coal export terminals planned in the Pacific Northwest.
To that end, we continue to need the huge crowds to show up and speak out at upcoming public hearings on the proposed Longview coal export terminal:
Sept. 17: Cowlitz Expo Center, Longview
Sept. 25: Spokane Convention Center, Spokane
Oct. 1: The Trac Center, Pasco
Oct. 9: Clark County Fairgrounds, Vancouver
Oct. 17: Tacoma Convention Center, Tacoma
Will you join us in speaking out for clean air and water?
-- Mary Anne Hitt, Beyond Coal Campaign Director
In the tropical waters off the coast of Indonesia, a storm is brewing.
In the face of intimidation and human rights abuses by police and government representatives, five villages are standing united against a proposed 2,000 MW coal-fired power plant in Batang, Indonesia. They know that if the plant moves forward, it will destroy their land, their livelihoods, and their health. That’s why, just like communities here in the U.S. are opposing proposed new coal plants, these communities are calling for a halt to this coal project.
The Batang plant would require 200 hectares of ancestral land, displacing numerous families, endangering a marine protected area, and releasing 10.8 million tons of carbon pollution and hundreds of pounds of toxic mercury into the air each year. Who stands to benefit from the project? The foreign investment company PT Bhimasena Power Indonesia, and the Japanese government, which has invested $4 billion in the project. Who stands to lose? The local villagers standing up to protect their air they breathe and the water they drink.
The Indonesian government is pressuring villagers to give up their land for the coal plant in spite of President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono’s pledge to cut Indonesia’s carbon emissions 26 percent by 2020. In fact, as the largest proposed coal plant in Southeast Asia, this single project would emit more carbon pollution than the entire nation of Myanmar.
But Indonesia has an alternative. The country is home to abundant renewable energy resources that can power the country without resorting to dirty, outdated, and deadly coal technology. You can stand with the five villages fighting to protect their way of life, and actual lives, by signing the petition to President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono. Sign it today.
--Vrinda Manglik, Sierra Club International Program Intern
Photo Credit: Nicolò Bonazzi
We're halfway through Shark Week, and many of you have already
taken a break from watching the country's first-ever late-night shark talk show
and taken actions to save the
sharks in the Great Barrier Reef. You may also have learned about the connection between
the decline of the shark population and the burning and dredging of more coal
near their sensitive habitats.
Sadly, there's another way that humans are putting sharks in danger -- shark finning. Unfair trade could exacerbate these and other problems, putting some sharks on a fast track to extinction.
Imagine if a segment on Shark Week showed someone cutting off a part of a fish, then throwing it back to the sea to bleed to death or fall prey to another sea creature. Think that would fly on Discovery? It might not be featured on primetime television, but it's regrettably a huge business. Fishermen around the globe perpetrate this practice known as "finning" on millions of sharks each year. Restaurants then put the fins, void of flavor and nutrition, into an expensive soup. Simply put, shark finning has caused the decline of an important player in our ecosystem.
The shark fin trade has boomed in the past half century and has significantly depleted shark species. The dozen most common shark species in the fin trade all face extinction. Promisingly, more states, countries, and international communities are working together to end this practice. New York, one of the largest markets for shark fins outside of Asia, recently joined seven other U.S. states in passing laws that ban the possession, sale, and trade of shark fins. Additionally, nine Regional Fisheries Management Organizations and nearly 50 countries or states have adopted provisions to regulate, if not ban, the practice of shark finning. The United States also saw progress toward protecting sharks when President Obama signed the Shark Conservation Act in 2011.
Policies that ban shark finning are critical to saving shark species from extinction. So when the U.S. decides to engage in trade with other nations, it's particularly important to uphold and strengthen these significant measures. The U.S. is currently in talks with 11 other Pacific Rim nations to develop a Trans-Pacific Partnership trade pact. Because shark populations in the Pacific Rim, such as the oceanic whitetip, are declining precipitously, sharks and shark finning are on the negotiating table in this trade pact.
Though drafts of the trade pact are not being released to the public, we understand that the United States is pushing a strong conservation proposal that includes specific obligations to conserve shark populations, including actions to deter shark-finning practices. Unfortunately, however, the U.S. proposal -– which is, crucially, legally binding and enforceable -– has thus far met strong resistance from other countries in the trade pact and risks being rolled back, further threatening the shark population.
Moreover, although the U.S. is advancing a strong conservation proposal in the environment chapter of the pact, it is also pushing other proposals that would be extremely damaging to our environment, to the climate, and, therefore, to sharks. The U.S. investment chapter proposal would allow foreign corporations to sue governments over laws and policies that corporations allege reduce their profits. Policies that protect sharks or that safeguard against practices, such as the burning of coal-fired power plants, that affect sharks, could be put at risk as a result of such rules.
The United States and other countries have figured out that more-stringent safeguards are necessary if we want to protect sharks. Yet the measures already in place protect only a small number of shark species, perhaps no more than two percent. If the Trans-Pacific trade pact undercuts these small but significant gains, it might not be long before fishermen have no more sharks to fin, and Shark Week will be forced to move from the Discovery Channel to the History Channel.
--Ilana Solomon, Sierra Club Trade Representative, with help from Chris Chaulk, Sierra Club International Program Intern
Mountain Moral Monday in Asheville. Photo: (c) Don McGowan/EarthSong Photography.
During the longest legislative session in memory, North Carolinians began demonstrating as our state's General Assembly voted to reject federal Medicaid funding for those most in need. Our voices were raised louder as the legislature deliberated cutting a half billion dollars from public-education spending. And we took to the streets in unprecedented numbers when they attacked women's health, our air and water, and our right to vote. Started by a few visionary souls at the NAACP and growing stronger every week, Moral Mondays have shone a bright light on this new General Assembly, which is making laws without regard to their effects on our families, our communities, our planet, and those who need help the most.
To top it all off, the General Assembly even wants to weaken the public's ability to fight back against the extremism. The fundamentals of our democracy were rolled back with the passage ofthe Voting "Reform" Act, which is widely regarded as the worst voter-suppression bill in the country. North Carolina voters will now be required to show ID to vote -- even the 318,000 registered voters who have no acceptable form of photo ID to use and in spite of the fact that there are have been no documented prosecutions of voter impersonation during the past decade.
In addition, early voting has been cut in half, same-day registration has been eliminated, the mandate for high-school voter registration drives has been repealed, limits on campaign contributions have been raised, and disclosure requirements for the money behind political ads have been erased. What kind of government wants to limit access to voting instead of making it easy for people to cast their ballots?
In response, tens of thousands of North Carolinians have come together for Moral Mondays over the past 13 weeks in Raleigh, outside of the State House. An amazing, genuine grassroots movement has been born as citizens from every walk of life and every demographic have come to Raleigh to stand up to the radical legislature and demand a more rational, moral approach to governing. Because the legislature has finally returned home for the session, Moral Monday events are now taking place around the state to keep the movement alive and growing.
On August 5 in Asheville, NC, nearly 10,000 people came from across western North Carolina for the most inspiring demonstration that I've ever been part of. Mountain Moral Monday was organized in just a few short weeks by groups including the NAACP, local churches, the Sierra Club, Lillian's List, the Campaign for Southern Equality, teachers' organizations, and a broad coalition of other concerned constituents. Decisions about funding for public education, protecting the environment, caring for the elderly and the poor, and providing equal access to health care are all based on a fundamental bedrock of democracy: our right to vote. The Sierra Club got involved because we know that can't protect our environment if we don't protect our democracy.
Sierra Club volunteer leader Ken Brame spoke to the massive crowd about the legislature's devastating attacks on our air, water, and health, such as newly passed laws that will allow more pollution into our groundwater, eliminate environmental watchdog commissions and boards, restrict local government's abilities to hold polluters accountable, and repeal existing safeguards against air pollution from heavy-duty trucks.These blatant assaults on our health and planet are just a few of the entries in the long list of this legislature's failings that have driven so many to speak out.
That's why environmentalists stood shoulder to shoulder with civil rights activists, teachers, faith leaders, champions for equality, women's rights advocates, moms, dads, grandparents, and kids, ready to fight back. And we started on Monday by registering voters, getting organized, signing up new supporters and rallying with the chant, "Forward Together, Not One Step Back."
At the Mountain Moral Monday, Reverend Barber, director of the NC NAACP, said of the NC General Assembly, "Instead of depressing us, they've made us determined to fight. Instead of dividing us, they have united us."
Thank you North Carolina legislature. You have incited a movement for justice, democracy, and equality in our once great state, the likes of which have not been seen in North Carolina for decades. As Moral Mondays travel across the state, the voice of the people will finally be heard.--Kelly Martin, Senior Campaign Representative -- Beyond Coal, Asheville, North Carolina
This week, the Sierra Club was invited to an exciting briefing by the ethnic media consortium New America Media (NAM) presenting findings of the Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC)'s 13th annual survey, "Californians and the Environment." The poll looked into the opinions of Californians of different ethnic and racial groups on climate disruption, energy policies, and pollution.
The briefing was held at the World Affairs Council in downtown San Francisco. A panel of five climate and social issue experts evaluated the findings of the poll: Sandy Close, executive director of NAM; Michel Gelobter, climate strategist and CEO of Cooler, a climate change reduction firm; Rue Mapp, founder of OutdoorAfro.com, a group that works to get African American communities out into nature; Sonja Petek, research associate for the PPIC; and Miya Yoshitani, associate director of Asian Pacific Environmental Network (APEN), a group that is actively involved in many environmental justice issues that affect Asian and Pacific islander communities.
According to Ms. Mapp, the findings of the poll "reveal what we already know: People of color do care about mitigation of our environmental challenges." The survey found that 65 percent of California Latinos and 55 percent of blacks consider climate change a very serious threat: 20-points higher than concern among whites. Black and Latino respondents were also more likely than whites to support state programs and regulations to address climate change. Panelists unanimously agreed that these findings may reflect the fact that communities of color are more likely to be exposed to pollution.
Another finding of the survey addressed disparities in regional air pollution: 69 percent of Latinos and 64 percent of African Americans think air pollution is worse in low-income communities, as opposed to only 34 percent of whites. Ms. Yoshitani said, "Low-income communities know they are 'first and worst' when it comes to impacts and they want to see direct improvement in these areas."
At Monday's briefing, panelists also addressed the controversial topics of fracking (the process of hydraulic fracturing for natural gas) and nuclear power. According to the poll, only 35 percent of adults in California support increased use of fracking in the state, while 50 percent of Californians oppose it, with Latinos and African Americans showing the most skepticism about fracking. A majority of Californians surveyed also oppose the construction of more nuclear plants in California.
The official report and press release for the event can be found here.
-- Dan Onken, Sierra Club Media Intern
Sometimes it's best to take a kayak to a coal fight.
In conjunction with the Sierra Club's release of a major report on Big Coal's water pollution last week, Tennessee activists -- using the opportunity to highlight the pollution from coal plants operated by the Tennessee Valley Authority -- took to the kayaks, floating on the Cumberland River in downtown Nashville and McKellar Lake in Memphis with signs that read, "Let's move TVA beyond coal."
"Coal is not only dirty, it's more expensive than the alternatives," said the chapter's conservation chairman, Scott Banbury, as reported in The Tennessean. "We are encouraging the TVA to move away from coal to renewables like wind and solar."
Tennessee's eight coal plants are among hundreds in the U.S. that have depended on loopholes and the lack of coal water-pollution safeguards to protect families and communities from harmful, toxic coal pollution discharge.
The report didn't just showcase TVA's lousy record in Tennessee. In Alabama, where the TVA also operates, The Birmingham News detailed the report's findings that "three Alabama Power Company generating plants are polluting the Black Warrior River system -- the Miller Plant, the Gorgas Plant and the Greene County Plant. It says the pollution affects Bankhead Lake, which is used for drinking water," the article stated. The Miller Plant in Jefferson County, in particular, produced more than 5 million pounds of toxic waste in 2010.
The report, entitled Closing the Floodgates (pdf), found that of the 274 coal plants surveyed, more than a third are not required to monitor discharges; 71 percent leave toxic pollution in rivers, lakes, and other waterways; and nearly half operate with an expired Clean Water Act permit.
After the report's release, industry spokespeople were on the defensive, disputing the severity of Big Coal's water pollution. What's not in dispute: The 2008 Kingston plant disaster in Tennessee spilled 5 million cubic yards of coal ash -- a result of TVA's neglect.
Tennessee activists want to avoid a repeat of that disaster. They are calling for "increasing standards that will force the coal industry to make investments make sure that the water that they're discharging is clean and not posing any risk to people and the wildlife, and we hope the EPA will move forward with that," Banbury said in this local Fox affiliate news segment.
You don't need a kayak to show your support. Tell the Environmental Protection Agency that we need the strongest possible safeguards against toxic wastewater.
-- Brian Foley
Haze pollution in Beijing. Photo credit: David Barrie
Just how serious is China about reducing its consumption of coal? China's environmental minister recently announced that the government is quite serious about tackling its massive environmental problems by committing 1.7 trillion yuan -- about $277 billion -- to the fight against air pollution, in particular the highly dangerous pollutant PM2.5 or soot. With a diameter of less than 2.5 microns, or smaller than the width of a human hair, soot particles lodge deep in our lungs and bloodstream, leading to heart attacks, lung damage, and thousands of premature deaths each year. In fact, in 2010, soot accounted for approximately 1.2 million premature deaths in China.
To reach its goal, China's State Council has established ten measures that cover a wide range of environmental activities or fields: from laws and regulations; to the production of steel, cement, and other industry practices; to everyday behaviors and norms. For example, the government will push major industries to cut their emissions by 30 percent in the next five years. Such measures are crucial to confront the severe environmental and health risks from coal, which has hit the areas around Hebei -- the industrial area that is wreaking havoc on Beijing -- especially hard. In fact, six out of the ten most polluted cities in China lie in this region, including Beijing. And while soot levels may have dropped sharply since January 2013, those levels are still double the national air-quality standards the government has set (see chart below).
By adopting such measures, China is indicating that it wants to slice its use of coal by 120 million tons -- the amount of coal used each year by Japan (the third biggest coal consumer in the world). China's action signals both an understanding of the negative effects of coal for its environment as well as for its economy. The West Australian Premier Colin Barrett, Goldman Sachs, and billionaire investor Warren Buffett have each recently also echoed the impending decline of the use of coal.
The Sierra Club eagerly awaits the announcement of China's new measures to combat air pollution. China is clearly taking this issue seriously by investing $277 billion in its efforts. To put that in perspective, the U.S. committed $85 billion in implementing the Clean Air Act Amendments of 1990. As grave as the environmental problems facing many of China's cities may be, concerted efforts to change industry, the law, and social norms could put China on the path to a cleaner future.
--Chris Chaulk, Sierra Club International Campaign Intern
UPDATE (8/9/13): For a second time, the Australian government has delayed a final decision on dredging within the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Site to build one of the world's largest coal terminals, claiming it needs more information before moving forward. Once again, coal projects are showing themselves to be much riskier investments than the industry claims. Additionally, the World Heritage Committee has expressed suprise that they were not informed of the plan to dredge within the World Heritage Site, and has told the government the plan should be put on hold.
UPDATE (8/8/13): Austrialia's Environment Minister Mark Butler has decided to postpone by almost three months a decision on Kevin's Corner, one of the two mega coal mines with connections to the U.S. Export Import Bank. This is a victory because it's yet another delay for dangerous export projects that have struggled greatly as global financiers have begun to end support, but it might be too soon to celebrate. On Friday, Minister Butler will decide whether or not to allow millions of tons of coal dredging to move forward within the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Site to build the world's largest coal export terminal, Abbot Point. This week's decision on Kevin's Corner sends a strong message that the risks of dangerous coal projects must be taken into account, and we hope Minister Butler reaffirms this message on Friday.
Photo Credit: Jon Connell
If you own a television set, computer, smartphone, or any other form of technology, you probably know it’s Shark Week, Discovery’s celebration of the fanged fish and America’s favorite time to indulge in shark-related television.
But in between viewings of “Sharknado” and “Sharkpocalypse,” let’s take a minute to think about what life would be like without these fascinating creatures. Not only would there be no summer Shark Week binge-fests, but whole ecological systems would fall apart.
Take the Great Barrier Reef, for example.
For years, the Great Barrier Reef has inspired awe for its rich ecological diversity and the natural beauty of its coral reefs, which are home to over 134 species of sharks and rays. Such wonder motivated UNESCO, a specialized agency of the United Nations, to proclaim it as “the first ocean region” on the list of its World Heritage sites in 1981. But while sharks once ruled in the reef, today it’s people that pose the greatest threat to this natural wonder’s many species, great and small. Fossil fuel corporations and parts of the Australian government are pushing plans to start massive coal mining in the country’s interior, and then dredge within the Reef to build new terminals for export.
Expended coal ports and shipping will wreak havoc on the Reef, which is already threatened by climate disruption, and burning more coal will only make the climate crisis even worse. Should the Australian government approve such plans, the World Heritage Committee has warned it could put the Reef on its “in danger” list, something Members of Parliament acknowledge would be “a total embarrassment” for the country.
But a coal export facility in the middle of the reef isn’t just some crazy scheme cooked up by cartoonish villains. Media reports claim the U.S. government, specifically the U.S. Export-Import Bank (Ex-Im), is preparing to step in and help finance the efforts of two Indian conglomerates, Adani and GVK, to open up Australia’s Galilee Basin to coal. If the Galilee Basin plans go through, it could lead to 10,000 ships loaded with toxic coal passing through the Great Barrier Reef every year, as well as releasing 200 million cars worth of pollution. If Ex-Im approves these projects, it would go against the spirit of President Obama’s Climate Action Plan -- in which he pledged to end public financing of overseas coal -- and would be a step back for Ex-Im after they recently rejected financing a coal plant in Vietnam.
Not only does the Reef’s fate portend a tragic, embarrassing day for Australia, it does not even make financial sense. While voices within the coal industry contend that blocking coal port projects would put Australia at a disadvantage, economic researchers indicate the exact opposite. Consider the Alpha coal mine, port and rail project, for which Australian rail operator AURIZON has been working with GVK to secure billions in financing. The US-based Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis (IEEFA) released a report in June and called the project "a quagmire, not an investment."
Simply too much is at stake for the Australian government to approve more destructive coal projects, let alone for the U.S. government to finance them with our tax dollars.
So this Shark Week (during commercial breaks, of course), stand up for cat sharks and wobbegongs, tiger sharks and hammerheads, and all the other sharks that call the Great Barrier Reef home.
Help restore sharks to their natural place as the Reef’s top predators by sharing this graphic on Facebook and tweeting at Export-Import Bank President Fred Hochberg (@fredhochberg) and telling him to #SaveTheReef this #SharkWeek.
--Chris Chaulk, Sierra Club International Campaign Intern