Sierra Club National
A scathing new report out today outlines just how risky some of the world's largest coal export projects are. Funnily enough, they're not the risks environmentalists care about - the fact that they're going to be built inside the Great Barrier Reef for instance. No, what the report is concerned with are the risks to the billions in investment at stake if the projects go sideways. If I had my money on the line (which I might if U.S. Ex Im Bank President Fred Hochberg uses U.S. taxpayer dollars to subsidize this boondoggle), I'd pay attention because the report doesn't come from just anyone, but from financial industry heavyweights Tom Sanzillo (former New York State Comptroller) and Tim Buckley (former head of Australasian equity research at Citigroup).
Before we get into the risks outlined in the report, let's start with the project as the developer (GVK) sees it: India has 300 million people without electricity, the country is facing a supply crunch of epic proportions, and the government is hell-bent on building a massive pipeline of projects. GVK is well suited to help fuel this pipeline and alleviate the supply crunch by developing one of the world's largest integrated coal mine, rail, and export projects in nearby Australia. Seems pretty cut and dry right?
So what exactly has these analysts so worried? Leverage, leverage, leverage. It turns out GVK is trying to pull a fast one on Australian investors by getting them to pony up the cash for the project to cover the holes in their own balance sheets - which are enormous. Check out the graph below comparing the project's costs ($10 billion) with the current market capitalization of GVK ($243 million). That combined with net deb t of ~$2.7 billion and GVK faces a whopping 1,149 percent debt to market ratio. For the financially illiterate - it's a financial crisis waiting to happen.
Normally this kind of analysis drives me crazy because the 'rational' market rarely prices in such risk. Instead, institutions like the Ex Im Bank provide a rubber stamp and average citizens are on the hook for crazy financial decisions. Turns out GVK is the exception to the rule. Check out how much their stock price has tanked in the past year. For those counting, that’s 80% below the Indian market index.
One of the biggest reasons for the crash is likely the fact that despite claiming to be a "leading global infrastructure owner, manager and operator," GVKPIL (a shell company created to hide the company's debt - more on that later) has no experience operating any business outside of India. Worse, it has never successfully built and operated a coal mine ever. That's right, the company planning to develop the world's largest vertically-integrated coal export project smack dab in the middle of the Great Barrier Reef has no experience doing anything like this. This should turn out well.
But there's a coal supercycle: never-ending demand shall save this from catastrophe right? Not quite. Under existing financial assumptions, the Alpha Project's cost of coal production is likely to render the project uneconomic. The Newcastle FOB thermal coal price is currently around US$88/t, 30 percent below the peak seen in 2008. This leaves little headroom to move against a largely debt-funded US$10bn project proposal with a cash cost of production estimated to be at least US$70/t. Why does this matter? Because GVK is claiming production costs of US$55/t. Add to that Australian mining history, which suggests capital cost blowouts of over 20 percent are likely, and you have a lot of lost cash.
So why the hell would any investors even consider this project? Well they could hope that their pal Fred Hochberg at the U.S. Export Import Bank bails them out given their obsession with coal projects. But even with their support, the project looks ugly. That's why GVK built a complicated structure just for this special project (see below). What they've done is essentially hide their debt by creating a couple of shell companies - GVKPIL and GVK Coal Developers - whose job it is to lure the Australian company Aurizon Holdings into bed. Because once cash-rich Aurizon signs up, GVK has someone to bankroll the project - and all their debt.
It's ironic because the first time I wrote about this project I was disgusted that the U.S. Export Import Bank would be involved with a project whose environmental impact would be so large that Australia's federal environment minister Toney Burke called its review a 'shambolic joke'. Now I'm disgusted that any self-respecting investor would give this proposal the time of day. After this report finds its way to Aurizon, I'm guessing they'll personally thank Tom Sanzillo and Tim Buckley for saving them billions.
-- Justin Guay, Sierra Club International
As part of the celebration, the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA), held a “Construct a Turbine” competition on June 14 in which people from the Washington, D.C. area built their own wind turbine models while helping to promote clean, renewable energy. Participants included representatives from James Madison University, the League of Conservation Voters, Environment America, American Wind Energy Association and the Sustainable Business Council.
For many attendees, the competition was a chance to continue to support renewable energy while gaining knowledge of how wind power works. Ashley Friedman, a member of the team from LCV, attended the event because she supports the cause. She’s already participated in a lobby day in support of the investment tax credit for wind energy and said she hopes that participants will advocate for increased use of wind energy in the future.
AWEA CEO Tom Kiernan stated that AWEA put on the event in order to raise awareness of the power, simplicity and cleanliness of wind energy. Kiernan sees wind energy as a critical part of the solution to global climate disruption - and he thinks wind can provide at least 20 percent of the electricity generated in the United States sooner rather than later.
It's a prediction that doesn’t seem unreachable. Wind power is currently one of the fastest growing sources of American manufacturing jobs, and 45,000 wind turbines are already installed across the United States.
For more information, check out the video above.--Sierra Club Interns Lauren Lantry and Kristen Elmore
In March of 2013, Conservation Action Trust, Greenpeace India, and Urban Emissions revealed a shocking death toll from coal-fired power plants in India. They found that 80,000 to 115,000 people die every year from air pollution caused by coal plants. Their report thrust the 'silent killer' into the spotlight. With numbers as high as those, the groups were curious to figure out why coal was killing so many Indians. They commissioned a subsequent analysis (see analysis here) comparing Indian power plant air emissions standards with those of China and Japan. It turns out the reason is somewhat obvious and perhaps even more shocking: Indian standards are anywhere between four and twenty times worse than those in China.
That's right, China - home to the "airpocalypse" and 1.2 million deaths from air pollution - has stronger coal plant pollution standards than India.
But just how bad are India's standards? Glad you asked, because you'd be shocked to know they are quite literally off the charts (Check out the comparison below). That's because India doesn't even have standards for sulfur dioxide or nitrogen oxides - both of which lead to deadly Particulate Matter (PM) 2.5 pollution (A quick note: The charts below use 'nominal' figures to show what emissions from an uncontrolled coal plant might look like).
To help you understand why these standards are so important in controlling pollution, it's important to distinguish between technology-based and health-based standards. Many countries employ a multi-tiered approach to managing air pollution using a mix of both technology-based requirements and health based limitations. The technology based requirements affect coal plants and are those that are described above.
Health-based controls involve setting standards for the amount of pollution in an air shed that is deemed "safe." Of the two technology based requirements are the most cost-effective opportunities to reduce pollution by applying state of the art pollution controls to large point sources (i.e. coal plants). It's these that are woefully lacking in India and for which modern pollution controls are widely available.
Even worse though, the standards India does employ (PM) are nearly five times worse than their Chinese counterparts (see the chart on PM emissions). It's also widely known that monitoring or implementation of these weak standards is next to non-existent. To sum it up - India's coal plant standards are deadlier than China's. Given what we know about China, that's downright frightening.
It's important to remember here what Greenpeace and Conservation Action Trust have chosen as their baseline - China. This is a country that has already gone down a deadly coal path and is struggling with the consequences not just in terms of morbidity and mortality but also in social cohesion. Remember, pollution led to 90,000 mass protests in China in 2011. 90,000!
That's why India's path is so concerning. China currently has roughly 775 GigaWatts (GW) of installed coal fired power plants - almost seven times the number in India (121 GW). Those plants are responsible for almost half of all deadly PM in China. The problem is, instead of learning from China's mistake, India is seeking to replicate it. Current plans forecast construction of between 500-600 GW of coal plants with standards far more lax than China currently employs. That means, before long, Indian air quality will be even worse than China's. Not to mention the rampant destruction these plants will bring to India's forests, tigers, and indigenous populations or its water supplies.
Which brings us to our silver lining: These plants have not yet been built. That means there is still time to avoid a Chinese fate. Already, Indian think tanks have called for a complete moratorium on new coal fired power plants due to overwhelming environmental effects. That may seem a bit aggressive, but it's not at all out of line with what many Indian elites are saying about coal these days. Take EAS Sarma, former Minister of Power: "Clearly, it is time for us to halt coal mining to pre-empt further human misery and environmental degradation."
Or try former Minister of Environment and Forests Suresh Prabhu: "Time for a reality check. The present coal-fed centralised energy system will not be useful in the long-run."
With the ministry of coal calling for a freeze on coal plants all together (due to fuel supply constraints) India now has the opportunity to radically rethink its approach to coal development. 100,000 lives every year depend on that decision with countless more hanging in the balance.
-- Justin Guay, Sierra Club International
Why is Kazakhstan, one of the world’s major oil producing countries, with 3 percent of recoverable oil reserves within its borders and an energy sector dominated by coal, going green? Because it makes economic sense, it is good for growth, it will create jobs, and it will reduce carbon emissions.
In 2008, the United Nations Development Program found that coal-fired power made up the majority of Kazakhstan’s energy sector, but just five years later the country is prepared to make a seismic shift. Last week, President Nursultan Nazarbayev announced a program to devote 1 percent of the country’s GDP towards slashing coal's share of the energy portfolio from 80 percent to less than 50 percent by 2030, replacing it with wind, sun and hydropower. This effort will not only help preserve Kazakhstan’s environment and conserve its resources, but also use Kazakhstan’s geographic location between Europe and Asia to position the nation as an international environmental and trade leader. By leading the green revolution, Kazakhstan can grow its GDP by 3 percent annually through 2050 and add 600,000 new jobs.
As part of this effort to build a green economy, Kazakhstan will host the EXPO-2017 World Fair to connect with new technologies and companies. European businesses are eager to invest in the country’s expanding green sector and work with local communities to build innovated energy solutions, as noted by the leader of the EU Delegation to Kazakhstan, Aurelia Bouchez, in an interview on the lead up to EXPO-2017. But there is no need to wait for 2017 to roll around. At last month’s Astana Economic Forum, Boris Ryabov noted that “by 2017, solar and wind power will be cheaper than other sources,” including coal. Thus it makes perfect sense that Kazakhstan, despite its vast fossil fuel resources, is putting serious weight behind renewable energy and efficiency.
But Kazakhstan is not only looking to make changes internally; President Nazarbayev is pushing the international community to address climate change. At Rio+210, Nazarbayev extended the “Green Bridge” proposal to link major institutions, investors and governments around a common goal of sustainable growth. By undertaking this new plan to reduce its reliance on coal-fired power and ramp up clean energy, Kazakhstan is showing it is willing to back up words with actions. And given that Kazakhstan has a plethora of opportunities to develop fossil fuel resources, their message that green solutions offer better environmental, social, and economic outcomes is that much more powerful.
-- Chris Chaulk, Sierra Club International Campaign Intern
Increasing coal burning in Europe caused 2,000 additional premature deaths, with exports from the U.S. accounting for two thirds of that increase.
Coal-fired power plants are silent killers. Hour after hour these plants fill the air with toxic pollutants, including mercury, lead, arsenic, cadmium and tiny sulphate and nitrate particles that go deep into people's lungs and bloodstream. These emissions caused 22,000 premature deaths in the European Union in 2010, through strokes, heart attacks, lung cancer and other diseases, as estimated in a new report from Greenpeace, based on research by the University of Stuttgart.
The EU has seen a problematic short term rise in coal burn over the past three years (though the long term trend is down, down, down). New statistics from BP place the increase at 11% with imports increasing a whopping 26%. One of the biggest sources of those deadly coal imports was the U.S., whose exports to the EU almost doubled. In fact the U.S. accounted for 65 percent of Europe's increased coal consumption. Which means, according to Greenpeace modeling results, 65 percent of the 2,000 premature deaths in the EU were caused by U.S. coal exporters. Not exactly an export to be proud of.
Leaving U.S. culpability in this increased mortality aside for now, what's up with the clean, green EU? It turns out a number of factors are conspiring to improve coal's short-term fortunes: a plummeting CO2 price, lack of political leadership, and some national factors, particularly in the UK. This has combined with lower prices for imported coal, driven largely by the U.S. dumping its surplus output on the seaborne market (because as Mayor Bloomberg rightfully points out the U.S. coal industry is a dead man walking) to increase coal burn.
But what has not been behind this rise is the building of new coal power stations, or fossil fuels covering for Germany’s nuclear closures. Very few new coal plants have come online, and fossil fuel fired generation as a whole has dropped as renewable generation has grown rapidly (for a full analysis go here).
The problem is with ongoing economic turmoil Europe's decision-makers have decided to pamper dirty industries in false hopes of protecting jobs, rather than pushing forward with a clean energy economy to put Europeans back to work. The biggest culprit here is the UK, where utilities have run their old coal power plants at full steam before the country's upcoming carbon tax and air pollution regulation force the plants to retire. The good news is that these factors will reverse in the near future: air pollution norms and UK's carbon tax will kick in, renewable energy growth will start eating into coal output, and decision-makers will face increasing pressure to start leading on climate again.
But what of those amoral U.S. coal exporters? The ones peddling death and disease to our friends in Europe? The situation feels eerily reminiscent of tobacco companies seeking 'growth' markets outside US borders as the country collectively awoke to the industries real impact. As US decision makers weigh the costs and benefits of dramatically increasing this deadly export it’s worth asking ourselves is this an export we can justify? Thanks to this new report from Greenpeace we can conclusively give you 2,000 reasons it's not.
-- Justin Guay, Sierra Club International, and Lauri Myllyvirta, Greenpeace International
Ever wonder how fueling a gasoline car compares in cost to fueling a plug-in electric car? At this week's annual Electric Drive Transportation Association (EDTA) conference in Washington, D.C., the Department of Energy’s David Danielson announced a handy new web tool called eGallon that allows you to do just that. The site shows that on average in the U.S., it costs $3.65 per gallon in gasoline to fuel a car and the equivalent of only $1.14 per gallon to fuel a car with electricity.
The most interesting part of this tool is that you can search by all 50 states and D.C. to see how this differs throughout the country (check out your home state). In Illinois, for example, it costs an average of $3.84 per gallon with gasoline and $.99 per gallon equivalent in electricity to fuel a car. Danielson said DOE will update these numbers each month to reflect current gasoline and electricity prices in each state.
The fueling cost differential adds to the growing case being made for just how cost competitive are plug-in vehicles these days, as many manufacturers have recently announced new lower pricing options, especially for leasing EVs.
Another pleasant surprise at the EDTA conference for me was learning about Indianapolis and Paris. One of the conference's most powerful speakers was Indianapolis Mayor Greg Ballard. "The U.S. transportation sector and our quality of life are dependent on foreign oil," said Ballard, who is a Republican. "But electric drive offers us the opportunity to break that hold."
Ballard, who retired as a Marine Corps Lieutenant Colonel after 23 years of service, also said, "Many people believe we're funding both sides of the War on Terror, and I agree."
Ballard has been putting his money where his mouth is in a number of ways when it comes to electric vehicles and moving beyond oil. He has been shifting the city’s vehicle fleet to hybrid and plug-in electric and has overseen the installation of 80 EV charging stations. He also announced that he will bring the French company Bolloré’s electric car-sharing program, now highly popular in Paris, to Indianapolis as the first U.S. city to experience e-car sharing. This investment will also lead to about 200 new EV charging stations throughout the Indianapolis area.
The e-car sharing program in Paris is called Autolib'. There are currently 4,200 electric car charging stations throughout Paris and its suburbs, making Paris the most electrified city in the world, said Bolloré’s Hervé Muller. In speaking on an EDTA conference workshop panel, Muller maintained that car-sharing has actually increased Paris metro usage because it improves many people’s access to transit. He said that 70 percent of Autolib’ customers don’t own a car.
Mike Saft of the battery technology company Leydon Energy spoke on a panel about start/stop battery technology advancements that are helping electric and gasoline powered vehicles achieve greater efficiencies. He said that increasingly vehicles are enabling gravity to be the propulsion system, which reminds me of solar power. It’s always the most powerful combination when we can look to human ingenuity to harness clean sources of power from Mother Nature.
Overall, the conference offered many useful learning and networking opportunities. Next year’s EDTA conference will be in, you guessed it, Indianapolis.
By Gina Coplon-Newfield, Sierra Club’s Director of Green Fleets & Electric Vehicles Initiative
Every week it seems like yet another small town gets fed up with the coal industry and demands action. This week's fantastic example comes from Eliot, Maine, where Tuesday night residents voted 906 to 560 to ask the Environmental Protection Agency to investigate dangerous sulfur dioxide pollution coming from the Schiller Station coal plant just across the border in Portsmouth, New Hampshire.
I recently blogged about the dangers of sulfur dioxide pollution: Exposure to sulfur dioxide for even five minutes can trigger asthma attacks and respiratory distress - a serious problem for the more than 3,500 kids in York County, Maine suffering from asthma. Sulfur dioxide is also associated with aggravation of cardiac conditions, increased rates of hospitalization, and even death.
This fight against the Schiller Station coal plant started earlier this year, when Eliot residents embarked on an education and awareness campaign showing just how much the coal plant was polluting local air. Here's a model showing how much the coal plant's pollution affects people in New Hampshire and Maine. Over the past few months, our activists worked with local and state officials, and the plant owners as well.
Then the Eliot town council voted to put the issue of filing a "Good Neighbor" petition (part of the Clean Air Act) before the city. Communities can file a "Good Neighbor" petition requesting that the EPA investigate cross-border and out-of-state sources of air pollution that pose a threat to public health in their community.
"With just a handful of concerned citizens in the very beginning, we have been able to effectively raise awareness to the important issue of ensuring that our air is clean and healthy to breathe," said Kimberly Richards, an Eliot resident. "Our message that we won't allow large companies to dictate our living conditions has been embraced by communities beyond just Eliot, (even as far as Lee, NH). To me, that is what has made this campaign a great success. And I couldn't be more proud."
People power - that is what's making cities nationwide wake up to the dangers of coal. It was people power, Kimberly's neighbors and friends who, together, voted to protect their air.
"It's inspiring to see a group of concerned citizens, especially in a small town like Eliot, come together to take on and win against a powerful polluter," said Glen Brand, director of Sierra Club Maine. "Despite threats of frivolous lawsuits and a slick, misleading corporate ad campaign, the residents of Eliot sent a clear message that they want the coal plant cleaned up and that everyone in the Seacoast region deserves to breathe clean, healthy air."
The people of Eliot have spoken; Schiller should clean up its act. Clean air is a right no one should be denied and today’s vote is a victory for the town of Eliot and every family concerned about the air they breathe. When put to a vote, the right to clean air free of dangerous coal-fired pollution will always win out over corporate smoke and mirrors.
Today, thanks to Kimberly and her community, we're one step closer to a clean air victory in Maine, and in all of New England. As Catherine Corkery of Sierra Club New Hampshire said: "Pollution doesn't respect state lines. This isn't just a victory for the people of southern Maine, but for folks in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, and across the Seacoast who suffer from the same pollution and deserve clean air."
-- Mary Anne Hitt, Beyond Coal Campaign Director
Five Senators Urge President Obama To Address Climate Change with Tough Standards on Carbon From Power Plants
Extreme weather is here once again. As I type this blog the threat of a major storm and possible derecho wind storm are causing many offices in Washington D.C. and the Federal Government to close early. Meanwhile four Western states are currently battling large raging wildfires fire because of the hot and dry conditions.
As the the impacts of climate change grow more severe, the pressure mounts on President Obama to address climate change by curbing the country’s largest source of greenhouse gas emissions: coal-fired power plants. Today, five senators from mid-Atlantic States -- Senators Robert Menendez (NJ), Charles Schumer (NY), Kristen Gillibrand (NY), Chris Murphy (CT) and Richard Blumenthal (CT) took a stand on this issue by urging President Obama to fulfill his obligation to address the causes of climate change and set tough standards to cut carbon pollution from new and existing power plants. The Senators represent communities that were hit hard by 2012’s Hurricane Sandy, which destroyed thousands of homes and businesses, and inflicted massive damage to transit systems, infrastructures, and coastlines.
In April, the Obama administration missed a key deadline for finalizing carbon pollution standards from new power plants. The Clean Air Act requires the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to set carbon pollution reduction standards for major emitters, and in 2012 the agency proposed standards that limit carbon pollution from new power plants. These first-ever standards would assure that new power plants not be built unless they could control and significantly limit their carbon pollution. Setting the standard for new power plants will also trigger the Agency’s requirement to set carbon pollution standards for existing power plants. Unfortunately, the EPA has missed its April 13, 2013 deadline to finalize the proposed rule, leaving the fate of these critical safeguards up in the air.
This past weekend the Obama administration and China agreed to limit hydrofluorocarbons in the two countries, and President Obama's top climate adviser said yesterday that the White House would follow that announcement with other major steps to curb greenhouse gases at home and internationally. We must dramatically reduce carbon emissions and we urge President Obama and the EPA to finalize safeguards for coal plant carbon pollution as soon as possible. We also thank Senator Menendez and his mid-Atlantic colleagues for their strong leadership on this critical issue.
--Liz Perera, Senior Washington Representative, Sierra Club
On December 6th, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell proposed a piece of legislation in the Senate that would allow the debt ceiling to be raised. Just a few hours later, McConnell stood up on the Senate floor and filibustered his own legislation, effectively killing the bill that he had authored.
On May 9th, eight Republican members of the Senate Committee for Environment and Public Works refused to do their jobs, failing to attend the confirmation hearing for EPA nominee Gina McCarthy and delaying a confirmation vote.
The ridiculous state of affairs in the Senate has reached comic proportions, and its having an impact not just on the prospects for new legislation, but on laws that are already in place. That’s because McCarthy’s not alone. Obstruction and inaction in the Senate has resulted in dozens of highly qualified nominees - tapped by President Obama to lead everything from the EPA to the National Labor Relations Board to courthouses across the country - being blocked from doing the jobs they were appointed to do. That doesn’t just mean vacancies at key watchdog agencies - it means the key safeguards those agencies are supposed to enforce are threatened.
In a new ad published today in the Roll Call newspaper, Sierra Club executive director Michael Brune said it best: “We can’t hold big polluters accountable or protect the rights of American workers and consumers if we’ve got no cops on the beat...The Senate Majority needs to break the logjam and confirm the President’s qualified nominees to fix the Senate and show the American people they can still get things done.”
The facts are simple: they key safeguards we’ve fought for to protect our air, our water, our wildlife, and our planet are supposed to be enforced by agencies that are left without leaders because of Senate inaction. That’s why the Sierra Club is continuing to advocate for an end to the obstructionism.
A member of the Fix the Senate coalition, the Sierra Club is working with labor, civil rights, and other public interest organizations to demand an end to not just obstructionism on President Obama’s nominees but also filibuster reforms that will stop the legislative logjam in the U.S. Senate.
The ad pictured here is part of a series launched by the “Give Us 5” campaign - which includes a forthcoming ad from the NAACP - that focuses on increasing support for confirmation of stalled nominees for the National Labor Relations Board and highlighting the ongoing obstruction of candidates like Gina McCarthy.
Gina McCarthy has worked for both Mitt Romney and Barack Obama. She has 25 years of experience protecting our air and water and has been praised by environmental groups, utility companies and Reagan-era officials alike. If there has ever been a qualified, bipartisan nominee, it is her. Yet, the only reason her confirmation has been delayed is politics.
It’s time the obstruction ended and we let government do its job. The Senate Majority can take action to end the inaction, fix the outdated Senate rules, and prove to the American people that they can actually get something done. The Sierra Club is proud to be working with a diverse coalition of allies to tell them to do just that.
--Sierra Club Media Team Intern Lauren Lantry
For electric vehicles, it's only the beginning.
That was the takeaway at last week's third annual EV symposium in Palo Alto, hosted by SAP and the Silicon Valley Leadership Group. More than 250 people attended, and plug-in vehicles of several models filled the parking lot outside, including a Ford Fusion, Tesla Model S, and the Mini E. (A Honda Fit EV was supposed to be there, too, but it was sold that morning!)
Palo Alto is a suitable location for this event. Mayor Greg Scharff heaped praise on his city, saying that alternative fuel vehicles have helped the city decrease emissions by more than 20 percent in 2012. "Within a two-block radius of my house, there are five Teslas. Leafs, Volts, and Teslas are everywhere here," he said. California in particular is leading the charge, so to speak. The state adopted a goal of 1.5 million plug-ins on the road by 2025, which is projected to reduce carbon emissions by 1 million metric tons.
Since last year's event, the plug-in industry has grown healthily. Last month, U.S. sales of hybrids and plug-ins jumped 30 percent from May 2012. Tesla recently announced it is tripling its Supercharger network. And with so many models available, auto companies are responding to the demand and competition by making them more affordable than ever, especially when considering monthly lease and/or fueling costs. "For the first time, electric vehicles are penciling out cheaper than their gas-powered counterparts," reported the Los Angeles Times.
But speakers at the event said that EVs -- and the technology, such as vehicle-to-grid connectivity -- have a long way to go. Mike Calise, a director with Schneider Electric, said that the EV industry is in the second inning of a nine-inning ball game. When asked what the next big benchmark for plug-in success will be, he answered that it’ll happen when workers start asking their employers for accommodations. "The next stepping stone will be when a lot of people will show up to work asking, 'Why aren't you letting me charge here?'"
Workplace charging was the topic of one of the panels. There are several incentives for employers to provide chargers: they accommodate long-distance commuters, add flexibility for workers who take side trips, contribute to infrastructure, encourage more workers to adopt EVs, promote a green image for company, and, of course, reduce climate-changing emissions.
Maeanna Glenn, a projects manager with startup company Evernote, detailed how her office partnered with Nissan and ECOtality in providing chargers and perks for employees who drive plug-ins for their commute. She maintains a Google group with her office's EV drivers and coordinates a "charging calendar."
Fleet managers were also at the event. Richard Battersby, who heads the fleet for UC Davis and coordinates the East Bay Clean Cities Coalition, said re-sale rates are a big incentive, especially when considering total cost of ownership. Rick Teebay manages a fleet of 14,000 for the county of Los Angeles that uses 14 million gallons of gas a year. He said he discovered that the commute for county employees averages 24 miles one way.
"As important as our fleet is, I think it's equally important to realize what’s driving our emissions," he said. "If we can put in infrastructure, they will drive electric miles and drastically reduce emissions. Enabling employees to plug in is critical."
Because of the industry's promising outlook, panel speakers and attendees seemed as excited as ever. The symposium reinforced the fact that green fleets and transportation is not just a winner for the planet, but also for the economy. Electric vehicles generate jobs, save money for consumers, and drastically reduce the country's dependence on oil. Future gatherings of car innovators and EV early adopters will no doubt continue to focus on how to catalyze the momentum and propel the industry into the mainstream.
-- Brian Foley
In a debate on Tuesday, Massachusetts’ Republican Senate candidate Gabrial Gomez claimed to be a “green Republican” who looks down on those in his own party who “deny science.” Unfortunately, his claims are based in a denial of reality.
While Gomez touted his supposed “green” credentials, he declared his undying support for the dirty and dangerous Keystone XL pipeline in the same breath. That’s a position that’s totally out of line with any desire to protect the air we breath, the water we drink, and the planet we love for generations to come.
The facts about Keystone XL are simple: it would create no new Massachusetts jobs, it would threaten the water supply for millions of Americans, and it would dump more climate-disrupting carbon pollution into our atmosphere than if you put 37 million more cars on the road or built 51 new coal plants.
If Gomez thinks that’s “green,” he must be colorblind. And if Gomez has a problem with those who “deny science,” maybe he should look at the company he keeps.
While Gomez may be trying to tell voters that he is a different kind of Republican politician, he’s taking the same position of those in the Senate like Mitch McConnell who been pushing fossil fuel boondoggles like Keystone XL while denying climate disruption and causing disarray in Washington. But Gomez isn’t just taking McConnell’s lead on Keystone XL - he’s taking his money, too.
In fact, Mitch McConnell’s been trying to funnel campaign cash straight to Gomez, sending out a fundraising plea declaring Gomez as a crucial part of “a Republican majority in the Senate.” Minority Leader McConnell even said he would match three times any donation to as much as $32,000!
If Gomez has a problem with people in his party like McConnell denying science, maybe he should stop taking their money.
Massachusetts deserves a Senator who will stand up for a better, cleaner future - not play politics with our air, our water, and the future of our planet. Luckily, there is a real “green” candidate on the ballot who has been championing clean energy and climate action for decades - Congressman Ed Markey.
Markey’s name was on the most significant piece of climate legislation to ever pass the U.S. House. His name was on the bill to end the tax handouts the nation’s largest oil companies rake in every year. He co-sponsored energy-efficiency legislation that would create more than 100,000 new American jobs and save families thousands of dollars on their electricity bills. He has supported life-saving protections from toxic mercury pollution that will prevent up to 11,000 premature deaths and 130,000 asthma attacks every year, and has voted to turn back assaults on the Clean Air Act and curb the emission of neurotoxins and other poisons from coal-fired power plants to help prevent tens of thousands of premature deaths every year.
The list goes on - and the best news is that Markey is making it a centerpiece of his campaign. In fact, the National Journal called Markey the “first real climate candidate.”
The difference in Massachusetts seems to be between rhetoric and reality. While Gabriel Gomez may be trying to convince voters he’s something he is not, Ed Markey has already proven what he is - an environmental hero.
--Sierra Club Media Team Intern Lauren Lantry
Paid for by the Sierra Club Political Committee, www.sierraclub.org, and authorized by The Markey Committee.
Imagine your neighbor was the only person allowed to go shopping at the local grocery store. What's more, she negotiated a special arrangement with the store manager, where she can name her own price for everything they sell. After paying pennies for milk, eggs and bread, she then takes those groceries home and sells them to you and your neighbors for a staggering profit. A system like that wouldn't be sustainable to the grocery store - who is losing money every time your neighbor walks through the door - and it wouldn't be fair to you and the rest of your friends who are effectively subsidizing the neighbor's profits.
But that is exactly the system the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) has set up for coal companies in Montana and Wyoming's Powder River Basin (part of which is pictured above). This week a highly-critical report (PDF) from the Department of Interior's Inspector General (IG) detailed a litany of flaws in the BLM's coal leasing program. The report found that big coal companies are essentially dictating their own prices to mine the coal under public land in Wyoming and Montana, then turning around and selling it at a huge premium. Taxpayers are losing out on billions of dollars, and the coal companies are reaping the profits.
The report identified numerous ways that BLM fails to accurately calculate the fair market value of its coal leases: it doesn’t include the potential for exporting coal in developing fair market value appraisals, it only allows one person in each BLM office to calculate the fair market value (which the report concluded could lead to a higher risk of fraud or undetected errors), and it regularly violates an Interior Secretary Order by failing to use the Interior's Office of Valuation Services to conduct independent fair market value appraisals.
What's worse, its system doesn't create competition that would help make sure American taxpayers are getting a fair price for federal coal. According to the report, over the last 20 years 80% of coal lease sales in the Powder River Basin had just one bid and no lease sale had more than two bidders. The IG noted that even a one-cent-per-ton undervaluation could result in $33 million in lost revenue on the seven leases issued since 2011, and concluded that "correcting the identified weaknesses could produce significant returns to the Government."
While the IG's report is heartening, its findings are nothing new to those who have been following the BLM's coal leasing practices. Last year, an IEEFA report (PDF) authored by Tom Sanzillo concluded that BLM's inaccurate fair market value determinations have cost American families nearly $30 billion since 1982. And at Rep. Ed Markey's request, the Government Accountability Office is now investigating a coal royalty controversy in which coal companies pay a low royalty to the government based on sales to a subsidiary, and the subsidiary pays no royalty when it sells coal at a much higher rate overseas.
It's clear that the BLM’s coal leasing program is seriously flawed, and we hope that this report helps give Interior Secretary Sally Jewell the tools she needs to begin a long overdue revamping of the BLM's program. At a time when American families are still being asked to make difficult economic sacrifices, they are counting on our federal leaders to protect them from being short-changed by predatory companies like the coal industry, who profit from skirting the law. As we continue to learn more about the broken coal leasing process, we renew our call on for a moratorium of all coal leasing on public lands. These federal agencies must get their houses in order to prevent coal companies from further taking advantage of U.S. taxpayers and damaging our economy.
-- Bill Corcoran, Western Regional Campaign Director for the Sierra Club's Beyond Coal campaign
There are plenty of examples of politicians across the country doing or saying anything to push the agenda of their big polluting buddies, but rarely has the evidence been so clear and so outrageous as with what is happening in Virginia.
The office of Virginia Attorney General - and gubernatorial candidate - Ken Cuccinelli did more than just bend over backwards to help Big Coal and Big Gas executives in their legal battle with Virginia residents. In fact, a federal judge said she was shocked by the extent to which Cuccinelli’s office had been aiding and abetting Big Coal in its fight not to pay landowners for the gas it has taken from them.
So what happened?
In Virginia, the Gas and Oil Act lets natural gas companies extract methane gas without landowners’ permission as long as they pay for what they take. Even landowners who have sold the rights to coal on their land are still due compensation for gas, according to this law. But the Big Coal companies taking both haven’t been paying what they owe.
To get their rightful compensation from Big Coal, landowners were forced to go to court. Years of litigation have since ensued in which individual cash-strapped landowners are engaged in a class-action legal battle with Big Coal’s army of attorneys - an army that a federal judge learned was staffed with Generals straight from Ken Cuccinelli’s office.
U.S. Magistrate Judge Pamela Meade Sargent found emails that show Cuccinelli’s Assistant Attorney General Sharon Pigeon was helping coal giant Consol Energy (CNX) and gas driller EQT with their legal defense against Virginia landowners - and Judge Sargent was not happy.
Sargent wrote: “Shockingly, these emails show that the Board, or at least Pigeon, has been actively involved in assisting EQT and CNX with the defense of these cases, including offering advice on and providing information for use on the Motions before the court.”
While Cuccinelli’s lieutenants have been fighting side by side with Big Coal, the Attorney General himself has been raking in contributions from the very same polluters who’ve been benefiting from the assistance. This year alone, Cuccinelli has received $86,000 in campaign cash from Consol - a party directly involved in this suit.
This is not the first time Cuccinelli’s office has done the bidding of polluters, either. A candidate for Virginia Governor this year, Cuccinelli has received $50,000 in campaign money from the Koch Brothers, notorious big oil barons who've thrown political cash to their closest allies all across the country and the Commonwealth. The Koch's have even personally hosted a high-dollar fundraiser for Cuccinelli. And its no wonder - his reckless agenda is in lockstep with their own.
“Almost from the first day he was elected, Attorney General Cuccinelli has abused his office on behalf of fossil fuel polluters. Hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars have been spent in unnecessary litigation costs as Cuccinelli pursued frivolous suits against the Environmental Protection Agency and even the University of Virginia, all in the name of publicity, climate denial and political gamesmanship,” said Virginia Sierra Club Director Glen Besa.
Now, prominent Virginians like State Senator Phillip Puckett are demanding an investigation into Cuccinelli’s office for putting taxpayer resources to use in a legal battle against those very same taxpayers.
“Cuccinelli should be on the right side of the people that he serves, not his campaign contributors,” said Senator Puckett.
Besa went further, adding “One has to wonder, whose interests are Attorney General Cuccinelli representing? The people of Virginia or the fossil fuel industry?”
--Sierra Club Intern Lauren Lantry
The U.S. State Department has stated multiple times that tar sands oil will find a way to reach global markets even without the Keystone XL Pipeline. That argument was based on the State Department's assumption that other options for transporting the heavy tar sands, including rail, will take the place of the pipeline if Keystone were rejected. They assumed that the increased cost of rail transport would not impact the rate of tar sands extraction. This has been the argument that environmentalists have continuously faced throughout the fight against Keystone. But that argument is no longer valid thanks to Goldman Sachs!
On June 2nd, Goldman Sachs published a research report, titled "Getting Oil Out of Canada: Heavy Oil Diffs Expected to Stay Wide and Volatile," stating that without Keystone XL, tar sands expansion, and therefore the carbon pollution that comes with it, would be dramatically reduced.
The report goes on to detail why rail is not a feasible alternative to pipelines for transporting tar sands. They define the specific aspects of rail transport that make it significantly more costly than the State Department assumed, including: the high cost of specially-made rail cars, increased time needed to unload heavy crude oil, and a diminished ability to transport the same number of barrels at one time.
Without the Keystone XL pipeline, many tar sands developments would be put on hold, along with the significant harm they would cause to our environment and climate.
Last week, the new provincial government of British Columbia rejected the Northern Gateway tar sands pipeline proposal, even further limiting Canada's options for tar sands export routes. This further exposes the Canadian tar sands industry's dependence on Keystone XL.
So for everyone fighting the Keystone XL pipeline today, know that our case against Keystone is building every day! Goldman Sachs stated that the longer the pipeline is delayed, the less likely it is that oil will be extracted from Canadian tar sands. So let's once more rally around the rejection of Keystone XL, and call upon President Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry to protect our climate and reject the pipeline once and for all!
-- Bo Ra Kim, Sierra Student Coalition ExComm Member
As climate-related extreme weather becomes more violent, officials across the country, including in New York City, are preparing for climate change and the next Superstorm. NOAA is already predicting more severe superstorms this season: their Hurricane Season Outlook says there is a 70 percent likelihood of seven to 11, including three to six major hurricanes (Category 3, 4 or 5; winds of 111 mph or higher). These ranges are well above the seasonal average of six hurricanes and three major hurricanes or superstorms.
Then yesterday the Bloomberg administration issued new warnings about New York City's vulnerability to climate change, offering updated data to encourage people to better prepare against hotter weather, fiercer storms, and increased rainfall.
Today the Bloomberg administration took their warnings a step further, by releasing a new plan that works to transform New York City into a lower-carbon, more resilient city. This plan, called "A Stronger, More Resilient New York," describes how the city can better prepare for major weather events, including superstorms. In a speech at the Brooklyn Navy Yard, the Mayor unveiled the plan, which was developed in coordination with an array of city agencies, technical experts, representatives of Sandy-impacted communities, and community-based and non-governmental organizations citywide. The Mayor's plan provides a clear path to protecting New York's infrastructure, buildings, and communities from the impacts of climate change.
Given the far-ranging adverse impacts of climate change, building resiliency into city planning and disaster response must be an integral component of an effective strategy to address climate change. Of course, building low-carbon resilient cities must also be our overall goal in order to reduce cities' impact on our climate. In addition to action on the local level, the Obama administration must commit to dramatically reduce US carbon pollution and move forward with laws to limit carbon from power plants as soon as possible.
The government spent nearly $100 billion to respond to last year's storms, floods, drought, and wildfires. In order to keep up with this rising cost of climate change, the government now estimates the harm caused by carbon-dioxide emissions is $36 per ton (up from $22 per ton in 2013). With US carbon emissions totaling nearly seven billion tons, that's a cost of $252 billion. We can no longer sit idly by while Americans end up paying a price for the impacts of climate change.
-- Liz Perera, Sierra Club Senior Washington Representative. Photo of Hurricane Sandy hitting the U.S., courtesy of NASA.
In my many years in Appalachia, I've worked, traveled, prayed, broken bread, and raised a glass with a good many retired coal miners. I know that, in retirement, they are still paying heavily for their decades of work in the mines - you can hear it in their shortness of breath, you can see it as they struggle with painful backs and knees and other legacies of long-ago injuries, and you can feel it when they tell you how grateful they are for this time in the fresh air with their families, homes and the simple pleasures of a well-deserved retirement.
Now, many of these retired miners, who sacrificed so much to provide for their families and power the homes of millions, are facing the unthinkable - the retirement and health benefits that they rely on are in jeopardy, due to the bankruptcy of Patriot Coal. This is a life and death struggle for these miners, and is a fight with implications for workers far beyond the Appalachian coalfields.
Patriot declared bankruptcy last year, and is now trying rid itself of one of its most important responsibilities: ensuring that the companies retirees have are provided with pensions and healthcare. Patriot was created five years ago as a new company, spun off from coal giant Peabody. In what now, in hindsight, was clearly a brazen act of corporate greed, Peabody left Patriot holding the bag for two of its biggest legacy responsibilities - its unionized workforce, and mountaintop removal coal mines.
Last week, a federal bankruptcy judge in Missouri gave Patriot permission to eliminate the collective bargaining agreements that generations of coal miners fought and died for, and to cut off miner retirees' health care.
Coal mining is one of the world’s most dangerous occupations. No one knows better than the miners that working in the coal mines can cause lifelong, debilitating illnesses like black lung disease. If there's anything retired coal miners need, it's health care. And Peabody can definitely afford it. Peabody is the world's largest coal company, and earned nearly two billion dollars in profit last year alone.
The Sierra Club is a unionized organization, we've partnered for many years with organized labor through the Blue Green Alliance, and we are firmly committed to workers' rights. These miners risked their lives for years in coal mines, and their union has fought hard for these basic benefits. It’s appalling that Peabody and Patriot are refusing to keep their end of the deal. It’s a corporate swindle that reaches beyond Appalachia, with implications that threaten all union workers around the nation.
Organized mine workers have more in common with the people fighting for a safe and healthy planet than Peabody and its allies would have us believe. Besides sharing a desire for safe and healthy workplaces and communities, we share some of the same opponents. As Kentucky State AFL-CIO President Bill Londrigan declared at Tuesday’s rally and civil disobedience action in support of the UMWA miners, "There is a war on workers and their unions in this country" being waged by "the one percent of this country for the benefit of their unimaginable wealth," and Peabody is right in the middle of it.
Peabody's President sits on the Board of ALEC, the American Legislative Exchange Council, the right wing legislation machine controlled by the Koch brothers and other powerful conservative interests that is responsible for many of the most anti-union, planet destroying bills introduced in state legislatures around the country. The forces behind ALEC, like Peabody and the Koch Brothers, are not only bankrolling the attacks on unions and holding the global economy hostage in their effort to destroy the safety net for people around the world, they are bankrolling the denial of climate science in the United States. And they have been systematically attacking state clean energy standards across the country, efforts that the Sierra Club and our allies have largely been able to defeat, so far.
We respect and applaud the UMWA for its steadfast commitment to the health and safety of its members, and its fight for dignity in the face of our powerful shared opponent. I hope you will join the many thousands of Americans who are calling on Patriot to fulfill its promise of retirement pensions and healthcare benefits to its workers.
-- Mary Anne Hitt, Beyond Coal Director
At his confirmation hearing last
week, Michael Froman, President Obama's nominee for United States Trade
Representative (USTR), said “. . . and let me be clear, my view is that it is
better to accept no [trade] agreement than a bad agreement.”
Later, Mr. Froman said, “Trade policy can only work, however, if it is fair.”
The Sierra Club has had a Responsible Trade program for more than a decade, and we completely agree with both of these statements. In the context of the current model of “free trade” that the USTR is advancing through the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and has advanced in recent free trade agreements, however, these statements must be read with an inquisitive eye. What, to Mr. Froman, constitutes a “bad agreement?” And what, to Mr. Froman, is “fair” trade?
To the Sierra Club, the answers to these questions are quite clear.
Fair or responsible trade, for example, lifts up communities; raises the standards of worker rights and environmental protection; ensures that governments have the flexibility to put in place policies that protect the climate, our economy, jobs, our air and water, the safety of our food; and reins in the power of corporations.
Senator Sherrod Brown from Ohio has been a leader in defining what a responsible trade agenda looks like. In the 112th Congress, he introduced the 21st Century Trade Agreements and Market Access Act, which highlighted how trade rules can lift up U.S. manufacturing, workers’ rights, and environmental standards. In this last week’s confirmation hearing, Senator Brown raised one of the key elements of a responsible trade agenda: restoring the balance between corporations and governments.
Provisions in all recent U.S. free trade agreements have given incredible power to foreign corporation to sue governments in private tribunals over laws and policies which corporations allege reduce their profits. Senator Brown aptly asked Mr. Froman whether we really need extrajudicial and private enforcement system to settle investment disputes in the soon-to-be-launched U.S.-EU free trade agreement, particularly given that the U.S. and the EU have such advanced judicial systems. Mr. Froman said it’s a topic “worthy of discussion.”
From the Sierra Club’s perspective, letting the profits of multinational corporations supersede public interest policies through private tribunals is hardly fair and must be excluded from trade pacts.
Senator Wyden, Chairman of the Subcommittee on International Trade, raised another issue critical to a fair and responsible trade agenda: transparency in trade negotiations.
While I appreciated Mr. Froman’s stated commitment to transparency and consultation, it is critical to understand that transparency extends far beyond consultation and must include public participation in the formulation and implementation of trade rules.
Having just returned from Peru, where the 17th round of TPP trade negotiations took place, I know that Mr. Froman will have much work to do in bringing real transparency and opportunities for public engagement into trade negotiations. After more than three years of ongoing TPP negotiations, not a single word of draft text has been released. Responsible trade begins with transparency and public engagement, and therefore requires that the texts and drafts of our trade pacts are made available to the public.
Finally, the other issue in the confirmation hearing that received considerable air time was that of Trade Promotion Authority, or “fast track,” that Mr. Froman said he will work to advance. Fast track would allow the President to negotiate and sign trade pacts including the TPP before sending them to Congress for a vote. If fast track were approved by Congress, trade pacts could sail through Congress with no-amendments, limited debate, and a simple up-or-down vote. Fast-track authority, therefore, renders Congress unable to ensure that trade negotiations result in agreements that benefit communities and the environment. Surely that is not how a fair trade agenda should get shaped.
I hope that Mr. Froman will be provided the opportunity to explain more fully what a fair trade agenda means to him, and the Sierra Club looks forward to working with Mr. Froman to help shape a truly fair and responsible trade agenda.
-- Ilana Solomon, Sierra Club Trade Representative
Last Friday, Southern California Edison announced that it
will permanently close its San Onofre nuclear plant, located right above a
popular surfing and recreation area between Los Angeles and San Diego.
A broad coalition of community groups, including San Clemente Green, San Onofre Safety, Women’s Energy Matters, Mothers for Peace, and national groups, Friends of the Earth and the Sierra Club, have been working tirelessly to shut down this old and dysfunctional plant for some time.
The coalition pressed local governments across the area to pass resolutions calling for the closure of San Onofre. They educated residents on the risks associated with San Onofre and nuclear energy and conducted studies on the effect that closing the plant would have on the surrounding area’s energy supply. All of these activities were vital in securing the closure of this plant. This is a huge victory!
For years, Southern California Edison refused to permanently shut down the San Onofre plant, falsely claiming that there would be rolling blackouts and energy shortages if they did. But since January 2012, SoCal Edison hasn’t had a choice; the San Onofre plant has been offline because of faulty steam generators and escaped radiation. Not once have residents experienced the electricity shortfalls SoCal Ed predicted.
The decision to close the plant confirms what we’ve known all along. The risk of reopening this plant was too huge to take, especially considering it had already faced numerous failures, allowed radiation to escape into the atmosphere, and threatened the health of nearby communities. In this case, the risk was without reward because electricity demand was achievable without the plant.
The Sierra Club’s No Nukes Activist Team, whose goal is to stop proposed new nuclear plants and license extensions of old plants, and Sierra Club California, are rightfully thrilled. Leslie March, a leader from the team posted on Friday about this huge victory that is part of a long, stratgic campaign. Marie Hudspeth, a member of the No Nukes team, also posted on Friday, "This is great news and a great day in history to me and I hope all of you." And Kathryn Phillips, Sierra Club California’s Director, said in a statement, "Southern California Edison’s decision to close this cranky, unpredictable and potentially very dangerous power plant is smart for its bottom line, smart for ratepayers, and smart for the environment."
The Sierra Club Angeles Chapter launched the San Onofre Task Force in 2012 to monitor the the plant's shutdown due to reported radiation leaks. Task force chair Glenn Pascall noted: "The credit for this victory should be widely shared. I believe our campaign activists and supporters correctly sensed that the key point was to prevent a restart based on fast-track approval by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. A full process was not only called for, but could be expected to force Edison's hand -- as it has done."
While the coalition’s great work is not over, closing down the San Onofre nuclear power plant is one step in the right direction. The next step is making sure that risky and expensive nuclear energy around the country is replaced with clean, cheap and reliable renewable energy.
-- Radha Adhar, Sierra Club Associate Washington DC Representative
I am not an American. I have never been to Delaware before. I do not own a car. Whether the Delaware City Refinery is granted its Title V air permit or not has very little effect on my life. Why, then, did I go to the hearing for the Title V air permit application by the Delaware City Refinery? Because my future and the future of every person on this planet depends on struggles like this one. Because I believe in a world where people can have safe jobs that promote healthy communities. Because I believe no one should be subjected to depend on a corporation that makes its profit on the back of future generations.
I went to Delaware to tell the refinery owners that we will not stand aside and watch as they endanger the health and future of everyone in that community to save a few dollars.
The Delaware City Refinery has recently retooled to begin processing tar sands. Because the tar sands are a much dirtier fuel source, the refinery would maintain the same output, but drastically increase the pollution levels. Processing tar
sands will increase the levels of pollutants like suspended particulates, sulfur dioxide, carbon monoxide, volatile organic compounds, sulfuric acid, ammonia, and lead. Tuesday's hearing was to take public input on the Title V permit renewal that would incorporate these increased pollution levels.
Given these developments, I went to Delaware to support the community in asking for the following:
1. Installation of real-time air quality monitoring
2. Collaborative development of an Emergency Response and Evacuation Plan.
3. Requirement that the Refinery implement a plan to reduce flaring and associated pollution within 1 year of permit renewal.
4. A reduction in air pollution emissions
5. End to the refinery's intimidation tactics of concerned community members.
6. Accountability for the mobile emissions of the train cars
7. Implementation of pollution limits for the facility’s SSM operations
8. Require the Refinery to apply for and obtain a National Pollution Discharge Elimination System permit within 6 months.
9. Require the Delaware City Refinery to draft and publicize a plan for the storage and removal of petcoke waste.
These demands do not endanger the refinery. All we ask is that they reduce pollution and have monitoring systems for residents to know when they can safely leave their homes.
In my opening paragraph I mentioned that one of the reasons I went was because my future and the future of every person on this planet depends on struggles like these. Yes, in part I say this because of climate change. I say this because when refineries process tar sands they are buying into a fuel that will exacerbate the carbon problem even more. The main reason I say this, however, is because we cannot allow corporations to continue using our dependence on them as an excuse to plunder our resources, ravage our land, poison our air and, most importantly, deny future generations the beautiful world we were able to enjoy.
I went to Delaware City because I believe a good economy and a green livelihood are not mutually exclusive. In fact, I believe that is the only option we have available for us, because when we have used up every resource on earth, polluted the last lake, and felt the effects of runaway climate change, there will be no more economy to speak of.
-- Rodrigo Samayoa, Sierra Club Beyond Oil Intern
In February 50,000 people marched on the freezing Washington Mall to tell President Obama that he must reject Keystone XL and move forward on climate. Since then, Sierra Club activists and our partners have met President Obama, Vice President Joe Biden, and Secretary of State John Kerry at more than 20 events around the nation to repeat the message. Hundreds of people demonstrating the escalating public opposition to Keystone XL – from 200 in Chicago, to 500 in New York City, and 1,000-plus in San Francisco. Just last week hundreds more met President Obama in Palo Alto and Santa Monica, California, and the size and momentum of these events only continues to grow as the decision on the pipeline looms closer.
It’s no accident, certainly no mistake that the fight to stop the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline has become the iconic climate issue.
And the attention and controversy we’ve generated in this fight has led to a common question, “Why Keystone XL, what’s the big deal?” Some climate activists who came late to the battle argue that it’s the wrong target. Not so. For those of us who were there at the start of the tar sands campaign seven years ago, Keystone is a brilliant target and a battle that win or lose, we win. Here are ten reasons why this has become a critical battle in the war on climate.
1. Massive. Tar sands are the third largest proven oil reserve in the world behind Saudi Arabia and Venezuela. If we’re going to avoid a climate disaster, we need to leave three quarters of the proven reserves of oil in the ground. We have to block development of the tar sands along with most of the rest of the proven reserves in the world or we’re cooked.
2. Landlocked. Canada’s tar sands are the largest non-nationalized proven oil reserve in the world, but it’s landlocked. Oil companies can’t expand because they can’t get their oil to market. All the pipelines in Canada are dead or blocked for at least another 6-10 years from being operative. US pipelines are the only ones that could move oil in less than two years. Tar sands investors are running out of patience after three years of delay.
3. Discounted. Tar sands are expensive to produce (approximately $70/barrel). They are also discounted (approximately $25/barrel) when sold into the US because we have a glut of oil in the Midwest due to a bottleneck at Cushing, Oklahoma. The Keystone is the critical pipeline for draining the glut, eliminating the discount, and allowing oil companies to profit. No profit, and oil investors won’t risk stranding their assets.
4. Remote. Tar sands are located in the upper NE corner of Alberta. They are a thousand miles from BC and nearly twice that from Texas. Given the expense of producing them, and the discounted price of the market, they can’t afford alternative transport. To ship by rail costs over $30/barrel, by pipeline $2. Do the math. Without pipelines like the Keystone XL, tar sands are going nowhere.
5. Market Signal. Obama is the first President to ever delay a pipeline. There are more in the cue including the Lakehead expansion in Michigan, the Alberta Clipper expansion in Minnesota and Wisconsin, and the Line 9 Trailbreaker reversal through Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine. If KXL is rejected, it not only emboldens opponents to other pipelines in Canada and the US, but tells investors to put their money elsewhere.
6. Fierce Competition. We may hate the development of US tight oil, and many groups like us are fighting to block it, but the reality is production of tight oil in the US is skyrocketing and it’s already causing tar sands companies like Suncorp and Total to pull the plug on new upgraders and even to sell some of their operations. They can’t compete with cheaper and lighter tight oil and the window of opportunity is closing rapidly.
7. Diversity. This pipeline fight unifies a broad array of activists. It involves Canadian and US NGOs; First Nations across Canada and Native American tribes; ranchers, farmers, and landowners coerced by eminent domain to allow a pipeline on their lands; refinery communities who will be poisoned by the increase in toxic emissons; and clean tech companies and investors who remain disadvantaged by cheap oil.
8. Latent Anger. Oil companies are damn near at the top of the list of companies the public dislikes most. Poll after poll shows that Americans believe oil companies manipulate gas prices and have too much power over government. Nobody knows who supplies their electricity or natural gas, but everyone knows who’s ripping them off at the gas pump. For those who also fear climate change, the Keystone XL has ignited that anger and along with it the climate movement.
9. Singular Target. While this was supposed to be a Dept. of State decision, it’s de facto President Obama’s decision. He doesn’t need Congress. He just needs the courage to tell the American people, who know little or nothing about the KXL, the truth- i.e., that it will raise gas prices in the Midwest, make it impossible to meet our Copenhagen target of 17% reduction, and largely be turned into diesel and sold onto the international market. Climate activists believe KXL is the test of whether their President has the nerve to face down Big Oil and its Congressional puppets.
10. Frustration. Climate activists are fed up. Obama raised their expectations, then dashed them. They lost cap and trade. There is no hope of a realistic price on carbon. Oil barons are pouring hundreds of millions into buying off Washington. The president talks a great game on climate, but the climate crisis is building, and Keystone is a singular action that the president can take tomorrow to back his bold words with action.
At the end of the day, President Obama knows that approving Keystone would be a giant step backwards. It’s not just a random battle we picked. It is a litmus test of whether he is going to be bold enough on the penultimate climate issue of our day. If he opens the door to exploitation of the tar sands, he sends the signal to oil, coal and gas companies around the world that the one president who actually got climate change, didn’t have the courage to stand up for what was right and protect the birthright of future generations—a healthy planet.
On the other hand, if the president rejects the pipeline, he sends the message to the oil industry, major institutional investors, auto and truck manufacturers, cities, states, provinces in Canada and countries that the days of oil, coal, and gas are numbered. The market is shifting, and they had best shift with it. The rejection of KXL will unleash a wave of grassroots and grasstops activists emboldened to support his efforts to adopt strict carbon rules on coal power plants, block new and properly regulate existing oil and gas fracking, stop coal, gas, and oil exports, and even begin to lay the ground for a price on carbon. It will be the victory that signals the end of the fossil fuel industry’s enormous power and influence in Washington.
Either way, KXL is a winner.
-- Michael Marx, Director of the Beyond Oil Campaign