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Wildlife is fighting back against big coal--the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), that is.
Yesterday, WWF filed a complaint against the world’s largest private coal company, Peabody Energy. The complaint, filed with Belgium’s Jury d’Ethique Publicitaire (JEP), alleges that an advertisement Peabody ran in the European edition of the Financial Times breaks JEP’s code for honest advertising.
While Peabody makes its billions though dirty coal, its advertisement scheme attempts to put the coal titan among the ranks of “clean, modern technology.” With a clean energy revolution thriving, Peabody is desperate to keep coal on top and wind and solar just out of reach for those who need it most.
When the ad appeared, WWF was quick to act.
“As coal loses ground in developed countries to more modern sustainable alternatives, Peabody is marketing its dangerous technologies onto those poorest countries with the least development options,” Tony Long, director of WWF European Policy Office, said in a press release.
“Trying to sell coal to poor people as a path to better and healthier lives is socially irresponsible and morally wrong. We already know that poor countries are most affected by climate change, and are the least equipped to fight its negative impacts.”
Specifically, WWF alleges that in the advertisement, Peabody “fails to disclose that the core of its operations is coal mining and supplying coal-fired power plants; claims that energy poverty is ‘the world’s number one human and environmental crisis’; claims that ‘clean, modern energy’, meaning so-called advanced clean coal technologies, is ‘the solution for better, longer and healthier lives’ misleading readers as to the negative climate, environmental and health impacts of coal pollution; uses absolute and misleading assertions such as ‘clean coal’ that are not substantiated by relevant scientific evidence and commercial application.”
In fact, the International Energy Agency (IEA) released a report that revealed the majority of energy access investments need to be in distributed clean energy in the form of mini-grids and off-grid interventions--not coal--if global energy poverty has a hope of being solved.Graphic from IEA report page 22
According to the IEA, “modern energy access for all by 2030 would therefore require more than three-times the expected level of investment in the New Policies Scenario, growing from $14 billion per year to $48 billion per year.”
The New Policies Scenario, outlined in the 2011 IEA report, “takes account of broad policy commitments and plans that have been announced by countries, including national pledges to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions and plans to phase out fossil-energy subsidies.”
This includes the “450 Scenario” to limit global temperature increase to 2°C, the “Efficient World Scenario” for energy savings to improve energy efficiency, and the “Energy for All Case” which “estimates the additional investment required to meet[...] the goal of achieving universal modern energy access by 2030 [...].”
With an increase in investments in these New Policies Scenarios, we can expect an increase in investments in clean energy, because when it comes to energy access, distributed clean energy is simply the right tool for the job.
The Sierra Club stands with the World Wildlife Fund’s efforts to hold the coal industry accountable while working toward a clean energy future.
--Justin Guay, Associate Director, Sierra Club International Climate Program
Japan was facing darkness.
Three years after the March 2011 Tohoku earthquake, Japan’s energy capacity was rapidly reaching its peak going in to the high-energy summer months. A tremendous amount of conventional generation capacity--including the entire nuclear fleet--was unavailable, and the country faced the risk of power cuts. But miraculously, or seemingly so, in just a few short weeks, Japan managed to avert the rolling power cuts that many believed inevitable. Even more impressive, Japan has turned these emergency measures into lasting solutions.
So how did a country on the brink of blackout suddenly meet their country’s energy needs without forcing people back to the stone age? Japan overcame this daunting task by tapping the cheapest and most widely available source of energy savings available--energy efficiency.
Much of the electricity savings were initially driven by a popular movement known as “Setsuden.” This movement emerged to encourage people and companies to save electricity and prevent rolling power cuts. Simple measures such as upping the thermostat by a few degrees in homes and offices, 'thinning' lighting by reducing the use of some lightbulbs, cutting back on the use of big screens and exterior lighting, and powering down electric toilet seats--a Japanese peculiarity--enabled Japan to dramatically reduce power demand almost overnight. Dress codes in offices were even eased to ensure employees were more comfortable in light of the changes, and both large and small companies were audited to identify savings potential.
These temporary measures have proven to have long term impact. They've dramatically increased the awareness of energy use and energy efficiency with large companies now running high-profile, long-lasting programs. Japan’s economy and gross domestic product (GDP) grew and power consumption stayed stable thanks to these newly ingrained practices.
More importantly, there is huge potential for technical measures to reduce energy usage even further--a resource Japan has only just begun to tap.
What's even more surprising is how far off the energy pundits were in predicting the impact this would have on Japan. Aside from worrying that the sky would fall, the pundits made dire predictions about the need to replace the nuclear fleet with 'cheap coal'--a myth we previously debunked.
Fortunately, through a combination of common sense energy saving measures, Japan instead turned to permanent efficiency gains. In the process, the Japanese people and its business community proved the pundits wrong.
The key lesson from the Japanese experience--the lesson pundits failed to appreciate--is that coal plant construction is simply too slow to be relevant in the modern world where resiliency is highly valued. To cope with rapid loss of generation capacity, Japan needed fast, nimble and modular 21st century solutions. That means efficiency and clean energy.
Despite major hurdles to deploying these solutions, due to a complete absence of renewable energy policies prior to the Fukushima disaster, solar power surged in 2013 blowing away earlier predictions. In fact, Japan invested the most money in solar power of any country in 2013, and this investment is expected to grow rapidly in the coming years.
In contrast, coal power projects proposed in the wake of Fukushima are still sitting on the drawing board. By the time these coal projects are projected to be online, their output will be rendered obsolete due to the rapidly dropping price of renewable energy. Even worse, these investments lock Japan into a volatile international coal market.
Japan should scrap these coal plans all together. Japan needs to look no further than India's recent imported coal debacle - Tata Mundra - for a warning of what that market can do to energy security. Coal investments there have knocked India into a market relying on volatile, dangerous fossil fuels that Indians can’t rely on.
At the end of the day, a nation can’t achieve energy security by depending on coal. Aligning energy investments with the need to address climate disruption is a critical concern to protect the health of communities and families. Replacing half of the nuclear fleet with efficiency is just one step in the right direction for an advanced country like Japan. As scientists continue to warn of the impending global greenhouse gas emissions peak, Japan must begin reducing its emissions--not increasing them with more fossil fuels. The easiest and most important step it can take is removing the illusion of the need for new coal-burning power plants.
After all, the efficiency gains and promising developments with clean energy show that Japan can be a leader in 21st century energy solutions.
--Justin Guay, Associate Director of Sierra Club's International Climate Program, and Lauri Myllyvirta, Greenpeace
As the father of an asthmatic child, and as a person of faith, I'm grateful for the Clean Air Act. That might seem like an odd introduction, but let me explain.
Last fall, Representative Paul Gosar (R-AZ) complained that, in enforcing the standards of the Clean Air Act, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has "overreached" its authority. Overreach - that mental picture might seem scary to some: the hand of big government imposing its way into our lives to tell us what we can and cannot do.
As a Christian, though, the image that comes to my mind when I think of overreach is very different. On the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, against a clear blue sky, God over-reaches space and time. In the touching of two fingers, heaven and earth meet, and Adam "became a living soul" (Genesis 2:7b). According to the second creation story, God took the dust of the earth and gave it human form. But the lump just lays there, inert, lifeless, until God breathed spirit---the Hebrew word is ruach, "breath" - into Adam's lungs.
That Biblical story takes on real flesh and blood as I'm desperately racing to the emergency room with my son, Aaron, in the seat beside me. It's another bad air quality day where I live, and Aaron is having yet another asthma attack. His face is ashen and his lips are sky blue as he tries to suck in the life giving air that he can't force into his lungs. I reach out my hand across the seat to him---to assure him, to assure myself---but he's too weak to even lift his fingers up to meet mine. There is no breath in him.
I carry him in my arms, limp as a ragdoll, into the emergency room where doctors and nurses who meet us at the door. I watch as their hands reach out to heal. Aaron's breath is restored. Standing next to his bed I can't talk without crying, so I just make an OK sign with my hand, a question in my eyes. He lifts up his hand so his OK meets my OK. Overreach.
It could have been much worse for Aaron. The reason there aren't more bad air quality days like this for Aaron and for millions of others was because, in 1970, Republicans on one side of the aisle and Democrats on the other side of the isle reached their hands across the partisan divide to create the Clean Air Act.
The reason there aren't more bad days like this for Aaron and for millions of others was because a Republican president, reached over, pen in hand, to signed the Clean Air Act into law. As a result, according to the Union of Concerned Scientists, some 400,000 premature deaths have been prevented.
Here in Arizona, the EPA is proposing to reduce harmful nitrogen oxide (NOx) emissions from the Navajo Generating Station (NGS), a coal plant that is one of the largest sources of NOx emissions in the U.S. as well as from the Apache, Coronado, Sundt, and Cholla generating stations. NOx is a key ingredient in both ozone and fine particulate pollution, both very dangerous forms of pollution.
Every year, air pollution from these coal plants contributes to significant health problems including heart attacks, asthma attacks, hospital admissions, emergency room visits, chronic bronchitis, and costing Arizonans hundreds of millions of dollars in health expenses. Certain groups are especially vulnerable to the effects of air pollution, such as: infants, older adults and people with lung diseases like asthma.
Smokestack pollution from NGS also adds to smog haze in 11 national parks and wilderness areas surrounding the plant, including the Grand Canyon, which is less than 20 miles away. Emissions from the Apache, Coronado, and Cholla coal plants add to dirty air at 18 national parks and wilderness areas in four states. The Sundt plant, right in Tucson, affects our public lands and the public health of those in surrounding neighborhoods.
We should not have to wait decades for clean air. We need strong clean air standards that include the most protective pollution control technology to safeguard our health and our environment now, as well as that of future generations. I thank God for the Clean Air Act, and for the people who are willing to stand up in the name of life and healing and common sense. I hope Rep. Gosar can be one of those people who "overreaches" across the aisle to support strong EPA clean air standards.
- Rev. Doug Bland, Director of Arizona Interfaith Power & Light
Our world faces an unprecedented environmental, social, and economic challenge-- climate disruption. As the most recent report from the International Panel on Climate Change notes, the impacts of climate change are already being felt around the world as seas rise, extreme weather events increase, areas suffer drought or flood, and plants and animals edge closer to extinction. Scientists agree that fossil fuels are the main culprit behind climate disruption and as a new Sierra Club report details, it is vitally important that undeveloped dirty fuels remain that way.
Using publicly available data already gathered by federal agencies, the report, Dirty Fuels, Clean Futures (PDF), calculates the potential carbon dioxide emissions from dirty fuel development proposals. Such calculations send a clear message: Actions to effectively reducing climate disruption must include keeping dirty fuels in the ground.
Four major potential sources of carbon pollution have been identified, the Arctic Ocean, the Green River Formation, the Powder River Basin, and the Monterey, San Juan Basin and Marcellus shale plays. If just a fraction of the oil, gas and coal from these major climate disrupters was developed, the resulting carbon pollution would cancel out our country's greatest accomplishments in the fight against climate disruption--efforts like the Obama administrations new fuel economy standards.
Thankfully, President Obama can take pragmatic actions to keep dirty fuels in the ground and speed our country down the path to clean energy future. Over the remainder of his time in office he has an opportunity to:
- Fully implement his Executive Order 13514 requiring all resource management agencies to fully consider climate pollution, like they do other types of pollution, prior to leasing or exporting onshore and offshore oil, gas, coal, and unconventional fuels sources such as oil shale and tar sands.
- Stop any new leasing of federal oil, gas, and coal until potential environmental, climate, and public health impacts are fully considered, including:
- Withdrawing plans to allow development of oil shale and tar sands on 800,000 acres of federal public lands in Colorado, Utah, and Wyoming.
- No issuance of new federal coal leases until reforms that increase royalty rates, set sensitive lands aside, insure public transparency, and fully assess impacts from all aspects of coal production are implemented.
- Withdrawing plans to offer any new offshore oil leases in the Arctic Ocean.
- No issuance of any new oil and gas leases on federal lands that use fracking and well stimulation techniques until impacts on water, air, and climate are averted.
- Close oil, gas, and coal industry exemptions from environmental and public safety laws.
- Stop the export of coal and liquefied natural gas.
By showing leadership and taking these actions, President Obama can put the world on a path to avert climate catastrophe and create a clean-energy future that generates quality jobs, protects public health, and secures a wild lands legacy for our children’s future. He can bolster his National Climate Action Plan and secure the progress that his administration has made in reducing domestic carbon emissions.
-- Dan Chu, Director of the Sierra Club Our Wild America campaign
On the coast of India’s Gulf of Kutch in Western Gujarat, near a small town called Mundra, an iconic fight against Tata Power’s Mundra coal plant is brewing. This fight has become the epicenter of a “rousing struggle” against coal expansion - and a microcosm of India’s election politics.
A small group of local fisherfolk are opposing the plant and leading a campaign that exposes the dark side of unchecked coal development and contradictions in the campaign of leading Prime Ministerial candidate Narendra Modi.
In a country that recently made headlines for the largest power outage in history, Gujarat is an anomaly – it has a power surplus. That, along with industry-friendly policies including a heavy emphasis on special economic zones (SEZs), has helped propel the state's Chief Minister, Narendra Modi, to become the primary challenger in the race for prime minister. Indeed, the idea Modi's campaign has touted about Gujarat energy development is something many Indians aspire to.
Even more appealing is that Modi's power surplus has been supported by a 'saffron revolution' thanks to dramatic solar expansion. A true anomaly in coal-dependent India.
But despite Modi’s fervent support for solar energy, Gujarat is also home to some of the biggest coal plants in the country. Power companies are building a series of 16 ultra mega coal power plants (UMPPs) to stem the power crisis, including Tata Power’s flagship Mundra coal plant, or “Tata Mundra.” But the projects have exposed just how poorly the industry is now performing, and just how desperate the need is to diversify India’s energy mix away from coal.
Tata Mundra has been a debacle since day one. Despite abundant promises of cheap power, Tata Mundra’s costs have skyrocketed, forcing it to raise rates for average citizens. Worse, it has set a harmful precedent in the country: it’s the first project to be exempt from a legally binding contract by the Central Electricity Regulatory Commission in order to raise rates and boost profits. Tata Mundra will be defending the exemptions in courts for years to come as states and consumers appeal these decisions.
The devastation to locals from this project is even more grim. Tata Mundra has burdened local fishermen by diverting waterways and releasing thermal pollution that kills fish for miles along the coast.
That’s why local fisherman have filed for a full audit of the World Bank Group’s financing of the project. The audit’s damning findings were swept under the rug by World Bank President Dr. Kim, but are once again under investigation by another international financier -- the Asian Development Bank.
Rampant, unchecked industrialization is ravaging the environment and the social fabric of India’s coasts, and Modi’s political enemies know it. Arvind Kejriwal, chief of an opposing political party, traveled to Gujarat to “tour" the development progress of the state.
While Gujarat has seen large industrial growth, it’s also home to some of the lowest social indicators in the country. In fact, Gujarat represents one of the lowest per-capita, per-day earnings for salaried people in the country. Most Indians don’t see these facts, thanks to Modi’s impressive marketing campaign.
But it’s not just opposing political parties who are highlighting the contradictions inherent in Modi’s state and campaign. Already the Congress party has organized several political rallies up and down Gujarat’s heavily industrialized coastline to appeal to fishing communities affected by coal development. The message: end environmental destruction.
Modi’s association with some of the world’s largest coal projects will undoubtedly darken the candidate’s image. It may even put him in the same company as India’s current Environment Minister “Oily Moily.”
As Indians head to the polls, what’s happening in Mundra could end up ultimately defining Modi and his plan for the nation.
--Justin Guay, Associate Director, Sierra Club International Climate Program
Did you know that chemical companies, pharmaceutical manufacturers, and the industrial waste industry are exempt from a law requiring companies handling hazardous waste to protect public health and the environment?
The Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) was enacted in 1976, but in 2008 the Bush Administration exempted these companies handling the most dangerous substances from complying. This new rule was called "The Definition of Solid Waste" (DSW).
Take a look at the chemicals slipping through this regulatory gap:
- Solvents like benzene, toluene, TCE and perc (linked to cancer, low birth weight, miscarriages, major malformations, and heart defects)
- Heavy metals like arsenic, lead, and mercury - potent neurotoxins and carcinogens
In 2011, thanks to legal challenge from the Sierra Club, as represented by EarthJustice, and due to the advocacy of environmental justice, civil rights, public health and other organizations, the EPA completed a groundbreaking environmental justice analysis and found that DSW's lax rules for hazardous waste disproportionately affected communities of color and low-income communities:
- Hundreds of sites where toxic releases have occurred in the past are consistently located in communities of color and low-income communities.
- The 2008 DSW rule removes opportunities for public participation in siting and permitting decisions, disenfranchising non-white and low-income communities from critical decisions affecting their health and livelihoods.
- The industries exempt from federal controls are often located in areas that already face exposure to multiple environmental hazards, and already have high cancer rates and neurological hazard rates as a result of exposure to pollution.
In fact, in Illinois and Idaho, almost every hazardous waste recycling facility operating under the regulatory exemption is located in a community of color and low-income community.
The 2011 legal challenge required the EPA to publish a new DSW rule in 2012, but the EPA had taken no action until last month. On March 15, 2014, the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) finally began its regulatory review of the EPA's DSW rule.
The Sierra Club is part of a coalition of public interest organizations and individuals from across the U.S. that supports a DSW standard that protects our health, environment and livelihood from hazardous waste released from recycling operations. Together we are urging the administration to abide by the 90-day limit for review of this rule and to publish a final DSW rule by July 1, 2014.
The delay in issuing a final rule is exacting a high toll on communities of color and low-income communities. Since 1982, hazardous waste recycling has polluted more than 200 sites, including many on the Superfund National Priority List, which identifies the worst toxic waste sites in the nation. The EPA found that the majority of the contamination at these sites occurred when recycling operations were exempted from compliance with safeguards under the RCRA.
This is why the final DSW rule must reinstate these essential safeguards. There is an urgent need to close this gap for the health of the nation and particularly for environmental justice communities. The rule impacts management of 1.8 million tons of hazardous waste, predominantly in communities of color and in low-income communities.
Any further delay is unacceptable while toxic releases to air and water poison fenceline neighborhoods at recycling operations. We call on the OMB, the EPA, and the Obama administration to ensure that this important rule receives the priority it deserves so that the safety of the nation’s most vulnerable communities can be ensured now and for future generations.
-- Leslie Fields, Director of the Sierra Club Environmental Justice and Community Partnerships Program
In the wake of dangerous coal chemical and coal ash spills in their states already this year, West Virginia and North Carolina voters have gotten a wake-up call on the need for environmental and public health protections - and they know it.
According to two recent polls conducted by Hart Research on behalf of the Sierra Club, a majority of West Virginians and North Carolinians believe that it is high time to get serious by taking action on policy that protects our families and communities.
On January 9th, a coal chemical plant owned by Freedom Industries spilled 7,500 gallons of toxic 4-methylcyclohexane methanol - part of the coal production process - into the Elk River, just upstream of the largest water treatment plant in West Virginia. The contamination affected drinking water for 300,000 people across nine counties in the Kanawha Valley. Local emergency rooms treated 169 patients for symptoms related to chemical exposure, and ten people were admitted to hospitals for non-life-threatening symptoms.
West Virginians were shocked and angry. According to a poll conducted between February 4th – 7th, 73 percent of Mountain State voters agree that their state "has spent too little attention to addressing threats to air and water, and that the Elk River spill is a wakeup call that things must change."
More than two in three voters across the political spectrum say that "stronger regulations and better enforcement of existing regulations would have prevented the spill" (79 percent of Democrats, 71 percent of independents, and 57 percent of Republicans).
And 62 percent of voters say they would be more likely to support a candidate who favors "strong regulations and enforcement to protect the water, air, and health of West Virginians."
"You can throw the coal industry's conventional wisdom out the window," says Mary Anne Hitt, Director of the Sierra Club's Beyond Coal Campaign. "[These polls are] yet another indication that Republicans, Democrats, and Independents in coal-dependent states want leaders who will stand up to big coal companies and enact common-sense initiatives to protect our air, our water, and our families from toxic coal ash and pollution."
North Carolinians received a similar shock in early February, when a Duke Energy facility spilled tens of thousands of tons of coal ash into North Carolina's Dan River. What's more, the Southern Environmental Law Center says that this plant has been leeching arsenic, boron, and sulfate into groundwater for years, and that "Duke Energy had experienced coal ash structural failures at three of its other facilities in North Carolina."
Voters in the Tar Heel state responded powerfully. A March 10th - 13th poll found that 63 percent of voters think state leaders are not doing enough to protect the state's rivers and streams from contamination. And an overwhelming 83 percent of North Carolinians feel that coal ash should be treated as a hazardous substance that needs to be regulated.
The issue crosses party lines here too, with overwhelming majorities of Democrats (91 percent), independents (85 percent), and Republicans (75 percent) all supporting designating coal ash as a hazardous substance.
If all of this wasn't bad enough news for big coal and special interests, voters in both states hold the coal industry responsible. Two-thirds of West Virginians say that the coal industry bears some or a lot of the responsibility for air and water contamination, while 70 percent of North Carolinians say Duke Energy is totally or mostly to blame for the spill.
The so-called conventional wisdom peddled by the coal industry has been turned on its head, and even in coal country the results are clear: voters want leaders who won't cave to the special interests in the coal industry and who will stand up for clean water and public health protections. It's time our elected officials started paying attention.
-- David Shadburn, Sierra Club Intern
Yesterday afternoon, the Senate Finance Committee advanced a critically important package of renewable energy tax credits, moving one step closer toward renewing these expiring or expired investments that help support clean energy jobs all over the country. The package includes the progressive renewable energy production tax credit (PTC) - key policies originally enacted to support the development of renewable energy production facilities here at home, boosting the American wind industry. But four months ago, those credits expired, resulting in job losses nationwide as the rug was pulled out from under the thriving wind sector - all while fossil fuel companies counted among the most profitable in the world continued to get massive tax handouts.
Today, the Senate Finance Committee gave a bipartisan vote of support to these wind investments, passing a successful mark-up of legislation including the wind energy PTC that should lead to consideration on the Senate floor soon.
The clearest sign of support for wind jobs and clean energy came in the face of opposition. Senator Pat Toomey, a Republican from Pennsylvania, attempted to pass an amendment that would have crippled clean energy investments -- only to be met by a stiff wind of bipartisan support for these vital job-creating credits.
Toomey was only able to rally five Republicans to his side. Republican Senators John Cornyn, Mike Crapo, Rob Portman, and John Thune joined 13 Democrats in supporting wind energy, sending Toomey’s amendment to the scrap heap by a vote of 6 to 18.
Senator Chuck Grassley - an Iowa Republican from a state with a thriving wind industry - dismissed the argument that supporting the wind PTC is akin to “picking winners and losers” as intellectually dishonest, pointing to long standing oil, gas, and nuclear subsidies.
Michigan Democrat Debbie Stabenow agreed, saying oil and gas tax credits were not part of the package under consideration “because we picked them to win a long time ago.”
As wind power supports tens of thousands of American jobs and powers homes and businesses across the country, its a wonder that the package didn’t receive unanimous support. That’s particularly true when you look at the impact wind has had in the home states of the small handful of Senators who opposed the package.
Kansas Republican Pat Roberts opposed the wind investments in spite of the fact that more than 870,000 homes in the Jayhawk state are wind-powered, and upwards of 5,000 Kansans work in the wind industry.
North Carolina’s Richard Burr seemingly voted in opposition to the 23 wind facilities currently operating in his home state, where combined production from offshore and onshore wind power is capable of exceeding the state’s energy needs seven times over.
Georgia serves as one of the headquarters for GE - the second largest manufacturer in the wind industry in the world. Yet, Georgia Republican Johnny Isakson voted against the jobs in his state.
Wyoming wind powers 400,000 homes, but Senator Mike Enzi opposed wind investments. Utah’s Orrin Hatch rejected wind tax credits while hundreds of Utah residents work in wind.
Most egregious, though, is Toomey, who sponsored the assault on wind energy in spite of 4,000 Pennsylvanians working in the wind industry, 300,000 homes running on wind power, and 18% of his state’s energy pledged to come from clean energy by 2021. Had Toomey’s amendment passed, he would have undercut not just this goal, but all of the Pennsylvania jobs wind will create.
Senators from both parties stood up for wind today - and we expect them to again do so when this legislation reaches the Senate floor. The numbers don’t lie - wind is creating jobs and powering homes and businesses from coast to coast.
Money Out, Voters In: Unity at the Supreme Court and Nationwide against McCutcheon’s Assault on Democracy
Protesting the McCutcheon decision outside the Supreme Court on Wednesday
Just hours after the Supreme Court declared aggregate campaign contribution limits unconstitutional, opening the floodgates to even more corrupting corporate money in politics, Sierra Club members joined our allies from the Democracy Initiative and other organizations at rallies across the country to express outrage and unity.
At a rally on the steps of the Supreme Court in Washington D.C., George Kohl, Senior Director of the Communications Workers of America (CWA) eloquently expressed what everyone was thinking.
“It sucks, and our members are pissed off about it!”
This ruling will only directly affect about 1,200 people who had hit the previous limit of giving a total $120,000 directly to candidates and parties - an amount out-of-reach for almost every other American. Now, they’ll be legally allowed to dump upwards of $3.6 million every election. But though just a handful are directly impacted by the change, Nick Nyhart, President and CEO of Public Campaign, made it clear the impact on the rest of the country would be hard to ignore.
“This is a political gift for millionaires and billionaires,” Nyhart said, declaring that the ruling amounted to “Government of, by, and for the campaign contributors.”
These 1,200 people will be sure to take advantage of the new ruling. Courtney Hight, Director of the Sierra Club’s Democracy Program, pointed out that after the Court’s 2010 decision in the Citizens United case allowed unlimited outside spending, the Koch Brothers alone spent more in 2012 than the entire McCain campaign did in 2008.
That’s of particular concern to those of us fighting for healthy communities and a healthy planet, as these decisions allow oil barons like the Kochs to pour even more money into elections.
An outspoken champion for protecting the public interest, Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) joined the rally in Washington and told of the dangers of the Supreme Court’s flawed decision.
“What the Supreme Court has said today is that big money should be the dominant factor in the U.S. political process,” the Senator shouted. “This is not what people fought and died for.”
But amid all the anger and frustration with the conservative justices of the Roberts Court, faith was not lost. The parade of speakers had a message of hope.
Jotaka Eaddy, NAACP's Senior Advisor to the President and CEO and Senior Director for Voting Rights (right), was one of many who exclaimed, “Organized people always beat organized money.”
Miles Rapoport, President of Common Cause, proposed several needed changes to the system, including increasing the power of small dollar donations, fighting for stronger contribution disclosure laws, and halting assaults on voter rights across the country.
Representative Keith Ellison (MN-05) reminded those gathered that terrible decisions that came out of the Supreme Court in the past, such as Dred Scott and Plessy v. Ferguson, were resolved through legislative action. In particular, Ellison referred to the Government By the People Act, a bill to lift up small-dollar donors that he cosponsored and the Sierra Club supports.
Drew Courtney, Director of Communications at People for the American Way, called the day “a step forward, because we are together.” He went on to say that “we have a powerful coalition right here, but there are a hundred rallies going on today across the country.”
In fact, about 130 rallies across the country gave concerned citizens—including Sierra Club members—a chance to speak out about the disastrous McCutcheon decision.
In Massachusetts, Sierra Club activists stood with our friends from Common Cause and other advocacy groups against corruption. In San Francisco, Sierra Club Deputy Executive Director Bruce Hamilton spoke out about why environmentalists care about getting big corporate money out of politics.
Sierra Club Deputy Executive Director Bruce Hamilton Speaks at a Rally Opposing the Decision in San Francisco
"Environmentalists are standing shoulder to shoulder with civil rights champions, organized workers, good government advocates, and concerned citizens who are sick and tired of our democracy being bought and sold to the highest bidder,” Hamilton said.
Going forward, we are united and motivated, nationwide.
As George Kohl from CWA said, “We are more than them, and we will win.”-David Shadburn, Sierra Club Intern
Today, the US Senate is casting a vote critical to the future of the U.S. wind industry. Wind power has grown by leaps and bounds in recent years, and the wind industry now employs more than 80,000 Americans and generates enough electricity to power 15 million homes. Wind is providing affordable, reliable electricity from coast to coast - in 2013 Iowa got 27 percent of its electricity from wind power, while South Dakota got 26 percent. Despite this momentum, wind power's full potential continues to rest in the hands of members of Congress, including some with close ties to fossil fuel industries.
The Senate Finance Committee is voting today on legislation that includes an extension of critical clean energy tax incentives, namely the Production Tax Credit (PTC) and Investment Tax Credit (ITC) for renewable energy, as well as key energy efficiency tax credits. This is a critical step in ultimately renewing these provisions.
These clean energy incentives support tens of thousands of American jobs -- jobs that are at risk if Congress does not act immediately.
Despite all the economic and environmental benefits the wind industry provides nationwide, Congress allowed the wind Production Tax Credit to expire at the end of 2013. The resulting uncertainty has slowed new investments in wind generation and hampered the massive growth the industry saw in 2012.
It’s incredibly frustrating to see some Members of Congress turn a blind eye to the benefits of wind power - from jobs and local economic growth, to clean air and water. While the Senate Finance Committee is moving proactively, the House of Representatives hasn’t yet moved off the dime, leaving tens of thousands of wind jobs hanging in the balance. Unfortunately, some of those Members of Congress are dragging their feet at the behest of fossil fuel interests, and blocking American innovation in the process.
Americans across party lines want the U.S. to be a clean energy leader, and the economic benefits of wind power are flowing to red and blue states. In fact, more than 80 percent of our nation's installed wind capacity is in US Congressional districts represented by Republicans. Last week, Texas set a wind power generation record - topping 10,000 megawatts, enough to power five million homes.
Clean energy is here to stay, and its future is even brighter. For the economy and for our environment, we need Congress to renew the Production Tax Credit, and ensure America continues to lead the way in developing the technologies that will power the world in the twenty-first century. TAKE ACTION: Tell Congress to protect American clean energy jobs!
-- Mary Anne Hitt, Director of the Sierra Club Beyond Coal Campaign.
Fourteen solar panels crown the entrance to the First Congregational Christian United Church of Christ in Chesterfield, Virginia. The small array generates 10 percent or so of the church's electricity, but the project is notable for a different reason: it was the first solar system installed anywhere under a new kind of contract called a Customer Self-Generation Agreement. The agreement allowed the church go solar with no money down, and without increasing its electricity costs.
The Customer Self-Generation Agreement (CSGA) is the brainchild of Tony Smith, founder and CEO of Secure Futures LLC, a solar developer based in Staunton, Virginia. Under its agreement with the church, Secure Futures owns the solar panels and reaps the federal tax benefits that make solar affordable. The church gets the electrical output of the system over the twenty-year life of the contract. Neither a lease (which would bar the church from getting the tax benefits) nor a third-party power purchase agreement (which the incumbent utility would have opposed), the CSGA occupies a financing niche all of its own.
For Secure Futures, the CSGA was born of necessity. In 2011, the company was blocked from completing a solar array at Washington and Lee University when Dominion Virginia Power sent "cease and desist" letters claiming the parties' use of a third-party power purchase agreement (PPA) violated the utility's monopoly on the sale of electricity. Although convinced it had the law on its side, Secure Futures backed down in the face of expensive litigation. The solar installation was only completed by turning the PPA into a lease and losing some of the tax benefits.
Secure Futures had been building a place for itself in the nonprofit world, appealing especially to colleges and universities that want solar power as part of their sustainability goals. The company's 104-kW solar array at Eastern Mennonite University in Harrisonburg, Virginia, completed in 2010, was the first PPA in Virginia and, at the time, the largest solar array in the state. But that project was not in Dominion's territory.
For a state like Virginia with few policies to support solar, accessing the federal tax credits is critical to financing a solar project. Tax-exempt entities like municipalities, schools, and churches are a natural customer base for solar, but because they cannot use the federal tax credits themselves, they must partner with a tax-paying company that can own the project. Third-party PPAs have been the answer in states that allow them. PPAs also frequently offer a no-money-down option, which has proven a huge market driver in recent years for homes and businesses as well as non-profits.
But after the Washington and Lee experience demonstrated both Dominion's hostility to PPAs and its willingness to use its legal firepower, Tony Smith decided to seek another way through the legal thicket. Working with regulatory lawyer Eric Hurlocker and tax specialists at Hunton and Williams, Secure Futures developed an innovative contract model that could provide the tax benefits of a PPA without running afoul of utility monopoly claims. CSGAs are contracts for solar services but, crucially, don't involve the sale of electricity.
Although Dominion Power eventually relented enough to cooperate on a bill passed in 2013 that allows a small number of PPAs within its territory on a "pilot project" basis, Secure Futures has continued to use the CSGA model in subsequent projects because it offers features that a standard PPA does not.
Perhaps more importantly, neither Dominion nor any other utility has signaled opposition to CSGAs. Suddenly, Secure Futures' niche looks huge. The ability to use CSGAs wherever PPAs would make financial sense opens up new opportunities among non-profits not just in Virginia, but in all of the 28 states where PPAs are currently either illegal or of uncertain status. As Smith notes, no state bars customers from generating electricity for their own use.
While Smith is eager to see his company grow, he says his larger goal has always been to open the floodgates for solar projects across the country where they are held back now only by outdated laws and flawed policies. He hopes to license the CSGA approach, ideally to a non-profit that could work with developers across the South to make this contract model widely available.
Virginia has always been a hard place to do business for solar companies, so much so that Smith refers to it as a "dark state." Knocking down the PPA barrier won't bring the sunshine in all by itself, but it does create an opening.
-- Ivy Main, Sierra Club Virginia
Have you heard this one before? A PepsiCo representative walks out of an industry conference...and his buddy tells him that they’re going to hand him over to the Sierra Club tar sands protesters.
Actually, it's no joke - that's exactly what happened last week at the Food and Beverage Environmental Conference in Napa, California.
The Sierra Club's Future Fleet campaign, is targeting corporations to slash oil consumption and to stop using tar sands in their gigantic vehicle fleets. Nineteen companies have already made a tar sands commitment, but PepsiCo has been lagging behind its peers.
Last week, we got creative. PepsiCo was sponsoring an industry event called the Food & Beverage Environmental Conference, which was themed around water. Tar sands, of course, spell disaster for clean water and everyone who drinks it, so the Sierra Club and our friends at ForestEthics turned out in Napa to make sure PepsiCo and its peers know that tar sands and water don't mix.
On Sunday, the day that conference attendees were arriving in Napa, Sierra Club volunteers took over downtown Napa - and the opinion page of the paper - to petition PepsiCo to make good on their public commitments around clean water by saying no to tar sands in their vehicle fleets. And meanwhile, our friends at ForestEthics hung a huge banner over the highway leading to the conference center right where conference attendees would see it.
But the action was just getting started. On Monday, conference attendees walked out of their morning sessions to a lunchtime rally outside the conference hotel that made front page news in Napa. With activists of every generation chanting, "Hey Pepsi, listen up! Don't use tar sands in your trucks!" the picket caused a stir among conference attendees, who commented about the conference never having been protested before and joked about handing the PepsiCo representatives at the conference over to the activists.
And the actions just kept on coming. On Tuesday, the Sierra Club released a report called "The Toxic Waters of the Tar Sands Industry" and invited company representatives and the general public to watch a special web session in which guest speakers with expertise on the devastation wrought by tar sands on water, including one representative from an impacted First Nations community, spoke about the issues highlighted in the report. You can watch the session here.
Just to make sure the report got into the hands of the industry representatives, early Wednesday morning, a team of activists ensured it was delivered it to nearly all conference attendees' hotel rooms. That same night, ForestEthics activists in Seattle at the Sustainable Packaging Conference shined a giant light projection onto the outside of the conference hotel that said, "Coke and Pepsi: Stop Using Tar Sands Fuel."
We got word from PepsiCo that last week's actions were definitely noticed. It wouldn't be possible without folks' support in calling on PepsiCo and other companies to step up and do the right thing: Join the call to PepsiCo to get off tar sands here.
-- Rachel Butler is a campaigner with the Beyond Oil Campaign's Future Fleet Initiative. Photos courtesy of Ethan Buckner and Peter Menchini.
As if fossil fuel's massive climate impacts weren't enough, there is another powerful reason we should leave them in the ground: they're a bad investment.
DC Divest's Matt Grason and graphic designer Stephanie Lenorovitz have put together this infographic based on research from eight financial firms, and major media and financial media outlets. It challenges the conventional wisdom that fossil fuels are "safe" investments, giving seven compelling "reasons to sell your stocks now."
Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune recently said "We should be exporting clean energy innovation, not the dirty fuels of the 19th century." That logic applies to investments too, and this graphic suggests that investors should view fossil fuels with the same wariness as horse and buggy enterprises.
Click through to see the whole thing!
-- Courtenay Lewis, Sierra Club Beyond Oil Campaign
The 112th Congress was saturated by more than $34 million in direct campaign contributions from oil, gas, and coal interests. In addition, dirty fuel interests spent $270 million on television ads in just the last two months of the 2012 electoral cycle. And, on top of all that, the Koch Brothers reportedly spent $400 million in 2012. That's a pair of oil barons spending more in one cycle than John McCain's entire Presidential campaign spent in all of the 2008 cycle. It's an unbelievable state of affairs. And, today, with their ruling in McCutcheon v. FEC, the Supreme Court made a terrible situation much, much worse.
Four years ago, the court opened the floodgates to unlimited outside money in politics with its decision in Citizens United, letting a handful of big money campaign donors spend whatever they wanted to push their agenda and their allies into government. Today's decision in McCutcheon does the same thing for inside money, upping the amount of money these donors can give directly to candidates. The current limit is around $120,000. The McCutcheon decision will increase that to around $3.6 million. As you can guess, that doesn't affect a lot of everyday Americans.
It's as if the majority on the Supreme Court has had its eyes shut ever since Citizens United. Since that ruling, any progress in our government has ground to a dead stop, as obstructionists supported by big polluter dollars have distorted our government’s priorities and halted any effort to change the status quo. If Citizens United were a movie, no one but big money campaign donors would want a sequel - but the Supreme Court has delivered them just that today with McCutcheon.
Are you wondering who exactly will benefit and who will they be donating to? Take a look at who the case is named after: Shaun McCutcheon, an Alabama Republican activist who made his fortune in - what else? - the coal industry. It's McCutcheon and other dirty fuel executives like him who wanted to pump even more money into the system - and the Supreme Court has rolled over and let them.
At the Sierra Club, we know that protecting our environment and our democracy go hand in hand - and when those who view contaminating our air, our water, and our climate as collateral damage are free to flood our government with millions more in unlimited cash, it drowns out the voice of everyone else.
Fortunately, big money campaign donors aren’t getting away with this corruption of our democracy without the American people putting up a fight - and the situation is far from hopeless. In a recent poll by Greenberg Quinlan Rosner, results showed 91 percent of respondents want elected officials to "reduce the influence of money in political elections." Grassroots movements are emerging calling for public financing that levels the playing field and lifts up the voices of small donors. More and more Americans are demanding initiatives that pull back the curtain on political spending.
And, today, in dozens of locations across the country, Sierra Club activists are standing with labor union members, civil rights champions, and good government advocates at rallies demonstrating against the McCutcheon decision. We're showing that the people are more powerful than the polluters, no matter how much they want to pour into our elections. And we're demonstrating we’re ready to fight back. All told, the call for a democracy that is of, by, and for the people is growing louder and louder as more and more money pours in.
That is why we refuse to see the McCutcheon decision as a loss. Dozens of groups representing tens of millions of Americans opposing unlimited corporate money in politics will not just use this moment as a chance to speak out, but as an opportunity to organize together to make this a turning point in the fight to get money out of politics and get voters in.
The Supreme Court and the big polluters have made it clear what side they are on -- now, it's time we made it clear that its the wrong side.
-- Courtney Hight, director of the Sierra Club's Democracy Program
When we imagine what the future will look like in books and movies, we see flying cars, teleportation, and computer superintelligence. But what if in reality our future instead involves food shortages, extreme weather, and sea level rise?
If we continue on our current climate disruption path, scientists say that's exactly what will happen.
Today, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)'s Working Group II released a report that examines the impacts climate change has on our current and future environment, where we are most vulnerable, and the adaptation that must take place to deal with a changing climate.
"Managing the risks of climate change involves adaptation and mitigation decisions with implications for future generations, economies, and environments," the IPCC summary states.
What they found is that climate disruption is already occurring on every continent and in every ocean, and it disproportionately affects some communities. They also found that while adaptation can reduce the impacts of climate change, "greater rates and magnitude of climate change increase the likelihood of exceeding adaptation limits."
"Observed impacts of climate change have already affected agriculture, human health, ecosystems on land and in the oceans, water supplies, and some people's livelihoods," the IPCC press release states. "The striking feature of observed impacts is that they are occurring from the tropics to the poles, from small islands to large continents, and from the wealthiest countries to the poorest."
Areas around the globe are experiencing phenomena such as extreme hurricanes, severe drought, and exceptionally hot and cold weather. One of the most drastically affected locations is the Arctic. The sea ice has already reached its maximum extent and is beginning to shrink at an alarming rate. If this trend continues, the Arctic conditions will continue to be warmer than average, causing potentially irreparable damage to the planet.
Where the differences lie is in the resilience of the areas after an extreme weather event. Poorer communities and individuals who directly rely on the environment for housing or income are frequently ill-prepared for extreme weather events and unable to recover once they're over.
"Climate change often interacts with other stresses to increase risk," said Chris Field, co-chair of Working Group II.
Scientists recognize that working to help these communities cope with climate disruption is critically important for their survival. But it is only one small faction of the solution.
What scientists are looking at now is how the entire world will be able to handle continued climate disruption in the future and how to prepare for that future.
"The world, in many cases, is ill-prepared for risks from a changing climate," the IPCC press release states.
Scientists know that climate change adaptation is a major component to ensuring our ability to avoid frequent and widespread catastrophes in the future.
"Part of the reason adaptation is so important is that the world faces a host of risks from climate change already baked into the climate system, due to past emissions and existing infrastructure," said Vicente Barros, co-chair of Working Group II, in the IPCC press release.
Without global adaptation to climate disruption, we can expect the next century to be "hotter, drier and hungrier."
"Maladaptation can increase the vulnerability or exposure of the target group in the future, or the vulnerability of other people, places, or sectors," the IPCC summary states.
But while some may tout adaptation as a "cure-all", it is not without limitations that may hinder its effectiveness. Limitations that are directly proportionate to accelerating climate change and increasing global emissions.
"Limits to adaptation emerge from the interaction among climate change and biophysical and/or socioeconomic constraints," the IPCC summary continues. "Opportunities to take advantage of positive synergies between adaptation and mitigation may decrease with time, particularly if limits to adaptation are exceeded. In some parts of the world, insufficient responses to emerging impacts are already eroding the basis for sustainable development."
So, as the planet continues to warm, adaptation becomes increasingly difficult. But "reducing climate change can also reduce the scale of adaptation that might be required," the IPCC summary states.
It's now time for the world's governments to do just that. We need our leaders to take action on this information and move away from dirty fossil fuels and continue to invest in clean energy sources like wind and solar. There are countless ways to start, beginning with the U.S. government rejecting the Keystone XL pipeline and putting a moratorium on leasing for oil drilling in the Arctic Ocean.
The opportunities are endless, but action needs to be taken now. Only then can we protect the environment and the economy for generations to come.
The future may be unclear, but one thing is certain. Science has spoken: it's time to act and adapt.
-- John Coequyt, Director of the Sierra Club's International Climate Program
By Michael Marx, Beyond Oil Campaign Director
Proposed Upper Midwest Tar Sands Pipeline Expansion Threatens Great Lakes and Climate
Last week the BP Whiting tar sands refinery in Indiana dumped more than fifteen hundred gallons of crude oil into Lake Michigan. BP isn’t saying exactly how much they spilled or whether it was tar sands or conventional crude oil. But we know that Lake Michigan was poisoned by the nation’s largest tar sands refinery. Tar sands are the dirtiest source of oil on Earth. They're more toxic, more corrosive, and more polluting than conventional sources of oil. And once again BP has proven that it can’t be relied on to prioritize safety, or tell the truth about oil spills.
The Sierra Club has fought the Keystone XL pipeline because tar sands pipelines are unsafe for the people in their path. From the mining operations along pipeline routes to refinery fence-line communities, these pipelines are disastrous. This week the Beyond Oil campaign and 13 other groups are releasing All Risk No Reward, a new report on the proposed Alberta Clipper tar sands pipeline expansion.
The Alberta Clipper, also known as Line 67, is an existing pipeline that currently pumps up to 450,000 barrels per day of tar sands crude from Hardisty, Alberta, to Superior, Wisconsin. From the Canadian border, the pipeline traverses 327 miles of North Dakota, Minnesota, and Wisconsin, passing through tribal lands, forests, and farms, rivers, and lakes, before terminating at Lake Superior. Enbridge, the company that owns the pipeline, is asking the State Department for an amended Presidential Permit to almost double the pipeline’s capacity to 800,000 barrels per day and to construct two new tar sands storage tanks on the shores of Lake Superior.
Expanding the Alberta Clipper tar sands pipeline to move more dirty, dangerous tar sands crude through the Upper Midwest would greatly increase the risk to American and tribal lands and waters, including the Great Lakes, of devastating tar sands spills. Like exploding crude oil rail cars, earth-scraping mining operations, and the heavily polluting tar sands refineries, these pipelines are not safe. And higher capacity means more crude pumped at higher pressure, raising the risk of accidents and exposing communities to tar sands’ full complement of disturbing climate, safety, and environmental implications.
Enbridge, the company behind the Alberta Clipper proposal, has a dismal safety record. From 1999 to 2010, Enbridge was responsible for more than 800 spills that released 6.8 million gallons of hydrocarbons. Canada’s National Energy Board and the U.S. Department of Transportation Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) have repeatedly cited the company for safety violations, including a record $2.4 million fine in connection with an explosion that killed two workers in Minnesota. Enbridge is also responsible for the worst onshore oil spill in U.S. history, the 2010 Kalamazoo River disaster, in which a ruptured Enbridge pipeline poured nearly a million gallons of tar sands crude into Michigan's Talmadge Creek and Kalamazoo River. Four years and a billion dollars later, oil is still being found and parts of the Kalamazoo remain poisoned by tar sands crude.
That tragedy in Michigan, like the more recent one in Arkansas that sent tar sands crude flowing across lawns and driveways, is a grim illustration of the threat tar sands pipelines pose to families, homes, and waterways. The Alberta Clipper route crosses the Mississippi River, the drinking water source for 15 million people, five times. And a rupture anywhere in the Great Lakes region could be devastating. The Great Lakes provide drinking water for more than 40 million people and support tourism, recreation, a $7 billion fishery industry, and a $16 billion boating industry. But even those numbers don’t begin to reflect the cultural and environmental importance of protecting the Great Lakes from toxic tar sands pollution. And as with the Keystone XL pipeline, the Sierra Club is prepared to fight the Alberta Clipper expansion proposal to the end.
The proposal still needs to secure permits from the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission and an amended Presidential Permit from the Obama administration. We expect that President Obama will hold this proposal to the same climate test that he articulated for Keystone XL: the project will not be in the national interest if it would significantly exacerbate carbon pollution. We remain confident that Secretary Kerry and President Obama will recognize how Keystone XL flatly fails that test, and that the same will hold true for the proposed Alberta Clipper expansion. This proposal would accelerate tar sands industry growth, generating massive carbon pollution at a time when neither the U.S. nor Canada can waste any more time in our transition away from dirty fuels and toward renewable energy.
On Thursday, April 3, residents of the the Upper Midwest will have a chance to help stop this expansion from happening. Join us in St. Paul to stand against tar sands and Alberta Clipper!
The Daily Show with Jon Stewart has taken a look into fracking and has uncovered the “minor downsides” to natural gas extraction.
In a segment that aired March 27 on the satirical comedy show, correspondent Aasif Mandvi interviewed local residents of Bradford County, PA and - for a pro-industry point of view - Marita Noon, the executive director of the pro-fracking group Energy Makes America Great, Inc.
“Fracking has ruined our quality of life,” one Bradford County resident said.
“Our water contamination here is moving through all of Bradford County,” another added.
“I had rashes, neurological problems, sleep disruption,” a third continued.
Noon, who is self-described as “America’s voice for energy”, doesn’t see a problem with fracking and said the oil and gas companies are doing a good job of regulating themselves.
“Is there a way that oil and gas companies could be better than they are?” Mandvi asked.
“I would say no, actually,” she responded. “These oil and gas producers that are there care about the community.”
So what are the residents of Bradford County so angry about then? Their county only has 1,100 active wells and 696 violations, a small amount compared to the “teeny tiny snafus” such as earthquakes, well explosions, pipeline punctuations that have been happening all across the country.
When a well exploded in Greene County, PA killing one person, Chevron “came to the rescue with immediate compensation”: they offered 100 residents $12 gift certificates to a local pizzeria.
Taking a page out of Chevron’s book, when the residents seemed to be getting upset, Mandvi offered them a pizza.
“We want our water back. Period,” one resident demanded. “We want our life back. We don’t want your pizza.”
Take a look for yourself:
I can only imagine the fear that must grip a parent when their child suffers an asthma attack, and I can only imagine how much time and energy they spend doing everything they can to avoid triggers for these potentially deadly attacks. A major trigger is smog pollution - also known as ground-level ozone. When smog is inhaled, the harm it does has been likened to getting a sunburn on your lungs, and these asthma attacks send tens of thousands of kids to the emergency room every year. Kids and seniors are especially at risk from smog pollution.
This is why the Sierra Club is so adamant in urging the Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee, which provides independent advice to the Environmental Protection Agency, to recommend a strong, science-based standard to protect Americans from smog (you can read our comments right here - PDF) Right now the EPA is updating the country's smog pollution limits as required by the Clean Air Act.
Asthma is the number one health problem that causes American children to miss school, and it costs taxpayers tens of billions of dollars each year in missed work and health care costs. Research has shown that exposure to smog causes respiratory problems including asthma, may affect the nervous and cardiovascular systems, and can lead to premature death.
As the proud mom of a busy, active three-year-old, it's hard for me to imagine keeping her inside on a beautiful summer day. But that’s exactly what parents of kids with asthma must do, all too often. Those parents, kids, seniors and people with chronic respiratory ailments know what it's like to learn that your day will be cut short by an Orange, Red or even Purple Air Quality Alert.
When smog hits these levels, those people are stuck inside waiting for outdoor air quality to return to safe levels for them to breathe. One needs to look no further than the American Lung Association's annual "State of the Air" reports to see the cities where bad air days are most frequent -- days that air quality is so poor that being outdoors could kill them.
With the technology readily available to dramatically reduce smog, it would be unconscionable not to act. We need standards that reflect the latest science. For example, in Pittsburgh, coal plants are the single biggest contributor to smog pollution, but those facilities could cut that pollution by more than a third just by operating the pollution controls that the plants already have. They could cut it even further by installing modern controls!
The American people should not have to wait any longer for action to clean up dangerous smog pollution. It’s time to clean up our air and protect our families. Join us - tell the EPA to finalize strong protections on smog pollution.
-- Mary Anne Hitt, Beyond Coal Campaign Director
Though there are no leaves on the trees yet, my home state of Massachusetts became a greener place to live this week. Governor Deval Patrick announced Thursday a rebate program that will provide state residents who purchase or lease an electric vehicle (EV) a rebate of up to $2,500 - an incentive that we in the Massachusetts Electric Vehicles Taskforce enthusiastically recommended.
In the past, I've blogged about Massachusetts lagging behind other states, like Oregon and Georgia, in EV incentives and sales. The new rebate program, expected to go into effect early this summer, will allow for catch-up and help clear the air from Cape Cod to the Berkshires.
On Thursday, the governor also celebrated the launch of six new fully electric public transit buses in Worcester, MA. "This is wicked cool," said Governor Patrick (that means "really, really great" for you non-New Englanders). State transportation officials said each of the new buses is expected to eliminate 130 tons of carbon dioxide emissions per year compared to diesel buses and will cut operating costs by nearly $3 million over 12 years. The buses are manufactured by Proterra, headquartered in Greenville, SC. The growing company has e-bus contracts with transit agencies in a number of other cities, including Nashville, San Antonio, and Tallahassee.
The governor was on a roll because he also announced nearly $600,000 in Massachusetts Electric Vehicle Incentive Program (MassEVIP) grants for 16 municipalities, two universities, and one state agency to install EV charging stations and acquire about 200 EVs for their fleets. This is the second round of grant awards through MassEVIP since its launch last year.
As a parent whose children take the school bus every day, I'm also excited to learn that, working in partnership with the Clinton Global Initiative, the Massachusetts Department of Energy Resources will provide $1.8 million in grants for eight electric school buses. These e-buses will have vehicle-to-grid capability to serve as back-up energy resources during natural disasters. It would be exciting if my daughters could ride on one of these clean driving technological marvels in our home city of Cambridge.
Massachusetts, which has signed an eight-state agreement to significantly ramp up EV programs and sales, has a long way to go to reach its commitment of getting 300,000+ plug-in vehicles on the road in Massachusetts alone by 2025. But this week, there was a jolt of real progress.
-- Gina Coplon-Newfield, Director of the Sierra Club Future Fleet & Electric Vehicles Initiative. Photos by XhaoZhi Lim of the Massachusetts Department of Energy Resources.
Across the world, there are still 1.3 billion people living in severe energy poverty, and almost half of them—587 million—live in Sub-Saharan Africa. In an attempt to expand energy access for people in Sub-Saharan Africa, President Obama announced the Power Africa initiative in June 2013, and today, the Sierra Club submitted written testimony for a Senate hearing on the ambitious initiative.
The initiative has brought much-needed attention to the critical problem of energy poverty in Africa. Today, the U.S. Senate Committee on Foreign Relations’ Subcommittee on African Affairs sought to examine the power of that initiative.
While commendable, this initiative should include avenues for small-scale, clean energy projects. These are called “distributed renewables,” and are often owned by individuals or groups instead of utilities. In the written testimony, the Sierra Club calls for the Power Africa Initiative to expand its support for distributed renewables in the form of off-grid and mini-grid energy access projects. So far, support from the Power Africa Initiative has been skewed toward large-scale power plants. Clean energy has received significantly less support.
The traditional approach to the problem of energy poverty has been powering homes and buildings with large-scale power plants connected to a geographically extensive grid. It’s becoming clear that this approach won’t be sufficient or economical. In many cases, distributed renewables are the best tool for the job as they’re better suited for many of the rural areas where people lack electricity. This is because grid extension is often slow and expensive, and is many times unreliable even in the areas where it reaches.
On the other hand, distributed renewables are quickly becoming reliable, rapid, and affordable. Entrepreneurs have developed innovative financial models that help the poor avoid paying up-front costs. These models, including pay-as-you-go systems and mobile phone-enabled money transfer platforms, make energy more affordable for poor families. Additionally, game-changing efficiency improvements in appliances such as lights, cell phone chargers, fans, and televisions have enabled smaller, cheaper solar systems to deliver more energy services at lower costs.
The Sierra Club’s written testimony argues that, to capture the benefits of new technologies and financial models and move beyond outdated approaches, Power Africa should strike a balance among grid extension, mini-grid, and off-grid solutions. Of these three approaches, we currently see the least emphasis on, and most need for, distributed clean energy sources that power mini-grids and off-grid solutions. The testimony recommends that Power Africa implement a dedicated loan guarantee for distributed clean energy projects.
If we are able to move beyond business as usual, we can help catalyze a 21st-century transition in Africa. Just as mobile phones have leapfrogged landlines, distributed renewables can leapfrog centralized grids in energy-poor places like Sub-Saharan Africa. It’s time we unlock the world’s most sophisticated technologies for the world’s poorest populations.
--John Coequyt, Director of the Sierra Club's International Climate Program