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Congressman Holt (right) and Guests from New Jersey
One year ago today the nation was anxiously watching the Northeastern Seaboard, waiting out the full destruction of Superstorm Sandy. The storm ravaged towns up and down the coast from Maine to Florida, affecting the millions of Americans there and in between. Severe flooding, strong winds, and seemingly relentless rain pounded the coast killing more than 100 people, causing nearly $65 billion in damage, cutting power for more than 8 million, and destroying more than 300,000 homes and properties.
One year later, much of that destruction remains. .
Today, Representative Rush Holt, representing New Jersey’s 12th district, reflected on Superstorm Sandy and the affect it had on his home state and district. He was joined by three New Jersey Superstorm Sandy survivors, and their message was clear: We need to address climate disruption before the next Superstorm Sandy happens.
As Holt spoke about the storm survivors, he remarked, “these people are just representative of millions of people. They are a leading edge of a generation shaped by climate change.”
Each of the three New Jersey natives has a different story to tell but are inextricably connected by Sandy.
Eric Fleming, owner of Cocoa Bakery in Jersey City, was planning on opening his bakery November 17, 2012. When Sandy was about to hit, Fleming and his wife prepared for the storm as best they could, but they had no idea how destructive it would be. Six feet of water flooded their shop, destroying power tools, woodwork, and a nearly $20,000 espresso machine.
“The force of the water had ripped the pipes out of the wall,” Fleming said.
One year later, and their shop has only been open for three weeks. The destruction from the storm was more than just cosmetic damages; it also cost them one entire year of revenue. Unfortunately, Fleming isn’t alone. Many small businesses are still fighting to recover from Sandy.
“A lot of people are still dealing with a lot of damage,” Flemming said.
That includes people like Norma DeNoia. DeNoia is a resident of Seaside Park and owns rental property in the area. When Sandy hit, DeNoia and the other residents on the barrier island had to evacuate. These residents weren’t able to spend the holidays in their homes, and DeNoia lost her renters. It wasn’t until just recently she got one of them back.
“We were ill-prepared for the extent of the damage,” DeNoia said.
Luckily, many people have come to help the residents deal with the destruction. April Kuzas is one of them. Kuzas, a single mother of a son with asthma, had to move out of her Jersey City home for a week following the storm because her son relies on electricity to power his asthma treatment equipment. But Kuzas recognizes that she is lucky to not have lost her home.
“Luckily, we were able to help others,” Kuzas said.
Kuzas has been focusing her efforts on a local housing project that just happens to be located in the same community as Fleming’s bakery. Many of the residents of this housing project weren’t allowed back in their homes for a full month after Sandy, and many still have severe mold damage. This mold is affecting residents, specifically children -- something Kuzas and her son can relate to.
“One woman I’ve gotten close to over the past year, she has three sons,” Kuzas said. “Her sons have been in the hospital five times because of the mold.”
Currently, a bill addressing mold treatment in public housing is being reviewed by the New Jersey Senate. This is just one step in the process of recovering after Sandy and preparing for future weather events.
For years, scientists have been warning that with increased climate disruption comes more frequent and more severe weather. That severe weather is now upon us in the form of hurricanes, floods, droughts, tornadoes, and storms like Sandy.
“This is the new normal,” Holt said. “This will happen again and again.”
While some Members of Congress are skeptical of climate disruption and the consequences of inaction, Holt knows it is important to act now.
“We would do well to invest upfront,” Holt said of clean energy and preparations for future severe weather.
Holt brought these people from his home state to show his peers in Washington that he is not alone in calling for action, and that the sentiment for action on climate disruption spans the country and reaches every community.
“I feel very strongly that something needs to change,” concluded Denoia.
--Cindy Carr, Sierra Club Media Intern
Lincoln County, West Virginia, before mountaintop-removal mining.
On October 7, the West Virginia Public Service Commission issued an order requiring FirstEnergy to, among other things, double its energy efficiency target to one percent annually by 2018. This is a great move for increasing savings on rate-payer bills, fighting climate disruption, and creating new jobs.
It all started when, late last year, FirstEnergy-regulated subsidiary Monongahela Power requested permission from the Commission to acquire nearly 1,500 megawatts of coal-fired capacity from fellow FirstEnergy subsidiary Allegheny Energy Supply, at a price to ratepayers of over $1.1 billion.
The Sierra Club intervened in that proceeding, and, along with others, argued extensively that:
- The proposed price was too steep;
- Acquiring more coal-fired generation was environmentally short-sighted and risky to ratepayers;
- That the utility would be saddled with excess capacity it would be unlikely to recoup through market sales;
- And that investments in energy efficiency along with market purchases of electricity would be a dramatically cheaper way to serve customers, create jobs, and protect the environment.
The Club then participated in a coalition of stakeholders to help drive a settlement with FirstEnergy, resulting in dramatic increases in FirstEnergy's energy-efficiency requirements, investments in home and school weatherization projects to save even more energy, assistance to low-income ratepayers, and a savings of hundreds of millions of dollars to Monongahela Power's West Virginia customers.
The Commission approved the settlement, but also went further. Citing concerns about overreliance on coal in a world seeking to address carbon pollution, the Commission determined that FirstEnergy must bear more of the risk that carbon pricing and future environmental and public health standards would render the investment in more coal-fired generation a bad bet on behalf of its customers. As such, it may only recover from customers funds for part of the asset transfer if it can't sell enough of its new, surplus electricity to non-West Virginia customers.
In the end, the dramatic increase in FirstEnergy's energy-efficiency targets in West Virginia will end up helping keep the air clean, fight climate disruption, protect customers, and create new clean energy jobs in West Virginia.
By Zack Fabish, Attorney, Sierra Club Environmental Law Program
Long Island, New York may soon become clean-energy central thanks to a recent decision by the Long Island Power Authority (LIPA) to approve a 100-megawatt solar feed-in-tariff, which will triple solar generation through the Long Island Clean Solar Initiative program.
"The Clean Solar Initiative and residential solar programs have made Long Island a leader in solar power and reduced our dependence on dirty fossil fuels that pollute our air and make people sick," said Sierra Club Organizing Representative David Alicea. A feed-in-tariff lets people who go solar get paid for generated energy that feeds back into the grid, providing incentive for homeowners and business to adopt clean energy. LIPA's approval came with an additional promise to purchase 280 megawatts of renewable energy.
The Sierra Club's Beyond Coal Campaign in New York played a big role in securing this clean-energy commitment. In September 2012, Beyond Coal organizers launched the "Let's Turn, Not Burn" campaign with local partners and the Long Island Sierra Club group, with the specific goal of pushing LIPA and Governor Cuomo to consider offshore wind energy.
"LIPA was considering several proposals for new energy generation, which included building a new gas plant or purchasing power from an offshore wind project proposed for eastern Long Island," said Lisa Dix of Beyond Coal New York.
While the campaign fell short of a 750-to-900-megawatt offshore wind proposal, the solar feed-in-tariff, a fuel-cell and wind feed-in-tariff, and the 280-megawatt commitment did get the green light last year. However, after Superstorm Sandy plowed through the region, politics threatened to undo the commitment. But the campaign, coalition, and allies were successful in pressuring the governor and legislators in Albany to hold firm on the commitment. "And we won," said Dix.
"We see the renewable energy procurement as the prime opportunity to get the Empire State to finally commit to clean-renewable offshore wind power. It's a sad fact that New York lags behind on renewable energy, an area where it should be leading. This year we will push to double down on wind energy to meet the state's renewable energy targets."
To that end, LIPA's decision marks an exciting development, especially as the anniversary of Superstorm Sandy approaches. The campaign worked with Citizens Campaign for the Environment, Renewable Energy Long Island, the National Wildlife Federation, and others to keep the agency committed to clean energy.
"Long Islanders understand the real devastating effects of climate change," stated Adrienne Esposito, executive director, Citizens Campaign for the Environment. "We need to act now to curb polluting fossil fuels and increase renewable energies, including investing in offshore wind. It takes us a few months to site fossil fuel power plants and decades for clean offshore wind. We must reverse this pattern, tackle climate change and create a new energy paradigm."
-- Brian Foley
It may seem like ages ago, but days before the government closed its doors, the Senate took up a bill that would save us a tremendous amount of money and energy while creating jobs across the country.
This bill, the Energy Savings and Industrial Competiveness Act of 2013 (S.1392 or Shaheen-Portman), has the type of bipartisan and stakeholder support that is increasingly rare. It's supported by an array of uncommon allies: everyone from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce to the National Association of Manufacturers to the Sierra Club. And thanks to months and months of hard work by its two sponsors, New Hampshire Democratic Senator Jeanne Shaheen and Ohio Republican Rob Portman, it also became the first energy bill to be debated in six years.
So why did the Senate abandon it?
It’s a familiar story. While the bipartisan momentum behind the bill was building, one senator stood in the way and derailed the entire process simply to score a few political points. Shaheen-Portman was blocked by Louisiana Republican Senator David Vitter. Vitter, it seems, just couldn’t help himself from offering a totally unrelated amendment pertaining to the Affordable Care Act, adding a partisan poison pill to one of the few bipartisan bills to hit the floor in years. To be clear, there was a whole suite of bad amendments that was offered to S.1392, and Senator Vitter’s amendment was just one of them. But ultimately it was this unrelated amendment that forced leadership to table the bill for the time being.
Right now, our nation faces a host of important problems. We elected Congress to deal with them, and they aren’t doing it. That’s why Americans’ approval rating of Congress has sunk to an all-time low, scrapping the bottom of the barrel at just 5 percent. Be it the budget, the debt ceiling, or an important energy efficiency bill, Congress has to learn its lesson: There are no winners in holding solutions hostage over political agendas. It’s time for this nonsense to stop – and the Shaheen-Portman bill is a good place to start.
After 16 days of a government shutdown that cost our economy billions of dollars, put hard-working Americans out of a job, and shuttered some of our most important watchdog agencies, Congress finally worked together to end a manufactured crisis. It’s a fine start, but how about they work together to solve some real problems? This energy efficiency legislation is the perfect opportunity.
The diverse stakeholder support is there. Champions on both sides of the aisle are there. The chance for the Senate to prove they can still get something done is right in front of them. They shouldn’t miss this opportunity.
Senators Shaheen and Portman, the authors of this bill, have labored together across party lines for nearly four years on designing one of the world’s least controversial yet meaningful bills. It sailed through the Energy and Natural Resources Committee and is ready to go. Key Republicans in the House like Ed Whitfield have announced they are ready to move the legislation. In light of the recent economic damage wrought by the shutdown, Shaheen-Portman can help us recoup some of these losses by spurring growth and job creation. All Congress has to do is leave controversial poison-pill amendments behind and vote.
--Radha Adhar, Sierra Club Associate Washington Representative
Today a group of eight governors announced a landmark initiative to put 3.3 million electric vehicles on the road by 2025. That’s a lot of cars -- more than five times the number of cars the nation’s best selling Ford F-Series pickup sold in 2012 -- that will use no oil. The eight states are California, Connecticut, Maryland, Massachusetts, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, and Vermont. To put it in perspective, these states combined represent nearly one-quarter of the vehicle market in the United States.
Passenger cars and trucks are responsible for nearly half of our nation's oil consumption and one-fifth of our carbon pollution. Even using energy to power plug-in vehicles from today's electricity sources, EVs are already significantly lower in greenhouse gas emissions than conventional vehicles. And as we shift to more renewable sources of power, these emissions savings will grow even more dramatic.
The eight states announcing this bold initiative will speed the adoption of electric vehicles through a range of strategies. These states will ensure drivers have convenient access to charging stations and coordinate building codes so that new buildings will be more likely to have charging facilities. Each state will lead the way by setting a goal for procuring electric vehicles in their own government fleet, and together they will develop joint education programs. By coordinating through a joint task force, these states will ensure the success of their Zero Emission Vehicle programs.
The momentum behind electric vehicles is growing. Today there are more electric vehicles on the road than ever before, and the number is growing quickly. Sales of plug-in electric vehicles tripled from 2011 to 2012, and in the first half of 2013 alone, sales of electric vehicles doubled compared to that time last year. At Sierra Club, we’ve seen enthusiasm for electric vehicles grow nationwide. Just last month we co-hosted National Plug-In Day, where more than 35,000 people attended events in 98 cities across the country.
This exciting partnership will build on the success of recently adopted fuel efficiency and emissions standards. For years, the Sierra Club, other environmental organizations, consumer and labor groups, and many others worked hard to ensure the adoption of federal vehicle standards that will double the efficiency of new passenger vehicles to an average of 54.5 miles per gallon by 2025. Today’s announcement will build upon these landmark standards and ensure that not only will our cars use less gasoline in the future, many of them won’t use gas at all.
-- Michael Marx, Director of the Beyond Oil Campaign
Chicago. Los Angeles. Austin. Asheville. Wait, what? That's right, Asheville, North Carolina, can now join the ranks of cities that have chosen to move beyond coal. On Tuesday night the city council voted UNANIMOUSLY to move the city from coal-fired electricity toward a clean energy future.
I was just in Asheville in July with my new friend Ian Somerhalder (of TV's "Vampire Diaries" fame) to speak at a rally where hundreds of people gathered to urge the city to invest in clean energy...here's video from that rally...
...and now look at the fantastic results!
This move by the city council is the right choice for clean air, clean water, and the local economy. The resolution establishes a partnership between Duke Energy - owner of Asheville's coal plant - and the city to work together in developing a plan to phase out the use of coal in western North Carolina.
Duke's coal plant in Asheville is the largest source of climate-disrupting carbon pollution in western North Carolina, which makes no sense for a city like Asheville that is a leader on clean air, clean water, and tackling climate disruption.
An investigation by a local riverkeeper also revealed that the coal ash ponds at the plant were leaking toxic chemicals into the French Broad River and groundwater. Coal ash is the by-product of burning coal for power, and it's full of nasty chemicals such as arsenic and lead.
"Duke's toxic coal ash problem is another reason why Asheville needs this plant phased out," said Hartwell Carson, the French Broad Riverkeeper who discovered the coal ash contamination. "The only way to permanently address toxic coal ash waste is to stop burning coal, and the city's resolution is the first step toward that goal here in Western North Carolina."
What an inspiring move, and a great model for other cities. This is an opportunity for Duke Energy to do right for its workers at the coal plant and secure a just transition for them for when the coal plant is retired. The Sierra Club and the Asheville Beyond Coal campaign strongly support transitioning in a just manner.
I'm thrilled for my friends in Asheville -- all those hundreds of people in the coalition there who helped this happed. Congrats to the Asheville Beyond Coal campaign and coalition partners the Western North Carolina Alliance and French Broad Riverkeeper, and the more than a dozen additional groups supporting the campaign.
-- Mary Anne Hitt, Beyond Coal Director
"The question is not whether we need to act.... The question now is whether we will have the courage to act before it's too late."
Those were President Obama's words during his landmark climate speech this past summer at Georgetown University. That speech marked a new, aggressive commitment to addressing the climate crisis by using climate pollution as a yardstick for major energy and environment decisions. The president laid out an ambitious vision for a clean-energy future that would generate jobs, promote healthy communities, and set an example for the world.
That's why we can't help but question why the Environmental Protection Agency would consider performance standards for new gas fueled power plants that could lock in continued reliance on fossil fuels for decades, and fail to carry out the president's vision.
Although the EPA's proposed standard for coal plants will significantly reduce carbon pollution, the standards for natural gas will not require new plants to perform any better than old ones. By setting carbon-pollution standards for new and existing gas-powered power plants that don't achieve any actual emissions reductions -- even though we have the technology to do so -- the EPA's proposal gives the natural gas industry a free pass to pollute. That means no reductions in carbon pollution from natural gas. Clearly, this would be a colossal missed opportunity.
Failure to use this once-in-a-generation opportunity to require the natural gas industry to use existing pollution control technology will undermine the president’s environmental legacy. An International Energy Agency report concluded that converting from coal to gas in the electricity sector would still fuel a global temperature increase of six degrees Fahrenheit. That is unacceptable. If the EPA is serious about the climate crisis, it needs to be serious about reducing emissions from all power plants -- regardless of whether they are fueled by gas or coal.
Remember, too, that burning more natural gas inevitably means more drilling and fracking -- and more pollution. That pollution, which causes respiratory problems and premature deaths, disproportionately harms low-income communities. But all Americans are affected by it. In fact, a recent UT Austin study found that greenhouse gas emissions from fracking for gas alone were equivalent to 10 million cars on the road each year -- and that's just the pollution from fracking, not counting the emissions when the gas itself is burned or leaks along transport lines. Giving a free polluter's pass to natural gas plants is an attack on everyone who values clean air and safe drinking water.
Fortunately, it's not too late. The EPA's upcoming public listening sessions for existing gas plants give us a chance to tell the agency that we want it to make the president's clean-energy vision a reality. That means not letting gas-powered plants off the hook. The best path forward is to set tough standards for new and existing gas plants. Even if you can't attend a listening session, you can send a message to the EPA telling it to protect our air, our water, and our communities from harmful fracking.
The question isn't whether we need to act. We know that more fossil fuels, including natural gas, will lead to a much warmer future. The question is whether President Obama and the EPA are courageous enough to stand up to the oil and gas industry. We must demand they not give a free pass to natural gas.
-- Deb Nardone, Director of the Sierra Club's Beyond Natural Gas Campaign
A few short years ago the assumption that coal demand was essentially endless in China and India was seen as irrefutable. Now this 'coal consensus' is breaking as analysts from Citi Bank to Bernstein predict a rapidly approaching peak in Chinese coal demand. But while the end of the Chinese coal bubble has generated headlines the situation in India has flown entirely under the radar. Now the Indian coal bubble may have popped and no one seems to realize they’re standing in the rubble.
To understand the depth and extent of the Indian coal bubble you have to first understand the country's unique problem: Despite sitting on the world's 5th largest supply of coal, it can't secure affordable coal supplies. That's because the country can't mine coal fast enough, and has failed to expand transportation infrastructure (largely railways) to move coal where it needs to be (the power plants). The resulting supply crunch is so acute that power plants operators and Coal India have fought for years over 'Fuel Supply Agreements' while scores of coal plant developers have moved to India's coastline to bypass domestic supply problems in favor of expensive imports. In sum, this supply crunch is structural, and it's not going away anytime soon.
But it's not that India’s coal supplies have stagnated for lack of effort. Even now Coal India and the Ministry of Forest and Environment have green-lighted mine expansions across the country. The problem is expanding mining operations is easier said than done. You see if you layered maps of mineral resources, tribal populations, and endangered wildlife on top of each other you’d see a scary picture. That's because what's left of India's cheapest coal reserves lies in the exact same places as the country's remaining forests which also happen to be home to the country's remaining tiger populations and large numbers of tribal populations. It's this combustible mix that has fueled 'naxal' insurgencies in many parts of the country's coal belt.
What that means is that India's drive to expand coal supplies (as well as build new power plants) runs face first into fierce local resistance. These local communities have held back the goliath of coal expansion with little more than a slingshot and a rock. That heroism, aided by the beauracratic inefficiency of Coal India and a decrepit transportation infrastructure, has caused stagnating production, and heightened project delay (all of which investors in Coal India would do well to take note of).
Of course tight supplies alone would not merit the title economic 'bubble.' That was formed by a deregulated energy sector given the green light to build a whopping 455 coal plants under the assumption that a coal expansion was inevitable. You see developers rushed headlong into new projects without properly assessing the underlying risks around fuel supplies, and worse, were underwritten by billions in investment from Indian banks. The result is a massive asset bubble whose financial rot could now affect the entire economy.
Unfortunately this is exactly the situation the Reserve Bank of India warned of in 2012 saying 'over-exposure to the coal sector posed systemic default risk' to the Indian economy. It was this warning that should have put the sector in deep freeze. Instead analysts around the world have predicted galloping coal growth, ironically much like they did in China until only a few months ago. But while the RBI warning failed to slow investment, or the narrative that a coal expansion was inevitable, two outside shocks began the inevitable process of deflating this bubble.
First came the coal-gate scandal, which exposed $33 billion in coal leases that were simply given away to powerful companies and rich individuals developing power plants. With Anna Hazare awakening a middle class furious over rampant corruption the coal sector became tarred with the brush of corruption. The result is that dozens of mining expansions around the country have been quietly held in limbo as beauracrats seek to avoid any political exposure to the ongoing scandal. The already tight supply of coal squeezed even further.
Next came capital flight and the current account deficit (CAD) crisis. This was perhaps the knockout blow because it made financing coal projects more difficult while putting a macroeconomic strain on even big companies who might have been able to weather the storm. Particularly hard hit were projects reliant on already expensive imported coal because they have to pay for their fuel with foreign currency at a time when the rupees value continues to plummet. The most emblematic of these, Tata Mundra, has become in the words of Anil Sardana managing director of Tata Power an 'albatross around the neck.'
All of which brings us to our saga’s climax: the news that a whopping 30 'distressed' coal projects are up for sale in India – and no one wants to buy them. This is the moment when the true nature of the coal expansion has been exposed for what it always was: an illusion. The problem is the fallout is only just beginning as State discoms who are supposed to buy the power, have said they simply can't afford it. That means these 30 projects may become stranded assets while new projects will find it nearly impossible to secure financing given that their customers are bankrupt.
But in every crisis is an opportunity and a phoenix may yet rise from the ashes. Already there are high profile calls from Akhil Gupta and Blackstone to diversify India's energy mix starting with solar. After all India still needs energy and it will have to come from somewhere. But the only way deliver is to heed the hard learned lesson from this bubble: coal won't deliver, it's time to diversify.
After decades of presidential promises to wean ourselves from foreign oil, break from the debilitating grip of petroleum cartels, and, more recently, address the urgent need to reduce climate pollution, these problems are still staring us right in the face.
U.S. News and World Report recently carried an opinion piece on a new report written by myself and two others, called "The Plan: How the U.S. Can Help Stabilize the Climate and Create A Clean Energy Future," which seeks to change that. The report outlines the actions and policies that are necessary to go beyond President Obama’s recently announced Climate Action Plan and achieve the emissions reductions that the world’s scientists have deemed necessary.
The set of policies that we have proposed would put the U.S. on a path to carbon neutrality by 2050, ensure that fossil fuels extracted in the U.S. aren't burned elsewhere (after all, the climate doesn't care where the fossil fuels are coming from), and put the U.S. in a position of leadership in order to foster international cooperation.
Here are the six main actions The Plan calls for:
1. Going Beyond President Obama's Plans
The report shows that the President's plans fall short of reducing emissions to the levels we need to reach and posits that they rely too heavily on risky technologies - fracked natural gas, nuclear power, offshore drilling, and carbon capture and sequestration. The administration's plans also lack a forward-thinking vision for our transportation future and fail to prevent emissions from increasing in other countries despite decreases here at home.
2. Comprehensive Greenhouse Gas Fee
A fee on emissions from all energy sources is the most effective single policy tool available to reduce emissions and could provide a much-needed source of revenue. This revenue could be used to protect the most vulnerable households from price changes due to policy, provide adaptation funding, incentivize smart land-use practices, upgrade the electrical grid, and fund research and development.
3. Energy Incentives Restructuring
Providing incentives for bio-sequestration, removing the corn ethanol standard, eliminating fossil fuel subsidies, issuing no new nuclear subsidies, and allowing free competition for federal loan guarantees will ensure fairness in energy markets and encourage the deployment of risk-averse climate solutions.
4. National Green Bank
Such a bank would reduce interest rates for investments in emissions reducing technologies and help leverage private capital. This will reduce the cost of these technologies at no net cost to taxpayers and with savings for ratepayers.
5. Supply-Side Fossil Fuel Regulations
President Obama can use his executive authority to reject major projects that will significantly worsen emissions. He can also ensure that leases of fossil fuels on federal lands are valued to reflect the true costs of combustion.
6. Presidential Commission on the Unfolding Climate Crisis & Our Energy Future
Lastly, our report argues that President Obama hasn’t done enough to engage the American public or Congress on climate solutions like the types we outline in The Plan. While we recognize the limits of Presidential Commissions, we believe that Presidential engagement will be helpful in moving the politics forward.
We acknowledge that changing the course of U.S. energy policy will be no easy task, but the opportunity to take bold climate action is too good to pass up. The U.S. has come to a fork in the road: we can either continue marching down the path that relies on dangerous technologies with insufficient potential to avert the worst effects of climate change, or take the road paved with American leadership and ingenuity that will bring us true energy independence and help to maintain a safe climate. The Plan will put us on the latter.
Matt Lichtash graduated from Wesleyan University in May 2013 with degrees in Economics and Environmental Studies. His co-authors are Evan Weber, who also graduated from Wesleyan in May 2013 with degrees in Economics and Environmental Studies, and Dr. Michael Dorsey, a visiting professor at Wesleyan and the director of Dartmouth College’s Climate Justice Research Project.
After plans moved forward to retire the coal-fired generators at the Big Sandy Power Plant outside Louisa, Kentucky, the question remained, what does it mean for the energy future of eastern Kentucky?
The answer came to light last week when the state Public Service Commission approved an agreement between the Sierra Club and American Electric Power (AEP) that will help expand clean energy in the region. AEP's subsidiary, Kentucky Power, has agreed to invest in clean energy programs with a special focus on low-income community developments in Lawrence County, which sits on the eastern edge of the state next to West Virginia.
"This is an important moment in Kentucky’s history -- a win for public health and the dawn of a new economic era," said Alice Howell, chair of the Cumberland Chapter of the Sierra Club in Kentucky. "However, the impacts of this economic transition go beyond this one case. It is critical that we continue to look for ways to work with the governor to support clean energy investments in eastern Kentucky to help replace coal-related jobs."
The agreement commits Kentucky Power to increase energy-efficiency investments over the next five years, from $3 million this year to $4 million in 2014, $5 million in 2015, and $6 million per year from 2016 to 2018. These in-state energy-efficiency investments will bring jobs directly into the Kentucky Power service areas while decreasing the total energy consumption of eastern Kentucky. The deal includes 100 megawatts of wind energy in Kentucky Power's upcoming planning process, which acts as a "blueprint" for the company's electricity source for the next few years.
Many in Kentucky are ready for a change in an area traditionally dominated by Big Coal interests. Earlier this year, an estimated 1,500 Kentuckians rallied at the state capitol building to celebrate I Love Mountains Day. A month later, activists won a huge victory in Trimble County when a utility's plan to turn a cave into a coal ash pit was blocked. The cave in question was part of the Underground Railroad used by slaves seeking freedom during the 1800s.
The latest developments concerning Big Sandy Power Plant mean that Kentucky Power Company has pledged $1.1 million total toward economic development in low-income communities in Lawrence County and surrounding areas. At least one-third of that money will be used for job training, with a focus on weatherization and energy-efficiency training.
"Investing in wind power is an investment in the future of Kentucky’s economy," said Alex DeSha, a community organizer with the Sierra Club. "When we spend our energy dollars upgrading our power to clean, renewable energy sources, what we're really doing is investing in American workers and public health. Adding opportunities for clean sources of energy will diversify our energy mix and help stabilize electricity costs for Kentucky families."
-- Brian Foley
Washington, D.C. public charter schools will soon have a sunnier future. District Community Solar (DCS), a solar energy development partnership comprised of Sustainable Capital Advisors and the Youngblood Capital Group, is currently working in conjunction with The Arts and Technology Public Charter School (ATA) to complete a solar schools project.
The Foundation for Environmental Education defines a solar school as “a solar electricity installation at any type of school or education center that uses the solar energy system as a teaching tool and hopefully is designed so the panels are visible from the school grounds.”
DCS plans to do just that. DCS is in the final stages of an agreement with ATA, and come December, DCS will finish construction of a solar power plant at the school’s campus. The power plant will be built at no upfront cost to the school, and the energy produced at the plant will be sold to the school at a discounted price. The power plant is expected to produce up to 65 percent of the energy needs of the school each year.
In addition to the money saved on energy bills (about $10,000 per year), there is “an infinite return on investment,” said Hugh Youngblood, chief executive at the Youngblood Capital Group. The school can expect to appreciate the environmental and social benefits, he continued.
The plan is not to just simply build a solar power plant at the school and sell the energy produced. This three-part plan seeks to present educational opportunities, foster community development, and promote energy savings.
DCS has been working in conjunction with the Three Birds Foundation, a local nonprofit organization dedicated to educating students about renewable energy, to create curriculum for schools that incorporates renewable energy education. Teachers will be able to adapt their current curriculum to include the new information from free resources available online, such as and the Three Birds Foundation will help find additional resources as well as provide teacher workshops and after school sessions. Students will receive renewable energy education both in and out of the classroom through the new curriculum as well as engagement during construction and operation of the solar power plant. Students will be able to see the solar power plant construction, ask questions, and learn about it in the classroom.
Youngblood explained that one of the major goals of DCS is help children get exposure to the production and use of renewable technology. In turn, the children will be able to take that exposure and the knowledge they gain through renewable education and use it for the rest of their lives.
This plan for the campus will also affect the community as DCS works with City First Enterprises, a non-profit company focused on community development solutions. DCS hopes to work with the Sierra Club and local government to expand outreach and opportunities for involvement to community members.
Youngblood explained that community members will be given the opportunity to enhance green workforce skills by potentially shadowing contractors and learning about renewable energy.
“It has a big demonstration effect,” Youngblood said. “Community members will be able to see the solar
power plant being built, be able to ask questions, and have a learning benefit.”
“The public is for renewable energy,” the Three Birds Foundation said in an email. “Principals, teachers, parents, and students have all reacted positively to the development of renewable energy programs.”
DCS primarily focuses on schools and nonprofit community institutions in Wards 5, 7, and 8 in D.C. and seeks to reduce operating costs and environmental impacts, educate teachers and students on sustainability, and develop a local energy workforce. The focus is on areas most in need of social, economic, and environmental development.
“Schools are focal points and conversation starters in the community,” the Three Birds Foundation continued in their email. “ This will generate positive conversation around sustainability. These projects also help to develop community identity around renewable energy.”
ATA will be the first school upgrade for the newly established DCS, but the future looks bright. Youngblood explained that the company plans to expand to other public charter schools in the D.C. area, then move to Baltimore, and perhaps work on international development after that. The company also hopes to start storing solar energy created at the power plants so that the schools can be used in the event of a disaster or major weather event. The school could then act as a shelter with a reliable source of energy.
“We’re always looking for more partners,” Youngblood said. “And we’re looking for any other new opportunities.”--Cindy Carr, Sierra Club Media Team Intern
Image via @CoryBooker
If the last 16 days proved anything, it's that Congress is in desperate need of leaders who will solve problems -- not create them. That’s why the election results from yesterday’s special election in New Jersey were such a welcome sign. Voters in the Garden State overwhelmingly supported Newark Mayor Cory Booker as their next U.S. Senator, sending a proven voice for progress and a champion for clean air, clean water, and climate action to Washington.
The Sierra Club is proud to have endorsed Senator-elect Booker and even more proud to congratulate him on his victory. Booker will bring a breath of fresh air to the Senate and carry on the strong environmental legacies of past Senators from New Jersey like Frank Lautenberg, Bob Menendez, Clifford Case, and Bill Bradley.
September 10, 2013
It has been nearly one year since Superstorm Sandy devastated the New Jersey Coast -- a wake-up call of the need for climate action and a disaster that requires committed leaders to help the state rebuild. Booker’s election will go a long way toward both. He’s already advocated for action to cut carbon pollution, promoted job-creating clean energy projects, and called for an end to the billions in tax giveaways to big oil companies.
"We've seen the damages of having these 100 years storms come more frequently," said Booker while accepting the Sierra Club’s endorsement. "We know what's happening with climate change and with global warming. It is very important to New Jersey that our leadership stands for science, stands with the consensus of the New Jersey people."
Under Booker’s leadership in Newark, energy use in municipal buildings was cut by 20 percent, and recycling rates were increased while the city incorporated energy efficient upgrades and increased green affordable housing in the city by 400 units. He championed the creation of urban parks, pushed for the installation of pollution controls on nearby incinerators, and acted to clean up the Passaic River and Superfund sites.
It's an impressive record of achievements that Booker will only build on in the Senate. And, on behalf of the tens of thousands of Sierra Club members in New Jersey and the 2.1 million members and supporters across the nation, we’re eager to get to work with Senator-elect Booker. Together we can help get Washington moving again toward a clean energy future.
--Melissa Williams, Sierra Club Political Director
Today, the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) finalized a decision requiring investor-owned utilities to build 1,325 megawatts of energy storage by 2020.
Much like the California Solar Initiative created a market for rooftop solar and is now driving rapid declines in the cost of rooftop solar across the nation, this mandate will create a market for storage that is expected to, in the words of CPUC President Michael Peevey "tear down barriers that prevent cost-effective energy storage resources from competing and providing benefits to California customers, ratepayers of California utilities."
Why is this ground-breaking? The sun doesn't always shine. Maybe you knew that already. This is a point routinely mentioned at the top of the list of challenges for wider deployment of clean energy (and too often blown way out of proportion by fossil fuel interests). But what's a state like California to do when it has clear goals to reduce carbon pollution from fossil fuels and scale up clean energy resources like wind and solar?
The challenge utilities confront with these clean resources is that, while highly predictable, they are nonetheless variable. In other words, we trust that every morning the sun rises in the east, sets in the west, and in California, provides dependable sunlight for the time in between. But, it is nonetheless variable in that the sun doesn't shine 24 hours a day. Grid operators balance lots of different energy generators simultaneously and throughout the day, of course, because we don't depend on one single location for energy generation. Nevertheless, a persistent question for power operators has been how to plug those gaps when the sun isn't shining.
Until now, the answer has been to build large and dirty natural gas plants. These natural gas plants "firm" the power being supplied by clean energy. "Firm" is utility-speak for filling the gaps in a solar project's power production as a cloud passes overhead or the sun sets. Essentially, the modern gas plant functions in similar ways as a battery, just with an asthma causing, carbon spewing smokestack on top.
It's not really a secret at this point that the easiest way for a natural gas developer to get approval for a gas plant is to cite the need to balance the grid as more clean energy projects are built. The problem, again, is that while these plants do the trick from an engineering or grid operations perspective, they sure cost a lot of money1 and they're dirty. Additionally, the benefit of building clean energy also shrinks if it’s facilitating new and dirty natural gas projects.
This issue came to a head earlier this year when the CPUC postponed a decision on approving a new natural gas plant just outside San Diego. During the Commissioners’ comments that day, Commissioner Florio urged all parties to come together quickly to develop alternatives to natural gas plants. Florio explained "every member of this panel is a strong supporter of AB 32... We have to face reality. I strongly support San Diego's implementation of solar, but the sun sets every night. Energy drops off faster, and we need something to balance it." So, the question is, how can we seamlessly integrate huge amounts of clean energy onto the grid without making people sick or digging a deeper hole on climate change?
What's perfect about the timing of the decision is that this new policy unfolds just as the state is weighing its options regarding the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station. With the massive, 2,250 megawatt nuclear plant now retired, Southern California Edison (SCE) and San Diego Gas & Electric (SDG&E) have both requested another 500 MW of new natural gas. The CPUC storage decision, which guides SCE and SDG&E to purchase a combined 745 MW of storage, can help ensure that a smart combination of energy storage and local clean energy can cost-effectively eliminate the need for new natural gas plants.
A huge amount of credit goes to CPUC Commissioners like Carla Peterman, who oversaw the proceeding and ultimate decision. Utilities pushed hard in testimony to turn a requirement to build storage into an optional goal, but were turned back by the Commission and advocates from Earthjustice (who represented the Sierra Club) and the California Environmental Justice Alliance.
This is a game-changer in so many ways. It's impossible to justify the construction of any new natural gas project when cost-effective, clean alternatives exist. Technology and innovation, coupled with smart policy, are changing the game and put California at the cusp of rendering fossil fuel plants obsolete. Think about that. With storage and clean energy now being built together, the endgame of a truly clean, modern electric system, completely free of fossil fuels, is within reach. Amazing.
-- Evan Gillespie, Sierra Club Beyond Coal Western Region Deputy Director and My Generation Campaign Director
1- Take, for example, SDG&E's proposal to build the Pio Pico project, which was estimated to cost $1.5 billion and was only 300MW. To give you a sense of scale, on a hot summer day, the state can require more than 50,000MW of power at any moment.
It's been more than two years since my husband and I installed solar panels on the roof of our home in Shepherdstown, West Virginia. As the months have passed, I've enjoyed watching the ticker continually rise on the amount of solar power our panels have generated. I love knowing that our home is more powered by the sun, and less by dirty coal mined by blowing up the beautiful mountains in Appalachia.
And across the U.S, I'm not alone! Rooftop solar power is expanding exponentially, and the Sierra Club just celebrated our 1,000th solar home as part of our Solar Homes initiative.
The Solar Homes Program is a partnership between the Sierra Club and the country's leading rooftop-solar providers to help members and supporters go solar, save money, and cut climate pollution. Plus, every time a home goes solar, the local Sierra Club chapter receives funds for its important work protecting the environment.
The partnership has been around for two years now and is operating in eight states: Arizona, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Maryland, New Jersey, and New York.
Those 1,000 (now 1,027 as of today!) rooftop solar home systems have generated 169,423,388 kilowatt hours of electricity!
This clean energy equals 257,297,124 lbs of carbon avoided; the equivalent of taking 24,314 cars off the road; and is the equivalent of planting 2,998,793 trees.
My colleague Jesse Simons was the major force behind launching our Solar Homes initiative and he's excited to see the success of the program. He utilized the program to put panels on his roof as well.
"It just fits with my job and how I see myself -- I don't want to just advocate for clean energy, I want to make it part of who I am and how I live," says Jesse. "It also saves me $30 every month!"
He says the process was easy and loves that his plug-in hybrid is now powered by those panels as well. "I'm averaging 93 mpg right now and saving nearly $2,000 a year on gas."
Another bonus: the panels are union-made right here in the U.S.
Watching solar power expand so quickly across our country is inspiring, and I'm so happy our Solar Homes initiative is helping that happen. Jesse said it best when he and I were talking recently.
"It's important that people realize we aren't talking about the future - clean energy is here and ready now," says Jesse. "In fact, in 14 states solar is cheaper for many homeowners than dirty fossil fuels from the grid!"
Join us in the solar revolution!
-- Mary Anne Hitt, Beyond Coal Campaign Director
This blog post is part of Blog Action Day.
Founded in 2007, Blog Action Day brings together bloggers from
different countries, interests and languages to blog about one important
global topic on the same day. Past topics have included Water, Climate
Change, Poverty, Food and the Power of We, with over 25,000 blogs taking
part since 2007.
This year's theme is human rights. Here's a post from Naomi Broadkey of the Sierra Club Global Population and Environment Program:
Linking Our Inherent Human Rights - From the Air We Breathe to Reproductive Health
For many in the U.S. it may seem like an inherent human right to breathe clean air, drink potable water, and play or garden in toxic-free soil, and why shouldn't it be? But the truth is that both in the U.S. and around the globe, the air we breathe, the water we drink, and the soil we toil is not necessarily safe for us, or good for the future of the planet. Despite laws, international treaties, and promises by governments, all are not ensured equal access to these inalienable, interrelated, and interdependent rights. What's more is that we, humans, might be the very reason why.
While we may also take for granted, especially in developed countries and large metropolitan cities, the existence of the corner pharmacy where we have easy access to over-the-counter medications – including contraceptive methods ranging from condoms to Plan B, over 222 million women in the world are not guaranteed access to the right to reproductive and sexual health.
In the U.S., state by state, we are fighting for access to comprehensive care, including access to safe and legal abortions and affordable contraception. Women (and men!) everywhere have a right to these same services, but because of lack of access, education or power to make decisions about their own reproductive health, are unable to plan and space their pregnancies. This can lead to further resource depletion, social instability and maternal and child mortality and morbidity.
As caregivers and resource-managers, women are also disproportionately impacted by climate change. While it may not seem like an obvious connection, in addition to health and psychological benefits, ensuring women have access to their family planning method of choice also has environmental benefits. According to studies conducted in the past few years, guaranteeing access to voluntary family planning could be "one of the most cost effective ways to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 2050."
Our inalienable, interrelated, and interdependent rights, defined by the United Nations - the right to clean air, water. and soil - are inextricably linked to women's access to comprehensive, voluntary reproductive health care. We must continue to recognize and strive for the protection of all of these inalienable rights. The planet and future generations depend on it.
This blog post is part of Blog Action Day. Founded in 2007, Blog Action Day brings together bloggers from different countries, interests and languages to blog about one important global topic on the same day. Past topics have included Water, Climate Change, Poverty, Food and the Power of We, with over 25,000 blogs taking part since 2007.
This year's theme is human rights. Here's a post from Nicole Ghio of the Sierra Club International Program:
Violence and Intimidation Don't Stop Indian Activists Fighting Deadly Coal Plant
What would you do if a massive coal plant that would poison your air and water broke ground adjacent to your home? What if your neighbors were forcibly removed to make room for the project? What if friends who attempted to protest the plant disappeared mysteriously? And what if this was not a new occurrence, but rather a story that has been repeated again and again for over 50 years? If you live in Singrauli, India, this is your reality, and amazingly, the answer is you would still fight back.
Starting with the construction of the Rihand Dam in the 1960s, and continuing with the opening of numerous, massive coal mines and multi-thousand megawatt coal plants, Singrauli is a sacrifice zone for power and powerful interests. When I visited the district in 2011, I was told no one was an "original" resident - everyone had been forcibly moved, many multiple times, as new projects are developed.
Originally the dam was supposed to bring prosperity and energy to the district, but today it feeds the water hungry coal plants. Nearby residents are supplied with drinking water from the damn, but "the officials themselves say that water is not fit even for taking a bath, and is highly toxic as the waste of most of the power plants in the area mixes with the water," according to Hiralal, one of the community members. And lest there be any doubt about how dangerous coal is, in 2012 pollution from coal-fired power plants caused 100,000 premature deaths in India.
Who is behind the push to exploit Singrauli's resources at the expense of local communities? There is the state owned Coal India Limited, the world's largest coal company, private corporations like Reliance Energy, which benefited from illegal land acquisitions in the coal-gate scandal that rocked India, and the U.S. government, which approved over $900 million in financing for Reliance Energy's 4,000 megawatt Sasan coal-fired power plant and its associated mine.
Lining up against these forces are local residents, tribal leaders, and labor interests, which must contend not only with the loss of their homes, their health, and their livelihoods, but also with government and police forces that operate hand in hand with corporate interests.
Back in 2011, I traveled to Harrahawa, a village with a school and running water whose residents were about to be forcibly displaced to make way for a coal ash pond to hold toxic waste from Sasan. Since then, Reliance has begun destroying their homes without permission or legal authority. As Krishna Das Saha explains, "No notice was given to us before our house was broken down. At night when we were sleeping a huge portion of our house was razed." With no other option, villagers are forced to the rehabilitation colony, where a new school has been built for their children - only the makeshift structure cannot withstand the weather and is not functional.
In some ways Krishna Das Saha was lucky in that he had a title for his land. Members of the Baiga tribe relied on the forest to survive, but they were deemed landless and either received no compensation or very little. At the rehabilitation colony, Baiga families were promised a meager allowance until they were given jobs, which was then cut in half, and then stopped altogether. Without work, tribal members search for manual labor and live on the brink of starvation.
A local labor leader, Sati Prasad Razak of the Sasan Ultra Mega Power Vistaphit Avam Mazdoor Sangh (Union Sasan Ultra Mega Power Affected and Labourers), told me how Reliance refuses to hire local workers, despite this being part of their agreement, due to fears that laborers will organize. It is also easier to cover up accidents and deaths if family members are not nearby, including a smokestack collapse that killed 30 workers.
Sati Prasad also told me about his friend, Sudarshan Rajak, whose house was bulldozed after he protested against Sasan and the forced removals. Sudarshan Rajak was never seen again, and Sati Prasad believed he was inside his home when it was destroyed.
Unfortunately, this story is all too common. After Ramji Bhasod protested against the dumping of waste from the mine in his village, his son Suresh died mysteriously while working as a daily wager at Sasan. Altogether, local residents report there have been over 500 accidents at Sasan.
Despite the violence and intimidation, activists are unwilling to give up. On September 12, Sati Prasad submitted a letter on behalf of the to the District Magistrate asking for documentation of the people who have been affected by Sasan, for permanent jobs for project affected people working on a contract basis, for the payment of back wages owed to local contract workers, and for a halt to construction of a boundary wall until displaced people are adequately compensated. If these minimal demands were not met, he was prepared to lead a mass protest at Sasan's main gates on September 19th.
The response was swift and harsh. On September 18th, Sati Prasad was dragged out of his home on and arrested without a warrant. He describes what happened next:
Projects like Sasan are advertised as a means to address the over 400 million people in India without access to electricity, but the truth is that they serve the wealthy and industrial sector, while leaving the people who need power the most in the dark. As I traveled around Singrauli, despite the tens of thousands of megawatts being generated all around me, I saw that local residents mostly lived in small dwellings without access to electricity. It was more profitable to send the power over huge distances, despite grid losses, to industrial centers than provide energy to the people of Singrauli.
The truth is large, centralized coal projects like Sasan are terrible at addressing energy access. The International Energy Agency (IEA) found that in order to reach 100 percent energy access, half of all energy services must be provided by off-grid clean energy. In fact, when the 2012 blackouts left over 600 million people in India without power, those with access to solar were able to keep the lights on. Meanwhile, the high cost of coal on the international market has caused near financial collapse across the industry in India, pushing plants to the brink of bankruptcy.
The protests lead by Sati Prasad and others in Singrauli are not in vain. A grassroots movement is brewing across India and the globe as communities rise up to protest deadly coal projects.
In Sompeta, India, thousands turned out to oppose a coal-fired power plant, and several villagers lost their lives in clashes with police. But despite the huge odds against the activists, they won an interim halt to the project. Meanwhile, in the last two months Turkish activists celebrated as the courts rejected the Environmental Impact Assessment for a coal plant they have been fighting for two years, and thousands of people in Bangladesh joined a five-day march to protest a coal-fired power in the world's largest mangrove forest.
Despite the violence and intimidation from a foe with seemingly unimaginable wealth and influence, I firmly believe that the Sati Prasad's of the world will eventually win. The documentation of the damage coal does to public health and local economies is too damning, and the demand from communities worldwide to move from dirty coal to clean energy is too great.
Supreme Court Denies Polluters' Challenge to EPA Finding that Greenhouse Gases Endanger Public Health
Today the U.S. Supreme Court denied legal petitions from polluters and states that challenged the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) historic finding that greenhouse gases endanger public health and welfare.
This decision leaves no doubt that the EPA has both the authority and the responsibility to set sensible limits on the carbon pollution that is fueling climate change and endangering public health.
While some are saying the ruling is a loss, in reality the court chose only to review whether the Obama Administration's decision to limit vehicle tailpipe pollution also triggered permitting requirements for industrial sources under parts of the act.
The high court left standing EPA's common sense and achievable emission standards for vehicles. The court will focus only on narrow technical questions regarding permits, representing a win for public health.
The victory is that the court will not address the endangerment finding that paved the way for cutting carbon pollution or the vehicle standards themselves.
The EPA's authority and decision to limit carbon pollution to protect public health has been repeatedly challenged by polluters, and the Supreme Court has affirmed EPA's authority multiple times, as it did again this time.
Now the path forward is clear for the Administration to set strong carbon pollution standards for all power plants - the largest domestic source of the carbon pollution that fuels climate change and endangers public health.
Carbon pollution that causes climate change is responsible for increase air pollution that can cause thousands of death every year, yet it remains unchecked. That must change.
According to researchers at Stanford University, unchecked carbon pollution could lead to 21,000 climate change-related deaths. And today, millions of children live in areas that receive an "F" rating for at least one air quality measure, based on the American Lung Association's State of the Air Report. Climate change will only worsen that pollution.
As Michael Brune said, "The President and the EPA have not just the authority, but the responsibility to move forward with bold measures to protect American families from the increasing threat of climate disruption."
-- Joanne Spalding, Sierra Club Managing Attorney
The Florida Chapter's Panther Critical Habitat Campaign is partnering with Preserve our Paradise to stop Big Oil from leaving its dirty footprints all over Golden Gate Estates in Naples, where a Texas-based oil company wants to drill an area just one mile from the Florida Panther National Wildlife Refuge and within 1,000 feet of residences.
Grassroots opposition is beginning to grow. Last month, more than 100 people protested at the Naples Pier, erecting a symbolic oil well in front of Governor Rick Scott's beachfront home. The controversy has prompted the Environmental Protection Agency to agree to hold a public hearing later this year.
The battle first began when the Dan A. Hughes Company leased over 100,000 acres at the Naples site and submitted a drilling proposal. To placate the public, the state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) hosted a hearing last month, which ended up being "poorly executed," according to Alexis Meyer, a Sierra Club organizer for the Panther Critical Habitat Campaign.
"No one was able to hear questions or answers, people crowded around tables, officials were unable to answer, and citizens left feeling ignored and frustrated," she said.
Unsurprisingly, the DEP moved ahead and approved the permit request. Despite the proximity of the proposed oil wells to prime panther habitat, "no biological opinions or environmental assessments have been done for this project," said Meyer. "Since this project would affect a federally protected endangered species, there is a concern that these companies are not following proper regulations."
According to the Tampa Bay Times, the oil company's permit request met DEP's criteria even though "none of those requirements involves staying away from where people live." And a specific distance to homes is not mentioned in the rules.
Locals hope federal protections for the panther will give them the leverage they need to fight back since the state agency has done little. The DEP has approved more than 40 oil drilling permits -- while denying none -- over the past five years. Activists think this will be a wake-up call to spark grassroots action and instill a sense of urgency among locals.
"The oil well is only the tip of the iceberg for southwest Florida," said Meyer. "Opening up this site to drilling endangers Florida panthers, the watershed, our aquifers, and violates environmental justice for local residents. It's sets a precedent to open more land for drilling at a time when we should be looking toward clean, sustainable energy alternatives such as wind and solar."
(Photos: Alexis Meyer)
-- Brian Foley
More than 840,000 Americans have been sent home instead of work. National parks and public lands are off-limits to everyone but oil and gas drillers. 9 out of 10 employees at the Environmental Protection Agency have been furloughed. Small business loans are on hold, health and safety inspections are suspended, and our economy is taking a $160 million hit every day - you’d think that we’d be hearing universal condemnation of the ongoing government shutdown.
But some special interests are benefitting from public health and consumer watchdogs being pulled off the beat -- and they don’t even have the sense to keep be quiet about it.
Take Southern Company CEO Thomas Fanning, for example. While speaking to Senators at a meeting the day after the government shut down, SNL Energy reported that Fanning couldn’t contain his enthusiasm:
“I was thrilled actually to have this event in this kind of environment."
With clean air cops at the EPA off the beat during the shutdown, big polluters like Fanning may have it easy - there are fewer people watching what his company is dumping into our air and water. For the rest of us, its not so thrilling.
But Fanning’s not alone. Indeed, Michael Needham - chief executive of the right-wing Heritage Action political organization-- sang the shutdown’s praises. Amid news that Heritage Action took $500,000 from the oil-rich Koch Brothers, Needham lauded the shuttering of two government agencies that have been the target of both Heritage and Koch smear campaigns, declaring he’d love to see them closed until the extremely unlikely defunding of the Affordable Care Act -- in other words, indefinitely:
“If we want to sit in a government shutdown for the next several weeks over the NLRB [National Labor Relations Board] and EPA [Environmental Protection Agency] being shut down, I’m perfectly happy to sit in that situation until President Obama stops this unaffordable and unfair law.”
Its not just a clear example of the destructive goals of big polluters and their political allies - its more proof that the big money groups targeting the EPA’s clean air, water and climate protections are the same ones attacking the NLRB’s laws protecting American workers. And they aren’t just trying to contaminate our planet and our workplaces - they are trying to contaminate our democracy.
Fanning and Southern Company dumped more than $17 million worth of campaign contributions and lobbying expenditures into our system in 2012. And using mouthpieces like Heritage Action, the Kochs spent upwards of $400 million trying to push their reckless agenda. And, in recent weeks, Heritage has used some of that largesse to emerge as one of the major forces behind the shutdown.
Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune said it best: “We didn't reach this nadir in our democracy by accident. It's the result of a systematic attack on the basic democratic principles of justice and equality by a handful of people who have no interest in a healthy, functioning democracy.”
The reality is as more money has poured into our system, we’ve seen many of our elected officials turn from addressing solutions to creating crises, like this shutdown. At the same time, we’ve seen more attacks on our air and water, on our workers, and on our democracy. It’s critical that those of us who want to protect those things stand together. It should be more clear than ever that we have common enemies -- and the only way we can beat them is to recognize that we have common goals.
This is exactly why the Democracy Initiative was founded. A collaborative effort convened by the Sierra Club, Greenpeace, the NAACP, and the Communications Workers of America, we are working to bring together labor, civil rights, voting rights, environmental, good government and other like-minded grassroots organizations with broad memberships to build a movement that will halt the corrupting influence of corporate money in politics, stop the suppression of voters, and commit to restoring the basic principals of our democracy.
Its a collaboration that is critical given the events of the last few weeks. At a time when some are applauding a shutdown, it is more important than ever that we stand up, and fight back.--Courtney Hight, Director of Sierra Club's Democracy Programs
Today, the Sierra Club and a growing coalition of over 100 allies announced the retirement of the nation's 150th coal plant. This is a huge milestone in the ongoing campaign to move the country beyond coal by 2030.
Meet retiring coal plant #150: Brayton Point Power Station in Somerset, Massachusetts. It's a massive 1,500 megawatt plant that is the largest remaining coal plant in New England, and it's one of the biggest polluters in the state. We can breathe easier knowing that yet another dirty coal plant will retire its massive air pollution.
According to the Clean Air Task Force, retiring these 150 coal plants will help to save 4,000 lives, prevent 6,200 heart attacks and prevent 66,300 asthma attacks every year. Those are parents who won't have to watch their children suffer an asthma attack and miss school. Those are kids who won't have to see their parents or grandparents suffer heart or breathing problems. Retiring these plants will also avoid $1.9 billion in health costs.
I'm especially proud of and inspired by the many volunteers who worked so long to fight this coal plant and stop it from fouling their community's air and water. The Sierra Club had long been focusing on this plant with a coalition of allies, including the Coalition for Clean Air South Coast. That campaign included a relentless effort to focus on the pollution from this massive plant, and to push hard for wind, solar, and energy efficiency to replace it.
These partner organizations and state leaders are another example of how town by town, neighborhood by neighborhood, we are moving beyond coal. As Somerset resident Pauline Rodrigues put it, "We're excited to know that soon this plant will no longer be a source of dangerous pollution that puts my grandkids' health at risk when they play outside on a sunny summer day. Somerset needs all the help we can get to work towards a new, healthy and thriving economy. Now that the writing is on the wall, I hope we can all work together for a positive future for Somerset."
Now, we can all celebrate this step in the right direction for public and environmental health. Check out this inspiring new video from Nico Vega, a new acoustic rendition of their amazing "Protest Song" that they recorded for Beyond Coal, which we're releasing today to spread the word and mark the moment.
"Our coalition of environmental, conservation, public health and civil rights groups has achieved a milestone that few thought possible," says my colleague Verena Owen, a veteran volunteer leader who co-leads the Sierra Club's Beyond Coal campaign.
"In 2010, analysts expected about 30,000 megawatts of coal would retire over the next decade. But in less than three years the campaign has nearly doubled these predictions, securing the retirement of more than 60,000 megawatts, more than one quarter of all coal plants in the country."
Verena's right: Through grassroots activism and the power of passionate Americans across the country, we are telling the dirty, outdated and deadly coal industry that enough is enough.
This milestone comes only a year-and-a-half after we hit the 100th retirement, the notorious Crawford coal plant in Chicago. The momentum continues to increase as Americans see that coal is fading as a part of the nation's energy mix.
Now we must ensure that the transition from coal to clean energy happens in a way that protects workers and communities. We've seen it happen before - from the Pacific Northwest to the Tennessee Valley. We call on Brayton Point's owners, Energy Capital Partners, to structure the retirement of this plant in a way that takes care of the workers and the community. We also call on Governor Deval Patrick and the legislature to pass the Clean Energy Commonwealth Bill (HB 2935), which would create a community empowerment fund to assist communities and workers by protecting the local tax base and providing worker assistance and retraining opportunities when a coal plant retires.
Nationwide the coal industry is facing mounting challenges - rising coal costs, falling clean energy prices, a motivated grassroots coalition of organizers working to move the nation off coal, and the growing national demand to tackle climate-disrupting carbon pollution from coal plants. As we learned in the latest report from the world's climate scientists, released just two weeks ago, our window to turn the corner on climate disruption is closing fast. But we still have a chance.
Here's the really good news - as these coal plants retire, we're seeing more and more clean energy brought online. Today, the United States has more than 60,000 megawatts of installed wind capacity, enough to power the equivalent of 15 million American homes.
Utilities and energy companies are realizing that coal is an increasingly bad investment - that was definitely the case with Brayton Point, which had just been purchased by new owners who quickly determined that keeping the plant running didn't make economic sense. And as they connect those dots, they are transitioning their resources to cleaner, renewable sources of energy like wind and solar. In fact, the state of Texas produces so much wind energy, that if Texas were a country, it would be the world's sixth ranking wind energy producer. Meanwhile, states across the country are already being powered by renewable energy. In 2012, Iowa and South Dakota received more than 20 percent of their energy from wind, and nine states produced more than 10 percent of their electricity from wind energy.
What's more, this month the U.S. joined three other countries with more than 10,000 megawatts of installed solar capacity. This growth in clean energy has helped to create more jobs across the country. Clean energy industries now employ nearly 200,000 Americans.
This is an important milestone for public health and the planet, so let's take a moment to take it in. Then it's time to get back to work building a clean energy economy that will create jobs and protect our health.
-- Mary Anne Hitt, Beyond Coal Director