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Feds approve Cove Point liquefied natural gas export facility

30 September 2014 - 9:02am

Late Monday the Federal Energy Regulatrory Commission (FERC) approved the controversial Cove Point liquefied natural gas (LNG) export facility in Maryland. The Sierra Club and a large coalition of groups -- including Earthjustice, Chesapeake Climate Action Network, Patuxent Riverkeeper, Potomac Riverkeeper, Shenandoah Riverkeeper, and Lower Susquehanna Riverkeeper -- have been fighting this plan since its announcement because it means a massive expansion of natural gas fracking.

More than 40,000 people submitted comments opposing Cove Point.

"FERC's decision to allow LNG exports from Cove Point is fundamentally flawed because the agency failed to consider the simple fact that exporting LNG will mean more drilling and fracking, and that means more climate pollution, more risk of contaminated groundwater, and more threats to the health of people who live near gas wells," said Deb Nardone, director of the Sierra Club's Beyond Natural Gas campaign. "FERC should be standing up for the public good, not the interests of dirty polluters."

Once in full operation, Cove Point will also emit thousands of tons of dangerous air pollutants and millions of tons of greenhouse gases that will only add to increased climate disruption.

Beyond the increased fracking, the super-cooling process that turns fossil fuel vapor into LNG requires an immense amount of energy -- so much energy, in fact, that the LNG lifecycle is as dirty as coal. The industry wants to build enormous shipping terminals that would pave over fields, fill wetlands, and destroy estuaries.

As Deb noted about this Cove Point approval, FERC continues to bury its head in the sand and conclude that it is impossible to predict the effects related to the production of gas to be exported, or consumption of that gas once it is exported. This is despite the fact that even the Department of Energy agrees that if exports occur, they will induce additional gas production.

The Sierra Club and the coalition against Cove Point also believe that FERC has failed to procide for adequate public participation regarding this project. FERC must develop a full environmental impact statement that covers the entire effect of the project.

Some in Maryland are already planning a rally in response to the bad decision (6pm Tuesday, Sept 30, at 701 E. Pratt Street in Baltimore).

Stay tuned for more news on how we'll fight this decision. And stay involved - Cove Point isn't the only planned LNG export facility in the U.S.

-- Heather Moyer, Sierra Club

Categories: Sierra Club National

New Cases Show Risks of Corporate Empowerment in Trade Deals

26 September 2014 - 2:14pm

One result of neoliberalism, writes Mark Bittman in the New York Times, is that “some corporations are more powerful than governments.” This message was a theme of many of the signs and chants at the People’s Climate March, where more than 400,000 participants came together in New York City, many denouncing corporate greed at the expense of a sustainable planet. And nowhere is that power divergence more apparent than in free trade pacts, where a provision called “investor state dispute settlement” (ISDS) empowers corporations to sue governments over nearly any policy that a corporation alleges would reduce its expected future profits.

The Dominican Republic, for example, faces two new corporate challenges to its environmental policies. Instead of supporting the Dominican Republic’s right to implement environmental safeguards, the U.S. is pushing to expand these “investor” rights in new trade agreements currently under negotiation—the 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership between the U.S. and the European Union.

Under the Dominican Republic-Central America Free Trade Agreement (DR-CAFTA), Corona, a Florida-based construction materials company (not to be confused with the beer), has announced a case against the Dominican Republic for $100 million because the Dominican Republic denied Corona an environmental license to mine for construction materials after citing concerns about the proposed project’s risks to waterways. Separately, three U.S. investors are threatening to bring a case against the Dominican Republic for not allowing them to “extend” a resort—which already includes luxury homes, a restaurant with a rotating floor and tennis courts— into a neighboring national park. The coveted “extension” would allow the developers to construct a second restaurant, spa, and “world-class boutique hotel.

It’s important to note that around 41 percent of Dominicans live below the poverty line, and the richest (overwhelmingly white) 10 percent of the population owns most of the land and enjoys around 40 percent of the national income. In their notice of intent to sue the Dominican Republic, the developers hoping to expand the luxury resort emphasize that they have “developed a deep love and affection for the country’s people and their culture.” But if these cases move forward and the investors win, it’s the Dominican taxpayers that would pay the millions of dollars in compensation. Even if the Dominican Republic were to win these cases, taxpayers could be forced to pay for a share of tribunal costs, which average $8 million per case.

Neither domestic nor international courts determine the outcomes of ISDS cases. They take place before three attorneys in private trade tribunals. Many of these attorneys rotate between acting as tribunal “judges” and as the lawyers launching cases against governments on behalf of the corporations. ISDS also exists in the North American Free Trade Agreement, which recently empowered a U.S. oil and gas company to sue the government of Canada for $250 million in response to a fracking moratorium around the St. Lawrence River in Quebec. To date, ISDS in free trade agreements and bilateral investment treaties has allowed corporations including Exxon Mobil, Dow Chemical, and Chevron to file nearly 600 cases against almost 100 governments.

The Dominican Republic cases may seem surprising, but cases like this are quickly becoming the norm. Last week, for example, people gathered in front of the World Bank to protest an investment case brought by Oceanagold Corporation, an Australian mining company, against El Salvador, simply because the country denied the company a gold mining permit. Communities in El Salvador are concerned about mining’s costs to water quality, since 90 percent of the country’s surface water is already heavily contaminated. Yet even while protests against ISDS gain international momentum, our own government continues to promote ISDS in massive new trade agreements which could further empower big corporations to challenge countries’ environmental policies.

Complete with a giant inflatable fat cat, protesters rally outside the World Bank in support of El Salvador’s right to ban toxic mining along its principal watershed. (Photo: Ron Carver / Institute for Policy Studies)


These cases give a taste of the consequences that the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) could have both abroad and in the U.S. We know that the TPP includes ISDS and that the TTIP will likely include it unless negotiators listen to the massive public opposition on both sides of the Atlantic. If approved with ISDS, these trade agreements would empower tens of thousands of new corporations from around the world to sue the U.S. and other governments over federal, state, and regional policies that protect communities and safeguard the environment.

You can take action now, and let our government officials know that you oppose investor-state dispute settlement in all current and future trade pacts.

--Courtenay Lewis, Campaign Representative, Sierra Club’s Responsible Trade Program

 

Categories: Sierra Club National

Japan Draws Condemnation For Continued Overseas Coal Financing

25 September 2014 - 1:59pm
Photo courtesy of Greenpeace India

The world’s largest public financier of overseas coal-fired power plants is facing serious pressure to move beyond coal.

Earlier this month, four residents of the central Java district of Batang, Indonesia were in Tokyo to protest the Japanese government’s support for a proposed $4 billion coal-fired power plant slated to be built in Batang. Since it’s inception in 2011, the Japanese Bank for International Cooperation (JBIC)-funded coal project has been subject to fierce local resistance. Residents refusing to sell their land have already delayed the start of construction for over two years, but, in turn, activists have faced harassment and arrests over their efforts to protect their land.

Yet, the community members refuse to give up their fight, concerned that pollution from the coal-fired power plant will negatively affect fertile agricultural land and fragile coastal fishing zones which support the livelihoods of many local villagers. Locals are also worried about the health effects of pollutants contaminating the area’s air and water.

The 2,000-megawatt plant is poised to be the largest coal-fired power plant in Southeast Asia at an estimated cost of 400 billion yen (U.S. $4 billion). Riodi and Taryun, two of the Batang natives who traveled to Japan, were delegated by local Japanese residents to meet with officials from JBIC.

“We want to express our refusal directly to the responsible parties: Japan’s Ministry of Finance and the key companies, Itochu and J Power,” said Riodi in Tokyo last Tuesday. “After fruitless attempts in Central Java, and in the capital Jakarta, we hope our journey to Japan can ensure the cancellation of the power plant construction in our villages”.

Thanks to their efforts, parliamentarians from two Japanese opposition parties -- Mizuho Fukushima, an ex-minister who lead the Social Democratic Party from 2003-2013, and Naoto Sakaguchi, director-general of the international department of the Restoration Party of Japan -- have lent their support to the Indonesian community representatives.

Securing opposition to this coal project in Japan will be a major victory considering JBIC is the world’s leading financier of coal and Japan has provided more international funding to coal than any other country. Clearly, getting the Japanese government out of the dirty coal business is no small task, but these activists are not alone.

A new norm amongst the international community has solidified over the past year: a swift and sweeping transition away from financing new coal-fired plants overseas by many OECD countries -- including the United States, United Kingdom, Netherlands, and other Nordic countries. Each of these countries have established strict restrictions for the support for overseas coal-fired power plants. In fact, just this week at the UN Climate Summit, the German government announced plans to offer its own restrictions for overseas coal financing.

In addition, these countries’ large international financial institutions (IFIs) -- like the World Bank Group -- have enacted similar coal financing policies.

However, it seems as though the World Bank -- which is still pondering its test case of these coal financing policies in Kosovo -- is actively defying its own coal ban by participating in this Japanese coal project. The World Bank’s International Finance Corporation (IFC) helped create the Indonesia Infrastructure Guarantee Fund. This fund has provided a $33.9 billion guarantee for the Batang coal-fired power plant. Furthermore, the World Bank’s infrastructure project in Indonesia includes policies to subsidize and promote over 40 coal projects worldwide.

With the world’s nations committed to limiting climate disruption and keeping a global temperature rise below 2 degrees Celsius, Japan and JBIC do not have the luxury of continued investment in burning or extracting dirty coal.

The health of our climate and our communities is at stake. It’s time for Japan to join the international community. It’s time to move beyond coal.

-- Rohan Bhatia, International Climate Program Intern

Categories: Sierra Club National

90,000+ Celebrate National Drive Electric Week in 150 Cities

25 September 2014 - 12:45pm


by Gina Coplon-Newfield and Zan Dubin-Scott

In 150 cities and 39 US states, more than 90,000 people attended events last week associated with the 2014 National Drive Electric Week. Getting people into plug-in electric vehicles (EVs) to experience the fun, quiet, and clean air benefits of EVs first-hand was part of the point. Event organizers from San Diego alone reported 600 test rides, and Littleton, CO reported a respectable 200. All told from our city captains, we estimate that there were more than 5,500 test rides in plug-in cars at our events.

California Governor Jerry Brown celebrated National Drive Electric Week by signing a number of new EV programs into law. One measure sets a goal of one million plug-in vehicles on the road in California by the end of 2022, about a tenfold increase in the next eight years. The legislation directs the state Air Resources Board to draft a plan to meet that goal and make sure that disadvantaged communities can participate. The policies will also ensure that it's easier for EV drivers to install charging units in apartment building parking areas. "We face an existential challenge with the changes in our climate," Brown said about the EV programs and other environmental initiatives he announced on Sunday, timed to coincide with a United Nations climate summit. "The time to act is now. The place to look is California. We're not finished, but we sure are setting the pace."

In New York City on Sunday, an estimated 400,000 people took to the streets to demand serious action among world leaders to address climate change. As part of Drive Electric Week, our 'EV Bloc' participated in the People's Climate March with signs like "Don't Pollute on Your Commute."

Public officials nationwide came out in droves to test drive and promote plug-in cars last week. Governor Jay Inslee of Washington issued a Drive Electric Week proclamation for his state. There was a "wicked strong" showing at the Cranston, RI event: U.S. senators Jack Reed and Sheldon Whitehouse, Congressmen Jim Langevin and David Cicilline, Mayor Allan Fung, and Rhonde Island Office of Energy Resources Commissioner Marion Gold all turned out to celebrate plug-in cars in the ocean state. In Juneau, Alaska, several mayors, Attorney General Michael Geraghty, and state representative Cathy Munoz gathered for test drives and promotion of new charging stations.

Stephanie Rawlings-Blake of Baltimore was among many mayors who issued ‘drive electric' proclamations for their cities and towns. Mayor Eric Garcetti of Los Angeles said in his own proclamation, presented at UCLA, that EVs "reduce our dependence on foreign fuels, and support a healthy environment and economy."

Cupertino's celebration peaked when a judge with GUINNESS WORLD RECORDS® pronounced a new record for most all-electric vehicles in a parade: 507. The fume-free procesion, cheered on by a crowd of a couple thousand, was organized by San Francisco BayLEAFs and the Silicon Valley chapter of the Electric Auto Association, an enduring granddaddy founded in 1967. Among parade EVs was the AC Propulsion tzero, upon which Tesla Motors based its Roadster, and Stella. With onboard solar panels, this low-slung, four-passenger car is said to produce twice as much energy as it uses in an average day. It won the 2013 World Solar Challenge, a competition that launched the storied EV1 and our era's EV resurgence. Stella was designed and built by students of the Eindhoven University of Technology in The Netherlands.

Many other students participated in Drive Electric Week this year, thanks to our new Ambassador Schools initiative. Still in pilot phase, we expect to have more about this program next year, but the idea is to raise awareness of EVs among youth. In Murray, Utah, about 450 of young and old alike got to check out not only electric cars, but also electric motorcycles, bicycles, and lawn-mowers. Even Mike Lookinland, also known as Bobby Brady from The Brady Bunch, showed up to talk about his love for EVs.


We at Plug In America, the Sierra Club and the Electric Auto Association could not have put on National Drive Electric Week without the hundreds of volunteers and dozens of partner groups at the local level, including many Clean Cities Coalitions. We also appreciated the promotion from allied groups, such as the 11th Hour Project, which announced during Drive Electric Week several exciting newly funded EV grant projects. Our friends at Union of Concerned Scientists took the opportunity to issue new blog posts on the scientifically proven benefits of plug-in cars, including: How do EVs Compare with Gas-Powered Vehicles?  Better Every Year…; and How Clean are Electric Cars? A Life Cycle Assessment of Advanced Vehicle Technologies.

Most of the events were in the US, but gatherings took place in four other nations as well. Many thanks go to sponsors and other supporters in the US and abroad. Automakers, dealerships, solar and EV-charging equipment companies, as well as municipalities, government agencies, and universities are among them. It wouldn't be fair to name only a few, but we do want to send a shout out to our exclusive automotive sponsor, Nissan LEAF.

Media interest in National Drive Electric Week was unprecedented this year, with coverage appearing in more than 180 national and local outlets. The Weather Channel broadcast prime-time TV news coverage, and EV owners of all sorts got some ink from coast-to-coast. Attending a Woodland Hills, Calif. event, Linda Tcimpidis spoke to a reporter with the Los Angeles Daily News. "I love this car," said Leaf driver Tcimpidis, 61. Added the event's 17-year-old organizer, Eric Doroski: "It's the future of cars, being plugged in."

National Drive Electric Week was a hit on social media, too, reaching a peak of 3.4 million Twitter users. If you want to spread the good news about plug-in cars, please share this article. Also, post a comment to let us know how your local event went and how charged up you are.

Photo 1: an EV parade in Copenhagen, courtesy of John Krøll; Photo 2: Kendra Griffin with her sons in New York City, courtesy of Gina Coplon-Newfield; Photo 3: workplace charging event in Wellesley, MA, courtesy of Bob Frechette Photography and John Hancock Property Management.

Gina Coplon-Newfield directs the Sierra Club’s Future Fleet & Electric Vehicles Initiative. Zan Dubin-Scott is founder of National Drive Electric Week and the Communications Director at Plug In America.

Categories: Sierra Club National

Connecticut on its way to a coal-free future

25 September 2014 - 7:30am

Earlier this month activists in Bridgeport, Connecticut, cheered when city council members took a bold step in moving the city (and state!) beyond coal.

A bi-partisan resolution that calls for the retirement of the state's last coal plant -- the Bridgeport Harbor Station -- and a community transition process passed out of the city council's Economic and Community Development and Environmental Concerns subcomittee. Granted, this is a non-binding resolution, but activists say it's still a great step that will encourage other residents and officials to see the momentum and call for the plant's retirement as well.

"This will send a strong message that Bridgeport wants to move beyond coal, and that the city wants to do so in a way that protects the community and the workers," says Onte Johnson, a Beyond Coal organizer in Bridgeport.

The next step for the resolution is a review and possible final approval from the full city council on October 6. Between now and then, Johnson says even more work will be done by local activists in coalition with the Sierra Club, the Healthy Connecticut Alliance, and other community groups. He adds that this resolution evolved from an earlier push by a city councilman who the Sierra Club educated about the effects of the coal plant on children's health.

See a good wrap-up of the vote from earlier this month and a talk about the next steps by Johnson in this video.
 

p>Here's the text of the resolution
 
A Resolution by the Bridgeport City Council regarding Bridgeport Harbor Station
WHEREAS, the operation of coal fired power plants has an ongoing negative impact on air and water quality; and
WHEREAS, state legislation has reduced sulfur dioxide and mercury emissions statewide by 90 percent; and
WHEREAS, the Bridgeport Coal plant emits thousands of tons of sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides and particulate matter into the air in Bridgeport and these emissions are much higher for a coal plant than for other fossil fuels, including natural gas; and
WHEREAS, the process for moving the coal to the plant sends plumes of coal dust into the air impacting Long Island Sound, Bridgeport Harbor and the East End of Bridgeport; and
WHEREAS, such activity impairs the health of nearby residents and the community; and
WHEREAS, the children of Bridgeport continue to have exhibit elevated levels of respiratory issues, including asthma; and
WHEREAS, those children come from homes which are most in need and most financially vulnerable; and
WHEREAS, coal-fired power plants, like Bridgeport Harbor Station, have been losing market share and revenue in the New England electricity market to the point that many plant owners have suffered large financial losses, written off billions in value and/or have retired coal-fired power plants with little or no notice to the host community thereby creating a loss of jobs and revenue.
WHEREAS, the city of Bridgeport must proactively plan for transition and the potential retirement of Bridgeport Harbor Station in order to protect the community, public health, and the environment.
 
Now therefore, be it hereby RESOLVED BY THE BRIDGEPORT CITY COUNCIL:
1. The City calls upon PSEG to phase out the coal-fired electricity generation at Bridgeport Harbor Station at the earliest possible date;
 
2. The City shall undertake a Transition Initiative that shall include both a Reuse Study and the establishment of a Citizen's Advisory Committee in order establish a redevelopment analysis initiative to research and develop a plan for the reuse of the Bridgeport coal plant site. Reuse alternatives must bring good, green jobs to the city and improve the quality of life for all those who live and work in our community.  
 
The Transition Initiative shall Include the establishment of a Citizen’s Advisory Committee (CAC) by the Mayor's office December 31, 2014 as an integral part of the Bridgeport redevelopment analysis in order to:
 
        1.     represent the affected community, residents, and workers,
        2.     provide input to the redevelopment analysis process, and
        3.     provide public outreach as the redevelopment analysis begins and progresses.
        4.     Collaborate with the City of Bridgeport’s Economic Development Department by December 31,                 2014, to
                        o pursue funding for a professional reuse study;
                        o develop a framework for the study and issue a Request for Proposal (RFP) for qualified contractors;
                        o in the study, explore possibilities and propose sustainable alternatives/solutions for                         the site as well as the workers affected by a potential closing and explore opportunities                         including but not limited to legislation or other mechanisms to support Bridgeport                         revenues impacted by reduced operations and or retirement of Bridgeport Harbor                                 Station;

The CAC shall operate in accordance with precepts of open and accessible public process and hold at least 4 meetings a year. The CAC shall include, but not be limited to, community leaders, relevant city councilors, union representatives, and PSEG representatives, public health organizations. The CAC can elect to add members through a majority vote and with approval of the Economic Development Department. The CAC shall develop and implement a public engagement plan. The Economic Department will report to the Mayor and City Council on the progress of the redevelopment analysis at least quarterly;

3. The City calls upon the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection to act to protect public health and air and water quality in Bridgeport and Bridgeport Harbor by acting expeditiously on any and all expired or extended permits for the facility, including but not limited to the NPDES permit which was issued in 1999 and has yet to be renewed despite the Clean Water Act’s mandatory five-year permit terms and the significant impingement and entrainment mortality and thermal loading attributable to Bridgeport Harbor Station;
 
4. The City Clerk Is Authorized And Directed To Provide Copies Of This Resolution To The Mayor, The Public Utilities Control Authority, The Commissioner Of Energy And Environmental Protection and the PSEG Company.

END of resolution

Categories: Sierra Club National

Wrapping Up the UN Climate Summit

24 September 2014 - 1:36pm

 

At Tuesday’s United Nations Climate Summit, political and economic leaders came together to announce new actions and launch new initiatives to help tackle the climate crisis. Over 125 world leaders and hundreds of CEOs participated, making it the largest such meeting on climate disruption in history. The meeting had two objectives: to catalyze ambitious action to reduce climate-disrupting emissions and strengthen resilience; and to mobilize political will for an ambitious global agreement by 2015 that limits the world to a less than 2°C rise in global temperature.

But even with all the presidents, prime ministers, and corporate bigwigs in attendance, the day belonged to Kathy Jetnil-Kijinera, a 26-year-old poet from the Marshall Islands who gave civil society’s opening statement. Her astonishing poem, in the form of a video message to her infant daughter, captured the moment in a way that none of the assembled luminaries could. It was at once unflinching in describing the human stakes, uncompromising in calling out those who impede progress, and unshakable in its faith in the power of ordinary people to force their leaders to take action. Coming on the heels of Sunday’s People’s Climate March, in which 400,000 people marched through New York City demanding that our leaders pursue jobs, justice, and a prosperous economy powered by clean energy, it was a powerful call for continued civic engagement. Watch it here. It’s the most inspiring 3 minutes you’ll spend today--assuming you can watch it just once.

It would be tempting to say that the rest of the event was disappointing by comparison--the usual dronings for which the United Nations is so frequently taken to task. And in fact, much of it was. But there was also cause for optimism to be found in a range of commitments and initiatives that will help address the crisis, and will build political momentum for the more transformative actions that countries have agreed to announce in early 2015 in the runup to the Paris negotiations. Some highlights included:

  • China’s announcement that it will put forward its plan to reduce emissions in early 2015, and that it will seek to peak its emissions “as soon as possible.” Coupled with the recent news that China’s voracious appetite for coal may be waning, this raises the real possibility that China will be able to peak its emissions much earlier than previously projected.

  • Denmark’s announcement that it will be powered exclusively by renewable energy by 2035, and the commitment of other countries such as Sweden, Trinidad and Tobago, Ethiopia and Iceland to be carbon neutral by 2050.   

  • France’s commitment to contribute $1 billion to the initial capitalization of the Green Climate Fund.

  • Germany’s announcement that it will no longer use its development assistance to fund overseas coal projects, ending an important source of public subsidy for coal plants.

  • And, of course, President Obama’s call for his fellow world leaders to lead on tackling the climate crisis – as he called it, the “one issue that will define the contours of this century more dramatically than any other.”  

In addition to the country commitments, a number of promising initiatives were launched to expand financing for clean energy, improve the efficiency of cities, limit deforestation, strengthen climate resilience and improve agricultural practices. The full range of commitments and initiatives can be found here.

But even if all of these initiatives were flawlessly implemented and wildly successful, they would not save Ms. Jetnil-Kijinera’s daughter and her compatriots from the fate that threatens them:

that the

lucid, sleepy lagoon lounging against the sunrise…will devour you…

[and] you, your daughter and your granddaughter, too

will wander rootless

with only a passport to call home

That will take far more ambition from political leaders—and more vigilant, sustained public pressure to force them to act. That’s why the hundreds of thousands who marched on Sunday know these were only the first steps for a growing, strengthening movement.

--Steve Herz, Senior Attorney, International Climate Program, Sierra Club



Categories: Sierra Club National

Why The Climate Movement Cannot Ignore Trade

24 September 2014 - 11:24am
Photo courtesy of Jim Wylie

This past weekend, I joined more than 400,000 community members on the frontlines of climate disruption, environmentalists, workers, students, parents, and others to demand action on climate and to claim our collective rights to clean water, air, and land.

As someone who has spent many years in the halls of Congress and United Nations climate conventions calling for strong climate action, this diverse, public, outspoken, and in-the-streets action was a beautiful, incredible feat that signals a tipping point in the climate movement that policymakers will not be able to ignore.

But there is another tipping point that will affect the success of the climate movement: the free trade tipping point.

The health of our planet depends on our ability to make big changes in our economy.  These changes include moving beyond fossil fuels and building local green economies. However, our current model of free trade, which is written into agreements of the World Trade Organization (WTO) and free trade pacts like the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), threatens nearly every aspect of this much-needed economic transition. And yet, the U.S. is currently negotiating massive new free trade pacts, including the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) with 11 Pacific Rim nations and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) with the European Union. These deals would severely restrict the ability of governments to restructure our economy and address the climate crisis.

If these deals are beat-back, we can open up space for governments to embrace a new model of trade that is compatible with—even supports—efforts to combat the climate crisis. If these agreements move forward, they lock in a new set of rules that will further hinder our ability to solve the climate crisis.

Let’s take a deeper look at just how our trade rules are getting in the way of climate progress.

Corporate challenges to climate and clean energy policies: In order to combat the climate crisis, we must move beyond fossil fuels and embrace clean energy. However, investment rules in free trade agreements and bilateral investment treaties threaten our ability to do so. The rules actually empower corporations to sue governments, in the secrecy of private trade tribunals, over laws and policies that corporations allege reduce their profits, including protections from dirty fossil fuels. Such rules have allowed corporations including Chevron and ExxonMobil to launch nearly 600 challenges against almost 100 governments. Increasingly, corporations are using these perverse rules in free trade and investment
agreements to challenge energy and climate policies, including a moratorium on fracking in Quebec, a nuclear energy phase-out and new coal-fired power plant standards in Germany, and requirement for a pollution clean-up in Peru. Nearly 60 percent of so-called investor-state cases are decided in favor of the investor (making taxpayers foot the bill to the corporation or investor) or settle (sometimes weakening the policy, as happened in Germany). When governments “win,” they just get to keep the policy in place and are often stuck with part of a legal tab averaging $8 million per case.

Unfettered exports of fossil fuels: The vast majority of fossil fuel reserves must stay in the ground in order to avoid climate catastrophe. We have to move beyond fossil fuels here at home and stop exporting them to other countries. Current free trade rules once again stand in the way. The U.S., for example, is legally bound to automatically approve all exports of natural gas to countries with which it has a free trade pact. (If no free trade pact is in place, the Department of Energy must conduct a public analysis to determine whether exports are inconsistent with the public interest before granting a license.) And there is increased talk of a potential free-trade challenge to current U.S. restrictions on crude oil exports. In fact, the EU is pressuring the U.S. to lift its crude oil export restrictions in the context of its negotiations on TTIP, the U.S. EU trade pact. According to Oil Change International, lifting the crude oil export ban would lead to 9.9 billion barrels of additional crude between 2015 and 2050, which would release as much carbon dioxide as 42 coal-fired power plants.

Restricting local and low-carbon economies: Another part of solving the climate puzzle relates to production and consumption: We need to start producing and using products, from our food to our energy, closer to home. Sadly, the current trend is to produce goods wherever labor is cheapest and environmental protections are lowest and ship them across the world. (This trend, incidentally, was made possible—even encouraged—by free trade rules.) But think about the endless benefits, both for our climate and for the creation of new green jobs, of producing wind turbines and solar panels locally. In fact, strong domestic renewable energy industries may be one of the most powerful tools to combat climate disruption. The transition to a clean energy economy depends on local renewable energy industries that can challenge the power of the fossil fuel industry.

Governments across the world recognize the benefits of renewable energy programs that create green jobs. From Ontario, Canada to India—in addition to a number of U.S. states—governments are increasingly using “local content rules” that require enterprises to purchase or use locally-manufactured goods in renewable energy programs. But a long-standing tenant of trade law is that governments cannot “privilege” local goods or producers over foreign ones, so there have been a string of cases at the WTO challenging local content rules in renewable energy programs. Japan and the EU have used WTO challenges to strike Ontario, Canada’s local content rule out of its clean energy program; the U.S. is challenging local content rules in India’s national solar program; India has, in turn, threatened a number of U.S. state-based renewable energy programs; China is threatening local content rules in EU renewable energy programs, and the list goes on.

Unfortunately, the trade rules described above are a small sample of the myriad rules that make it difficult to bring about what the 400,000-plus people marching the streets of New York City want -- strong action on climate.

But, all of this is not reason to despair—it’s a reason to organize.

Bigger and badder threats from the fossil fuel industry have set a fire under the climate movement. New, dangerous trade deals such as the TPP and TTIP, which threaten health, environmental, and worker protections, have set ablaze another movement of trade justice advocates. If we can combine the force of these movements and continue to strengthen our work, the power of our movements will tip our governments to act on behalf of the people instead of on behalf of the polluters. The climate movement must stand up to the free trade rules and ideology that helped get us into this climate mess and that will thwart our ability to solve it and say, “enough is enough.”

TAKE ACTION. The key to stopping dangerous trade pacts is stopping "fast-track" legislation. Fast track would allow the President to rush signed trade pacts through Congress with limited debate and no amendments, making it impossible for Congress to ensure that these deals protect communities and the environment. To learn more about trade and the environment, please visit www.sierraclub.org/trade, and to get involved, please write to courtenay.lewis@sierraclub.org.

--Ilana Solomon, Sierra Club’s Responsible Trade Program Director

Categories: Sierra Club National

Developing clean energy and protecting wild places

23 September 2014 - 2:21pm

What does a plan to protect the often undervalued and misunderstood California desert and its wildlife have to do with moving the U.S. to a clean energy economy? Everything! If California gets renewable energy development done correctly here, then it can be a blueprint for clean energy development nationwide.

Today, the Obama administration and the California Governor Jerry Brown administration released the draft Desert Renewable Energy Conservation Plan, or DRECP, a habitat conservation plan designed to protect species, ecosystems, and other heritage areas in the California desert region while developing up to 20,000 megawatts of renewable energy by 2040. This plan covers 22.5 million acres of public and private land across seven counties and will provide protection for 37 keystone desert species, many of them threatened or endangered.

California's vast desert region has been the focus of rapid large-scale renewable energy development for the past several years, aided by both California' s aggressive 33 percent by 2020 renewable energy goal and federal stimulus funding. In a rush to meet targets and funding deadlines, federal and state agencies approved multiple large projects, mainly on public lands, many of them with dire consequences for important desert ecosystems and species like the desert tortoise, bighorn sheep, Mohave ground squirrel, and rare endemic plants.  

The Ivanpah project, a huge solar thermal project built on the California/Nevada border, became the emblem of harmful siting. This vast project eliminated several square miles of prime habitat for desert tortoise and became the leading edge in protests against governments' failure to protect important wild habitats while building renewable energy. Unfortunately, once up and running, operators further discovered that as blazing heat was reflected from mirrors to the top of the power towers, birds attracted to the location were being killed or maimed, their wing feathers damaged by the high temperatures.  

Rapidly increasing our clean energy capacity is essential to stopping the worst of climate disruption, and as new technology is tested, unforeseen impacts will occur. But we must prioritize protecting vulnerable wildlife and habitats while we build renewable energy. We don't have to trade one for the other.  

That's why a broad range of people who care about the California desert region have been quietly working for several years on the DRECP, which aims to permit large-scale renewable energy development and at the same time provide lasting protections for the region's unique and irreplaceable desert ecosystems, American Indian cultural resources, and other essential elements of our desert heritage. People across California have provided a wealth of input to state and federal officials on where renewable energy should be built, how to best protect air and water quality, what areas should be off-limits to energy development, and what kinds of protections are important to ensure desert wildlife and other resources endure for the next hundred years and beyond -- even in the face of climate change.

Concerned citizens have also weighed in on California's overall energy policy, pointing out that greatly ramping up energy efficiency and local clean energy, like rooftop solar, will reduce the need to build large-scale projects and thus protect valuable and ever-shrinking intact ecosystems and cultural lands.  

The DRECP has the potential to provide long-term conservation to protect vulnerable desert species like the Mojave desert tortoise, bighorn sheep, and Mohave ground squirrel. At the same time it will incentivize and streamline renewable energy development focused in low-impact zones.

Most importantly, if done well it will set the bar for how to develop renewable energy in a way that protects our natural heritage and conserves critical landscapes far into the future. The right plan can be a blueprint for the rest of the nation as we move to a sustainable clean energy future.

-- Barbara Boyle, senior campaign representative for the Sierra Club Beyond Coal campaign. Top photo by Jardine Hammond.

Categories: Sierra Club National

Developing clean energy and protecting wild places

23 September 2014 - 2:21pm

What does a plan to protect the often undervalued and misunderstood California desert and its wildlife have to do with moving the U.S. to a clean energy economy? Everything! If California gets renewable energy development done correctly here, then it can be a blueprint for clean energy development nationwide.

Today, the Obama administration and the California Governor Jerry Brown administration released the draft Desert Renewable Energy Conservation Plan, or DRECP, a habitat conservation plan designed to protect species, ecosystems, and other heritage areas in the California desert region while developing up to 20,000 megawatts of renewable energy by 2040. This plan covers 22.5 million acres of public and private land across seven counties and will provide protection for 37 keystone desert species, many of them threatened or endangered.

California's vast desert region has been the focus of rapid large-scale renewable energy development for the past several years, aided by both California' s aggressive 33 percent by 2020 renewable energy goal and federal stimulus funding. In a rush to meet targets and funding deadlines, federal and state agencies approved multiple large projects, mainly on public lands, many of them with dire consequences for important desert ecosystems and species like the desert tortoise, bighorn sheep, Mohave ground squirrel, and rare endemic plants.  

The Ivanpah project, a huge solar thermal project built on the California/Nevada border, became the emblem of harmful siting. This vast project eliminated several square miles of prime habitat for desert tortoise and became the leading edge in protests against governments' failure to protect important wild habitats while building renewable energy. Unfortunately, once up and running, operators further discovered that as blazing heat was reflected from mirrors to the top of the power towers, birds attracted to the location were being killed or maimed, their wing feathers damaged by the high temperatures.  

Rapidly increasing our clean energy capacity is essential to stopping the worst of climate disruption, and as new technology is tested, unforeseen impacts will occur. But we must prioritize protecting vulnerable wildlife and habitats while we build renewable energy. We don't have to trade one for the other.  

That's why a broad range of people who care about the California desert region have been quietly working for several years on the DRECP, which aims to permit large-scale renewable energy development and at the same time provide lasting protections for the region's unique and irreplaceable desert ecosystems, American Indian cultural resources, and other essential elements of our desert heritage. People across California have provided a wealth of input to state and federal officials on where renewable energy should be built, how to best protect air and water quality, what areas should be off-limits to energy development, and what kinds of protections are important to ensure desert wildlife and other resources endure for the next hundred years and beyond -- even in the face of climate change.

Concerned citizens have also weighed in on California's overall energy policy, pointing out that greatly ramping up energy efficiency and local clean energy, like rooftop solar, will reduce the need to build large-scale projects and thus protect valuable and ever-shrinking intact ecosystems and cultural lands.  

The DRECP has the potential to provide long-term conservation to protect vulnerable desert species like the Mojave desert tortoise, bighorn sheep, and Mohave ground squirrel. At the same time it will incentivize and streamline renewable energy development focused in low-impact zones.

Most importantly, if done well it will set the bar for how to develop renewable energy in a way that protects our natural heritage and conserves critical landscapes far into the future. The right plan can be a blueprint for the rest of the nation as we move to a sustainable clean energy future.

-- Barbara Boyle, senior campaign representative for the Sierra Club Beyond Coal campaign. Top photo by Jardine Hammond.

Categories: Sierra Club National

People's Climate March draws more than 400,000

23 September 2014 - 9:23am

"Coursing through Midtown, from Columbus Circle to Times Square and the Far West Side, the People's Climate March was a spectacle even for a city known for doing things big." So said the New York Times in its front-page coverage of the People's Climate March in Manhattan.

More than 400,000 citizen activists, including more than 25,000 Sierra Club members, joined in what is being called the largest climate march in history. It was also the largest-ever gathering of Sierra Club members and supporters in the history of the organization. More than 100 buses from 35 states were organized and funded by the Club, which also ran Climate Caravan trains from Washington, D.C., the Midwest, and as far away as California.

Indigenous groups, labor, youth, scientists, food justice and clean water activists, religious groups, and civil rights organizations joined environmental groups in calling on world leaders attending the UN Climate Summit in New York this Tuesday to start taking real action to halt climate disruption.

Among those marching were United Nations secretary general Ban Ki-moon, former vice president Al Gore, and New York mayor Bill de Blasio, who just announced that the city was committing to an 80 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.

The march's official starting point was on 59th Street at Columbus Circle, on the southwest corner of Central Park. But from the early morning hours, the crowd stretched for miles up Central Park West to 86th St. and beyond, swelling in numbers and energy with each passing hour.

Banners were raised, speakers, drummers, and musicians fired up the crowd, and marchers swapped stories as helicopters beat the air overhead.

At the Sierra Club stage at 75th St., Beyond Coal director Mary Anne Hitt, Sierra Club president David Scott, national program director Sarah Hodgdon, former Club president Allison Chin, and Congressman Keith Ellison of Minnesota were among the speakers.


Sierra Student Coalition director Karissa Gerhke and SSC ex-com leader BoRa Kim also fired up the crowd with call-and-response cheers like, "What do we want?" "Clean energy!" "When do we want it?" "Now!"

"This was an opportunity to show the world that the climate movement can and should involve us all," said Sierra Club executive director Michael Brune. "I'm proud of the fact that the Sierra Club was able to harness the energy and commitment of so many people to join together with so many different organizations who have the same goal –- to take action on climate disruption and advance the new, clean, just, clean energy prosperity."

Years from now, if world leaders listen to the alarm being sounded by citizens to take meaningful action to curb climate disruption, future generations may look back at the People's Climate March as the watershed moment when the tide turned in the fight against climate disruption.

Check out this Sierra Club photo gallery of People's Climate March photos.

Categories: Sierra Club National

People's Climate March draws more than 400,000

23 September 2014 - 9:23am

"Coursing through Midtown, from Columbus Circle to Times Square and the Far West Side, the People's Climate March was a spectacle even for a city known for doing things big." So said the New York Times in its front-page coverage of the People's Climate March in Manhattan.

More than 400,000 citizen activists, including more than 25,000 Sierra Club members, joined in what is being called the largest climate march in history. It was also the largest-ever gathering of Sierra Club members and supporters in the history of the organization. More than 100 buses from 35 states were organized and funded by the Club, which also ran Climate Caravan trains from Washington, D.C., the Midwest, and as far away as California.

Indigenous groups, labor, youth, scientists, food justice and clean water activists, religious groups, and civil rights organizations joined environmental groups in calling on world leaders attending the UN Climate Summit in New York this Tuesday to start taking real action to halt climate disruption.

Among those marching were United Nations secretary general Ban Ki-moon, former vice president Al Gore, and New York mayor Bill de Blasio, who just announced that the city was committing to and 80 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.

The march's official starting point was on 59th Street at Columbus Circle, on the southwest corner of Central Park. But from the early morning hours, the crowd stretched for miles up Central Park West to 86th St. and beyond, swelling in numbers and energy with each passing hour.

Banners were raised, speakers, drummers, and musicians fired up the crowd, and marchers swapped stories as helicopters beat the air overhead.

At the Sierra Club stage at 75th St., Beyond Coal director Mary Anne Hitt, national program director Sarah Hodgdon, former Club president Allison Chin, and Congressman Keith Ellison of Minnesota were among the speakers, and members of the Sierra Student Coalition fired up the crowd with call-and-response cheers like, "What do we want?" "Clean energy!" "When do we want it?" "Now!"

"This was an opportunity to show the world that the climate movement can and should involve us all," said Sierra Club executive director Michael Brune. "I’m proud of the fact that the Sierra Club was able to harness the energy and commitment of so many people to join together with so many different organizations who have the same goal –- to take action on climate disruption and advance the new, clean, just, clean energy prosperity."

Years from now, if world leaders listen to the alarm being sounded by citizens to take meaningful action to curb climate disruption, future generations may look back at the People's Climate March as the watershed moment when the tide turned in the fight against climate disruption.

Check out this Sierra Club photo gallery of People's Climate March photos.

Categories: Sierra Club National

Will Germany Join the International Community and Restrict Overseas Coal Finance?

19 September 2014 - 1:00pm

"In New York, I will announce that the government will change its position on the financing of coal-fired power plants abroad." -- German Federal Environment Minister Barbara Hendriks September 17th, 2014.

This exciting statement could substantially change what German overseas investments, from important institutions like KfW, support. That’s particularly important for those concerned about the impacts the global coal industry has on our health and environment because Germany is currently the third largest source of international public financing for coal.

In fact, since 2006, Germany has invested 3.3 billion euros in new coal infrastructure. Any change to their support for this dirty and deadly industry will have real financial impact as well as strike a symbolic blow to the industry.

But if Germany is so coal friendly, why is it contemplating this significant move away from international coal financing? Because the international community has moved swiftly and quickly to end coal financing, and Germany doesn’t want to be an outlier.

Since last summer, the World Bank, European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, European Investment Bank and the U.S. Export-Import Bank have all implemented narrow restrictions on coal support. A number of  countries -- including the U.S., U.K., Netherlands, and Nordic countries -- have done so as well.

When it comes to public divestment from coal, the dominoes keep falling.

But as exciting as Germany’s announcement is, the devil is in the details. Many observers are worried that there will be attempts to render Environment Minister Hendrik’s announcement toothless by creating loopholes that the coal industry could drive a truck through. Those concerns stem from KfWs fierce defence of financing for new coal plants in the past, claiming that it is compatible with a 2°C climate target. Coupled with a regressive push by parts of the government like the Ministry of Economy which is fighting tooth and nail to make sure that the limitations don’t apply to the funds they control, there is indeed cause for concern.

For instance, right now the announcement only covers the environment and development ministry’s budgets. That leaves over half of all support coming from key trade promotion agencies -- like Euler Hermes and IPEX -- uncovered. The details for restricting support for overseas coal financing through those agencies are still being negotiated and therefore vulnerable to these regressive efforts.

One key concern is that these agencies will seek to continue providing support for ‘highly efficient coal-fired power plants’. This would constitute a gaping loophole in the announcement , and would be well out of line with international best practice.

In order to join the international community and make this announcement something civil society can embrace, KfW must follow the steps of other major institutions -- like the European Investment Bank and the U.S. Export-Import Bank -- and announce an Emissions Performance Standard (EPS) that restricts the carbon intensity of power plant investments.

This approach is far superior to KfW’s current plan because it firmly aligns with a growing call to end support and investment for new unabated coal-fired power plants. An EPS achieves this by setting the investment standard between 500 - 550 grams of carbon dioxide per kilowatt hour, which only allows for coal-fired power plants that effectively capture and store their carbon emissions.

The German government will need to sort out these details after its announcement at the UN Climate Summit. If their proposal has weak criteria and large loopholes, it will be impossible for civil society to embrace what can and should be a climate victory for the German government.

If Environment Minister Hendriks’ does announce a  stringent, comprehensive  limitation on overseas coal financing, in line with the international community, it would be exactly the kind of  action that 100,000 environmental, labor, faith, and social justice activists will be marching for this Sunday in New York City at the People’s Climate March, and its affiliated events worldwide.

But the question looms - with the world now watching, will Germany join the international community or buck international trends?

--Justin Guay, Associate Director, Sierra Club International Climate Program

Categories: Sierra Club National

Will Germany Join the International Community and Restrict Overseas Coal Finance?

19 September 2014 - 1:00pm

"In New York, I will announce that the government will change its position on the financing of coal-fired power plants abroad." -- German Federal Environment Minister Barbara Hendriks September 17th, 2014.

This exciting statement could substantially change what German overseas investments, from important institutions like KfW, support. That’s particularly important for those concerned about the impacts the global coal industry has on our health and environment because Germany is currently the third largest source of international public financing for coal.

In fact, since 2006, Germany has invested 3.3 billion euros in new coal infrastructure. Any change to their support for this dirty and deadly industry will have real financial impact as well as strike a symbolic blow to the industry.

But if Germany is so coal friendly, why is it contemplating this significant move away from international coal financing? Because the international community has moved swiftly and quickly to end coal financing, and Germany doesn’t want to be an outlier.

Since last summer, the World Bank, European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, European Investment Bank and the U.S. Export-Import Bank have all implemented narrow restrictions on coal support. A number of  countries -- including the U.S., U.K., Netherlands, and Nordic countries -- have done so as well.

When it comes to public divestment from coal, the dominoes keep falling.

But as exciting as Germany’s announcement is, the devil is in the details. Many observers are worried that there will be attempts to render Environment Minister Hendrik’s announcement toothless by creating loopholes that the coal industry could drive a truck through. Those concerns stem from KfWs fierce defence of financing for new coal plants in the past, claiming that it is compatible with a 2°C climate target. Coupled with a regressive push by parts of the government like the Ministry of Economy which is fighting tooth and nail to make sure that the limitations don’t apply to the funds they control, there is indeed cause for concern.

For instance, right now the announcement only covers the environment and development ministry’s budgets. That leaves over half of all support coming from key trade promotion agencies -- like Euler Hermes and IPEX -- uncovered. The details for restricting support for overseas coal financing through those agencies are still being negotiated and therefore vulnerable to these regressive efforts.

One key concern is that these agencies will seek to continue providing support for ‘highly efficient coal-fired power plants’. This would constitute a gaping loophole in the announcement , and would be well out of line with international best practice.

In order to join the international community and make this announcement something civil society can embrace, KfW must follow the steps of other major institutions -- like the European Investment Bank and the U.S. Export-Import Bank -- and announce an Emissions Performance Standard (EPS) that restricts the carbon intensity of power plant investments.

This approach is far superior to KfW’s current plan because it firmly aligns with a growing call to end support and investment for new unabated coal-fired power plants. An EPS achieves this by setting the investment standard between 500 - 550 grams of carbon dioxide per kilowatt hour, which only allows for coal-fired power plants that effectively capture and store their carbon emissions.

The German government will need to sort out these details after its announcement at the UN Climate Summit. If their proposal has weak criteria and large loopholes, it will be impossible for civil society to embrace what can and should be a climate victory for the German government.

If Environment Minister Hendriks’ does announce a  stringent, comprehensive  limitation on overseas coal financing, in line with the international community, it would be exactly the kind of  action that 100,000 environmental, labor, faith, and social justice activists will be marching for this Sunday in New York City at the People’s Climate March, and its affiliated events worldwide.

But the question looms - with the world now watching, will Germany join the international community or buck international trends?

--Justin Guay, Associate Director, Sierra Club International Climate Program

Categories: Sierra Club National

Massachusetts Promotes Electric Vehicles in Three-City Tour

19 September 2014 - 11:54am

We know that some of the most important ways to get more electric vehicles (EVs) on the road are 1) provide consumers with incentives that will make EVs less expensive and more convenient; 2) get dealerships to actually make an effort to sell these cars; 3) get cities to promote EVs; and 4) get "butts in seats" by having people test drive the cars and experience them first-hand.

On Thursday, I joined Massachusetts energy and environmental agency leaders on a three-city tour promoting all of these topics. The events were held as part of the fourth annual National Drive Electric Week being celebrated in more than 145 cities nationwide.

Stop one was in Somerville, Mass., where Mayor Joseph Curtatone celebrated his city's recent commitment to install public EV charging stations and bring 16 EVs to his municipal fleet. "Somerville is fortunate to have partners at the state...who are helping us strive for our ambitious goal of becoming a net zero carbon emissions city by 2050," said the mayor, who looked like he had fun test driving a Nissan Leaf and a Smart for Two at the event.

Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection Commissioner David Cash congratulated Somerville and said that the Somerville project is being supported by MassEVIP providing $2.5 million in incentives to Massachusetts public and private entities, including municipalities, state fleets, and universities acquiring EVs and charging stations.

In June, Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick announced a new EV rebate program that qualifies plug-in hybrid consumers -- both those who purchase and those who lease -- for a $1,500 check. Full battery electric consumers qualify for $2,500. This is after the federal tax credit, which is worth up to $7,500. After three months, hundreds of Massachusetts consumers have applied for the rebate.

Stop two on our tour was the Nissan dealership in Marlborough, Mass., which has sold more plug-in vehicles than just about any other dealership in the commonwealth. The dealership's Jim McCall told me he had definitely noticed a spike in interest in EVs among customers since the rebate was put in place, and that they are coming in already aware of many EV benefits. "Over the lifetime of an electric vehicle, owners can reduce fuel consumption by more than 4,000 gallons of gasoline, reduce fuel costs by thousands of dollars, and cut their reliance on foreign oil," said Massachusetts Undersecretary for Environment Martin Suuberg at the dealership event.

We hear over and over that dealerships aren't making an effort to sell plug-in cars -- that the new technology is something they don't want to spend time explaining to customers. Clearly this dealership has taken the time to train its staff and educate its customers about the benefits of plug-in cars. And they're smart. Customer satisfaction reviews for many models of plug-in cars are off the charts, and dealership and brand loyalty will surely go along with happy drivers.

The last stop on our three-city tour was a large office park in Wellesley, Mass. "We are pleased to work with the state on this important program and install 16 EV Charging Stations at Wellesley Office Park," said Paul Crowley, Vice President and Managing Director, U.S. Asset Management, John Hancock Financial Services, which manages the property and received state funding to install charging stations.

Two women who drive their EVs to work at the office park, one with a Chevy Volt and one with a Smart for Two, shared with me how excited they are that they'll now get to charge their vehicles at work. Many of those attending the event on their lunch break ogled the cars on display --especially the Tesla Model S Steve Sanders had driven in -- and considered how nice it would be to fuel their cars for free. Steve drew a crowd with his car and his enthusiastic stories about how much he loves to drive it and fuel it on sunshine -- with the solar panels at his home. Just this month, Massachusetts' highest court issued a ruling that Tesla is able to sell its electric cars directly to customers without being part of the traditional dealership model.

In conjunction with the three-city EV tour, which was organized largely by the Massachusetts Department of Energy Resources and the Massachusetts Clean Cities Coalition, Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick said, "We are committed to deploying innovative strategies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, bolster our energy independence and grow our clean energy economy. Our commitment, along with seven other governors, to getting [3.3 million] zero-emission vehicles in the eight states is a challenge I look forward to meeting, as it will have a strong impact on reducing harmful pollutants and promoting a more sustainable environment for future generations."

Massachusetts and all the other states have a long way to go to reaching the zero emission vehicle goals. In fact, Massachusetts alone will need to sell an average of nearly 27,000 plug-in cars per year between 2015 and 2025 to meet the goal. In the last year, it sold just over 2,000. But having doubled the number of plug-in car sales in the past year alone, Massachusetts is starting to charge ahead. And with continued and bolstered consumer incentives, investment in public charging infrastructure, education of the public, and partnership with business -- including car dealerships and large employers -- Massachusetts will go a long way.

Photo 1: example of MA EV license plate; Photo 2 from left to right: Oliver Sellers-Garcia, Director of Somerville Office of Sustainability & Environment, MA DEP Commissioner David Cash, Somerville Mayor Joseph Curtatone, Sierra Club’s Gina Coplon-Newfield, and MA Undersecretary for Environment Martin Suuberg.  Photo 3: Tesla about to charge up at Wellesley Office Park. First two photos courtesy of MA Dept. of Environmental Protection. Last photo courtesy of John Hancock Property Management.

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

Categories: Sierra Club National

Massachusetts Promotes Electric Vehicles in Three-City Tour

19 September 2014 - 11:54am

We know that some of the most important ways to get more electric vehicles (EVs) on the road are 1) provide consumers with incentives that will make EVs less expensive and more convenient; 2) get dealerships to actually make an effort to sell these cars; 3) get cities to promote EVs; and 4) get "butts in seats" by having people test drive the cars and experience them first-hand.

On Thursday, I joined Massachusetts energy and environmental agency leaders on a three-city tour promoting all of these topics. The events were held as part of the fourth annual National Drive Electric Week being celebrated in more than 145 cities nationwide.

Stop one was in Somerville, Mass., where Mayor Joseph Curtatone celebrated his city's recent commitment to install public EV charging stations and bring 16 EVs to his municipal fleet. "Somerville is fortunate to have partners at the state...who are helping us strive for our ambitious goal of becoming a net zero carbon emissions city by 2050," said the mayor, who looked like he had fun test driving a Nissan Leaf and a Smart for Two at the event.

Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection Commissioner David Cash congratulated Somerville and said that the Somerville project is being supported by MassEVIP providing $2.5 million in incentives to Massachusetts public and private entities, including municipalities, state fleets, and universities acquiring EVs and charging stations.

In June, Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick announced a new EV rebate program that qualifies plug-in hybrid consumers -- both those who purchase and those who lease -- for a $1,500 check. Full battery electric consumers qualify for $2,500. This is after the federal tax credit, which is worth up to $7,500. After three months, hundreds of Massachusetts consumers have applied for the rebate.

Stop two on our tour was the Nissan dealership in Marlborough, Mass., which has sold more plug-in vehicles than just about any other dealership in the commonwealth. The dealership's Jim McCall told me he had definitely noticed a spike in interest in EVs among customers since the rebate was put in place, and that they are coming in already aware of many EV benefits. "Over the lifetime of an electric vehicle, owners can reduce fuel consumption by more than 4,000 gallons of gasoline, reduce fuel costs by thousands of dollars, and cut their reliance on foreign oil," said Massachusetts Undersecretary for Environment Martin Suuberg at the dealership event.

We hear over and over that dealerships aren't making an effort to sell plug-in cars -- that the new technology is something they don't want to spend time explaining to customers. Clearly this dealership has taken the time to train its staff and educate its customers about the benefits of plug-in cars. And they're smart. Customer satisfaction reviews for many models of plug-in cars are off the charts, and dealership and brand loyalty will surely go along with happy drivers.

The last stop on our three-city tour was a large office park in Wellesley, Mass. "We are pleased to work with the state on this important program and install 16 EV Charging Stations at Wellesley Office Park," said Paul Crowley, Vice President and Managing Director, U.S. Asset Management, John Hancock Financial Services, which manages the property and received state funding to install charging stations.

Two women who drive their EVs to work at the office park, one with a Chevy Volt and one with a Smart for Two, shared with me how excited they are that they'll now get to charge their vehicles at work. Many of those attending the event on their lunch break ogled the cars on display --especially the Tesla Model S Steve Sanders had driven in -- and considered how nice it would be to fuel their cars for free. Steve drew a crowd with his car and his enthusiastic stories about how much he loves to drive it and fuel it on sunshine -- with the solar panels at his home. Just this month, Massachusetts' highest court issued a ruling that Tesla is able to sell its electric cars directly to customers without being part of the traditional dealership model.

In conjunction with the three-city EV tour, which was organized largely by the Massachusetts Department of Energy Resources and the Massachusetts Clean Cities Coalition, Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick said, "We are committed to deploying innovative strategies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, bolster our energy independence and grow our clean energy economy. Our commitment, along with seven other governors, to getting [3.3 million] zero-emission vehicles in the eight states is a challenge I look forward to meeting, as it will have a strong impact on reducing harmful pollutants and promoting a more sustainable environment for future generations."

Massachusetts and all the other states have a long way to go to reaching the zero emission vehicle goals. In fact, Massachusetts alone will need to sell an average of nearly 27,000 plug-in cars per year between 2015 and 2025 to meet the goal. In the last year, it sold just over 2,000. But having doubled the number of plug-in car sales in the past year alone, Massachusetts is starting to charge ahead. And with continued and bolstered consumer incentives, investment in public charging infrastructure, education of the public, and partnership with business -- including car dealerships and large employers -- Massachusetts will go a long way.

Photo 1: example of MA EV license plate; Photo 2 from left to right: Oliver Sellers-Garcia, Director of Somerville Office of Sustainability & Environment, MA DEP Commissioner David Cash, Somerville Mayor Joseph Curtatone, Sierra Club’s Gina Coplon-Newfield, and MA Undersecretary for Environment Martin Suuberg.  Photo 3: Tesla about to charge up at Wellesley Office Park. First two photos courtesy of MA Dept. of Environmental Protection. Last photo courtesy of John Hancock Property Management.

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

Categories: Sierra Club National

Why We Can't Just Shut Up and Eat Our Cookies?

18 September 2014 - 4:55pm

Gas drilling rig near Clearville, Pennsylvania. Photo by Mark Schmerling.

By Ivy Main, Sierra Club Virginia Chapter Chair

I grew up with brothers, so I knew from an early age that the easiest way to make friends with guys was to feed them chocolate chip cookies. I took this strategy with me to college, commandeering the tiny kitchen in our coed dorm. The aroma wafting down the hallways reliably drew a crowd.

One fan was so enthusiastic that he wanted to learn to make cookies himself. So the next time, he showed up at the start of the process. He watched me combine sugar and butter, eggs and white flour.

Instead of being enthusiastic, he was appalled. It had never occurred to him that anything as terrific as a cookie could be made of stuff so unhealthy. It's not that he thought they were created from sunshine and elf magic; he just hadn't thought about it at all. He left before the cookies even came out of the oven.

I felt so bad about it, I ate the whole batch.

But I can empathize with that guy when I'm told that as an environmentalist, I should love natural gas. Natural gas is the chocolate chip cookie of fossil fuels. At the point of consumption, everybody loves it. It's cheap, there's gobs of it, and it burns cleaner than coal, with only half the carbon dioxide emissions. Disillusionment sets in only when you look at the recipe. ("First, frack one well...") I realize we have only ourselves to blame. For years, environmentalists talked about gas as a "bridge fuel" that could carry us from a fossil fuel past to a future powered by renewable energy. No one would tarry on that bridge, we figured, because gas was expensive. We'd hurry along to the promised land of wind and solar.

But that was before hydrofracking and horizontal drilling hit the scene. Fracking opened up vast swaths of once-quiet forest and farmland to the constant grinding of truck traffic heading to drilling rigs that operate all day and night, poisoning the air with diesel fumes and sometimes spilling toxic drilling fluids onto fields and into streams. It was before studies documented well failures that let toxic chemicals and methane seep back up along the well borings and into aquifers, contaminating drinking water.

And it was before scientists sounded the alarm on "fugitive" methane emissions from wellheads: gas that escapes into the air unintentionally, sometimes at levels so high as to cancel out the climate advantage of burning natural gas instead of coal.

But just as environmentalists were thinking, "Whoa, natural gas turns out to be a bridge to nowhere," electric utilities were embracing fracked gas in a big way. Fracking has made gas so cheap that giving up coal is no sacrifice. It's so cheap they see no reason to get off the bridge and embrace renewable energy. At one conference I attended, a gas company executive gushed, "Natural gas is no longer a bridge fuel. It’s a destination fuel!"

All I could think was, "In that case, the destination must be Cleveland." Which was surely unfair to Cleveland.

Just to be clear: Environmentalists are not opposed to gas because we are spoil-sports, or purists, or hold stock in solar companies. The problem with natural gas is that it isn't made by Keebler elves, but extracted through a nasty process that is harming the planet in ways both local and global.

If the best anyone can say about natural gas is that it's not as bad as coal, then lingering on the bridge makes no sense. And anything we do that keeps us here -- opening up more lands to fracking, or building new pipelines to transport fracked gas -- is both foolish and dangerous. Foolish, because embracing cheap gas distracts us from the serious business of building wind and solar and using energy more efficiently; and dangerous, because the planet will not stop warming while we play shell games with carbon.

Categories: Sierra Club National

Why We Can't Just Shut Up and Eat Our Cookies?

18 September 2014 - 4:55pm

Gas drilling rig near Clearville, Pennsylvania. Photo by Mark Schmerling.

By Ivy Main, Sierra Club Virginia Chapter Chair

I grew up with brothers, so I knew from an early age that the easiest way to make friends with guys was to feed them chocolate chip cookies. I took this strategy with me to college, commandeering the tiny kitchen in our coed dorm. The aroma wafting down the hallways reliably drew a crowd.

One fan was so enthusiastic that he wanted to learn to make cookies himself. So the next time, he showed up at the start of the process. He watched me combine sugar and butter, eggs and white flour.

Instead of being enthusiastic, he was appalled. It had never occurred to him that anything as terrific as a cookie could be made of stuff so unhealthy. It's not that he thought they were created from sunshine and elf magic; he just hadn't thought about it at all. He left before the cookies even came out of the oven.

I felt so bad about it, I ate the whole batch.

But I can empathize with that guy when I'm told that as an environmentalist, I should love natural gas. Natural gas is the chocolate chip cookie of fossil fuels. At the point of consumption, everybody loves it. It's cheap, there's gobs of it, and it burns cleaner than coal, with only half the carbon dioxide emissions. Disillusionment sets in only when you look at the recipe. ("First, frack one well...") I realize we have only ourselves to blame. For years, environmentalists talked about gas as a "bridge fuel" that could carry us from a fossil fuel past to a future powered by renewable energy. No one would tarry on that bridge, we figured, because gas was expensive. We'd hurry along to the promised land of wind and solar.

But that was before hydrofracking and horizontal drilling hit the scene. Fracking opened up vast swaths of once-quiet forest and farmland to the constant grinding of truck traffic heading to drilling rigs that operate all day and night, poisoning the air with diesel fumes and sometimes spilling toxic drilling fluids onto fields and into streams. It was before studies documented well failures that let toxic chemicals and methane seep back up along the well borings and into aquifers, contaminating drinking water.

And it was before scientists sounded the alarm on "fugitive" methane emissions from wellheads: gas that escapes into the air unintentionally, sometimes at levels so high as to cancel out the climate advantage of burning natural gas instead of coal.

But just as environmentalists were thinking, "Whoa, natural gas turns out to be a bridge to nowhere," electric utilities were embracing fracked gas in a big way. Fracking has made gas so cheap that giving up coal is no sacrifice. It's so cheap they see no reason to get off the bridge and embrace renewable energy. At one conference I attended, a gas company executive gushed, "Natural gas is no longer a bridge fuel. It’s a destination fuel!"

All I could think was, "In that case, the destination must be Cleveland." Which was surely unfair to Cleveland.

Just to be clear: Environmentalists are not opposed to gas because we are spoil-sports, or purists, or hold stock in solar companies. The problem with natural gas is that it isn't made by Keebler elves, but extracted through a nasty process that is harming the planet in ways both local and global.

If the best anyone can say about natural gas is that it's not as bad as coal, then lingering on the bridge makes no sense. And anything we do that keeps us here -- opening up more lands to fracking, or building new pipelines to transport fracked gas -- is both foolish and dangerous. Foolish, because embracing cheap gas distracts us from the serious business of building wind and solar and using energy more efficiently; and dangerous, because the planet will not stop warming while we play shell games with carbon.

Categories: Sierra Club National

World Looks To OECD As High Level Commission Calls For Phasing Out Coal

16 September 2014 - 4:25pm

Today, the high powered Global Commission on the Climate and Economy released its flagship report on global coal use and the economy: The New Climate Economy.

The report pulls no punches when it comes to coal, including a call for a global coal phaseout involving an immediate end to investments in new unabated coal-fired power plants globally and the retirement of existing unabated coal-fired power plants in high income countries.

Perhaps most importantly, the report calls for governments to shift the “burden of proof” away from assuming that coal is the only solution to the world’s growing energy demands and instead takes into consideration the devastating social, environmental, and economic costs of coal.

In short, the Commission is demanding public policymakers move beyond coal.

To be clear, this is not simply the policy prescriptions of environmentalists. The Commission is chaired by the former president of Mexico, Felipe Calderón, and is filled with former heads of state and current and former executives from Bank of America, Deutsche Bank, the World Bank, the Asian Development Bank, and other major financial institutions.

Many multilateral development banks (MDBs) and a few governments have already taken steps to implement similar policies. President Obama called for an end to overseas financing of new coal-fired power plants in his Climate Action Plan, and since then the U.K., the Nordic countries, and the Netherlands have joined the pledge.  Meanwhile, the World Bank, the European Investment Bank, and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development have also committed to end financing for new coal plants.

In addition to calling on high income countries to stop building new, unabated coal-fired power plants immediately and accelerate the retirement of their existing plants, the report also calls on middle income countries to limit new coal-fired power plants and begin retiring their existing fleet by 2025. Ultimately, the Commission is seeking a global phase-out of unabated fossil fuel power generation by 2050.

And it’s pretty clear why: in addition to driving dangerous climate disruption, these coal plants are having enormous effects on human health. In fact, recent reports estimate up to 100,000 people in India and 250,000 people in China die each year as a result of coal pollution.

With this cost to human life in mind, along with instability in the international coal markets and the looming threat of climate disaster, the Commission has come out with a series of recommendations to move away from coal while simultaneously supporting strong economic growth and promoting energy access for developing countries.

The first dominoes have fallen. Now it is time for the rest of the world’s richest countries to commit to end financing for coal and instead use their investments to support clean energy. All eyes are on the next big opportunity to put the Commission’s call to action into practice: countries must agree to narrowly limit their support of export credits to overseas coal projects through the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).

Some of the world’s biggest heavy hitters are calling for action. It’s time for the OECD to deliver.

-- Justin Guay, Associate Director, Sierra Club International Climate Program, and Nicole Ghio, Sierra Club International Climate Program

Categories: Sierra Club National

World Looks To OECD As High Level Commission Calls For Phasing Out Coal

16 September 2014 - 4:25pm

Today, the high powered Global Commission on the Climate and Economy released its flagship report on global coal use and the economy: The New Climate Economy.

The report pulls no punches when it comes to coal, including a call for a global coal phaseout involving an immediate end to investments in new unabated coal-fired power plants globally and the retirement of existing unabated coal-fired power plants in high income countries.

Perhaps most importantly, the report calls for governments to shift the “burden of proof” away from assuming that coal is the only solution to the world’s growing energy demands and instead takes into consideration the devastating social, environmental, and economic costs of coal.

In short, the Commission is demanding public policymakers move beyond coal.

To be clear, this is not simply the policy prescriptions of environmentalists. The Commission is chaired by the former president of Mexico, Felipe Calderón, and is filled with former heads of state and current and former executives from Bank of America, Deutsche Bank, the World Bank, the Asian Development Bank, and other major financial institutions.

Many multilateral development banks (MDBs) and a few governments have already taken steps to implement similar policies. President Obama called for an end to overseas financing of new coal-fired power plants in his Climate Action Plan, and since then the U.K., the Nordic countries, and the Netherlands have joined the pledge.  Meanwhile, the World Bank, the European Investment Bank, and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development have also committed to end financing for new coal plants.

In addition to calling on high income countries to stop building new, unabated coal-fired power plants immediately and accelerate the retirement of their existing plants, the report also calls on middle income countries to limit new coal-fired power plants and begin retiring their existing fleet by 2025. Ultimately, the Commission is seeking a global phase-out of unabated fossil fuel power generation by 2050.

And it’s pretty clear why: in addition to driving dangerous climate disruption, these coal plants are having enormous effects on human health. In fact, recent reports estimate up to 100,000 people in India and 250,000 people in China die each year as a result of coal pollution.

With this cost to human life in mind, along with instability in the international coal markets and the looming threat of climate disaster, the Commission has come out with a series of recommendations to move away from coal while simultaneously supporting strong economic growth and promoting energy access for developing countries.

The first dominoes have fallen. Now it is time for the rest of the world’s richest countries to commit to end financing for coal and instead use their investments to support clean energy. All eyes are on the next big opportunity to put the Commission’s call to action into practice: countries must agree to narrowly limit their support of export credits to overseas coal projects through the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).

Some of the world’s biggest heavy hitters are calling for action. It’s time for the OECD to deliver.

-- Justin Guay, Associate Director, Sierra Club International Climate Program, and Nicole Ghio, Sierra Club International Climate Program

Categories: Sierra Club National

400 more reasons to march on Sept. 21

12 September 2014 - 9:58am

The facts are in: global carbon emissions are putting us over the edge.

The World Meteorological Organization’s newly-released annual Greenhouse Gas Bulletin has confirmed that greenhouse gasses (GHGs)   have reached their highest level ever -- and humans are to blame.

This year’s report shows that in 2013, Carbon Dioxide (CO2) -- one of the most potent GHGs -- reached 396 parts per million (ppm). To put that into perspective, that’s almost 3 ppm higher than 2012 and represents the largest increase from one year to the next that we’ve ever seen. That was, of course, until April of this year. Then, CO2 reached a record 400 ppm, a 4 ppm jump in the first four months of 2014 alone.

If this trend continues, we can undoubtedly expect to break this record anew every year that passes.

But this isn’t an Olympic Track and Field event. Breaking these records comes with dangerous new threats to the health of our families and our communities -- not an endorsement deal.

Experts warn that we must limit our CO2 emissions at around 400 ppm if we have any hope of keeping our global temperature rise below 3.4 degrees Fahrenheit -- and protect the planet from all but certain climate catastrophe. That catastrophe would mean cementing extreme storms, extreme temperatures, and extreme droughts as the new norm, destabilizing migration and immigration patterns, imperiling wildlife and communities, and sending sea levels rising...among numerous other threats.

Princeton University geosciences professor Michael Oppenheimer told the Washington Post that reaching 400 ppm is “ the level that climate scientists have identified as the beginning of the danger zone. It means we’re probably getting to the point where we’re looking at the ‘safe zone’ in the rearview mirror, even as we’re stepping on the gas.”

With the climate facts continuing to pour in, our world leaders must be doing everything they can to protect our planet for future generations, right?

Unfortunately -- to what should be the dismay of every person, plant, and animal on the planet -- this isn’t the case. In fact, it’s not even close.

PricewaterhouseCoopers (PWC) just released their annual Low Carbon Index which shows that, globally, we’ve been consistently missing our carbon emissions reduction target each year. By how much? While we should be reducing by at least 6.2 percent each year, we’ve only been seeing a 0.9 percent decrease on average.

In fact, the Index concludes that if we continue emitting at the same rate we are today, we’re on track to see a 7.2 degree Fahrenheit temperature increase by 2100. If we do reach those temperatures, we’ll be well past the point of no return.

This could spell disaster for not only our climate, but our shorelines, our wildlife -- including hundreds of bird species -- and our future.

Luckily, there’s still time to make sure this doesn’t happen. What better way to do that than to join with tens of thousands of your fellow activists to let our world leaders know we want climate action now?

That’s exactly what’s happening in New York City on Sept. 21, and you can be a part of it. The People’s Climate March is bringing together environmental, labor, faith, and social justice activists from more than 1,000 organizations and businesses to collectively raise our voices and call for real climate action around the world.

If our leaders won’t act, we have to. And that’s exactly what we are doing in New York on Sept. 21. Join us.  

RSVP for the People’s Climate March today!

 --Sierra Club Media Team

Categories: Sierra Club National