Sierra Club National

Who's Afraid of a Carbon Rule?

Sierra Club Compass Blog - 30 May 2014 - 12:28pm

When I was a law student working at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in the ‘80s, we sued a company that had been polluting a Maine river for years. Back then, EPA calculated penalties based on theamount of money a polluter saved by ignoring the requirements of the Clean Water Act. The idea was to take away the economic benefit of pollution so that companies would make out better by installing treatment systems than by imposing their toxic waste on the community.

Not surprisingly, the company’s lawyers tried to prevent their client from having to pay a penalty for all those years it had been dumping pollution into the river. But their reasoning was interesting. Faced with the lawsuit, the company overhauled its industrial process and eliminated most of its waste products, which turned out to be a money-saving move. Thus, said the lawyers, the company hadn't gained any competitive advantage by polluting the river; it had actually lost money doing so. Really, they'd have made a lot more money if we'd forced them to clean up their act sooner.

Needless to say, the argument didn't fly, and the company paid a fine. But its experience turns out to have been a common one. When it comes to environmental regulation, industry screams that the sky is falling, but then it gets to work to solve the problem, and frequently ends up stronger than ever.

This is one reason to be skeptical of ad campaigns from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the National Mining Association trying to convince the public that the EPA's new standards on carbon pollution from power plants, to be announced on June 2, will destroy the American economy. They’ve cried wolf so many times they have lost all credibility.

And in case you are of a generous nature and inclined to forgive previous false alarms, it’s worth noting that the National Mining Association campaign earned the maximum four Pinocchios from the Washington Post fact-checker—meaning, it’s a pack of lies. The EPA has been scarcely kinder in its analysis of the Chamber’s campaign, and the economist Paul Krugman says the Chamber’s own numbers actually prove compliance with the carbon rule will be cheap.

The fact is, there is little reason to fear the economy will suffer by cleaning up carbon pollution and transitioning to clean energy. To the contrary, we have already paid dearly for lack of pollution protections in the form of rising health care costs for asthma and heart disease, in premature deaths, and in babies born with neurological damage from mercury in their mothers’ bodies.

All the while, other energy industries are growing and flourishing. The breathtaking pace of advances in wind, solar and battery technologies make it clear that the age of fossil fuels will end in this century. There will be winners and losers, as there always are in a free market, but the new energy economy offers so many opportunities for American companies and workers that one wishes the fear-mongers at the Chamber and the NMA would stretch their necks out of their bunker far enough to see the horizon.

As for society in general, we have seldom seen a limit on pollution that didn’t make us collectively better off, and carbon protections will be no exception. It is always easier and cheaper to stop pollution at its source than to clean it up later or pay for the damage. That will be true here in spades, where the damage includes hotter summers, more crop losses, more disease, more destructive storms, and whole communities swamped by rising sea levels. These are already happening, and they affect both our health and our wallets.

-- Sierra Club Virginia Volunteer Leader Ivy Main

Categories: Sierra Club National

Arizona: Fight for Clean Air and Clean Energy Inspires a Family of Activists

Sierra Club Compass Blog - 30 May 2014 - 11:43am

Kathy Mohr-Almeida and her daughter Anna (pictured at the right) - along with millions of others in Arizona and surrounding states - could breathe a little easier if  the Environmental Protection Agency steps up to enforce the Clean Air Act protections for Navajo Generating Station, one of the biggest polluters in Arizona.
 
Kathy and Anna are superstar volunteers for Arizona Beyond Coal who are working to transition Arizona away from the Navajo Generating Station coal plant (NGS) and replace it with clean energy. The 2,250-megawatt NGS, near Page, Arizona, is the largest and dirtiest coal plant in the state. Today Kathy and Anna joined a crowd of parents marching and delivering more than 10,000 petitions to the Environmental Protection Agency office in Tempe demanding strong clean air protections at NGS.
 
"People who live near NGS are suffering from health concerns - the families on the Navajo reservation are sick because of the coal plant's pollution," says Kathy, a mental health counselor in Phoenix. "Many of the people with breathing problems are kids."
 
The EPA is expected to decide within the next few weeks whether to enforce the Clean Air Act at NGS and require reduced pollution through the retrofit technology. The Clean Air Task Force estimates that pollution from Navajo Generating Station contributes to 16 premature deaths, 25 heart attacks, 300 asthma attacks, and 15 asthma emergency room visits each year, with total annual health costs of more than $127 million.

"The plant also has a negative impact on the Grand Canyon," says Kathy, referring to the pollution haze that clouds the Grand Canyon many days. "These places draw people to the northern part of the state, which economically benefits the entire state. If the air is too dirty to enjoy the most spectacular site on Earth, how long will people continue to visit?"

Kathy's daughter Anna sees the realities of bad air quality around her every day.
 
"Many of our family members have breathing difficulties," says 11-year-old Anna. "My cousin, Ricky, has been hospitalized for breathing difficulties, and my dad also has difficulty breathing when the air is dirty. Six kids in my class suffer from breathing problems, which get worse when the air is dirty."
 
The fight to clean up NGS for Kathy and Anna is also about the huge amount of climate pollution the plant spews into the atmosphere.
 
"Climate change is the biggest concern human beings currently face," says Kathy. "All other issues pale in comparison to mitigating the impact of human activity on the environment now."
 
Kathy also became an activist because of her daughter. "I cannot imagine looking Anna in the eye down the road and telling her I did nothing to prevent catastrophic climate change. Mitigating the negative impact of human activity on the climate is a very important value in our home - more important than personal goals."

Anna has been so inspired that she's started a nonprofit environmental organization called Kids Climate Action Network (Kids CAN!), to empower the youth voice in the climate change conversation. Her mom says Anna is working with renowned climate scientists, community leaders, and others on climate and clean air issues. Anna will also be attending the Sierra Student Coalition summer training program in July.
 
You can hear the pride in Kathy's voice when she talks about her daughter. "(Anna's) organization is by kids for kids, and her website includes a video forum for kids from around the world to share ideas, activities, and action steps."
 
Anna's crusade for climate action and clean air has had her testifying at numerous public hearings and speaking at rallies. Her passion is contagious.
 
"Young people should care about having clean air and a stable climate now because we - my generation - will be most harmed by the poor choices adults have made," says Anna. "I think burning a fossil fuel like coal is like having a cancer, because the problem continues to get worse and worse without any help. We are ready for a serious treatment to stop climate change. The longer we put off taking our medicine, the worse the fossil-fuel-caused cancer will get. We are already very seriously sick."  

This is why the solution for Arizona (and beyond!) is clean energy. Activists working to clean up and transition NGS are big advocates for solar and wind power - and we're with them every step of the way.
 
If you're in Arizona, you can help by taking action here.

-- Mary Anne Hitt, director of the Sierra Club Beyond Coal campaign

Categories: Sierra Club National

What It's Like When Big Oil Owns Your Politicians

Sierra Club Compass Blog - 30 May 2014 - 9:30am

Last night the Louisiana House approved a bill that retroactively kills a lawsuit by the Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority-East against 97 oil and gas companies for the industry's pollution and damage to the state's wetlands.

As Sierra Club environmental justice organizer Darryl Malek-Wiley put it, "this ends our latest effort to restore Louisiana's democracy and take down the Exxon flag flying from our Capitol building."

Malek-Wiley and so many other Louisiana residents and activists are floored by this political move - and they're tired of Big Oil running the state's politics.

Also outraged? GreenARMY founder and leader Lt. General Russel Honoré. Watch this great clip from Rachel Maddow to get the low-down and see Honoré tell it like it is about Louisiane state politics.




The fight is far from over, though. If you want to help, join the GreenARMY and Sierra Club Louisiana!

Categories: Sierra Club National

Will SunFunder Unlock $1 Billion in Off-Grid Solar Venture Debt?

Sierra Club Compass Blog - 28 May 2014 - 8:06am

In a recent piece on early stage cleantech investing, Rob Day of Black Coral Capital had some excellent advice - look beyond traditional venture capital.

It turns out that is sound advice for off-grid solar companies as well. In just the past four months, the off-grid solar market has seen a $45 million wave of new investment largely outside traditional venture capital players. From high profile institutions like SolarCity and Bloomberg Philanthropies, savvy investors are enjoying the pick of the litter thanks to a space literally exploding with cash-starved companies. With a new investment from Khosla Impact, SunFunder is not only joining the fray, it’s planting a flag for perhaps the most important financial innovation to date: venture debt.

SunFunder is based in San Francisco and Tanzania and seeks to unlock capital for emerging market solar. With a goal of catalyzing over $1 billion for financing  solar companies and projects in emerging markets by 2020, SunFunder has its work cut out for it.

Ambitious as this goal is, SunFunder is led by seasoned solar finance veteran Ryan Levinson who cut his financial teeth as the vice president for Wells Fargo’s environmental finance division and oversaw hundreds of millions of dollars in solar finance deals. If there is anyone who can bridge the world of big finance and off-grid solar, it’s Levinson and his team, which includes Tanzania-based Audrey Desiderato of E+Co and GOOD, and Sameer Halai of the Microsoft Corp and other tech start-ups.

That team began by raising capital through a crowdfunding platform with incredible success. In less than two years, they have financed 24 project loans with 10 solar companies in six different countries. This has already helped over 115,000 people gain access to affordable solar energy. On top of all that, they’ve done it with a 100 percent repayment rate.

While it was this rapidly growing crowdfunding platform that first got us excited -- and taught us four simple lessons about the value of crowdfunding and the off-grid solar market -- it’s  SunFunder’s evolution toward more sophisticated financial offerings that could be truly revolutionary. Their progress has allowed them to bridge the institutional investing world and the off-grid market by providing the last piece of the finance puzzle:  $20 million in venture debt by 2015.

SunFunder’s empowerment fund provides that debt by tapping into the large pools of capital sitting with accredited and institutional investors. The empowerment fund serves as a private debt offering for these investors who seek exposure to a diversified, vetted, and high-impact portfolio of solar projects in emerging markets. SunFunder has already raised and deployed $250,000 through its first offering. Now they are opening a new solar empowerment fund and have already raised $1 million with a goal to close $5 million by the end of the year and $20 million by 2015.

All told, SunFunder offers two types of important capital: “Catalytic” First Loss Capital and Senior Capital.

Catalytic  Capital is  a subordinate debt that assumes slightly higher risk of default in return for a slightly higher return. This capital helps unlock senior debt and is perhaps most attractive to foundations and others willing to take higher risk for social return. Though with 100 percent repayment rates, the risk is clearly perceived, not real.

Senior Capital is protected by the First Loss Capital and offers a lower risk investment opportunity that appeals to a larger audience of investors.

Combined, these new offerings demonstrate SunFunder’s ability to bring sophisticated off-grid solar offerings to institutional investors. Bridging the worlds of big money and small solar could finally unlock solar for all. This fortuitously aligns with India’s new Prime Minister's goal of providing solar for all 400 million Indians lacking power. Unsurprisingly, the company’s new investment from Khosla Impact will help increase the focus on investment growth in India.

All said and done, SunFunder’s investment marks a milestone in the rapidly expanding off-grid solar market. This market is maturing rapidly, but companies like SunFunder are just beginning to scratch the surface. The opportunities that will be created by the off-grid solar market hold the promise of addressing both climate disruption and energy poverty by disrupting the systems that produce them and replacing them with equitable outcomes for people and the environment.

The smart money is on SunFunder, and the hundreds of off-grid solar companies it seeks to bankroll, to do just that.

--Justin Guay, Associate Director, International Climate Program

Categories: Sierra Club National

Governor Corbett's Memorial Day gift to the fracking industry

Sierra Club Compass Blog - 23 May 2014 - 2:53pm

This Memorial Day weekend, thousands of Pennsylvanians (and folks from around the country) will be out enjoying themselves on some of our state's 2.2 million acres of public forests and parks. Yet Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett has just issued an executive order that paves the way to expanding fracking in those same state forests and parks. It is a shockingly shortsighted and dangerous move.

The governor, in an Orwellian stroke, has portrayed this order as offering some kind of protection for state forests and parks. In fact, it's a Memorial Day gift to the fracking industry. This is not, as some have reported, a kind of new moratorium on drilling; the order will actually expand fracking in and around our state forests and parks. Thousands of acres of public lands are at risk of being industrialized, including critically important headwaters, forests, and landscapes.

This move is a mistake for the governor and a disaster for the forests.

Pennsylvania's forested landscapes provide critical habitat for wildlife and offer important recreational opportunities for millions of people yearly. They are an economic driver for the state of Pennsylvania. These landscapes are essential to the character and biodiversity of Pennsylvania, and they are the rightful heritage of generations of future Pennsylvanians. But here we are, the day before a holiday weekend, and Governor Corbett wants to sell these public lands to the highest bidders.

That is not executive leadership. Rather, today's action by the governor is wildly irresponsible and a blow to countless generations of future Pennsylvanians who might otherwise one day enjoy these public lands. On June 17, the Sierra Club, along with our allies, will be rallying at noon at the Capitol steps in Harrisburg to tell Governor Corbett that we don't accept his plan. We'd love to see you cast a vote with your feet and join us.

-- Robert Gardner, campaign representative, Beyond Natural Gas, Pennsylvania

Categories: Sierra Club National

Fight against fracking continues in Louisiana

Sierra Club Compass Blog - 23 May 2014 - 9:31am

It's hard to imagine a more powerful figure to want on your side than retired Army Lt. General Russel Honoré. The former head of the Hurricane Katrina Joint Task Force Hurricane Katrina who commanded the military response to the devastating 2005 hurricane is now a major environmental activist in Louisiana - and those who love clean air and water are happy to have him.

"He came to New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina and was called that 'John Wayne dude' for his take charge style and his reminding his solders that they were he to help fellow Americans recovery from a massive disaster called Hurricane Katrina in metro New Orleans," says Sierra Club Environmental Justice organizer Darryl Malek-Wiley, who works with General Honoré as part of the GreenARMY.

General Honoré now heads the GreenARMY, "an alliance of civic, community, and environmental groups and concerned citizens from around the state ready to effect meaningful social, political, and environmental change in Louisiana." Their latest battle? Fracking in St. Tammany Parish.

Anti-fracking crowds from the GreenARMY (including Sierra Club activists) have packed recent public hearings on a proposed permit to frack in a wetlands area of St. Tammany Parish - with the next major public hearing coming on June 2.

Residents are worried about the proposed fracking poisoning the water in the Southern Hills aquifer - and that the local politicians have been bought off by the oil and gas industry. Check out General Honoré's take on it.

 

Malek-Wiley and Delta Sierra Club staffer Andy Zellinger are working closely with Honoré and the GreenARMY on this issue and helping to turn out crowds at the hearings.

"Anyone who has a chance to drink (local St. Tammany Parish's) Abita Beer knows of the current quality of the water in the Southern Hills Aquifer - it's phenomenal," said Malek-Wiley with a laugh. "But this is a serious water quality issue. Fracking, be it in Pennsylvania, South Dakota, Texas, or Louisiana is a bad news. It means pollution, health problems, truck traffic, and more. It is the wrong energy choice."

Malek-Wiley's also thrilled to be working with the environmental powerhouse that is General Honore, too.

"As a long time Environmental & Environmental Justice activist it has been very interesting working with General Honoré," he says. "After his retirement General Honoré found that there are environmental damages being caused in America and that our democracy and way of life that he fought for is being taken over by huge oil and gas companies. What's more - these industries give large amounts of money to politicians and run green-washing TV campaigns all the time."

And that's part of General Honoré's speech in the video above - who is St. Tammany has been bought off to support the proposed fracking project.

If you're in the St. Tammany area, you can help by joining the Louisiana GreenARMY and the Delta Chapter of the Sierra Club and attending the June 2 public hearing.

And if you're not, Malek-Wiley encourages everyone to write your elected officials about investing more in clean energy like wind and solar instead of more drilling and fracking.

-- Heather Moyer, Sierra Club Senior Content Producer

Categories: Sierra Club National

Electric cars for city dwellers?

Sierra Club Compass Blog - 23 May 2014 - 8:35am

Many city dwellers don't have cars. Ideally, they rely on their bikes, their feet, and public transit to get around. Certainly that's the best environmental choice.

But what about when they need to go farther, or biking or transit aren't viable options? Some cities and their residents are getting creative about electric cars.

This week in Indianapolis, where the Electric Drive Transportation Association held its annual conference, Mayor Greg Ballard announced a major new electric car sharing program. Other companies, such as Car2Go and Zipcar, have been experimenting with electric car-sharing, but BlueIndy will be the biggest one yet. Set to open within eight months, the program will include up to 500 electric vehicles, 200 service locations, and 1,000 charging stations. It will be run by the Bolloré Group, which currently operates EV car-sharing programs in a number of French cities.


It does matter how the electricity is generated. In Indiana, which relies heavily on coal for its electricity, full battery electric vehicles are at least 37 percent lower in carbon emissions than the average comparable conventional car -- but a bit higher than today's hybrid vehicles. See the Sierra Club's EV Guide and calculate emission comparisons for your own region. As the Midwest shifts away from fossil fuels and toward more renewable sources of power, as it must, EVs in Indianapolis are expected to get even cleaner over time.

For those city dwellers who want to buy an electric car for themselves but don't have access to a charging station at work or in their apartment or condo complex, the installation of EV charging stations may soon get easier in California. AB 2565, a bill introduced by Assemblymember Al Muratsuchi would ensure that a lease cannot unfairly restrict a tenant - a business or apartment dweller - from installing an EV charging station so long as the tenant pays for the station, installation, and upkeep. This kind of policy would allow more people eager to drive EVs to install the charging stations at home or access them at work or in public locations.
 
In fact, if you live in California, you could help by signing this petition urging state leadership to support this new policy.

Whether it be car-sharing or ownership, electric cars are becoming more viable for urban Americans - but for many not fast enough. Tell us what you think of these programs or ones you’d like introduced in your own community.

-- Gina Coplon-Newfield is the Sierra Club's Director of Future Fleet & Electric Vehicles Initiative.

Categories: Sierra Club National

Recommended Reading: 'Pico-solar Electric Systems' by John Keane

Sierra Club Compass Blog - 23 May 2014 - 7:30am

An exciting new book, Pico-solar Electric Systems: The Earthscan Expert Guide to the Technology and Emerging Market, was recently released  by John Keane, the managing director and a founding member of SunnyMoney, the social enterprise of SolarAid.

These revolutionary pico-solar systems, which can power appliances such as mobile phones and LED lights, are an important component of a global strategy to alleviate the energy poverty that affects 1.2 billion people worldwide. The user-friendly designs employ a small solar panel to power a battery, which in turn can operate a variety of appliances. For many people living off the grid in places like India, Kenya, and Malawi, the only power options are dangerous, outdated, and expensive fuels like kerosene, but the introduction of pico-solar systems has been changing that.

Keane is particularly familiar with the issue of energy poverty because his enterprise, SunnyMoney, has sold more than one million solar units in just the past few years. In his book, he reinforces that the pico-solar sector has arrived, and is growing rapidly.  In the past four months alone, the solar energy sector has seen $45 million in investments from high-profile investors like former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and SolarCity. This solar boom is also a huge source for green jobs in countries like Bangladesh where 80,000 solar home systems are being installed every single month.

In his book, Keane not only explains the technology involved in solar energy production and provides tips on choosing quality products, but he highlights the work of different practitioners in the growing pico-solar sector -- including Greenlight Planet, Orb, Fosera, and SunnyMoney.  The case studies he includes  from around the world clearly demonstrate that small pico-solar solutions are the key to the next big energy revolution -- similar to the global mobile phone boom.      

Keane’s comprehensive book takes a look at how solar power has potential to transform the lives of billions of people living off the grid. If you are an aspiring social entrepreneur, development practitioner, or just simply interested in business and technology, its worth a read. You can check it out here.

-- Vrinda Manglik, Associate Campaign Representative, International Clean Energy Access

Categories: Sierra Club National

Defending Clean Energy in Ohio and Beyond

Sierra Club Compass Blog - 22 May 2014 - 11:11am



If you watched this week's episode of Showtime's climate series Years of Living Dangerously, you saw a fantastic piece by America Ferrera called "Against the Wind" that pierced the veil of the fossil fuel industry's well-funded operation to try and dismantle state clean energy standards. The episode could not have been more timely, as that same relentless attack continues unfolding in real time this spring in statehouses around the U.S. One of the most pitched battles is taking place right now in Ohio.

As the Years episode explained, many states require utilities to provide a certain amount of power from clean energy sources that don't pollute our air and water or disrupt our climate. These state standards (which have wonky names like "renewable portfolio standards" and "energy efficiency resource standards") have been important building blocks in getting clean energy to scale. Because these policies work, they pose a real threat to dirty energy - once people realize they get cheap, clean energy from the sun and wind, while also creating jobs and benefiting the local economy, they aren't turning back to the dirty energy sources of the past.

That's why fossil fuel interests are fighting relentlessly to roll back these state clean energy standards. As the Years episode revealed, much of this work is carried out under the auspices a right-wing outfit called the American Legislative Exchange Council, or ALEC, with backing from the fossil fuel baron Koch brothers. So far, we've stopped them - in 2013 we defeated every single attempt to gut a state clean energy standard, and even strengthened a couple. But the dirty fuel industry isn't giving up just yet.

Ohio clean energy advocates are currently fighting a push to destroy the state's energy efficiency and clean energy standards. These standards support well over 25,000 Ohio jobs and the energy efficiency standard has generated $1.3 billion in energy savings for consumers so far! The Cleveland Plain Dealer recently reported that the clean energy standard has brought more than $1 billion in private capital investment to the Buckeye State over five years -- and has created thousands of jobs.


And Ohioans love the standards as well: A recent poll by the Ohio Advanced Energy Economy showed that 86 percent of Ohio voters support the state's current energy efficiency law. The same poll showed that 72 percent of Ohio voters said "we should continue to replace traditional sources of energy like coal with wind and solar power." (Ohioans - take action here to defend the standards!)

The good news in all these dirty fuels attacks on clean energy is this: We can win. The MSNBC show All In with Chris Hayes just aired this excellent piece on how the Koch Brothers keep losing in their own home state of Kansas, where they have tried and failed multiple times to roll back that state's wildly successful clean energy standard. They're failing in part because the people of Kansas are realizing the benefits of clean energy, and have no interest in turning back the clock. As rancher and wind farmer Pete Farrell puts it, as a drought linked to climate disruption threatens his ranch and his livelihood, "Wind is my most drought resilient crop."

If we are going to keep winning these fights in Ohio and around the country, we need your help. Join us!

-- Mary Anne Hitt, Director of the Sierra Club Beyond Coal Campaign

Categories: Sierra Club National

China’s thirst for coal is drying up

Sierra Club Compass Blog - 20 May 2014 - 8:31am

As the ‘airpocalypse’ news out of China continues to grow, what we predicted more than a year ago is now increasingly obvious - China’s seemingly endless coal demand is a myth, and the Chinese coal boom is over.

What we often hear about a never-ending demand for coal in China has turned out to be just a desperate attempt by a flailing industry seeking to convince investors and politicians that they have a future in a cleaner, greener 21st century. But as frustration with deadly coal pollution grows along with China’s booming clean energy industry, this looks increasingly doubtful.

Since news of the airpocalypse first broke, the Chinese public has become increasingly adamant that dangerous air pollution from coal-burning power plants be curbed. In response, China’s State Council announced a detailed plan -- The Airborne Pollution Prevention and Control Action Plan -- that aimed to cut pollution from coal-fired power plants in September of last year. This was the historic first step towards curbing China’s air pollution crisis - but its only the beginning.

Responding to the growing outrage over air pollution just two months ago, the Chinese Premier declared a “war on pollution.” His announcement put clean air at the top of the policy making agenda, including new efforts to reduce toxic emissions from China’s largest source of air pollution - coal-burning plants.

In doing so,  the government will be directly improving the air quality in two of China’s major cities -- Hebei and Shanxi. Hebei produces 12 percent of the world’s crude steel and is inextricably blanketed in smog as a result. Similarly, Shanxi produces 12 percent of the world’s coal. Both regions surrounding the city will benefit from less pollution from coal-fired power plants, meaning cleaner, healthier lives for their citizens.

The dangers of burning coal have become increasingly clear to the Chinese public - and the country has already seen an astonishing reduction in the growth of coal consumption and total coal demand. Several high profile banks have predicted China will hit peak coal demand before 2020, and a decline in coal burning and coal pollution would be just around the corner.  At the same time, China’s clean energy industry is booming, with solar production skyrocketing.

All that reinforces our main point - China’s coal boom is over, with demand falling faster than expected. And that means we finally can see the light at the end of a long, dark tunnel. The latest data from China’s National Coal Association suggests that while China burned 940 million tonnes of coal in the first quarter of 2014, that’s only a 0.9 percent increase from last year, down from a 9.8 percent increase in 2011.

As this trend continues, China’s peak coal consumption is looming ever closer, and the decline of coal consumption is just around the corner.

 --Justin Guay, Associate Director, International Climate Program, and Fang Lifeng, Greenpeace East Asia

Categories: Sierra Club National

The Koch Brothers, Vampires, and You

Sierra Club Compass Blog - 20 May 2014 - 6:08am

Last week, Republican Sen. Jeff Flake of Arizona took to the Senate floor to make the claim that the Renewable Energy Production Tax Credit (PTC) is a “zombie” provision that we should eradicate, arguing that would somehow bring purity to energy markets. The Koch Brothers’ front organization Americans for Prosperity echoed this theme in a release shortly thereafter. 

While the oil-rich Koch Brothers and their big polluting allies have funded and waged a war on what they say are zombies, they always fail to mention the vampires that roam their own halls at night --and only at night. 

Those vampires are the oil and gas tax breaks that have been in the tax code for decades upon decades, hiding under the cover of permanence, never having to stare into the light of day – or an expiration.  And they have been there for generations longer than the PTC (birthed just in 1992), biting into and sucking the fresh blood of taxpayer dollars, trying to make themselves appear young and robust.  Intangible drilling costs (circa 1913), percentage depletion allowances (1926), master limited partnerships and passive loss exemption (1986) -- the names of these oil and gas giveaways haunt with Transylvanian overtones.  And they rarely have to surface to face scrutiny or beg to be extended -- because they are written into the tax code in perpetuity!

I gather from Sen. Flake’s statement that the thing that makes the PTC a zombie is the fact that it keeps being extended.  The PTC was enacted in the Energy Policy Act of 1992 and it has been extended 8 times.  It has also expired 3 different times, in 2000, 2002, and 2004.  It expired again this past December 31.  He characterizes the wind industry as mature, and thus no longer requiring federal help. But wind energy is booming and growing across the country, meaning its still in its adolescence. At the end of 2013, more wind capacity was being manufactured than at any time in history.

On the other hand, the oil and gas industry would qualify for Medicare.  No -- They would be more like centuries old; like vampires!  Yet, there is no hue and cry from the Kochs and their allies that these cash producing, big polluting Count Draculas should somehow cease to wander the centuries delivering billions to the oil and gas industry. 

We recently all got the stiff one-two punch of the National Climate Assessment and the frightening news about the West Antarctic Ice Sheet being on a one-way ride to more than 10 feet of global sea level rise.  That means more communities, more families, and more businesess in the crosshairs of some of the worst effects of climate disruption.

Meanwhile, fossil fuel producers whose carbon emissions are helping fuel this crisis are fighting any and every effort necessary to address them, like the first-ever safeguards on carbon pollution. Its no surprise that the fossil fuel industry and its allies will do everything it can to protect its massive profits and pump out limitless pollution. And that means polluter allies in Congress will continue to target the PTC simply because they want to crush the wind industry in its youth – as it is beginning to finally offer real competition to the oil, gas, and coal industries. All the while, these same polluters are as silent as midnight in a graveyard about the vampire subsidies that have nurtured the fossil industries much more handsomely for much, much longer. 

--Dave Hamilton, Director for Clean Energy, Beyond Coal Campaign, Sierra Club

Categories: Sierra Club National

EXPOSED: Transatlantic Trade Pact Endangers Action on Climate

Sierra Club Compass Blog - 19 May 2014 - 7:44am

One year ago, the Sierra Club submitted comments to the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative about a newly proposed trade deal with the European Union, warning that it could have irreversible effects on communities and the climate crisis we all face. Today, a leaked text of the proposed deal reveals that those comments were more than foreshadowing -- the health of our families, our communities, and our climate are indeed in danger.

"A trade alliance between the U.S. and the European Union could offer an opportunity to improve safeguards across the Atlantic that protect our air, water and other natural resources," I said in a press release just about a year ago. "However, a transatlantic trade and investment agreement would have devastating consequences if free trade is pursued at the expense of environmental protection and consumer and worker rights."

The Sierra Club worked with our European partner, PowerShift, a German non-profit organization working at the intersection of trade and energy, to analyze the draft of the European Union's proposal for trading raw materials and energy. Our partners at Earthjustice also published a detailed analysis of the text.  Unfortunately, the text reveals a dangerous proposal that threatens our climate and hinders the ability of governments and communities to tackle the crisis.

Despite the International Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) warning that roughly two-thirds of existing fossil fuel reserves must stay in the ground and that countries must urgently scale up renewable energy development and deployment to avoid climate catastrophe, this proposal would actually:

  • Expand fossil fuel exports from the U.S. to the EU, and therefore increase fracking and mining in the U.S.;
  • Limit the ability of governments to set the terms of their energy policy; and
  • Restrict the development of local renewable energy programs.

Let's dig inside the text to understand how it would put our climate at risk.
 


First, the proposal would increase trade in fossil fuels between the United States and the EU by abolishing trade restrictions on energy, which in the U.S. only exist for natural gas and crude oil. In particular, the proposal seems aimed at facilitating exports of liquefied natural gas from the U.S. to the EU.

Here’s what that means, concretely.
 
Right now, in order to export natural gas to the European Union, the U.S. Department of Energy must conduct a public analysis to determine whether exports are in the interest of the public. It’s a pretty simple policy: look before you leap. However, under the U.S. Natural Gas Act, the United States must simply deem exports in the public interest - with no review analysis - and automatically approve exports of natural gas to countries with which the U.S. has a free trade agreement that includes something called "national treatment for trade in gas." Apparently, the EU doesn’t believe that this flawed provision in U.S. law is sufficient. In its proposal, the EU has essentially enshrined this risky provision into the trade agreement.
 
Liquefied natural gas exports from the U.S. to the EU would lead to more dangerous fracking in the U.S. to feed foreign demand, increased reliance on dirty fossil fuels in the EU, and more climate-disrupting pollution. In addition, U.S. exports of natural gas would raise demand for U.S. natural gas, causing an increase in domestic gas prices and, therefore, a reduction in domestic consumption in the U.S. Don’t get too excited about decreased domestic consumption of natural gas: a decrease in gas consumption would shift the energy market back toward coal, not clean energy, according to an analysis by the U.S. Energy Information Association.
 
Second, the EU proposal would also limit governments from setting the terms of their own energy policy and handcuff their ability to protect their own air and water. The section on "transit" expands an existing trade rule guaranteeing so-called "freedom of transit" via the routes most convenient for international transit -- not for safety. That means that if, for example, tar sands are being pushed by pipeline from Country A to Country C, but have to travel through Country B, Country B could do nothing to alter the pipeline’s route away from key drinking water sources, valuable farmland, or highly-populated areas that could be devastated by leaks or spills. While a pipeline between the U.S. and the EU isn’t likely, the dangerous precedent set by this policy threatens communities around the globe.

Finally, it’s important to note that the only section of the draft text to deal specifically with renewable energy actually would restrict the ability of governments to create their own clean energy economies and build domestic renewable energy technologies at home. That is because the EU proposal prohibits governments from using "local content requirements" in renewable energy programs.
 
Local content rules, also known as buy-local rules, require that companies purchase or use goods of local origin. They have been a standard policy tool used by governments to nurture and grow new industries - like the wind and solar sectors. Governments must be able to adopt local content rules supporting their own local producers and suppliers in order to create clean energy jobs, localize production, and ramp up the number of homes and businesses they power - all which are tools for tackling climate disruption. Governments must have every tool at their disposal to be able to develop, grow, and support clean energy -- and the TTIP must not close the door on these programs.
 
In the words of EU Commission President Manuel Barroso, "Climate change is a defining challenge of our time." And in the words of President Obama, "Someday, our children, and our children's children, will look at us in the eye and they'll ask us, did we do all that we could when we had the chance to deal with this problem and leave them a cleaner, safer, more stable world?  And I want to be able to say, yes, we did."
 
These policy makers are right. Climate disruption is the defining challenge of our time, and we must do all we can to deal with this crisis. Sadly, this trade proposal takes us in the exact wrong direction. It would hinder us from acting on climate at a time when decisive action has never been more necessary. Dirty fossil fuels must stay buried in the ground if we’re going to avoid climate catastrophe. This proposal should be buried with it.
 
-- Ilana Solomon, Director, Sierra Club's Responsible Trade Program
Categories: Sierra Club National

In Celebration of National Bike to Work Day

Sierra Club Compass Blog - 16 May 2014 - 9:02am

Today is bike to work day, and across the country, people will be hopping on their bicycles to get to work, school, and play.

Not just today, but every day, growing numbers of people are biking as an everyday means of transportation. Cities are taking notice and starting to make themselves more bike-friendly places to ride, with protected bike lanes, bike share systems, and other bike-focused infrastructure popping up across the country, and not a moment too soon.

How people get around is one of those chicken-or-egg kind of things, and this is proven over and over again in scientific research-- with transportation infrastructure, as they say, if you build it, they will come. The term for this phenomenon is "induced demand."

To illustrate this point in a very non-scientific way, let's go on a little thought adventure. For example, let's imagine that there are no highways. This means that no one is going to drive long distances between cities, because they can't. There's no road!  Now let's imagine that there are highways, but there are no parking spots at the end of the journey. People would be circling the block forever...! Or they just wouldn't take a car in the first place because there's nowhere to put it at the end. You see how this works.  

So let's imagine that there is a highway, but it ends in the middle of nowhere in the midst of a cattle stampede, and then maybe starts up again on the other side of the stampede, where there may or may not be any parking spaces. Ah, transportation infrastructure!

This may seem ridiculous, but this is actually how too many cities have done their bike infrastructure for way too long. Bike lanes can disappear or don't exist in the first place, only sometimes is there bike parking, and sometimes, without the right kind of streets and protections, biking in traffic can feel like being in the middle of a stampede.  

Luckily, and with no small part played by bike activists and safe transportation advocates everywhere, this is beginning to change. Cities are beginning to figure out that  bicyclists are an economic engine for neighborhoods, and by making safe, welcoming spaces for people to get out and ride, everyone wins. Of course, we also know that biking is good for the climate, for decreasing air pollution (fewer cars!), for public health, and just generally fun.

So, if your trusty steed has been collecting dust, Bike to Work Day is a great opportunity to pump up the tires and give it a spin in an encouraging group, and perhaps even discover some new safe cycling infrastructure in your city.  And let's face it, riding along in a stampede of bicycles on Bike to Work Day is just plain fun.

And if you can't get enough of the group riding fun on Bike to Work Day, check around to see if your city has organizations, social groups, or bike shops that host group rides and events-- and sometimes they're even in costume.  Happy cycling!

-- Rachel Butler, Sierra Club Beyond Oil Campaign. Graphic courtesy of Point6.

Categories: Sierra Club National

Will the next coal ash disaster be in your neighborhood?

Sierra Club Compass Blog - 15 May 2014 - 12:45pm

Guess what - you might be living near a toxic coal ash dump that threatens your local water supply, without even knowing it. Today, the Sierra Club and Earthjustice are releasing a new report called "Dangerous Waters: America's Coal Ash Crisis" that highlights some of the most unsafe coal ash sites in the nation.

Imagine living next to an unlined waste pit that leaked arsenic, lead, mercury, and scads of other toxins into your local groundwater, streams and rivers. What's more, imagine that those millions of gallons of this toxic sludge burst through its aging impoundment and fouled your drinking water, wrecked your local economy, or even inundated your community, destroying homes and endangering the lives of your family or your neighbors?

These are the realities and threats that millions of Americans face every day living near coal ash impoundments. Coal ash is what's left behind when power plants burn coal for electricity - and it contains a toxic mixture of dangerous chemicals. Shockingly, despite decades of advocacy, there are still NO national standards in place for the safe disposal of coal ash.

This year has been marked by tragic coal pollution spills into our waterways, including the third-largest spill of toxic coal ash in U.S. history, which devastated over 70 miles of the Dan River in North Carolina and Virginia. The Dan River spill was a grim reminder of the sorry state of coal ash regulation in this country. Because we lack federal standards for safely disposing of coal ash, it has been left to the states, and most of them lack either the resources or the will to address the problem.
 
Every year, the nation's coal plants produce 140 million tons of coal ash pollution, the second biggest waste stream in the country, after household garbage. All that ash has to go somewhere, so much of it is dumped in the backyards of power plants across the nation, into open-air pits and precarious surface waste ponds. Coal ash waste is stored in more than 1,400 sites in 45 states.
 
Today's report from the Sierra Club, Earthjustice, makes a powerful case for strong, federally enforceable safeguards to end rampant toxic pollution from coal-fired power plants across the nation. The report highlights dangerous coal ash sites in Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Missouri, Montana, New Mexico, North Carolina, and Virginia, and it illustrates the ongoing damage and risks to public health from this toxic, largely unregulated solid waste.
 
Most of the 1,400 coal ash storage sites across the U.S. lack adequate safeguards, leaving nearby communities at risk from potential large-scale disasters like the massive coal ash spill in Tennessee in 2008 or the Duke Energy coal ash breach into the Dan River earlier this year. If that's not enough, communities are also at risk from slow-motion disasters as coal ash toxins seep into drinking water sources or are blown into nearby communities.
 
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) found that people who live near certain types of unlined coal ash pond and whose drinking water source is groundwater have a 1 in 50 chance of getting cancer from water contaminated by arsenic-- a risk 2,000 times greater than the EPA's goal for reducing cancer risk and significantly higher than the risk of smoking a pack of cigarettes a day. According to the EPA, 1.54 million American children live near coal ash storage sites.

Another harrowing statistic from the EPA: coal ash has contaminated waters at 200 sites in 37 states across the country!
 
As communities face toxic water contamination or coal ash blowing from nearby coal ash landfills coating their homes and yards with toxic dust, they're saying enough is enough - and the Sierra Club is standing with them. We're there as communities demand action from the EPA, and we're there as they demand action from utilities and coal companies who are risking the health of our families and the vitality of our waterways.
 
The EPA is under a court order to finalize national coal ash protections this December, but whether or not those protections will be strong and enforceable is an open question. We need your help - join us in calling for strong coal ash safeguards from the EPA.

-- Mary Anne Hitt, Director of the Sierra Club's Beyond Coal Campaign

Categories: Sierra Club National

Turkish Coal Tragedy Puts Emphasis on Transition to Clean Energy

Sierra Club Compass Blog - 15 May 2014 - 7:39am

In what’s being deemed the worst mining disaster in Turkey’s history, more than 240 miners have been killed and countless more are still missing following a power transformer explosion that triggered a blazing underground fire at a Soma Komur Isletmeleri mine in Western Turkey.

In the hours following the devastating accident, families of the missing, injured, and killed miners have been anxiously awaiting any news about their missing loved ones. But Energy Minister Taner Yildiz recently declared, “Regarding the rescue operation, I can say that our hopes are diminishing.

Its an anguishing time for those touched by this tragedy in Turkey and across the globe. Unfortunately, this most recent disaster is also the latest in a long line of incidents reflecting a painful reality – coal is a deadly fuel source that has no place in the 21st century. That’s a big part of the reason why many international financial institutions (IFIs) have moved quickly and decisively away from financing new coal plant expansions around the world over the past few weeks. From the World Bank to the European Investment Bank to the U.S. Export-Import Bank, public financial institutions have overwhelmingly decided that dangerous coal investments should no longer receive public support.

One of these institutions, the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD), has made the transition beyond coal a cornerstone of their work in Turkey - and the importance of that step forward is only amplified by this week’s coal mining tragedy.

Straddling the Eastern and Western worlds, Turkey is home to dynamic economic growth that is driving a wave of new energy investment second only to China’s power sector. While currently dependent on fossil fuels -- mainly natural gas -- and home to the fourth largest pipeline of new coal plants in the world, Turkey is also home to fast growing efficiency, wind, and solar markets.

At the same time, the struggle to transition from fossil fuels has run head on into the struggle against an increasingly repressive and authoritarian government led by Recep Tayyip Erdoğan that has clamped down on environmental protests and free speech of all kinds time and time again. The historic - and violently repressed - wave of public demonstrations that spread across the country in May of 2013 was initially sparked by Turkish citizens speaking out against the removal of green space in Istanbul’s Gezi Park. Now, in the aftermath of this tragedy, protesters demanding safe workplaces have been met with tear gas and water cannons.

The situation underscores a dramatic choice. Which of these divergent paths -- either a continued reliance on dirty and deadly 19th century fossil fuels or a new clean energy future -- Turkey heads down will reflect investment priorities, the chance for a healthy future for its citizens and workers, and, in many ways, the global energy transition. This is an important decision that will not only affect Turkey’s energy industry but also its environment and the people of this vibrant country. The choice should be clear: by transitioning away from fossil fuels, the people of Turkey will have cleaner air and water and will no longer be at risk of tragic accidents like Tuesday’s mine disaster.

Prior to this tragedy, I sat down with EBRD’s Director for Turkey, Michael Davey, to learn more about one of the international finance world’s most surprising transitions beyond coal to becoming a potential clean energy leader and the dynamics of this change on the ground. For this conversation, we were also joined by energy expert, Hasan Pehlivan, the principal advisor for the Investment Support and Promotion Agency of Turkey (ISPAT).

Justin Guay (JG): EBRD recently made headlines with its new coal finance restrictions -- restrictions that were applauded by organizations around the world. What’s the future for EBRD energy investments in Turkey now that coal is off the table?

Michael Davey (MD): Energy was a high priority from day one, but the focus was on sustainable energy.  There have been a number of requests for coal, particularly in northern parts of Turkey, who have a desire to privatize and rehabilitate lignite plants.  That meant a number of requests to be involved in coal. But we turned them down. There is simply so much we could do with gas, efficiency or renewables in Turkey. So in reality, this recent change in policy has made no difference to the operations in Turkey.

 

JG: Many IFIs claim to be demand-driven when justifying new dirty coal investments yet fail to support clean energy. Why are you so bull-ish on renewable energy and energy efficiency?

“We’re demand-driven, and the demand for clean energy is there.” –  Michael Davey

MD: It’s not just our energy investment portfolio either. We’ve had deep engagement on sustainable energy policy development in the country – thanks to strong demand from the Turkish government.  We’ve provided a number of background studies and technical assistance and helped with the regulatory reforms required for promoting sustainable energy.  For example, we undertook a review of geothermal potential in Turkey as well as a review of potential for WTE (waste to energy), and pioneering climate change studies.  Much of this is driven by the EU accession process and requirements to bring the country in line with EU norms on energy.

Shortly after we started working in Turkey, we worked on regulations to finalize feed-in tariffs and the environment for investing in renewable energy. We also created another initiative: mid-size sustainable energy and financing facility that has deployed about a billion euros of long-term money, under a securitization structure, at fairly good interest rate. We’ve also created finance facilities through local banks that have helped them develop lending for sustainable energy to SMEs and businesses.  Although they’re relatively complex facilities, banks have come back after second and third rounds.

On the energy efficiency side, there’s been quite a lot. We built a framework (300-400 million euros) to get banks to engage in lending. It’s taken work to get investments moving but it’s now starting to bite.  We’ve also been going around in a systematic way, offering free energy audits and using that as a basis for loan intervention to support EE investments at enterprise level.

 

JG: What role do you see for shale gas?

“In Turkey, we do not expect a shale gas boom like in USA” -- Hasan Pehlivan

Hasan Pehlivan (HP): Not in Turkey, no. But further potential shall be explored. There has been drilling for shale – a couple of holes to take a look at the availability of shale gas.  In a country where there is no oil, likelihood of having shale gas will be a question.  We won’t see a shale gas boom in Turkey. We do not expect a shale gas boom like in USA.

 

JG: Back to the EBRD portfolio -- Turkey has a big pipeline of wind projects, but solar is just getting off the ground. What’s next for the Turkish solar market? Do you have any projections for the size of the market? Do you see distributed gen or utility scale driving investment?

“You have to remember that in Turkey, people love solar.” --  Hasan Pehlivan

MD: The solar market is starting to emerge.  We’ve been sitting back and waiting.  But we do expect to see a lot of solar in the future.

From the government’s perspective solar is being supported carefully.  They monitor Europe and what happens in Europe, including recent experience with feed-in tariffs. There were issues when solar companies have had difficulties when government cuts feed-tariffs so they want to be careful. The relatively modest feed-in tariffs reduce the prospect of any negative regulatory change.

HP: For instance, the government started with 600-megawatts of solar in June, and there were 500 applications – a huge demand. Since then, we finalized new policies for distributed solar that eliminates the requirement for a license for new plants up to one-megawatt.  That means people can install their homes, industrial zones much faster and easier so long as they’re not selling back to the grid. This has proven very popular. Since this was put in place in October, 20-megawatts have already applied.

HP: You have to remember that in Turkey, people love solar. On top of every house, solar water-heating systems exist.  Culture is there.  Turkey has the highest solar energy potential within Europe.  In next 10 years, we expect to see 3,000-megawatts with an additional capacity of 2,000-3,000-megawatts just from distributed generation.

JG: So does that mean they don’t need government approvals for establishing distributed solar systems?  What about net metering?

HP: If they don’t have any ambition to sell to the grid, they can install on top of the roof.  No permission needed.  If they need to connect to the grid, they need to apply to their distribution company.  They must agree to sell to, to provide it to the grid. In organized industrial zones, there are usually large transformer stations.

Connection to the grid is usually not an issue.  For the residences, there needs to be work done (technology-wise).  Metering needs to be replaced by a distribution company.  There is time for the residences to sell to the grid, but if you’re not interested in selling to the grid, no worries.

Some companies want to develop large solar farms, but there is a limited availability of licenses. So companies are applying for the one-megawatt licenses –individually as separate entities, but also in aggregate, forming solar arrays as big as five to 10-megawatts.  They connect to the grid, and it’s an interesting development.  It is a market solution that is fine and not beating any rules.

 

JG: Any Final thoughts?

HP: We expect investment to double the capacity over 10 years. That’ll create a huge economy.  Turkey has already received a lot of foreign direct investment – 30 percent coming from energy.  Many of these sustainable energy projects are now becoming feasible, and even better things are clear on the ground.

MD: In Turkey, the underlying demand dynamics are strongly supportive of long-term healthy demand for clean energy, and its climatic and geographic elements also provide significant opportunity for substantial on-going investment into wind, solar, and geothermal.

We’re also impressed with extent and depth of engagement with the Ministry of Environment on sustainable energy issues.  That combined with a very strong banking system and appetite for working on complex products like mid-sized sustainable energy is positive. All told, we have to be fairly pleased at what we’ve done in Turkey.

 --Justin Guay, Associate Director, International Climate Program

Categories: Sierra Club National

Big Victory for Public Health

Sierra Club Compass Blog - 13 May 2014 - 5:04pm

Mill Creek coal plant in Louisville, Kentucky. Photo by John Blair.

When the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit upheld limits last month on dangerous emissions of mercury and toxic air pollution from power plants, it was a big victory for clean air, clean water, and the health of our families. The court decision keeps in place the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's 2012 Mercury and Air Toxics (MATS) standard, which is on track to eliminate as much as 90 percent of the mercury and air toxics currently released into our air by coal-fired power plants.

As the mom of a young daughter, I know that mercury pollution is of special concern to families, because babies exposed to high levels of mercury in the womb are at higher risk of lifelong developmental problems including lowered IQ, learning disabilities, and delays in walking and talking. Mercury exposure is so widespread that, according to EPA studies, at least 1.4 million American women of childbearing age have enough mercury in their bodies to put a fetus at developmental risk.

Coal-fired power plants are the largest source of these toxic air pollutants and account for almost half of the nation's mercury emissions. Back in 1990, Congress updated the Clean Air Act and directed the EPA to set limits by 2002 for mercury, arsenic, lead, and the many other hazardous air pollutants that power plants emit. But big polluters stood in the way, so health and environmental advocates had to fight to put the standards in place. After a decade of delay, the agency finalized the Mercury and Air Toxics rule in 2012. A group of polluting corporations and a handful of states immediately filed a lawsuit challenging the rule, and in April they lost that challenge -- a big win for our health and our environment.

Along with mercury and arsenic, power plants discharge numerous other toxins and acidic gases into the air that threaten public health and child development. Exposure to even low levels of these powerful air pollutants are linked to cancer, heart disease, neurological damage, birth defects, asthma attacks and even premature death.

When the EPA proposed these life-saving mercury protections, Americans demonstrated their overwhelming support, turning out to public hearings and submitting more than 800,000 comments supporting the MATS rule. I was part of that long push to finalize the standards, and I know how many people poured their time, energy, and passion into winning these mercury safeguards. By upholding these protections, the court has cleared the way for this nation to keep making progress in protecting the health of our kids, and powering our nation with clean, safe energy.

-- Mary Anne Hitt, Director of the Sierra Club Beyond Coal Campaign

 

Categories: Sierra Club National

TiEcon Takes On Clean Energy For All

Sierra Club Compass Blog - 12 May 2014 - 2:23pm
New solar panels being constructed. Photo courtesy of Vrinda Manglik.

Entrepreneurs are going green to support global development.

The Indus Entrepreneurs (TiE) is a non-profit network of entrepreneurs and professionals headquartered in Silicon Valley. With interests in technology, innovation, and enterprise, a focus on supporting clean energy entrepreneurs and endeavors is a natural fit for these progressive leaders.

Harnessing this potential for clean energy development in order to drive clean solutions for energy poverty is an opportunity we at the Sierra Club are most excited about. After partnering with TiE in 2013 to bring Jigar Shah to Silicon Valley to discuss the tremendous leapfrog opportunities for clean energy in India, the Club is excited for TiE’s upcoming conference, TiEcon, as an opportunity to increase entrepreneurial interest in clean energy solutions for global energy poverty.

TiEcon includes an impressive lineup of speakers -- including high-profile CEOs and startup founders -- that will deliver key insights on trends in business and technology. It will be an exciting opportunity to learn from some of the best and brightest minds in business and innovation and catalyze more solutions and resources going forward. Bright minds like that of Lesley Marincola -- founder and CEO of Angaza Design -- who will be moderating a panel focused on obtaining seed funding for startup companies.

TiEcon -- which has been included in Worth magazine’s list of “10 Best Conferences For Ideas and Entrepreneurship” -- is the world’s largest entrepreneurship conference. Last year’s event drew a crowd of 3,600 of the most prevalent stars of the tech, business, and enterprise worlds. In fact, the Forbes Style File column just featured the event.  

This year, TiEcon’s clean energy focus will be featured with an entire track of the conference that is dedicated to impact investing, including a panel -- Leveraging the Power of Diaspora  -- featuring speakers from the Aspen Institute and Skoll Foundation. The main focus of the panel will be leveraging the financial power of the Indian diaspora to focus on issues within India -- particularly off-grid, clean energy services. With $45 million flowing into up-and-coming solar companies in the past four months alone, the market is heating up, and TiE’s network of entrepreneurs and investors want to know all about it.  

Access to financing is a significant barrier facing progressive cleantech companies seeking to serve the energy poor. It is only with financial support that they will be able to help power the lives of the 400 million Indians living off the grid. Given TiE’s focus on entrepreneurship and the new TiE Angels investment network, it is exciting to see an expanding focus on the diaspora’s potential to support clean energy projects.

Ultimately, the tremendous potential to distribute clean energy to places with unprecedented energy poverty -- like India -- speaks for itself. But panels like these at TiEcon are essential to inspire the resources and entrepreneurial talent in places like the Bay Area and all across the country. Already, clean energy technology and payment innovations -- like pay-as-you-go mobile payment schemes -- are spreading like wildfire, and this is only the beginning.

Registration for TiEcon 2014 ends this Thursday, May 15, so check it out here.  If you register by May 14, you can use the Promo Code “TIEVALUE” for discounted registration.  

To receive updates about TiEcon 2014, follow them on Twitter: @tiesv and @TiEcon.

--Justin Guay, Associate Director, International Climate Program, and Vrinda Manglik, Associate Campaign Representative, International Clean Energy Access

Categories: Sierra Club National

Indonesian community leaders arrested for coal activism

Sierra Club Compass Blog - 9 May 2014 - 3:23pm
Protesters outside the Central Java District Attorney's office. Photo courtesy Greenpeace Indonesia.

As two community leaders fighting the Batang coal plant in Indonesia begin their seven month prison sentence this week in Indonesia, thousands of coal activists activists are protesting in solidarity.

In what is viewed as punishment for refusing to sell their land to make way for the $4 billion Central Java coal-burning power plant in Batang, Indonesia, Cayadi bin Rabu and Carman bin Tuyah were accused of mistreating pro-coal activists in April 2012 and thrown in jail. Fortunately, judges in the district and high courts found them not guilty.

But, more than two years later, the Supreme Court in Indonesia has reversed that decision and sentenced Cayadi and Carman to seven months in prison.

Now, local residents are protesting in front of the District Attorney’s office in Central Java as part of their continued opposition to the Batang coal project. By banding together and refusing to sell their land, five local communities have done the unthinkable and already forced the delay of this multi-billion dollar project by more than two years.

But the deep-pocketed dirty coal industry is doing it all it can to drown these community voices out. Despite fierce resistance, the coal industry and its backers are working to acquire land for the Central Java coal project as quickly as possible, while the communities continue to refuse their demands. And big coal has big money to back them up from both Japanese corporations and the World Bank.

Unfortunately, this is just one of the more recent abuses surrounding global coal-burning power plants. Just yesterday, coal activists in India were arrested following a peaceful protest of coal mining in the forests of Mahan, India. This is unfortunately the reality for those brave enough to stand up to this reckless and devastating industry and protect their communities and their environment.

But it’s not too late to change course.

It's time for major financing corporations -- like the World Bank -- to live up to their promises to stop funding overseas coal projects. With major U.S. institutions like Stanford University now divesting from coal, the dirty fuel industry is on the run, and will hopefully take its violence and intimidation with it.

But this will only happen if we hold the feet of these institutions to the fire. The World Bank must immediately withdraw financing from those pushing the Batang coal project. Until then, activists like Cayadi and Carman, who stand up to coal interests, will continue to be harassed and wrongfully arrested.

--Nicole Ghio, Sierra Club International Climate Program

Categories: Sierra Club National

peaceful Greenpeace coal activists arrested in India

Sierra Club Compass Blog - 9 May 2014 - 12:22pm

What started out as a peaceful protest ended in arrest.

That’s the scene that played out in the early morning hours of May 8, stunning the activists and supporters of Greenpeace India and Mahan Sangharsh Samiti (MSS) worldwide. Four activists -- Akshay Gupta, Vinit Gupta, Bechan Lal, and Vijay Shankar Singh -- were arrested just after midnight following a peaceful protest against coal mining activities in the forests of Mahan, India.

The activists had been protesting mining by the Essar and Hindalco corporations in an effort to protect over five million trees and the local people at risk of displacement. Over 14,000 people currently rely on the forest for their homes and livelihoods, and the mining operations threaten to completely destroy their way of life.

But following weeks of peaceful protests, the police intervened and arrested the four activists -- two from Greenpeace and two from MSS -- without explanation, according to the account of one protester at the scene, Vivek Goyal.

Following their arrest, all four activists were detained for over 40 hours, and three have currently been granted bail. According to Greenpeace India, the activists face charges of “assault or criminal force to deter public servants from doing their duty,” “obstructing a public servant in discharge of public functions,” “punishment for robbery,” and “refusing to sign a confession.”

Greenpeace India plans to appeal the charges in the Indian High Court, but this won’t deter the activists from continuing their fight in Mahan.

“None of us, including those who are in jail right now, want the company to prevail over people in Mahan,” Goyal wrote in his account of the incident. “The stakes are too high for us to give-up now or ever. So we stand together growing stronger everyday, determined to protect forests, people, rights and ultimately this planet.”

Sadly, this is not a unique circumstance for anti-coal activists in India. One of this year’s Goldman Environmental Prize winners, Ramesh Agrawal, was shot and left for dead after actively opposing mine expansion that was devastating local communities in Chhattishgarh, India.

Luckily, Ramesh survived and has continued to work toward making a coal-free world for our future generations. But others have not been quite so lucky. It's time the Indian government ended these attacks on peaceful activists or risk leaving a dark stain on the shining image it seeks to portray on the international stage.

--Justin Guay, Associate Director, International Climate Program

Categories: Sierra Club National

Sierra Club and ForestEthics Urge PepsiCo to Stop Using Tar Sands Fuel

Sierra Club Compass Blog - 7 May 2014 - 3:44pm

Photo by Mobius DaXter, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

By Michael Marx & Kristi Chester Vance

This morning, at a PepsiCo shareholder meeting in New Bern, North Carolina, representatives of the Sierra Club and ForestEthics delivered more than 64,000 petition signatures to CEO Indra Noyi, asking the company to stop buying fuel from tar sands refineries for its cars and delivery trucks. The petition delivery caps off nine months of campaigning that has mobilized activists nationwide to hold corporate consumers of oil accountable for the sources of their fuel.

At the meeting, the Sierra Club's Future Fleet campaign director Gina Coplon-Newfield, below at right with community activist Tamhas Griffith, addressed PepsiCo’s top executives and board members.

"PepsiCo operates one of the largest vehicle fleets in North America, and the fuel in those cars and trucks should not come from the worst of the worst sources of oil," she said. "Companies have the power to avoid tar sands fuel, which is 22 percent more carbon intensive, more toxic, and more dangerous to mine, transport, and refine than conventional crude oil. This is a no-brainer for a company like PepsiCo that is looking to reduce its carbon pollution and demonstrate its commitment to sustainability."

Tamhas Griffith, above at left, a community activist from Martinez, California, traveled across the country to attend the PepsiCo shareholder meeting. Martinez is home to two large oil refineries, and Griffith was at the meeting representing community members who face long-term health threats from air and water pollution and the ever-present risk of refinery accidents and crude-oil-train explosions. As refineries across the country process more tar sands, communities like Martinez are exposed to even greater levels of particulate matter, sulfur dioxide, lead, carbon dioxide, and other harmful pollutants.

"People in our communities have had enough of paying for oil industry record profits with the health of our families," said Griffith, founder of the Martinez Environmental Group. "We are organizing to hold oil companies and their corporate consumers accountable for their impact on our lives.”

Griffith also cited the impact of tar sands development on communities in Alberta. “We stand in solidarity with those First Nations people in Alberta, where the boreal forest is being strip-mined and the waters poisoned. These communities have been experiencing higher levels of cancers like leukemia and non-Hodgkin's lymphoma over the past ten years, paying for corporate profits with their lives."

In response to their remarks, PepsiCo CEO Nooyi said, "we look forward to working with you to address this issue."

We will continue to send the message to America’s biggest companies that tar sands is toxic for our communities and our environment -- and therefore toxic for their brands. We will keep up the pressure until demand for tar sands fuel is squashed, and Alberta’s bitumen is kept safely in the ground.

Michael Marx is the Director of the Sierra Club’s Beyond Oil Campaign. Kristi Chester Vance is the Deputy Director of ForestEthics. Learn more about the Sierra Club and ForestEthics’ tar sands campaign at www.tastesliketarsands.org

Categories: Sierra Club National
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