Sierra Club National
As we close in on the final three weeks of the last State Department public comment period on TransCanada's proposed Keystone XL tar sands pipeline (send your comment today!), the State Department continues its mess of an approval process.
Their latest misstep is the announcement that none of the public comments on Keystone XL will, in fact, be made public. The only way to see any of them? From Inside Climate News:
This is just the latest problem in a series of inappropriate moves the State Department has made recently during the Keystone XL review process. For the latest Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement of Keystone XL, the State Department used a contractor that employs former TransCanada workers to write it. Then they redacted that information.
For such a massive, polluting project that would have tremendous damaging effects on people, our air, our water, and our climate - shouldn't this process be as open and transparent as possible? We already know we can't trust TransCanada, we should be able to trust the State Department.
But in the end, the most important move here would be to reject Keystone XL all together. Send your comment today.
-- Michael Marx, Beyond Oil Director
Here's a pretty shocking fact: While many of us know that coal-fired power plants create significant air pollution, it turns out they're one of our biggest water polluters, too. In fact, as we've developed technologies that take more toxins like mercury out of coal plant smokestacks, that pollution isn't just disappearing. Much of it is ending up in the water, instead, and those pollution levels are on the rise. Fortunately, our Environmental Protection Agency can do something about it.
That's right -- the same power plants that are causing asthma and heart attacks with their soot and wrecking our climate with their carbon are also dumping tons of toxins into our waters. And without federal standards to safeguard our water, those plants will keep on sending toxic sludge into rivers and streams, where it threatens swimmers and boaters and anglers, poisons wildlife, wrecks ecosystems, and could even contaminate drinking water. The fouled waters pouring from coal plants are laced with arsenic, mercury, and selenium: Toxins that build up in ecosystems and that are dangerous even in very small amounts.
If you're a parent like me who loves to watch your child play in the local stream or lake, this information is infuriating and scary. The same goes if you're a wildlife lover, or someone who just enjoys the outdoors and believes our waterways should remain pristine.
Believe it or not, power plants dump more toxins into our rivers and streams than any other industry in the United States, including the chemical, plastic, and paint-manufacturing industries. Your drinking water should be safe, because our cities and towns do a good job of filtering and cleaning it, but those in rural areas who rely on wells don't have as much protection. Plus, our waterways, wildlife and ecosystems aren't so lucky. Coal plants have caused nasty fish kills and their poison builds up in fishing lakes and reservoirs.
The problem's only getting worse as coal plants get older. The Environmental Protection Agency estimates that the amount of toxic wastewater from these plants is going to increase 28% over the next 15 years. That means more heavy metals and more toxic sludge in more streams and rivers. More contaminated rivers, more unhealthy streams, more poisoned wildlife.
Thankfully the EPA and President Obama can protect our waterways from this toxic wastewater. The rules governing coal plant water pollution -- known as effluent limitation guidelines -- are more than 30-years old and don't deal with most of the toxins these plants dump into our water. The good news is that the EPA is now on track to propose a vitally needed update to those standards. The new safeguards are due out in mid-April -- but the coal industry is already trying to block them. We need to tell the EPA and President Obama right now -- before it's too late -- to give us safeguards against toxic wastewater.
Clean water is too precious to wait another day.
Enough is enough. We need these safeguards, and we ultimately need to move beyond coal. Every step we take toward clean air and water helps keep our communities and our environment healthy.
It also takes us one step closer to powering the U.S. with clean energy, as our nation realizes that coal's real cost -- in climate destruction, toxic water, and unhealthy air -- is simply too high.
TAKE ACTION: Join me in calling on the EPA and President Obama for strong clean water standards.
-- Mary Anne Hitt, Beyond Coal Director
Last Friday, Senator Bill Nelson (D-FL) sided with Big Oil and voted to support the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline.
I was sorely disappointed by this vote, particularly because Nelson has been a true ally and strong champion on so many of the issues near and dear to the Sierra Club's heart.
Even during last Friday's so-called "vote-a-rama" on the 100-plus amendments to the Senate budget resolution, Senator Nelson stuck with us on some key votes! He voted the right way on an amendment that would've undermined the Environmental Protection Agency's authority to issues climate pollution standards, he voted the right way on an amendment that would've undermined EPA's recent mercury and air toxics standard for power plants, and he even voted in support of a carbon tax!
Senator Nelson has been our top leader in the Senate against expanded oil drilling in the Gulf of Mexico, and he has joined Sierra Club in demanding that BP fully pay the cost of restoring the Gulf and its coastal communities following the Deepwater Horizon disaster. We also know Senator Nelson's heart is in the right place, and that he actually wants to take action to address climate change -- which is why it's so shocking he decided to join with some of Big Oil's best friends in the Senate and vote to support Keystone XL.
If approved, Keystone XL would carry 830,000 barrels a day of the world's dirtiest fuel over the Canadian border, across thousands of U.S. rivers and streams, so that it could eventually be delivered to refineries on the Gulf Coast. Most of that product would then be exported to other countries.
You may have heard some argue that it's no big deal; tar sands will be developed anyway. Well, that's not the case. So far, Canadians have put their foot down to these thousand-mile-plus pipelines to carry this toxic sludge to their coasts, so the industry is intent on gaining access to our coasts. And right now, Keystone XL is the best shot it has. Keystone XL is intended to get the tar sands industry's dirty oil onto the international market, allowing it to greatly expand its polluting industry.
As a climate champion, Senator Nelson should know better than to side with Big Oil on an amendment like this. Although President Obama is still the ultimate decision-maker on Keystone XL, he needs the support of senators like Nelson.
Will you call Senator Nelson today at 202-224-5274 to ask him to change his stance and oppose the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline?
-- Frank Jackalone, Sierra Club Florida
Today, after a three-year campaign by tens of thousands across the city, Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa joined our L.A. Beyond Coal activists to publicly announce this blockbuster news: L.A. will stop using coal by 2025.
"The era of coal is over," said Mayor Villaraigosa, when he first broke the news earlier this week. Villaraigosa was joined by Al Gore, Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune, California businessman Tom Steyer, and allies from across the city on March 22 to make the announcement.
This is a groundbreaking decision, a historic victory that catapults L.A. and Villaraigosa to the front of the pack when it comes to clean energy and American innovation. By going coal-free, the city is showing the rest of the nation that it's possible to power a thriving, growing, major American city without relying on coal that threatens our the health of our families, and the future of our planet.
I can't emphasize enough how big a victory this is. By abandoning coal, the L.A. Department of Water and Power will slash its climate-disrupting carbon emissions 60 percent below 1990 levels by 2025, while L.A.'s carbon emissions will drop by 40 percent -- an achievement unmatched in the nation.
If you do one thing today, I hope you'll watch this video that tells the story of this campaign, and the years of hard work by tens of thousands of local residents, allies and partners that made this victory possible. You'll understand why I'm so optimistic that we can clean up our air and water, turn the corner on climate change, and create jobs and prosperity in the process!
Listen to Mayor Villaraigosa talk about the decision:
L.A. currently gets nearly 40 percent of its power from two aging out-of-state coal plants -- the Navajo Generating Station (NGS) in Arizona and the Intermountain Power Project (IPP) in Utah. These plants have become a financial liability for Angelenos as a result of the necessary and required retrofits at both power facilities, which are decades old.
I'm proud to say that our L.A. Beyond Coal campaign activists and supporters, along with countless other organizations, have been at the forefront of this transition from coal to renewable energy. Critical allies in this complex campaign included the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), who helped greatly in pushing coal out of L.A. The Los Angeles Business Council was a leader in putting together the rooftop solar program. Two organizations, the Los Angeles Alliance for a New Economy (LAANE) and Strategic Concepts in Organizing and Policy Education (SCOPE), were leaders on the energy efficiency components of this effort.
"By leading on a transition away from coal, Los Angeles is showing how we can transform our economy to create jobs, clean our air and water, and improve the health of our environment," says Evan Gillespie of L.A. Beyond Coal.
Evan says that when Mayor Villaraigosa took office in 2005, the city got nearly half its power from coal and a measly three percent from clean energy. But the mayor and a great, diverse coalition of groups pushed for more clean energy to bring jobs to the city and to help clean up the air.
Los Angeles was the first city in California to be powered by 20 percent clean energy. "In the past year alone, L.A. has locked in enough clean-energy commitments to power 330,000 homes with solar -- that's basically the equivalent of Cleveland or Minneapolis," Evan says.
L.A. is home to a new rooftop solar program -- the largest in the nation -- and the city has an energy-efficiency program that's been creating jobs while saving residents money and energy. By moving beyond coal, Los Angeles will reduce its dependence on fossil fuels, grow its local economy with new clean-energy jobs, and shrink its carbon footprint.
We applaud Mayor Villaraigosa and the city of Los Angeles for providing visionary leadership, for taking the lead in moving beyond coal, and for bringing clean air and clean energy jobs to one of America's most celebrated cities.Beyond Coal Campaign Director
Oregon is known for its natural beauty. Oregonians want to keep it that way.
Last week, after 450 people gathered at the Oregon state capitol to protest the prospect of countless tons of coal being shipped by train through their communities, the state Department of State Lands announced a five-month delay in deciding on a dredging project to construct a coal export terminal that would send nearly 9 millions of tons of coal each year from Montana, through eastern Oregon, and along the Columbia River for export.
The rally, which filled the front steps of the capitol building, was impossible for state decision-makers to ignore. Emceed by Mayor Jeremy Ferguson, the gathering featured speakers ranging from anglers to students to faith leaders to clean-energy business entrepreneurs.
Medical professionals in attendance wore white coats and scrubs. Health experts say emissions from transporting so much coal could sicken as many as 82,000 people who live within 500 meters of the tracks that would be used.
"We had 110 people holding signs to symbolize 110 cars in a typical train and 48 barges to symbolize the number of coal barges that would travel down the Columbia River every week," said Sierra Club Organizer Laura Stevens.The day after the rally, Ambre, the energy company behind the proposal, agreed with the state government to table the decision from April 1 to September 1, admitting that the state was "inclined to deny our permit." It's the second delay since the permit was first submitted over a year ago.
The huge turnout came with the help of the Power Past Coal coalition, which includes Friends of the Gorge, Columbia Riverkeeper, Physicians for Social Responsibility, National Wildlife Federation, Climate Solutions, and Greenpeace. It's part of a massive grassroots movement across the entire Pacific Northwest region against Big Coal's aggressive scheme to send tens of millions of tons of coal by rail through communities to ships bound for East Asia. Before the postponement, the Ambre decision would've been the first for a coal export proposal in the Pacific Northwest. But like other Big Coal proposals in the area, it has not been able to outlast the enormous response from families and communities.
"Volunteers and leaders from the SW Washington Beyond Coal Task Force, Portland Beyond Coal Task Force, and Salem Beyond Coal Task Force worked hours on the phone recruiting attendees, recruiting speakers, and making the fun, interactive signs," Stevens said.
"No matter how hard Big Coal pushes, they will find that the people care more about the health of their families and economy than the profits of dirty energy," she added.
(Photos: Greg Sotir)
-- Brian Foley
When Congress passed the Budget Control Act of 2011 in the midst of the debt-ceiling crisis and crushing gridlock, it was a small compromise, delaying economic catastrophe by kicking the can down the road and stopping the bleeding. The legislation effectively moved major decisions off months into the future by establishing a deadline for Congress to take more significant action. The bill set up a series of dramatically harsh spending cuts in the far-off year of 2013 with the idea that the pain those cuts would inflict on our economy and our families would be too great for Congress to fail to act.
Sadly, it seems Members of Congress underestimated the extent to which gridlock has crippled their own institution.
Congress again stalled, letting these massive spending cuts go into effect on March 1. While the real effect is not expected to be fully felt for several months, the costs on our air, our water, and the health of our planet and our families are already mounting. Just take a look at what sequestration is already doing or will do in the months ahead:
- The National Park Service (NPS) has announced early closures and fewer visiting days for many of the its 398 national beloved parks and historic sites across the U.S.
- The superintendent of Yellowstone National Park explained that the Sequester will stop 50,000 people from visiting the park this year, because there will be fewer park employees to protect and guide visitors and maintain park grounds, forcing some areas to close.
- National Park Services has delayed hiring and suspended overtime and training for park employees. And for many parks opening at the start of the spring season, budget cuts force park snow plows to delay work, keeping some park roads buried in snow and closed for recreation.
- Some of the largest and most popular sites with similar difficulties in hiring, maintenance and reduced park hours include: National Mall and Memorial Park (Washington, D.C.), Yosemite National Park (California), Gateway National Recreation Area (New York and New Jersey), Grand Canyon National Park (Arizona); Everglades National Park (Florida); Mount Rushmore National Memorial (South Dakota).
Clean Air and Water
- Budget cuts will take the people who are charged with keeping toxins out of our air and water off the job, as the Environmental Protection Agency announced it will be forced to furlough 18,000 of its 18,655 employees, for at least 13 days without pay.
- States will see big cuts in the funds they receive to protect clean air and water, prevent pollution from pesticides and waste, and protect fish and wildlife.
- Air quality data systems like AIRNow will either be significantly reduced or eliminated. Many caretakers rely on this critical service to monitor air quality threats to their patients and loved ones with breathing and heart problems.
- The cuts would hamper the ability of the EPA to make sure vehicle manufacturers comply with emissions standards, meaning car manufacturers might be unable to sell their products if the EPA can’t confirm that the cars meet current standards.
Clean Energy and Efficiency
- The EPA will not be able to maintain up-to-date product specifications for Energy Star labels, which allow consumers and companies to identify which products are more energy- and cost-efficient. The EPA will also have to reduce the number of industrial sectors it works with to develop energy efficiency guidance.
- Funding for clean energy research and energy efficiency will be targeted for big cuts, forced to operate with nearly $150 million less than before – nearly a tenth of the amount cut from the entire Department of Energy budget.
- Major funding for training veterans seeking jobs in the solar industry will lose significant funding.
- Federal investments in American clean energy manufacturing will be cut by nearly 9 percent.
Now, Congress is considering two proposals for our fiscal
future. On the Senate side, Washington Democrat Patty Murray has introduced a
budget that reverses many of these harmful cuts and invests in clean energy,
clean air, and clean water while putting climate cops back on the beat. On the
House side, former Vice Presidential Candidate Paul Ryan has put together a
budget scheme that would only make our climate crisis worse by gutting the
EPA’s funding even further, selling off our pristine public lands to oil and
gas companies, and doubling down on dirty fuels.
The choice for anyone who cares about the health of our families and the security of our planet should be clear, but we know it’ll be a hard fight. It’s more important than ever that we stand up to ensure the things that protect our future aren’t the first on the chopping block – and that’s why we’re calling on Congress to pass Senator Murray’s budget as is, with no poison pills from big polluters and no devastating cuts to our priorities. You can join that call by demanding your Senator take action now.
--Kristen Elmore, Sierra Club Media Team Intern
Jobs that benefit the environment and conserve natural resources are growing faster than any other industry in the U.S. --– four times as fast.
According to a new study by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the number of green jobs in America has grown four times faster than every other job sector combined, up nearly 5 percent in 2011 from the previous year.
Green jobs include any career that benefits the environment, regardless of industry: clean energy manufacturing, recycling, conservation, pollution reduction, and others. Currently, more than 3.4 million Americans are working in green jobs in sectors ranging from manufacturing to education to transportation and trade. The construction industry experienced the most growth in green goods and services, with a total of 101,932 new green construction jobs added between 2010 and 2011. Second to the construction sector, the professional, scientific and technical services sector added 26,595 jobs in in 2011.
This trend is a very important signal on America's path toward a fully functioning clean energy economy. We already knew that clean energy investments created three times as many American jobs as investments in dirty fuels. Now, we know these jobs get created even faster.
We are also seeing the fulfillment of what a majority of Americans have spoken in favor of: more research into and support for renewable energy. With $48 billion of public and private sector investments in green jobs and clean energy, the United States beat both China and Germany, two world leaders in the industry.
It's important that we continue this trend toward more green jobs and investment for a thriving clean energy industry. It's clear we don't have to choose between good jobs and a healthy planet. We shouldn't let anything keep us from achieving an economic recovery that will not only benefit American families but also the future our children will inherit.
--Kristen Elmore, Sierra Club Media Team Intern
The winds of change brought some great progress to Maryland this week when the Maryland Offshore Wind Energy Act of 2013 passed through both houses of the legislature. The offshore wind bill has been championed from the start by Governor Martin O'Malley, who stands ready to sign the bill into law.
This is a huge victory that is nationally significant for two reasons. First, it could well be the tipping point that allows us to finally tap the massive offshore wind potential off the East Coast. Second, it will ensure that historically underrepresented minority groups and small businesses will benefit from the jobs and investment dollars that offshore wind projects generate.
The bill will help develop a 200-megawatt wind project off the coast of Ocean City by requiring electricity suppliers to buy offshore renewable energy credits.
This victory comes after three years of hard work by thousands of activists who know that Maryland can be a national clean energy leader.
"We started this campaign with our allies in 2010 with a town hall meeting in Ocean City, out of which the Maryland Offshore Wind Coalition formed," said Sierra Club Maryland Conservation Organizer Christine Hill.
What makes this offshore wind bill even more monumental is that it will bring more jobs to historically underrepresented groups. It includes a $10 million development fund targeted to small and minority businesses to assist them in preparing to participate in the offshore wind supply chain and sets up a task force to study the feasibility of incorporating degree programs into Maryland's Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs).
The legislation was championed by various organizations because of this focus on providing key provisions for minority groups. The Legislative Black Caucus of Maryland was a major champion of the task force. We held a rally where over 100 students came out to rally their legislators to incorporate offshore wind degree programs at HBCUs. The NAACP's Maryland Conference also named offshore wind as one of its top priorities this year.
As Christine put it, "It's so great to see our state committed to replacing dirty, outdated fossil fuels that contribute to climate disruption with clean, renewable offshore energy that will create more jobs and safeguard our children's future."
This new clean energy can't come soon enough, as dirty and outdated coal plants are harming Marylanders' health. For example, the Charles P. Crane and Herbert A. Wagner plants in Baltimore and Anne Arundel counties threaten the region with dangerous sulfur dioxide pollution at levels more than four times what the Environmental Protection Agency has deemed safe.
Sulfur dioxide is known to cause respiratory problems, including breathing difficulty, asthma attacks, and diminished lung function. It can be especially dangerous for kids, the elderly, and those suffering from respiratory disease.
Offshore wind is a solid economic choice for the state. Based on a report from the U.S. Department of Energy's National Renewable Energy Laboratory, a major 200-megawatt offshore wind project would create almost 850 manufacturing and construction jobs for five years and an additional 160 ongoing supply and operations and maintenance jobs thereafter.
We hope this will inspire many other Atlantic coast states to move forward with offshore wind as well. Clean energy boosts the economy, creates jobs, and doesn't harm public health. Congratulations to everyone in Maryland who worked so tirelessly on this bill.
-- Mary Anne Hitt, Beyond Coal Campaign Director
On Monday, President Obama made a bold and encouraging move
by nominating Thomas E. Perez to be his next labor secretary.
Perez, the former head of the Civil Rights Division at the Justice Department, has a strong record as a leader in the progressive world. He has come out in powerful support to secure voting rights, make positive immigration reform, and end discrimination against Hispanics. His rich history of working with minority communities will be integral to the greater progressive movement –- which includes a strong bond between labor, environmentalists, human rights activists, and other powerful coalitions.
Mr. Perez himself is an example of the huge success that comes from hard work. The son of immigrants from the Dominican Republic, Perez helped pay for college and law school by working as a garbage collector and in a warehouse. As a nominee for labor secretary, Perez could hold the key to organizing people for the greater good. The Sierra Club finds its own strength in hard work and organization. It's made strong by its 2.1 million members and activists engaged in grassroots organizing. With Perez in charge of the federal labor department, the Sierra Club and other environmental organizations would be able to stand up for good, green jobs that help build the clean energy economy our climate so desperately needs.
The United States needs to be a leader in the global fight against climate disruption. The American people strongly believe we should make clean, renewable energy a priority. The U.S. wind energy industry supports 75,000 jobs across the country, and both wind and solar are on the rise. These are clean, renewable energy sources that don't pollute our air and water and will help save us from climate chaos. With a steadfast leader like Mr. Perez at the forefront of the labor department, the U.S. can put its best foot forward and make real progress as a clean energy trailblazer.
We believe that Perez can stand up for hard-working Americans when so many others in politics are merely pawns to wealthy industries like Big Oil and Big Gas. Under his leadership, Perez will make sure that workers are treated fairly and that those willing to give back to their communities have the opportunity to do so. Resilient economies are built by hard workers and led by courageous leaders like Mr. Perez.
-- Cathy Duvall, Director of Strategic Partnerships
In Tonawanda, kids are getting sick, the community is deteriorating, and all signs point to polluters that have been getting away with it for a long time.
is home to one of New York's last remaining coal-fired power plants, NRG
Huntley, and to 53 industrial facilities. Within its borders are two petroleum distribution
terminals, multiple chemical bulk storage terminals, a tire manufacturing plant, and two interstate highways.
That's why more than 150 people gathered to discuss the community's ongoing health problems caused by toxic pollution that has gone unchecked for decades. The event was the culmination of a year-long organizing effort by a Sierra Club partner organization, the Clean Air Coalition of WNY. A $100,000 Community Action Grant from the Environmental Protection Agency made CAC's impressive work possible.
"This was the result of a years of hard work by our membership," said Rebecca Newberry, CAC community organizer."Since the program began we've engaged with more than 1,300 people on the doors, in focus groups, photography projects, and educational programs to capture the reality of life in Tonawanda," she said. "During this meeting, residents were able to learn the results of all the data we've collected and vote on the top five worst risks to their health, which will direct our work moving forward."
The community meeting took place a week after the state Department of Health released a study confirming what locals here already knew: The people of Tonawanda have higher rates of cancer compared with the rest of the state. The study found several cases of esophageal cancer among men and uterine cancer in women.
"There are just too many rare forms of cancer in this area, starting very young. That's just not heard of," Cindy Mannino, president of the Anthony V. Mannino Foundation, told local news outlet WIVB.
The grassroots campaign drew the attention of Los Angeles-based band Nico Vega, which took an "environmental tour" organized by the Sierra Club's Beyond Coal Campaign. The popular band visited Tonawanda to see firsthand three of the area's dirtiest industrial plants and recorded an acoustic version of their song "Protest."
part of town we were in next to the factories didn't seem fit for residential
living," said the band's vocalist Aja Volkman. "We want to protect people from
being forced to sacrifice their quality of life for income. It's not right that
the people living in these homes and working these jobs are disease-ridden. Not
to mention the harm it's doing to our beautiful planet."
"The Clean Air Coalition's incredible work and unparalleled community relationships are helping residents connect the dots between industrial contamination, their health, and declining neighborhood conditions," said Jennifer Tuttle, a Sierra Club Beyond Coal organizer. "Good paying jobs are not easy to find in the Buffalo area, so some are reluctant to take on these industrial plants," continued Tuttle. "But across Western New York, community members are demanding a clean energy economy that will not only be built to last but will also support a healthy community."
-- Brian Foley
How do you create good paying American jobs, solve the climate crisis, and renew America's leadership in science and innovation?
A bill that Colorado Senator Michael Bennet introduced today could help accomplish all three of these goals.
This bill, titled the "Clean Energy Race to the Top" Act, would establish a $5 billion competitive grant program for states and local governments that enact policies to move the clean energy economy forward.
Here is how it works: Under the bill, state and local governments can apply for competitive grants to develop and implement clean-energy and carbon-reduction measures. Some ideas for possible proposals include renewable-electricity standards, regional or statewide climate action plans, increasing the percentage of energy-efficient public buildings, participation in a regional greenhouse-gas reduction program, or tax incentives for the manufacture or installation of clean-energy components or energy-efficiency upgrades.
Five billion dollars, or about one-tenth of one percent of federal spending, might not sound like much, but the effects would be truly significant.
Take, for example, job creation. This bill would create important new clean energy markets, which in turn would create new American jobs. At a time when our industrial and manufacturing sectors are fading in the face of global competition, clean-energy investments would help rebuild these important sectors. In fact, roughly 26 percent of all "clean economy" jobs are in manufacturing establishments (PDF), compared with nine percent in the economy overall.
Finally, the U.S. is losing in the global clean-energy economy battle, and this bill would help us catch up to the rest of the world. The global market for clean energy is estimated to be worth between $1.7 to $2.3 trillion over the next decade. China is now the global leader in wind and solar. India continues to emerge as a premier clean energy market, growing investments to $10.2 billion in 2011, a 54 percent increase.
Countries like Germany, South Korea, and Japan have quickly increased their investment in clean energy innovation since 2009 in an effort to become global leaders in the industry. But stagnant U.S. research budgets and looming budget cuts are sending us to the dark ages. They are providing an opening for other countries to capture the global clean energy innovation advantage that America is letting slip out of its grasp.
With looming budget negotiations in D..C and the effects of climate disruption becoming increasingly apparent around the country, this bill is a necessary one. We are missing out on our fair share of the clean energy economy, but with leadership from Congress and smart renewable energy investments, we can ensure our cities and states lead the way in clean energy.
-- Radha Adhar, Sierra Club Associate Washington Representative
Imagine that you've grown up in a beautiful, hilly countryside near many streams where you played and fished as a child. Now, years later, you can't even let your own kids or grandkids play in those same waterways because of pollution from a nearby mountaintop-removal coal mine.
Such is the reality for thousands of people living in small Appalachian communities across West Virginia, Tennessee, Virginia, and Kentucky.
"Mountaintop removal makes aquatic life sick; it makes people sick; and it destroys vital communities," says Jim Sconyers, Sierra Club West Virginia chair.
This week the Sierra Club joined the West Virginia Highlands Conservancy and Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition in filing a series of legal actions to protect West Virginia waterways from mountaintop-removal-mining-based water pollution. These actions allege that Alex Energy, the Fola Coal Company, and Consol are violating the Clean Water Act by allowing their mining sites to contaminate several waterways with sulfate, selenium, and other dissolved solids.Mountaintop-removal coal mining has damaged or destroyed nearly 2,000 miles of streams across Appalachia as the coal companies dump mountaintop removal waste into valleys. This practice poisons waterways these communities rely on for drinking water and recreation.
Unfortunately, the four states ravaged by mountaintop-removal coal mining refuse to take the threat to our water seriously. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has estimated that nine out of 10 streams downstream from valley fills associated with coal mines are biologically impaired. But neither the state of West Virginia nor the EPA has taken action to require compliance and cleanup of the polluted streams.
"Amazingly, at the same time that data show more and more streams impaired by coal mining, the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection is seeking to reduce the number of streams on the state's impaired streams list," says Jim Sconyers.
"Rather than forcing the mining companies to clean up the impaired streams, WVDEP is trying to redefine the meaning of 'impairment' administratively so that it no longer exists. So groups like ours have to do WVDEP’s job. We can't allow these companies to keep poisoning our streams."
Selenium, the pollutant at question in the Consol case, is a toxic element that causes reproductive failure and deformities in fish and other forms of aquatic life, and is discharged from many surface coal mining operations across Appalachia. Selenium accumulates in the tissues of aquatic organisms over time.
TAKE ACTION: Tell President Obama and the EPA that everyone deserves clean water. Urge them to act now to protect Appalachia from mountaintop removal mining!
-- Mary Anne Hitt, Beyond Coal Campaign Director
Today, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe announced Japan's intention to enter the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade pact (TPP). With Japan's entry, the trade pact will now include 12 nations along the Pacific Rim, including the United States. It's similar to the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) -- only way, way bigger. And the threats it poses to the health of our families and the future of our planet may be much more severe.
One of the reasons that Japan in interested in joining the trade pact is that countries in the bloc will likely get automatic access to U.S. natural gas. Normally, the Department of Energy is required to examine whether exporting U.S. natural gas is in the public's interest before it makes a decision on whether to export. That is a critical step in building a responsible energy policy that protects the public and the environment. But this crucial requirement is waived for countries that have signed a free trade agreement like the TPP with the U.S.
This means that the United States could be forever ceding our ability to manage our own natural gas resources. It also means that even if U.S. exports are found to harm our economy and the environment -- as there is every indication exports would -- the U.S. would still be forced to send natural gas overseas to our trading partners without any review or delay. As the world's largest natural gas importer, Japan will fundamentally change U.S. energy policy as we know it by joining the TPP.
Here's what’s at stake for our health, our environment, and our economy:
Increased exports would require us to produce more natural gas, which means more fracking across the United States -- in our backyards, near our schools, and next to our hospitals. Fracking contaminates drinking water and pollutes our air, exposing communities to serious health risks. Moreover, the highly energy-intensive process of cooling, liquefying, and transporting gas across the world has tremendous effects on our climate. The emissions associated with exporting natural gas, in fact, are said to be even larger than emissions from burning coal. The risk to public health and the future of our planet is too important to overlook.
Japan's entry into the trade pact may have other serious implications for the environment. A leaked version of the pact's controversial chapter on investment reveals that -- like NAFTA and more recent trade pacts -- the TPP would give broad rights to foreign corporations. The pact goes so far as to allow foreign corporations to sue a government in a private trade tribunal for unlimited cash compensation over new laws, policies, or regulations that hurt the corporation's bottom line.
More than 6,000 Japanese corporations have operations in the United States -- many in the oil, gas, and mining industries -- and each could challenge new U.S. laws and policies designed to protect our air and water. They could easily follow the example of a U.S. energy firm that recently filed its notice of intent to sue Canada over Quebec's moratorium on fracking using similar investment rules. The energy firm was essentially asking Canadians to forfeit their clean air and water for the sake of its profits. As another example, Swedish energy firm Vatenfall is suing Germany over the government's phaseout of nuclear power and for new coal regulations. Once again, trade rules are being abused to ratchet up the profits of dirty fuel interests at the expense of whole communities and their health. Japan's entry into the TPP throws the door wide open to more outlandish cases like these.
And finally, it's important to note that we cannot fully understand the broader implications of Japan joining the trade bloc since we don't have access to the text of the pact. Despite the fact that negotiations have been under way for years and may conclude as early as this October, we still haven't seen a single word of draft text or a single U.S. proposal. Transparency -- a basic principle of our democracy -- is crucial, particularly as the trade deal continues to inflate. We must have a meaningful chance to engage in how our trade and energy rules are set before it's too late.
-- Ilana Solomon, Sierra Club Trade Representative
Although we've taken many steps to clean up our air over the last few decades, four in ten Americans still live in places where the air is sometimes dangerous to breathe. Our cars and trucks remain a leading source of smog-forming pollution such as nitrogen oxides and particulate matter. These pollutants increase rates of asthma, respiratory disease, and premature death.
The Obama administration has the power to dramatically reduce pollution from our cars and trucks. The Environmental Protection Agency is expected to propose "Tier 3" cleaner tailpipe standards. These standards would require refineries to produce cleaner-burning gasoline beginning in 2017 and automakers to phase-in advanced pollution control technology to reduce tailpipe pollution beginning in the 2017 model year.
Unfortunately, the oil industry is opposed to anything that would make them clean up their act. Groups like the American Petroleum Industry are asking their friends in Congress and the White House to delay cleaner tailpipe standards.
It is critical that the Obama administration stand up to the oil industry and move forward with cleaner tailpipe standards. Delay would mean that we won't get cleaner-burning gasoline in 2017 and the health benefits that come with it. This is a big deal -- in 2017 alone, cleaner-burning gasoline would keep 260,000 tons of nitrogen oxides out of the air, equivalent to taking 33 million cars off the road. The Obama administration has a choice to make -- either give in to oil industry pressure or stand up for public health and move forward with cleaner tailpipe standards.
You can help secure cleaner air for all of us to breathe. Call the White House today and tell President Obama to stand up to the oil industry and move forward with cleaner tailpipe standards!
-- Jesse Prentice-Dunn, Sierra Club Green Transportation Campaign
I remember the first time I saw a mountaintop-removal coal mining site -- Kayford Mountain in southern West Virginia. Those images have never left my mind -- a barren landscape where there was once lush forest. And right around the destroyed site, homes where people were trying to live despite having the world blown up next door.
Peoples' lives are never the same once a mountaintop-removal coal mine starts blasting. One major loss for these families is clean water. We expect our water to be safe and drinkable. Many folks here in Appalachia have streams or creeks running through their backyards. Kids from Kentucky to Tennessee grew up fishing, and many of us still enjoy heading out with the pole for a lazy Sunday afternoon hoping to snag a trout.
Sadly, for many people in Appalachia, that pristine ideal no longer exists. Pollution from mountaintop-removal mining has poisoned many of our streams making them dangerous for certain fish and other aquatic life.Mountaintop-removal is the process by which companies use explosives to remove the peaks of Appalachian mountains to get at the coal underneath. They then dump millions of tons of rubble and toxic waste into the streams and valleys below the mining sites. This devastating practice has damaged or destroyed nearly 2,000 miles of streams, and threatens to destroy 1.4 million acres of mountaintops and forests by 2020.
Mountaintop-removal coal mining allows toxic heavy metals such as cadmium, selenium, and arsenic to leach into Appalachia's local water supplies. Research shows that "residents in mining areas -- especially mountaintop removal mining areas -- have higher incidents of cancer, heart disease, kidney disease, birth defects, premature mortality and other issues."
One key measure of water pollution from mining is called water conductivity. The Environmental Protection Agency has stated that "high levels of conductivity, dissolved solids, and sulfates are a primary cause of water quality impairments" downstream from where mountaintop-removal rubble is dumped.
In other words, corporations dump the waste from their mountaintop-removal mines into nearby valleys, and at the bottom of each of those valleys is a stream that gets covered up. The water still runs through all that dirt, it just comes out the other side chock-full of pollution.
Scientific studies show that, when conductivity levels get too high below mine sites, some fish can no longer maintain healthy populations. And when selenium, a key contributor to conductivity levels, gets above a certain point, fish can be born badly deformed.These fish, and our waterways, are signals that the safety of our water and the health of our environment are declining.
Unfortunately, the governments of the four states that make up our Appalachian community -- Tennessee, Virginia, West Virginia, and Kentucky -- refuse to take the threat to our water seriously. West Virginia and Kentucky are actually both considering state action to make it even easier to pollute our waterways with mining waste.
Kentucky, West Virginia, Virginia, and Tennessee have shown themselves unable to responsibly enforce clean water safeguards, and that puts our families at risk. That's why now is the time for our EPA to work on a real solution to the problem.
As part of the Sierra Club's 100 Days of Action on Climate and Clean Energy, this week we're focusing on the theme of mountaintop-removal coal mining. For the sake of our rivers, our community, and the responsible stewardship of our land, it's time for enforceable clean water protections against coal mining pollution.
-- Mary Anne Hitt, Beyond Coal Campaign Director
More than 80,000 American drivers have purchased plug-in electric vehicles in the past couple of years, but only 900 of them are in my home state of Massachusetts. Why? One reason is the lack of incentives and coordinated planning in the state compared with others -- like California, Colorado, and North Carolina.
This week's Massachusetts Electric Vehicle Roundtable event, organized by the MA Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs, Massachusetts Clean Cities Coalition, and the Conservation Law Foundation, set out to change that. It brought together leaders from utilities, auto companies, environmental advocacy groups, and the departments of Energy Resources, Transportation, and Public Utilities. There were even three state agency commissioners and a cabinet secretary in attendance. I was encouraged.
The day began with a reminder of Massachusetts' aggressive climate policies, which have set a goal to reduce carbon emissions to 25 percent below 1990 levels by 2020 and 80 percent by 2050. The consensus was that we won't get there without a significant shift from gasoline to electric driving -- in addition to a whole range of other strategies, including better public transit.
Steve Russell, the coordinator of Massachusetts Clean Cities Coalition, said that some progress had been made in the state through the training of electricians to install EV-charging units, safety training for emergency responders, a specialized MA EV license plate, and the installation of 160 public charging units throughout the state. Rachel Szakmary, from the City of Boston, described some of the city's EV-friendly policies, such as one that requires new parking garages to install EV-charging units.Some of the other speakers pointed to what other states have done (and Massachusetts has not yet done) to incentivize EVs. These include providing HOV lane access to EV drivers; state tax credits (in addition to the federal ones) that make it less expensive to purchase EVs; waivers on sales tax and emissions inspections; and policies that make it easier to obtain permits to install EV-charging stations and to sell electricity for EV charging.
Nick Nigro, from the Center for Climate & Energy Solutions, shared a tool that could benefit Massachusetts officials. It's an interactive resource for state agencies that evaluates tangible EV-related opportunities, including grants, public education, and strategic installation of EV-charging stations.
Mike Payette, from Staples, talked about the office supply company's 53 Smith Electric Vehicle trucks in operation in Ohio, Oregon, California, Texas, and Missouri, which he said have traveled 670,000 miles and have saved 750 tons of CO2 from being burned in their first couple of years on the road. If Massachusetts puts more EV-friendly policies in place for consumers and businesses, perhaps Staples' next EV delivery trucks will be seen on the streets of Boston and Cambridge.
Emily Norton, from Environment Northeast, described an EV driver in a Boston suburb who had recently received one ticket for riding alone in the HOV lane, another for driving without an inspection sticker, and another for charging his EV in an illegal spot. In many other states, key programs ensure that an EV driver would have been allowed to do all of these things. Her point was that if we had incentives and programs in place in Massachusetts that encourage a switch to EVs, then drivers would feel rewarded and not hindered for cleaner driving.
At the end of the event, participants discussed the idea of an EV-readiness council to be appointed by the governor or legislature. Other states, such as Illinois, Maryland, and Connecticut, have pursued this model. I think it's a terrific idea, as long as there is high-level involvement from the state, auto companies, utilities, and environmental groups as well as a concrete and fast-moving action plan that comes out of the process. Massachusetts may not catch up to California anytime soon when it comes to EV adoption but, as Jenny Rushlow, of the Conservation Law Foundation, said, "Massachusetts is behind now, but can become a regional leader on EVs."
(Image of two cars charging in front of Boston City Hall by Gina Coplon-Newfield.)
-- Gina Coplon-Newfield is the Sierra Club’s Director of Green Fleets & Electric Vehicles Initiative.
A groundbreaking new report has, for the first time, estimated the human toll from India's dirtiest fuel source. According to the study, 80,000 to 115,000 people died prematurely as a result of emissions from coal-fired power plants in 2012. Those deaths, along with a slew of other health impacts, including millions of cases of asthma, respiratory distress, and heart disease caused by coal emissions, cost the Indian government $3.3 to $4.6 billion. The toll is staggering and it comes at a time when the Indian government seeks to dramatically expand its reliance on this destructive fuel source with a pipeline of coal projects matched only by China.
The study, conducted by Delhi-based research group Urban Emissions (India) and commissioned by Conservation Action Trust in partnership with Greenpeace, reveals the health impacts of some of the weakest air pollution standards in the world (see the comparison of emissions from the International Energy Agency below). Debi Goenka of Conservation Action Trust says of Indian emission standards, "They are either absent or shamefully behind those of even China, let alone the EU or U.S. Does the Ministry of Environment consider Indian lives to be less valuable?"
Even worse, the burden caused by woefully inadequate emissions standards is not borne equally. The study's results show that the burden of death and disease fell hardest on the Delhi-Haryana and Kolkata-West Bengal-Jharkhand regions, as power plant concentrations, wind patterns, and population density combined to cause an estimated 8,800 and 14,900 deaths in 2012, respectively. That means that while coal plants may be far away from India's growing middle class, their pollution is finding its way into the lungs of Delhi residents and their children.
Perhaps more worrying, however, is the direction India is headed. Coal kills 100,000 today, but what if an estimated 588 GW of new coal comes online? That is five to six times the number of existing coal plants (and twice the size of the U.S. coal fleet) -- all being built without modern pollution control equipment. India may be facing an environmental disaster of Chinese proportions.
But that is not the only impact these plants will have. Their construction is causing a social crisis, with local opposition leading to violent repression, death, and arrest. At the same time, economic realities caused by skyrocketing international coal prices and domestic coal shortages have created a wave of subprime coal loans so great that Indian banks worry it poses systemic default risk. On top of it all, the Indian government is pushing to mine what remains of the country's pristine forests to plug the growing shortage of fuel the pipeline requires.
India is paying a far greater price for its coal reliance than even these numbers reveal. But it need not happen. While the U.S. and India are clearly in very different contexts, in many ways this reminds me of what happened in the U.S. just a few short years ago. Between 2001 and 2010, the U.S. almost locked itself into a generation of 180 costly and unneeded coal-fired power plants. Campaigns led by the environmental community, the enacting of state renewable energy standards, and more-abundant competitive sources like energy efficiency, wind, and natural gas, headed off that almost catastrophic coal rush.
Now India faces a similar problem. And just as in the U.S., civil society is waking up to the threat. As Vinuta Gopal of Greenpeace puts it, "This is a wakeup call for our planners; the ongoing coal expansion is irrational and dangerous. Pollution from coal power plants is killing thousands; the coal is mined by sacrificing India's forests, tribal communities, and endangered species. And at the end of it all, coal has failed to deliver energy security. We need a moratorium on new coal plants and ambitious policy incentives to unlock the huge potential India has in efficiency measures, wind and solar."
-- Justin Guay, Sierra Club International
By Erin Noonan, Beyond Oil campaign intern
As nearly 50,000 people shouted, "Hey Obama / We don't want no climate drama," I felt proud to be involved with last month's Forward on Climate rally, and to consider myself an environmental youth activist. Of the 140 buses that made the trip, nearly a third were packed with college students, representing universities from coast to coast. Student participation at the Forward on Climate Rally was crucial to its undeniable success that day. On February 17, students contributed the sustainable energy necessary to keep the crowd going in 25-degree weather. But what role will students play in the climate movement as we move forward?
Acting as a student organizer was not only rewarding—it also reminded me of the first Earth Day demonstration in 1970, still one of the most influential environmental rallies ever. Many of its organizers were also students, possessed of an attitude that was hopeful and ready for change. As college buses pulled up to the Forward on Climate rally site this month, I felt the same sense of hope and readiness for change that had ensured the lasting effects of Earth Day 1970.
When the Cornell University buses arrived, hands were waving from the windows; their excitement was visible. Excitement stemmed from not only the rally, but also from Cornell's recent decision to pass a call for divestment from oil. Their student assembly joined student groups at a growing number of universities across the country that have successfully prodded their schools to pass this resolution, taking the first steps that will eventually eliminate dependence on the fossil fuel industry. University divestment movements are a nationwide trend, and more and more campuses are stepping up and fearlessly advocating for divestment, positioning themself as climate leaders.
College institutions are agents of change, where young voices are not only heard, but where beliefs become materialized. Obama said, "I need you to push me." Who is better qualified to apply pressure than the youth who will one day inherit the earth the president is helping to shape—starting with his decision on the Keystone XL pipeline. This emphatic mindset is nothing new for rebellious youth. Historically, students have claimed their place at the forefront of social change. Speakers at the Forward on Climate rally, comparing the gathering to Martin Luther King, Jr.'s march on Washington, could not help but acknowledge a youthful presence, aware that it represents the beliefs of the future. Today, students' beliefs embody efficiency, innovation, and sustainability.
In a recent blog post, Sierra Club executive director Michael Brune spoke about how society must relinquish a gradualist approach to climate change. The engagement of youth in the climate movement exemplifies the confidence that Brune says all of us must bring to the battle against climate disruption. We are rallying for change, and we will continue to do so until change is made. Our relentless energy forbids us from sitting idly by, waiting for legislators and corporations to open their eyes to modern science.
This new generation of environmental advocates is running on the same type of energy we have seen demonstrated by youth in previous generations, but we bring to the table a new sense of urgency along with viable alternatives to the status quo. The combination of the two allows us embody an energy as necessary as it is renewable, much like the energy we are fighting for.
It's easy to get excited about the future, coming off our recent announcement that we're halfway to our goal of retiring one-third of the nation's coal fleet. Seeing those successes city-by-city and state-by-state is inspiring, but it also is a frequent example of how different two places can be when it comes to clean energy and coal, whether they're right next door, or a state or two away.
This week's coal vs. clean energy examples come from Montana and Minnesota.
Having once lived in Montana myself, I can't imagine wanting to ruin such a beautiful big sky with coal pollution -- but that's just what the Colstrip coal plant is doing. The Colstrip plant is one of the largest and most polluting facilities in the U.S., and this week we joined the Montana Environmental Information Center (MEIC) in legally challenging the owners to clean up the plant.
The owners facing federal violations include high-profile companies like Warren Buffett's PacifiCorp, Washington-based Puget Sound Energy (PSE), Pennsylvania Power and Light, Avista Utilities, Portland General Electric, and NorthWestern Energy.
We are demanding that this plant install long overdue modern pollution controls and pay for its Clean Air Act violations.
The reality, though, is that Montana can do better than this coal plant. Even with modern pollution controls, the coal plant would still emit millions of tons of climate pollution equivalent to three million cars, every year.
Because of big polluters like Colstrip, wildfires across the Northwest will grow in intensity and frequency, salmon species will start to disappear, and many downhill and cross-country ski locations will be out of business during our lifetime.
Puget Sound Energy holds the keys to one way to replace the entire Colstrip facility with clean energy: the Lower Snake River Wind Facility in Washington (PDF).
Meanwhile, over in Minnesota, clean energy vision is happening. This week a powerhouse coalition came together to launch the Minnesota Clean Energy & Jobs Campaign.
The more than 30 organizations -- businesses, unions, faith groups, environmental organizations, and more -- will support increasing the state's Renewable Electricity Standard to 40 percent by 2030, establishing a solar energy standard of 10 percent by 2030, and a series of policies that will make providing local power generation easier and more cost effective, as well as advancing building and industrial energy efficiency initiatives.
"We know that transitioning to a clean economy -- investing in renewable energy, energy efficiency, and making it cheaper and easier to use -- are the keys to creating good jobs in this state," said Pete Parris, political director for Sheet Metal Workers Local 10 and a representative of the BlueGreen Alliance, a partnership of labor and environmental groups.
"We have an opportunity to stay ahead of the curve -- to create good jobs, and to make sure that we protect the environment for this and the next generation -- we can do that with this agenda."
I applaud this vision in Minnesota and look forward to seeing its successes. Minnesota isn't alone in its diverse coalitions pushing for clean energy. I know there are similar hard-working groups in Montana and Washington.
Closing PSE's Colstrip plant would mean the largest reduction of greenhouse gas emissions in Northwest history -- and they could replace that power with clean energy! How long will the utilities wait to listen to their customers who want clean energy instead of dirty coal?
-- Mary Anne Hitt, Beyond Coal Director
The transition to a clean energy economy is imperative not only to tackle the climate crisis but also to spur development through new economic opportunities, new investment, and the creation of new green jobs. In seeking to capture these benefits, however, governments are increasingly turning to trade rules to challenge each others' domestic renewable energy industries, thereby undermining the global clean energy transition we all seek. Put simply, all governments must have the ability to develop domestic renewable energy industries to fight climate change and the entrenched fossil fuel industry behind the crisis.
In the most recent example, the United States has filed a case at the World Trade Organization (WTO) to challenge India's use of subsidies and "buy local" rules in its domestic solar program. This case exemplifies the misguided and harmful impacts of these challenges. It is particularly important because of India's potential as one of the world's largest solar markets and because of the local and global benefits to India's transitioning from fossil fuels to renewable energy.
In order to understand the importance of this case, it is important to first understand the progress that the Indian government has made in supporting solar. India's solar mission provides strong support to solar deployment and includes a goal of developing 20,000 megawatts of solar power capacity by 2022. A key objective of the program is to boost the capacity of India to domestically manufacture solar panels. To achieve this objective, the government of India has required Indian developers of solar photovoltaic ("PV") projects using crystalline silicon technology to buy solar modules manufactured in India in order to take advantage of the programs benefits, including subsidies and guaranteed long-term competitive rates for solar power. These requirements to purchase locally manufactured solar panels are referred to as domestic content rules.
The government of India initially exempted thin film solar cells -- lower-efficiency solar panels used in large-scale industrial solar projects -- from the domestic content rules because of low domestic capacity to manufacture such cells. This loophole created an opening for foreign countries, including the United States and China, to export thin-film cells to India. U.S. exports of thin film solar cells to India have been particularly successful thanks to low-interest loans from the U.S. Overseas Private Investment Corporation and the Export-Import Bank.
The result is that foreign thin-film panels now dominate India's market. Whereas global thin film installations are a very small portion of total solar deployment, in India they are the vast majority. To correct this imbalance and protect India's solar manufacturers, India is now considering expanding the use of domestic content rules to thin-film technologies in the second phase of its program, which may curtail imports of American-made solar panels to India.
Concerned about the impact that the potential expansion of India's domestic content rules to thin-film technologies would have on its exports, the United States filed a claim at the WTO. In its claim, the United States asserts that India's domestic content rules appear to have violated trade rules in the General Agreement on Trade and Tariffs, the Agreement on Trade-Related Investment Measures, and the Agreement on Subsidies and Countervailing Measures by allegedly providing more favorable treatment to domestic solar producers and products than to foreign ones.
According to WTO rules, the U.S. and India have 60 days to try to find a resolution. If no resolution is reached, the U.S. can then request the establishment of a WTO panel to determine whether India has violated trade rules. A recent WTO panel ruling which found that Ontario, Canada’s domestic content rules in its renewable energy sectors violated trade rules does not bode well for India's case.
What's at Stake
Historically, as countries have industrialized, domestic content rules have been a standard policy tool used to foster, nurture, and grow their new industries. In this process, countries have sought to find the appropriate balance between allowing some degree of foreign competition while still protecting the new industry until it is internationally competitive.
In the case of India, allowing some degree of foreign competition may be important to stimulate its domestic companies to increase their efficiency and competitiveness. But, foreign competition must not undermine the ability of India to grow its own solar industry.
Here's why we think India must be in the driver's seat when it comes to determining the future of its renewable energy industry, and what is at stake in this case.
First, the growth and success of India's solar industry is being undermined by the power of its coal industry, which receives enormous subsidies and enjoys strong political backing in India. One way to challenge the power of the fossil fuel industry in India is to successfully develop a viable domestic renewable energy industry. The use of domestic content rules is one way to develop a domestic solar industry with skin in the game, which is necessary to counter the power of the fossil fuel industry.
Second, the presence of strong renewable energy industries in multiple countries, including India, can help spur competition and innovation that can ultimately drive down the global price of renewable energy technologies in the medium and long term.
Third, local content rules can help increase the political support for renewable energy programs by generating multiple local benefits, including new investment opportunities in a growth industry, opportunities for technological innovation, job creation, and new sources of tax revenue. For a country like India, with hundreds of millions of people still living in poverty, these added benefits are critical.
And fourth, because our planet is at
stake. Our global climate will remain in
peril if only some countries develop renewable energy industries while others
continue to rely on fossil fuels. There
is absolutely no question that in order to avoid catastrophic climate impacts, all
countries must be seriously investing in renewable energy technologies and
transitioning away from fossil-fuels now. The
global solar industry has seen significant gains in the past few years. In 2012, more than 100
gigawatts of solar PV installed worldwide,
breaking new records. Now is the time to encourage
countries to keep developing their domestic solar capacity in order to tackle
the climate crisis, not to slow this
process with trade disputes.
-- Ilana Solomon, Trade Representative of the Sierra Club and Justin Guay, International Climate and Energy Representative of the Sierra Club
- Eric Garcetti Elected to Continue the Clean Energy Legacy in Los Angeles
- Big New Investments in Wind Energy Across the Country and Around the World
- Our Land, Our Water, Our Future: The Australia Beyond Coal & Gas Conference
- Fighting Coal Down Under
- How Electric Vehicles That Feed the Grid Will Pay Off
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