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Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Gina McCarthy proclaimed the month of February 2014 as Environmental Justice Month. Environmental justice activists all across the country are commemorating the 20th anniversary of the Environmental Justice Executive Order 12898 signed by President Bill Clinton twenty years ago on February 11, 1994.
This column was written by Sierra Club Environmental Justice Organizer Rita Harris, pictured above on the right.
Wow, it's really been 20 years! I remember where I was on that day in 1994 clearly. I was attending a conference at the Crystal City Marriott being hosted by NIEHS (National Institute for Environmental Health Sciences). There was a horrible snow storm and government offices in Washington, D.C. were all closed. However, word was quickly passing around the crowds of people at the conference that a select group of activists from our ranks had been called over to the White House.
There was so much excitement among the attendees, and it grew even wilder once the group returned and told us why they went to the White House. We were told that President Clinton had signed an Executive Order that would mandate all federal agencies develop strategic plans to address environmental justice (EJ). This was groundbreaking and historic! Many of the activists that were present at the conference and at the signing felt like this was just the one-two punch that was needed to help us with our many EJ fights and help communities across the country. "EJ will finally be recognized now that we have the President in our corner," is what some said.
The back story to the Executive Order's signing was that strong grassroots EJ advocates on the EPA National Environmental Justice Advisory Council (NEJAC), which was established in 1993, actually pushed for Clinton to take the executive action he took in 1994. Although federal agencies did produce plans to address environmental justice in their decision making, environmental justice was not practiced or addressed in local government agencies and within most state environmental agencies. EJ battles are still taking place across this country and many times the term itself is even challenged, so the struggle continues.
There have been many success stories -- just not as many as EJ activists would have hoped. Over the past 20 years we have seen a few Superfund sites remediated, some Brownfields have been redeveloped, some buyouts have occurred that relocated residents plagued by toxic hazards, some polluters have been shut down, and some 'bad actors' have been criminally prosecuted.
Partnerships have been promoted, colleges and universities have embraced EJ communities and worked to alleviate suffering and raise the level of consciousness about disproportionate amounts of pollution and contamination in neighborhoods. Large environmental groups like the Sierra Club that had not traditionally been involved in EJ felt compelled to do so and established staff and programs to support poor and people of color communities.
Within the Sierra Club EJ guidelines and procedures were developed to ensure we worked in a respectful and sensitive way. In the broader community, lots of policy work has been done to counter policy work that was being done by corporate and business lobbyists. Numerous reports, articles, and academic studies have been produced. Numerous books have been written on the subject of EJ, and folks from coast to coast have kept the EJ movement fires burning over the years.
When I think back to all the community members that were "fighters" and present at the time Executive Order 12898 was signed in 1994, I am saddened because many have passed away. They fought a good fight for so many years, but have left us with a legacy that demands we continue to be strong fighters for clean healthy communities and never give up.
(L to R, Vernice Miller-Travis of the Maryland State Commission on Environmental Justice & Sustainable Communities; Rita Harris; Angelo Logan of East Yard Communities for Environmental Justice in Los Angeles; Charles Lee, the deputy associate administrator for environmental justice at the EPA; and Richard Moore, former member of NEJAC and former director of the Southwest Organizing Project in New Mexico.)
These were my personal thoughts as I sat in the EPA National Environmental Justice Council meeting held in Denver, Colorado, on February 11, 2014. I had the opportunity to participate in the 20th anniversary commemoration of Executive Order 12898 with other colleagues and friends. It was a time to reflect and also a time to rededicate ourselves to continuing the hard work of so many fighting for environmental justice. In addition, there was a moment of silence for all those EJ fighters who have passed away that was quite moving.
EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy attended and addressed NEJAC, expressing continued support for environmental justice communities coast to coast. The political climate has given us peaks and valleys in the EJ movement and has activists now trying to regain the momentum we lost during eight years of the Bush Administration. As we all know, we must keep the pressure on to achieve success, but at least for now we have an EPA administrator that supports environmental justice. "EJ Plan 2014" is the EPA's roadmap to achieve success. We can all help keep the focus on support for EJ issues and EJ communities.
West Virginians hold the coal industry responsible for air and water contamination in the state, and they are tired of the stranglehold they believe the industry's lobbyists have on state politics.
That's just one of many powerful findings of a new poll out today about the aftermath of the January coal chemical spill in Charleston, West Virginia.
The Sierra Club and Hart Research Associates polled West Virginia voters, and look at the results:
2) West Virginians strongly support increased regulations and enforcement to protect air and water. And they don't just want "better enforcement" in the abstract – they solidly endorse specific changes in policy and more EPA involvement in the state.
3) Two out of every three West Virginians support political candidates who are independent of the coal industry.
This is major news – even in a state long dominated by the coal industry, my fellow West Virginians have made it clear that a majority want strong Environmental Protection Agency and state action on coal industry pollution. They want the coal industry out of the pockets of their state politicians [or leaders if politicians is not compliant], and they want state leaders to stop cozying up to the industry.
Meanwhile, in North Carolina, where thousands of people are reeling after a coal ash dam leaked into the Dan River earlier this month, there is major frustration as well. State officials confirmed last week they've known for years that toxins from Duke Energy's 14 coal ash ponds around the state are seeping into groundwater.
That's on top of the controversy surrounding just how close Governor Pat McCrory (a former Duke Energy employee) and the state's Department of Environment and Natural Resources is with Duke Energy. Recent reports have exposed the state's practice of intervening in coal ash pollution suits brought by environmental groups, and then giving Duke a small fine that amounts to a slap on the wrist, while avoiding a full hearing before a judge. Federal attorneys are now investigating Duke for any possible legal wrongdoing.
So on Tuesday, February 25, hundreds of people are expected to rally at Duke Energy's headquarters in Charlotte as the Sierra Club, Appalachian Voices, the North Carolina Conservation Network, and Greenpeace will deliver more than 8,500 letters demanding that the utility clean up its coal ash.
I'll be in Charlotte at the Duke rally - if you're in the area please join us!
Americans are standing up to the coal industry in the face of its continuous pollution of our air and water. How many more spills will it take before we see action by the EPA to close these coal water pollution loopholes?
-- Mary Anne Hitt, Beyond Coal Campaign Director
This week, more than 120 Members of Congress sent a clear message to the United States Trade Representative: the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade pact must have a robust, fully enforceable environment chapter that addresses the core conservation challenges of the region.
The letter comes just days before officials from the 12 governments involved in the TPP will meet in Singapore to try to make progress on an agreement that is facing increasingly steep opposition from the American public and Members of Congress.
In the letter, Members of Congress recognized that while they don’t all agree on the trade pact in general, they do all agree on the need for a strong environment chapter that builds on the so-called “May 10th Agreement,” a political agreement struck on May 10, 2007 between then-President George Bush and Congress.
The May 10th Agreement set minimum standards for all environment chapters of U.S. trade pacts. It said that environment chapters must be legally enforceable and subject to “dispute settlement,” meaning a country violating an environmental trade rule could be penalized with trade sanctions. It also required that countries uphold their domestic environmental laws in addition to commitments made in international environmental treaties.
Members of Congress have good reason to be concerned about the environment chapter of the TPP. On January 15, Wikileaks published a leaked version of the environment chapter, which environmental organizations including the Sierra Club, the Natural Resources Defense Council, and the World Wildlife Fund deemed “unacceptable.” The leaked text actually rolled back the May 10th standards. It wasn’t enforceable, and it didn’t obligate the TPP countries to uphold commitments in environmental treaties.
Members of Congress said it well: “To build on the May 10th Agreement, TPP must include new and robust commitments for member countries to protect and conserve forests, oceans, and wildlife and obligate member countries to comply with both domestic environmental laws, not derogating from those laws, and meet their commitments under multilateral environmental agreements (MEAs).”
The letter also said that “these commitments must be strong, binding and enforceable, and subject to the same dispute settlement procedures as the commercial chapters, including recourse to trade sanctions.”
In order to help ensure that increased trade doesn’t destroy our environment, the chapter should include, to name a few, a ban on trade in illegally harvested timber, wildlife, and fish; the elimination of harmful fisheries subsidies; and a ban on shark finning and commercial whaling.
Members of Congress also wrote that a strong environment chapter would help the U.S. tackle climate disruption. But a recent leak revealed the opposite. It showed that the United States Trade Representative is actually trying to weaken language in the pact that deals with climate disruption and biodiversity. The U.S. seems to want to eliminate even a reference to climate change and the international forum designed to address the climate crisis—the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change—and refer instead to the “transition to a low emissions economy.”
This letter’s signers won’t accept a weak or unenforceable environment chapter, and they won’t succumb to pressure to strike a deal that’s not in the interest of communities, workers, and the environment.
And if Congress wants a deal that protects people and the planet, they must also look beyond the environment chapter. The pact’s chapter on investment, which was also leaked, allows foreign corporations to sue governments over policies designed to protect our environment. Corporations such as Chevron and ExxonMobil have launched hundreds of these cases against 95 governments using similar rules, and many cases directly attack policies on the environment, climate, and clean energy.
The pact would also require the U.S. to approve all exports of fracked gas to other TPP countries without any review or protections in place for communities and the environment. More natural gas exports would mean more fracking next to schools and hospitals throughout the U.S. and more climate-disrupting pollution.
As trade negotiators go to Singapore, they should take heed from these Members of Congress. And Members of Congress should note that a strong environment chapter is critical, but not sufficient to protect the environment and our climate from the risks of the TPP.
What we know isn’t good. What they’re hiding could be far worse.
--Ilana Solomon, Director, Sierra Club’s Responsible Trade Program
Ohio governor John Kasich finds himself embroiled in a growing scandal that some are calling "Frackgate" because of a PR-plan co-written by his administration and the oil industry to "proactively open state park and forest land" to fracking. The Sierra Club was dismayed (but proud) to find ourselves at the top of a list of opposition targets, along with two state representatives and eight other public interest partner groups.
It's the very definition of corruption when the governor partners with oil industry right-wingers to target public interest groups, even state legislators, to frack Ohio's state parks. Across the U.S. communities are standing up to oppose fracking on public and private lands. Many states and cities are rethinking this dangerous practice, implementing moratoriums or banning the process altogether. The Ohio administration, instead, got into the PR business, allowing corporate polluters to write the state environmental agency’s pro-fracking script. Fracking threatens our property, public lands, climate and our health. Now we can add the insidious threat of the oil and gas industry controlling our democracy to the list of dangers from fracking.
The PR plan was uncovered by the Ohio Sierra Club Chapter as we looked into Kasich administration mismanagement of the regulatory process that would open public lands to fracking. The administration tried to put the news "out with the trash" by releasing it last Friday afternoon. But the governor is not going to walk away from this problem so easily.
In 2011 the Ohio legislature opened state parks and forests to fracking, but required that the administration first create a five member state oil and gas leasing commission. The commission was never formed, though the administration did move forward with permits for fracking on public lands. We discovered evidence through an Ohio Open Records Request that the Kasich administration coordinated with oil and gas industry lobbyists on a public deception PR campaign to "marginalize” opponents to fracking and convince Ohioans of the benefits of fracking public parks and forests. The plan names targets include Ohio Sierra Club, OMB Watch, Ohio Environmental Council, and even elected officials State Senators Bob Hagan and Nickie Antonio.
The 13-page pro-fracking public relations strategy titled, "Oil and Gas state lands leasing: Draft Outline for Communication Plan" was written by the Ohio Department of Natural Resources and the governor’s staff, in alliance with industry giant Halliburton, and lobbying groups like Ohio Oil and Gas Association, the American Natural Gas Association, and JobsOhio, a right-wing pro-fracking political pressure group. The governor, taking a page from New Jersey Governor Chris Christie's playbook, denied knowing about the plan or implementing it. But it was the Governor's top staffers who convened the meeting where the strategy was created. The invitees to the August 20, 2012 "State Lands Leasing, Strategy and Communications" meeting, held in the Governor's main conference room, included Governor Kasich's director of policy, communications director, and reelection campaign director, plus the director of Ohio Department of Natural Resources and several of top agency staff.
This week the Governor Kasich reversed himself on fracking in state parks, admitting that the 'regulatory structure' is not 'mature' enough to allow fracking in Ohio's parks. We agree. But the Sierra Club and our 2.4 million members and supporters understand that what is too dangerous for our parks is too dangerous for all public lands or our backyards too. And everyone will agree that public officials shouldn't be colluding with the oil and gas industry to force fracking down our throats.
When the governor is ready to stop working for the frackers and start working for the people, there are three immediate steps that must be taken:
- Ohio must institute a moratorium on fracking until the state can guarantee a clear and objective path protecting the public, wildlife and our public lands.
- We demand a thorough ethics investigation into the administration's use of a public agency and public funds to promote the interests of the oil and gas industry.
- The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency must take immediate action to investigate conflicts of interest by Ohio agencies involved and suspend of the state's delegation to oversee waste disposal under the Safe Drinking Water Act.
The Kasich administration chose to ally itself with the oil and gas industry against public health and safety, to discredit public interest groups and try to dupe Ohioans in their rush to frack our public parks and forests. These are the places that we hike, hunt, fish and picnic with our families. They should not be ground zero for dangerous oil and gas fracking, and the governor of Ohio has no business working with the oil and gas industry to push the industry’s dangerous agenda over the health and safety of Ohioans.
-- Co-written by Beyond Natural Gas Director Deb Nardone and Ohio Sierra Club Conservation Program Coordinator Brian Kunkemoeller.
Our climate champions have proven they’ve got hearts of gold. And now they have the bling to match.
While the Sochi games will continue the rest of this week, the Protect Our Winters (POW) Olympians have finished their competitions, and five of the Olympic champions who raised their voices against climate disruption medaled for Team USA.
Jamie Anderson and Kaitlyn Farrington won the gold medal in Ladies’ Slopestyle and Ladies’ Halfpipe, respectively. Devin Logan won silver in Ladies’ Ski Slopestyle, and Julia Mancuso and Alex Deibold won bronze in Women’s Super combined Alpine Skiing and Men’s Snowboard Cross, respectively.
Our green athletes have won a quarter of Team USA’s total medals, helping the United States to rank in the top five countries in medal count all while promoting climate change advocacy.
And they aren’t alone. More than 100 international athletes recently signed on to a letter written by Olympic cross-country skier Andy Newell and even more joined the POW Riders Alliance. All have the same goal: to raise awareness for climate disruption and the toll it takes on our winters.
“Snow conditions are becoming much more inconsistent, weather patterns more erratic, and what was once a topic for discussion is now reality and fact,” Newell wrote. “Our climate is changing, and we are losing our winters.”
Scientists have been warning for years that climate disruption leads to more severe and inconsistent weather--like the recent Polar Vortex that gripped most of the U.S. following years without much snowfall at all. In fact, if climate disruption continues at this alarming rate, more than half of the cities that have already hosted the winter Olympics, including Sochi, will be too warm to host again.
Winter Olympians worldwide are working to protect the season they cherish the most, and their environmental advocacy won’t end with the closing ceremony. POW and its Riders Alliance are dedicated to fighting climate disruption and protecting the winter season for generations to come.
“The image of a two-year-old boy experiencing his first backyard ski at Christmas, just like I once did, is becoming more and more rare,” Newell continued. “[...] The continued loss of snow is only the beginning, and unless changes can be made at a federal level, it will be more than our skiing that's at stake.”
The Olympians are hoping to grab the attention of world leaders heading into another international setting -- the UN Conference on Climate Change in Paris.
“We can't risk inaction any longer, and we're asking our world leaders to come together in the spirit of something bigger than just our individual goals,” Newell concluded. “On behalf of the more than 100 Olympians who have signed this letter, we're urging you to act in Paris to set limits on global emissions and take meaningful steps forward in fighting climate change.”
--Cindy Carr, Sierra Club Media Team
A new generation of kids is becoming more dependent on "fast-food" and "smart phones," rather than understanding the importance of "perseverance" and "patience." I'm not alone in feeling that my generation have not taken the time to really to dive deeper into learning our Black History, enough to supplement the enormous gap that leaves the history of people of color out of our schools lesson plans.
I have tried to impress upon my daughters that knowing your history is important - even if it's just to recognize that you cannot take for granted the opportunity to attend school, the house and neighborhood you live in, and last but certainly not least, the air we breathe, the water we drink, and the safe, green space we enjoy.
In 2014, we celebrate several milestones in civil rights. Sixty years ago, we de-segregated our public institutions with Brown vs. the Board of Education and 46 years ago, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., lead the striking of the sanitation workers in Memphis, TN, which was the civil and human rights movement that would soon become known to many as environmental racism.
Environmental justice is a movement that has fought to bring a solution to end environmental racism - making sure that no person, despite, race, ethnicity, social status, political power or the amount of income, will be disproportionately, or negatively impacted by environmental laws and policies that are not protective of public health.
Communities across the county began to speak out about all forms of racism. They were tired of living near hazardous waste landfills, tired of waking up to the spells of the chemical manufacturing facility that violate the comfort of their homes. They were tired of their family members getting sick and dying because of some chemical that infiltrated their water system. These were the types of harsh realities that engendered a generation of community activities and leaders that - through pressure and persistence - led to signing of the first executive order to mandate that all federal government agencies make their policies and programs in accordance with the principles of environmental justice.
You do not have to be an environmentalist to fight against environmental racism. Environmental JUSTICE is needed in many areas of our lives...
- Where we work: making sure that people have safe places to work and are not being exposed to harmful chemicals, and the good jobs are available in all communities
- Where we live: living in homes that are free of lead, and energy efficient (operate in a manner that conserves energy and reduces costs for the homeowner).
- Where we learn: avoiding exposure to toxic chemicals and other air quality concerns in schools and ensuring schools have the proper ventilation, cooling, and proper water quality.
- Where we shop and what we buy: promoting products that are not made from chemicals - like Bisphenol-A and Phthalates - that have been shown to cause health concerns in children; avoiding 99 cent stores that carry products that are banned outside of the United States but still sold here due to the lack of updated, meaningful regulations; and discouraging ethnic personal care products - like perms/relaxers, cosmetics - that are composed of unsafe chemicals.
- What we eat: addressing the lack of access to organic and fresh foods.
- How we move: providing adequate and clean transportation options that are safe and affordable; providing access to open-spaces for play.
In recognition of the 20th anniversary of the Executive Order on Environmental Justice, I challenge you to take action!
Tell your Congressional Representative to sign-on to the letter directed to the President to tackle environmental justice issues in his Climate Action Plan & support HRES479: Strengthening Environmental Justice Resolution
WE ACT's Washington DC Legislative Office is spearheading, with sponsorship from members of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, a letter that will go to the President, to continue to put pressure on the Obama Administration to develop a better plan to address the concerns of climate change felt by environmental justice communities, and a Resolution that will codify the importance of the environmental justice movement. But we need your help.
While there have been some strides in 'connecting the dots' between the overwhelming environmental pollution in certain communities of color and health disparities - more asthma, more lead exposure, etc. - we still have a long way to go. (See report on Environmental Justice Milestones and Accomplishments: 1964-2014)
We need you, your colleagues, your friends and family to call their representative (ask to speak to the Environmental Staffer) and urge them to do two things:
- To sign-on to the letter directed to the President to tackle environmental justice issues in his Climate Action Plan.
- Encourage their boss to support and vote for HRES479 "Strengthening Environmental Justice Resolution" (being circulated by the Congressional Progressive Caucus).
Getting the message out that environmental justice is important is our goal. And as we continue to recognize the 20th anniversary of Executive Order 12898: Federal Actions to Address Environmental Justice in Minority Populations and Low-Income Populations during February and throughout the year, these next steps will insure that the purpose and the intent of this Executive Order will move forward.
We need voices from across the country to get this successfully passed! Two minutes of your time, and your voice, can lay a great foundation for change! What we do the 'day after' for environmental justice is just as important!
-- Dr. Jalonne White-Newsome, Federal Policy Analyst for WE ACT
In a speech today in Maryland, President Obama directed his administration to move forward with standards to make our tractor trailers and commercial vehicles more efficient. Already the administration has set historic standards for passenger vehicles of 54.5 miles per gallon by 2025 that will cut U.S. carbon pollution nearly 10 percent. These truck standards are another step to slash oil use, save Americans money and bring down carbon pollution.
Medium and heavy-duty vehicles, everything from 18-wheelers to delivery trucks, are the fastest growing source of oil consumption in the transportation sector. Even though these vehicles only make up seven percent of the vehicles on the road, they guzzle more than 25 percent of transportation fuel. Although new fuel-saving technologies are found in some trucks, most 18-wheelers on the road average around six miles per gallon (mpg) -- about the same as they did decades ago.
In 2010 the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Department of Transportation (DOT) finalized the first-ever efficiency standards for medium and heavy-duty vehicles sold from 2014-2018. These standards will ensure that new engines are more efficient, and will reduce fuel consumption in semi-trucks by roughly 20 percent.
Developing the next round of efficiency standards now will allow manufacturers to innovate and develop new fuel saving technologies, such as aerodynamic trailers, higher-efficiency engines, advanced materials and lower rolling resistance tires. Last year Peterbilt and Cummins showcased a 10-mpg truck as a part of the DOT's Super Truck program. While 10-miles-per-gallon might not sound like much, it’s a big deal. By increasing fuel economy 54 percent over today's average trucks, this prototype could slash greenhouse gas emissions and save an average driver $25,000 in fuel costs annually.
It is critical that the new standards developed by EPA and DOT are strong. Stringent standards will not only drive innovation for a wide range of new technologies, they will ensure that these technologies spread throughout the marketplace, instead of being found on only a small portion of vehicles.
Of course, setting new efficiency standards for heavy-duty vehicles is only one part of the solution to reduce carbon pollution and oil consumption. We must create an energy-efficient, multi-modal freight system that relies on trains and ships, as well as trucks. When we’re smarter about what we ship and how we ship it, we save money and reduce carbon pollution.
President Obama's announcement of new heavy-duty vehicle standards will build upon a strong legacy of passenger vehicle standards that are already reducing our oil consumption. While it will take EPA and DOT two years to develop new standards and incorporate input from the public, this is another tremendous opportunity to save drivers money at the pump and make our air cleaner to breathe. But most importantly, this is the kind of policy action that’s good for manufactures and businesses, it's good for workers and consumers, and it’s a very real and significant step to addressing carbon pollution.
-- Jesse Prentice-Dunn, Sierra Club
Just when you thought coal couldn't get any dirtier, not one but TWO federal watchdog agencies released outrageous findings last week, proving (again) that the federal government's coal leasing program has it own toxic problems.
Friday, the office of Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR) released a letter it received from the U.S. Department of Interior in response to a probe the Senator's office launched in early 2013. The Interior Department's investigation discovered that Bureau of Land Management (BLM) staff were "illegally conferring" with coal companies during the bidding process for coal leases despite federal regulations designed to limit interactions between the BLM and coal companies in order to prevent unfair influence from the industry.
BLM's excuse? It claims that it wanted to help the leasing process "move faster." With only a handful of coal companies to ever place a lease-bid in the history of the federal coal leasing program, and even fewer to have ever received a competing bid or have a bid rejected, one is left to wonder: what’s BLM’s hurry?
Here's a fun fact from the same letter: since 1991 one solitary employee has been responsible for setting the value of eight billion tons of federal coal -- $4.9 billion worth of coal leases. None of this employee's valuations have been independently audited. Incredible? No, it's business as usual in a program that is essentially captured by the coal industry it leases to.
Earlier in the week, the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) released the result of its highly anticipated report called for by the office of Senator Ed Markey (D-MA) to investigate whether, as earlier reports had claimed, BLM's lax bidding process on public lands let coal companies hose U.S. taxpayers out of $30 billion.
The GAO results were damning enough that Senator Markey echoed the call from the Sierra Club and several other environmental and community organizations to immediately suspend the federal coal leasing program until the BLM gets its act together. The report found specific flaws in the information BLM considers during the leasing process, the lack of public transparency, and the lack of independent oversight. Specifically, the GAO found that BLM's current leasing practices fail to do more than supply "generic boilerplate statements" about the coal industry's plans to rake in cash by exporting federal coal, do not provide the public with accessible, transparent information on coal leases, and lack independent reviews that are "critical for ensuring the integrity" of the appraisal process. According to the GAO, "BLM is unable to ensure that its results are sound" when leasing billions of tons of federal coal.
Senator Ed Markey and Representative Peter DeFazio produced a joint summary of the report, saying:
Following on the heels of the Inspector General's report, released in June 2013, the GAO report is the second federal report in just over six months to criticize BLM’s coal leasing program.
The GAO findings provide a definitive answer for people across the country who have eyed the mounting evidence against the BLM's coal leasing practices on public lands.
Two government reports and now news of illegal actions by federal representatives all confirm that this program has lost its public integrity. Interior Secretary Sally Jewell, who oversees the BLM, should get ahead of this growing scandal by suspending the leasing program. Continuing ahead with leases for billions of tons of coal would neglect the public interest. The federal coal leasing program needs a timeout and a substantive commitment to transparency to ensure the public interest is protected.
We cannot afford to continue the current coal leasing policies that take advantage of the U.S. taxpayer, damage our economy and public lands, and worsen climate disruption. It's time for America to move beyond an 'all of the above' energy policy and use available clean energy like wind and solar that don't come at such a high cost to American families.
-- Bill Corcoran, Director of the Beyond Coal Campaign Western Region
As cross-country skier Andy Newell takes to the mountains of Sochi for his competition today, he'll be sending a message every winter Olympian and athlete can relate to: Climate disruption is putting winter in jeopardy.
Newell and over 100 past and present Olympians-- such as Danny Davis, Gretchen Bleiler, Arielle Gold, and Elena Hight -- have signed a letter calling for climate action to stop the disruption that is putting their livelihoods at risk.
"As winter Olympic athletes, our lives revolve around the winter and if climate change continues at this pace, the economies of the small towns where we live and train will be ruined, our sports will be forever changed and the winter Olympics as we know it will be a thing of the past," the letter states.
The winter tourism industry generates an estimated 23 million participants and $12.2 billion annually in 38 states in the United States alone. When you factor in international competitions, like the Winter Olympic Games, and international tourism, that figure skyrockets.
Even now, the difference between a "good" snow year and a "bad" snow year can cost up to $1.9 billion and between 13,000-27,000 jobs. As the climate continues to be disrupted, the amount of bad years will increase.
Luckily, Newell isn't alone. This is not the first time athletes are taking a stance against climate change. Within the last year, winter athletes and Olympians alike have been raising their voices with Protect Our Winters (POW) to save the snow. Just yesterday, Olympians Kikkan Randall and Alex Diebold wrote a letter to drive this point home.
"[...] If we're going to create a social movement in winter sports against climate change, the responsibility falls on us—to speak out, to teach the youth who look up to us, to influence the media who listen to us and leverage our reach and connections to mobilize millions," Randall and Diebold wrote. "We've joined POW because we realize that we have a platform to speak out about the changes we're seeing, to raise awareness and to influence change and that as one, we can truly make a difference."
Climate disruption has been a main focus over the past four winter Olympics after first being recognized following the 1998 Nagano Winter Games. In the wrap-up report for those games, the authors cautioned, "[...] Striving to host the Olympic Winter Games in harmony with nature is especially important, and we ask the IOC and future Olympic Winter Games host cities to pay close attention to the environment."
Sixteen years and four games later, we're still working toward that goal. In fact, if global temperatures continue to increase at the current rate, only a little more than half of the 19 cities that have hosted the winter games over the last century will ever be cold enough to host the games again.
But, these Olympians aren't willing to let that happen.
"The power we have as Olympians on a global stage is immense," Newell's letter continues. "Let's use this year to make a collective statement, to send a message to the world's leaders to recognize the impact of climate change and to take action now."
"If not us, who?" Randall and Diebold ask.--Cindy Carr, Sierra Club Media Team
When it comes to rivers and clean, safe water, you don't know what you've got until it's gone. Hundreds of thousands of people have learned that the hard way over recent weeks, after a dangerous coal chemical spilled into the Elk River in West Virginia's capitol city, and then toxic coal ash from a retired Duke Energy power plant spilled into North Carolina's Dan River (and now there's another coal slurry spill in WV).
In the wake of these disasters, frightened families have been faced with a sobering reality – the state agencies they were counting on to keep their water safe have actually had their hands tied behind their back for years, thanks to decades of pressure from the coal industry.
Chaos, fear and uncertainty; that’s all the people affected by the chemical spill in West Virginia and the coal ash spill in North Carolina have come to expect from their leaders in the wake of these disasters. It’s simply unacceptable.
Yesterday in Charleston, West Virginia the House sub-committee on Transportation and Infrastructure held a field hearing on the spill, just a day after WV Senator Jay Rockefeller said he still had no faith in the safety of water for more than 300,000 West Virginians, stating:
And the Senator gets very specific on who is to blame for his skepticism:"It just gets into the degree of control that corporations have over people," he said. "They dominate in West Virginia's life. Governors get elected - and I was a governor once - and they appoint people to regulatory jobs who helped them in campaigns. What does that tell you?"
This comes just days after physicians in West Virginia reinforced a recommendation for children and pregnant women to avoid drinking the water - over one month after the spill. It's gotten so bad in West Virginia that, as the New York Times reports, a key selling point for restaurants is that they only use bottled water for cooking.
Sadly, corporate control over the safety of our water isn't just a problem for those of us in West Virginia. In North Carolina, Duke Energy finally announced yesterday that they had stopped the flow of toxic coal ash from a retired coal plant, after a week-long spill that dumped 82,000 tons of arsenic containing toxic coal ash into the Dan River.
An Associated Press investigation yesterday revealed that the North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) has actually been shielding Duke from citizen lawsuits by intervening at the last minute after citizen's groups have filed suit, ensuring that Duke pays exceptionally small fines while doing nothing to clean up toxic coal ash ponds. Rachel Maddow broke this down brilliantly on her show last night, and also interviewed Amy Adams, a former state environmental regulator who resigned in protest after being asked to give polluters a free pass - she is now on the staff of Appalachian Voices, where I used to work as executive director.
Thanks to an investigation by our allies at the Waterkeeper Alliance, the DENR is telling residents along the Dan River to "avoid prolonged direct contact" with water from the river as levels of the toxic metal arsenic are at some points more than four times higher than levels deemed safe for human contact. This warning comes days after the same agency said the water was safe - eerily similar to the way events unfolded in West Virginia.
The response of state and federal agencies to both of these crises is simply unacceptable. It took the EPA nearly a month to respond publicly to the water crisis in West Virginia, and in North Carolina, the DENR only admitted to dangerous levels of arsenic in the river after concerned citizens did testing of their own.
Enough is enough. It has been five years since the disastrous Kingston coal ash spill dumped more than a billion gallons of the toxic sludge and the EPA is still sitting on a draft rule that could have prevented the North Carolina spill, had they finalized a strong version of the rule. The agency is also in the midst of drafting rules to finally set limits for toxic water pollution from power plants, but the coal industry has tried to put the screws to the agency and the White House to ensure the final rule has no teeth.
From corporate mishandling to federal inaction, the depressing fact is that those under the gun from coal pollution still don't have much recourse to protect their homes, their safety or their water.
There are many more coal pollution time bombs ticking on our waterways nationwide, and states are clearly not able to prevent these disasters, nor to respond in time. Now is the time for the EPA to act. It's time to ensure that everyone has the security to expect clean water free from the threat of pollution from coal in any of its forms.
- Mary Anne Hitt, Beyond Coal Campaign Director
On a very snowy winter's day February 11, 1994, President Clinton signed a historic executive order: EO 12898, "Federal Actions to Address Environmental Justice in Minority Populations."
The executive order directs, to the greatest extent practicable and permitted by law, federal agencies to identify and address the disproportionately high and adverse human health or environmental effects of their actions on minority and low-income populations. The order mandates each agency to develop a strategy for implementing environmental justice (EJ). The order also directs promotion of nondiscrimination in federal programs that affect human health and the environment, as well as provide minority and low-income communities access to public information and public participation.
The road to the environmental justice executive order has been a long and hard one for EJ communities and activists. The road is still uphill with many tough and treacherous areas. Communities of color and low-income communities, urban and rural, had been sited for decades near toxic and noxious facilities and extractive processes.
It is commonly accepted that the EJ movement formally started in 1982 when black residents in Warren County, NC laid down in road near where a carcinogen-laden landfill was about to be sited. This county which was mostly African American already had a number of such landfills and the community had had enough. Indigenous communities, farmworkers, and workers inside industrial plants had long agitated for environmental justice as well. The research and documentation started piling up that the government was acquiescing to disproportionate pollution in communities of color and low income communities.
The environmental justice communities have had to make a way when there has been no way. The executive order gave EJ folks a ledge to cling to when taking on the federal government. Unfortunately, the implementation of this executive order is not complete. The work was stalled during the Bush Administration. Meanwhile EJ activists continued to fight for the health and sustainability of their communities.
The Sierra Club started work on EJ issues in the 1990s and the Environmental Justice Program was created in 2000. Organizers were placed in communities, at their request (as the mission of the program) to work on local EJ issues. The EJ Program was later combined with the Community Partnerships Program to become the present Environmental Justice and Community Partnerships (EJCP) Program.
EJCP has worked closely with communities in: Appalachia, Detroit, El Paso, Flagstaff, Memphis, Minneapolis, New Orleans, Puerto Rico and Washington DC. All the organizers and the director integrate the local issues to the national and international levels on a frequent basis. EJCP has fruitful collaborations with many EJ networks as well as with faith, civil rights, labor organizations. The Sierra Club's EJCP Program is called upon to collaborate and convene with EPA and other federal agencies with EJ communities on a regular basis. Due to this influence, the Sierra Club has moved toward a greater justice frame in the national campaign work.
The biggest recent boost of attention to the environmental justice executive order began with President Obama selecting Lisa P. Jackson as the EPA Administrator for his first term. She made EJ one of her seven priorities.
Through EJ Plan 2014 (and EJ activists' advocacy around it), the EPA is facilitating the active participation of the aforementioned federal agencies with a coordinated approach to address the suffering of the overburdened EJ communities. In December of 2010, then-Administrator Jackson and Council on Environmental Quality Chair Nancy Sutley convened the White House Forum on EJ.
Despite a greater focus on EJ at the EPA (February was deemed "Environmental Justice" month by EPA this year), much more needs to be done on to prioritize EJ in enforcement in all the regions. Seriously overburdened communities, for example are suffering detrimental health effects and economic deprivation from chemical accidents and proposed coal terminals. Port communities are exposed to more and more truck, container and barge traffic due to globalization. Communities around refineries are being subject more fires and explosions at refineries who cannot refine tar sands in a safe manner due its toxic content. People in Charleston, WV are still wondering whether their water is safe to drink after a chemical spill last month. Tribal communities and border communities still have to live with the legacy of Cold War uranium contamination and pesticides contamination.
These communities are proactively fighting for a just sustainable future and refuse to be condemned as sacrifice zones. The executive order has been helpful in mandating EJ become central in these agencies' cultures, practices, compliance and enforcement. Much more work needs to be done by the federal government to protect the most overburdened and vulnerable communities.
-- Leslie Fields, Director of the Sierra Club Environmental Justice and Community Partnerships Program.
EPA is holding a 20th anniversary celebration at the National EJ Advisory Council (NEJAC) in Denver, CO on February 11-12. Sierra Club EJCP Organizer Rita Harris will be featured on the commemoration panel on February 11. See also the Sierra Club's comments on Dr. Bob Bullard's (called the father of environmental justice) link about the 20th anniversary. Learn more about Dr. Bob Bullard here.
The following is testimony from Nick Mullins, a former coal miner from Virginia, given Thursday before the Environmental Protection Agency public hearing in Washington, DC, on carbon pollution standards. Nick is pictured above speaking to a press conference outside EPA before giving his testimony inside.
My name is Nick Mullins and I am a 4th generation former underground coal miner from Southwestern Virginia.
Like many of the men in my family, I worked in the coal mines to support my family and to give my children a better future, but it came at the cost of more than just our battered bodies and polluted lungs. It also came at the expense of clean water and clean air for future generations. After decades of mining and mountaintop removal practices, I had to move my family away from our ancestral Appalachian home, fleeing from the detrimental health effects associated with decades of chemicals released into our environment from coal extraction and the “cleaning” process.
The proud heritage of the coal miner has been soiled by the greed of an industry that knows no bounds in its exploitation of decent, hardworking people. While billions of dollars in coal profits have left our communities, thousands of people continue to face a seemingly endless cycle of poverty and drug abuse. Of the billions of tons of coal extracted from our mountains to power this great nation, most of it has gone up in waste for the sake of comfort, convenience, and enormous profit.
After decades of careless energy use by our nation, Appalachians are being left with poisoned water, eviscerated mountains, and little economic hope. But the problems in Appalachia are only some of the many caused by the overuse of a cheaply extracted-resource. Now we are facing the inevitability of human-created climate change, of which we can no longer be apathetic.
By limiting carbon emissions from power plants, we are taking steps towards a transformative future. Though many will find themselves fearing, and even resisting change, we need to realize that smart policies designed to protect public health and spur innovation are absolutely necessary. For example, by creating a more energy efficient, carbon-conscious economy, we are also creating new jobs for thousands of skilled workers who can install equipment, upgrade infrastructure, and build a better, cleaner future for our children. In doing so, we are accomplishing the same goals so many coal miners work hard towards every day.
I speak out on behalf of fellow fathers, Appalachians, skilled workers, and the 4,000,000 other Americans who support strong standards to limit pollution from our nation's power plants. We are standing together, in pursuit of a healthier, safer, cleaner future for our children.
This week, actresses Amy Smart, Eva Amurri Martino, Emmanuelle Chriqui and Dawn Olivieri joined the Sierra Club in an online video asking California Governor Jerry Brown to make a "clean break" with fossil fuels, and commit to replacing the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station with 100 percent clean energy. Check out the great video.
The California Public Utilities Commission is expected to begin its decision-making process within the next few days as to how much of the shuttered nuclear plant will be replaced by clean or dirty energy.
Take action and learn more here.
The Sierra Club's My Generation Campaign is a statewide effort to ensure that every Californian is able to enjoy the access and benefits that come from the use of affordable, local clean renewable sources of energy, thereby reducing our overall reliance on dangerous fossil fuels.
Across the country, Sierra Club activists have been raising their voices about a “free trade” scheme that would do more environmental harm than help if it’s pushed through the finish line as-is.
From rallies and demonstrations to emails and phone calls to their representatives in Congress, these activists are calling for responsible trade, and opposing fast track--an outdated ploy to speed up passage of massive trade deals that have less to do with tariffs and quotas and more to do with our labor, environmental, and consumer safeguards.
If passed, the fast track bill introduced in the House and Senate last month would strip Congress of its right to improve trade deals, including the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) deal and a Transatlantic deal with the European Union. From what we know about these trade deals -- which isn’t much, since we’re relying on leaked texts and are otherwise locked out of negotiations -- they will feed to the whims of the deals’ corporate advisers and will do little to protect the interest and safety of the public.
There are tons of reasons to oppose fast track, and Sierra Club activists aren’t the only ones joining this national “10 Days to Stop Fast Track.” They’re joined by members of labor unions, proponents of open internet, other environmentalists, and concerned citizens that have a stake in America’s role in international trade. According to the Wall Street Journal, this effort has engaged nearly 600,000 supporters through online petitions and garnered more than 40,000 phone calls to Congress.
Here’s what some of you, the Sierra Club’s grassroots activists, have done to raise the issue and call to stop fast track.
Sierra Club activists sent over 65,000 messages to the halls of congress to stop “fast-track” dead in its tracks. You can add your name and share with your networks.
In Seattle, 300 people including labor leaders and health professionals joined together at Westlake Center to protest the highly secretive TPP trade deal. Speakers appeared in front of a giant “We the People” replica of the Preamble of the Constitution while nearby, a satirical “We the Corporations” rewrite of the Preamble hinted at the corporate interests that are actually served by the trade deal. You can watch a video of the whole event here.Photo by Robin Everett
Sierra Club activists made the news in Maryland where about 25 people rallied outside Rep. John Delaney’s office in Gaithersburg last week to urge him to vote against fast track. An op-ed written by Betsy Johnson, Political Chair from the Sierra Club Maryland Chapter, also ran in the Baltimore Sun just before the 10 days of action, calling on Reps. Delaney and Chris Van Hollen to speak up and reject fast track.
In Denver, activists from MoveOn.org, Food and Water Watch, Communication Workers of America and Sierra Club, along with others participated in a sign-waving event downtown. Held in Civic Center Park on a snowy afternoon, this event helped get the word out about the TPP to Rep. Jared Polis’ constituents.Photo by Sam Schabacker of Food and Water Watch
Even before the organized 10 days of action, Sierra Club members across the country have been bringing the dangers of the Trans-Pacific Partnership into daylight.
Recently, Debra Higbee-Sudyka, Vice Chair of the Marys Peak Group of the Sierra Club in Oregon, spoke at town halls with Congressman DeFazio and highlighted the Sierra Club's concerns about TPP and our opposition to fast track. It made the front page of the community’s paper, the Gazette Times.
Also, with support from the Sierra Club chapter in Los Angeles, the LA City Council introduced a resolution opposing fast tracking the TPP. The chair of Sierra Club's Committee on Trade, Human Rights, and the Environment, Jesse Swanhuyser, spoke at the press conference alongside Teamsters President James Hoffa in order to announce the resolution.
The Sierra Club’s Atlantic Chapter in New York, led by volunteer Stephanie Low, helped organize an incredibly successful press conference on the steps of City Hall in NYC. You can see the short video from the rally against fast track here.
These days of action gave activists a chance to have their voices heard -- and momentum to do more. If we want to protect our jobs, our food, our air and water, and our climate, we need to urge Congress to reject fast track.
--Ilana Solomon, Sierra Club Responsible Trade Program Director
The site of the Dan River spill in North Carolina. Photo by Appalachian Voices. See more photos here.
On Sunday, a stormwater pipe burst underneath an unlined pit storing wet coal ash at a retired Duke Energy coal plant in Eden, North Carolina, spilling up to 82,000 tons of coal ash and 27 million gallons of wastewater into the Dan River, six miles upstream from a drinking water source. Even more disturbing than that deeply disturbing news is that Duke Energy did not issue a press release and inform the public about this massive spill until 24 hours after it was discovered.
This event is far from over as the river is grey from the coal ash and Duke Energy has yet to implement a permanent solution to stop the flow of coal ash into the river.
Officials are saying the water treatment plant will be able to handle the coal ash, which contains arsenic, selenium, lead, mercury, and many other toxic materials, but I'm guessing North Carolinians in that area still aren't feeling very safe when they turn the tap on. And now the state Department of Environment and Natural Resources says the water is not safe.
The Dan River after the coal ash spill. Photo by Appalachian Voices.
Sierra Club in North Carolina is responding to this coal ash spill with a coalition of groups. Unfortunately, the dangers of coal ash pollution are not new to the state Duke Energy operates thirteen additional coal ash waste pits in North Carolina, meaning more waterways and communities remain at risk.
Duke Energy is also responsible for the coal ash contamination of Mountain Lake, which is the drinking water source for 75,000 people in Charlotte. Meanwhile, its coal ash pollution in Sutton Lake kills 900,000 fish every year. And in Asheville, where Beyond Coal campaign is calling for the retirement of the Asheville coal plant, the old coal ash ponds are leaching toxic chemicals into the French Broad River.
Duke Energy and the state of North Carolina have known about contamination from aging and dangerous coal ash storage pits for years, yet have taken no action to clean up the waste pits and protect our waterways and our people. In fact, the Department of Environment and Natural Resources only took legal action against Duke's unlawful coal ash pits after conservation advocates like the Sierra Club forced their hand. Even then, DENR's customer-service approach would allow Duke Energy to continue business as usual.
As Grist's John Upton pointed out, Duke was quite confident their coal ash sites were all perfectly safe:
We know that confidence is far from reality.
Even Duke is changing its tune, as a spokesperson recently told the LA Times that storing coal ash in lagoons is outdated.
The Sierra Club calls on both Duke Energy and the State of North Carolina to be fully transparent with the public, releasing accurate and timely information about the scale of this latest spill and its consequences. As the spill is ongoing, nothing less than full disclosure and cooperation is acceptable.
Last week a settlement was announced that will require the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) will release its first-ever regulations for the disposal of toxic coal ash toxic waste product. But this deadline alone is not enough. These coal ash sites in North Carolina and across the U.S. are poisonous time bombs. We cannot afford any more coal ash spills.
-- Kelly Martin, Sierra Club North Carolina Senior Campaign Representative
President Obama said it best last week in his State of the Union address: "Climate change is a fact."
Few people know this better than winter athletes. Since climate disruption started drastically affecting the weather and the seasons, these athletes have seen winters with extreme weather ranging from Arctic cold temperatures to seasons so warm that no snow could fall.
When your livelihood depends on consistently cold temperatures year after year, it's not hard to see how climate disruption is a major problem.
But if you think these winter athletes are just going to let climate disruption take away their favorite season, think again.
In 2007, pro snowboarder Jeremy Jones started Protect Our Winters (POW), an organization dedicated "to engag[ing] and mobiliz[ing] the winter sports community to lead the fight against climate change. [Its] focus is on educational initiatives, advocacy and the support of community-based projects."
In April of last year, POW sent a letter signed by 75 professional winter athletes and Olympians to President Obama urging him to move toward renewable energy sources, put carbon limits on power plants, scrap the Keystone XL pipeline, and stop climate change in its tracks.
"As professional athletes, representing a community of 23 million winter sports enthusiasts, we're witnessing climate change first-hand," the letter states. " was the warmest year on record, and once again, we're currently experiencing another winter season of inconsistent snow and questionable extremes. Without a doubt, winter is in trouble."
But they didn't just stop there. Most recently, POW has launched the Riders Alliance, a group composed of 53 snowsports athletes from around the world who are dedicated to combating climate disruption and saving the snow.
To top it all off, 13 of these climate champions will be representing Team USA in the upcoming Olympic games. Jamie Anderson, Danny Davis, Alex Deibold, Kaitlyn Farrington, Arielle Gold, Chas Guldemond, Nate Holland, Lindsey Jacobellis, Devin Logan, Julia Mancuso, Steven Nyman, Kikkan Randall, and Hannah Teter are some of the greenest athletes competing for the red, white, and blue.
As the Olympics approach, the Riders Alliance, in conjunction with the Yale School of Forestry, will work to call attention to climate disruption at one the world's largest winter sports events. Five graduate students from the Yale program will travel to Sochi to make sure climate disruption "is part of the conversation, where it should be."
You can do your part to help these students and athletes make a difference in the fight to end climate disruption. As you watch the Olympic games, start a conversation about the cost climate disruption has on our winters. Tell your friends and family. Get the word out using Twitter and Facebook.
And make sure you support these athletes and Team USA by watching their competitions starting February 7. Let's cheer on our Olympic-sized environmental champions as they go for the gold.
Here's a quick viewing guide, so you can watch them compete and tweet your support:
Event: Men's Slopestyle
Date: Saturday, Feb. 8
Event: Ladies' Slopestyle
Date: Sunday, Feb. 9
Sport: Alpine Skiing
Event: Men's Downhill and Men's Super Combined
Date: Sunday, Feb. 9 and Friday, Feb. 14
Sport: Alpine Skiing
Event: Women's Super Combined and Women's Downhill
Date: Monday Feb. 10 and Wednesday, Feb.12
Event: Men's Halfpipe
Date: Tuesday, Feb. 11
Event: Ladies' Ski Slopestyle
Date: Tuesday, Feb. 11
Event: Ladies' Halfpipe
Date: Wednesday, Feb. 12
Event: Ladies' Halfpipe
Date: Wednesday, Feb. 12
Event: Ladies' Halfpipe
Date: Wednesday, Feb. 12
Event: Ladies' Snowboard Cross
Date: Sunday, Feb. 16
Event: Men's Snowboard Cross
Date: Monday, Feb. 17
Event: Men's Snowboard Cross
Date: Monday, Feb. 17
Sport: Cross-Country Skiing
-- Cindy Carr, Sierra Club Media Team
Public hearing in Washington, DC, Thursday will be packed with supporters
This week we once again heard the call for action from Americans loud and clear: They want clean energy and they want it right away. On Tuesday the Sierra Club released a new poll with Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research showing that seven-in-ten Americans favor the Environmental Protection Agency putting limits on the amount of carbon pollution that power plants can release.
And that's not the only amazing statistic from the poll. Just look at the key findings:
- By nearly a 2-to-1 margin, voters think the country should be investing more in clean energy sources and energy efficiency rather than in fossil fuels like coal, oil and gas (61 percent clean energy vs. 33 percent traditional sources).
- A majority of voters (51 percent) "strongly" prefers investing in clean energy. Support is even higher among African-American voters (77 percent) and Latino voters (71 percent).
- A strong majority of voters (58 percent) favor the U.S. setting national goals to move away from coal and other fossil fuels and replace them with clean, renewable sources by the year.
- Two-in-three U.S. voters say the issue of climate disruption is a serious problem.
- The majority of voters (56 percent) believe that the government already limits the amount of carbon pollution that power plants can release, which the government currently does not.
We'll be taking these stats with us Thursday in Washington, D.C., to an EPA public hearing on its proposed carbon pollution standards. I’ll be testifying, and if you're in the D.C. area Thursday, you should join us!
Dirty power plants are a threat to our health and our climate, and this week's poll shows once again that President Obama and the EPA have the public support they need to ensure pending carbon pollution standards for power plants are strong enough to protect our families.
Millions of Americans have already sent in their comments supporting EPA's carbon pollution standards. Have you sent yours in yet?
-- Mary Anne Hitt, Beyond Coal Campaign Director
Imagine pumping 400 million gallons of fuel for your cars over the course of a year. That's roughly twice the amount of oil spilled into the Gulf of Mexico by BP in 2010. That's also the amount of fuel the federal government used in 2012. A new report by the General Services Administration shows that federal fleets are falling well short of goals set by President Obama to reduce oil consumption and shift to advanced vehicles.
In the Sierra Club's Future Fleet campaign, we are pushing large fleets to reduce their oil consumption and stop using dirty and dangerous tar sands oil wherever possible. As the largest single fleet operator in the country, the federal government has a tremendous opportunity to lead the nation in reducing our dependence on oil. In a 2009 executive order, President Obama set a goal of reducing oil use in the federal fleet 30 percent by 2020, and outlined more specific guidelines for federal fleet managers in a 2011 presidential memorandum.
In 2012 the federal government managed more than 650,000 vehicles around the world - roughly split in thirds among military vehicles, civilian agency vehicles, and the US Postal Service fleet. According to the GSA report, vehicles in the federal fleet drove more than five billion miles, consumed nearly 400 million gallons of fuel and incurred operating costs of $4 billion. While this represents a reduction in fuel use of five percent from 2011 to 2012, the federal fleet has only reduced oil use a total of three percent since 2005.
A closer look at the numbers reveals several interesting trends. The military has aggressively moved to reduce oil use in their vehicles, shedding five percent of its vehicles from 2011 to 2012, and reducing oil use ten percent compared to the previous year alone. These actions saved the military billions, reducing operating costs by more than five percent in just one year.
Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for the US Postal Service. While the Postal Service did reduce the numbers of miles driven by its vehicles by 4.5 percent from 2011 to 2012, its fleet operating costs increased slightly, and it lagged behind the military and other civilian agencies, only reducing oil use by 2.5 percent.
The Postal Service fleet must operate nationwide in tough conditions; however, there are significant opportunities for using less oil and saving money. Currently, Postal Service delivery trucks achieve around 10 miles per gallon. A 2009 Postal Service analysis found that electric vehicles could cut maintenance costs substantially, and that fuel costs could be reduced from 33 cents a mile to five cents a mile by switching from gas to electricity. Just this week, Representative Jared Huffman (D-CA) and Representative Connolly (D-VA) introduced the FLEET Act, a bill that would require the Postal Service to reduce oil use two percent each year through 2025.
It is encouraging to see federal fleets taking important strides to reduce oil use; however, more action is needed to meet the ambitious goals set by President Obama. It is critical that the government continue to transition to advanced vehicles, such as plug-in hybrid and electric vehicles, and show leadership in reducing our dependence on oil.
-- Jesse Prence-Dunn, Campaign Representative for the Sierra Club Responsible Trade Program
MSNBC's Chris Hayes had a great commentary on the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline this weekend.
Are you attending one of the more than 280 Keystone XL protest vigils tonight?
It has been an inauspicious few days for congressional Republicans when it comes to action on the climate crisis. Hours before Tuesday’s State of the Union address, the Republican-controlled House Energy and Commerce Committee rejected an amendment that would simply have recognized that climate disruption is occurring. Minutes after the president was done speaking, four congressional Republicans gave four separate televised responses that offered a grand total of nothing regarding climate. And on Wednesday, that Republican congressional conference - of which a sizable majority deny basic climate science - began their three-day retreat at a place right in the path of some of climate disruption’s worst expected outcomes.
Speaker John Boehner and his colleagues are calling it a meeting of the “Congress of Tomorrow,” but if they continue to stand in the way of climate action, the place where they are having their retreat soon may not have a tomorrow. This year, the conference will be held at the Hyatt Regency Chesapeake Bay Golf Resort, Spa and Marina -- a resort located on Maryland’s waterfront, and just one of numerous areas on the eastern seaboard at risk of sea level rise.
Take a look at the map above, collected from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s maps depicting the vulnerability of different regions to sea level rise and coastal flooding. The dark red indicates the retreat is occurring in an area of “High” vulnerability. The light blue shows the expected impact of sea level rise of up to six feet. Clearly, the choice of location is an ironic one for a group with so little to say on climate action.
Climate scientists have been very clear: As the earth’s temperatures continue to rise as a result of human activity -- such as burning fossil fuels like coal, oil, and natural gas -- sea levels will continue to rise at an alarming rate. According to experts, the sea level in Maryland could rise upward of six feet by the end of the century.
It's not just Maryland. As of 2010, two out of every five Americans -- more than 123 million of us -- lived near the coast. This includes major cities like New York, New Orleans, Boston, and San Diego. And, in addition to the shoreline erosion, the costs, severity, and frequency of extreme storms like Hurricane Katrina, Superstorm Sandy, and Typhoon Haiyan are expected to increase in those areas.
If those storms weren't a wake-up call to every elected official that we need to act on climate, we can only hope the congressional Republicans' choice of location will help open their eyes to the reality of what’s at stake -- but, we certainly don’t expect it. After all, these are the folks who have earned the inauspicious designation as the most anti-environment Congress in history.
Even still, the worst effects of climate disruption won’t discriminate when it comes to political party -- National Geographic’s recent image of the effect on North America if all sea ice melts makes that shockingly clear. Whether they are looking at the coastline in Cambridge or at these projections, the dire need for action is staring climate deniers right in the face. The question they’ll be judged on is whether they actually do something about it.