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In Kenya, Proposed Coal-Fired Power Plant Threatens Communities

Fri, 08/28/2015 - 14:32

In 2015, only about 23 percent of Kenya’s 45,500 people have access to electricity, and this problem is particularly pronounced in rural areas of the East African country, where electrification drops to a staggering 4 percent. It’s clear that the question is not whether or not something needs to be done -- it is unconscionable to leave people living in energy poverty. Rather, the issue is how do we start delivering energy services as quickly and as broadly as possible?

 

Despite mounting evidence that new coal generation regularly fails to deliver energy access, especially in rural areas, Amu Power is proposing a 1,000 megawatt coal plant in Manda Bay in Lamu County, home to the World Heritage listed Lamu Old Town. Oxfam and the Overseas Development Institute (ODI) recently issued a report on energy poverty in sub-Saharan Africa showing that off-grid and mini-grid technologies are better at delivering power than centralized projects like coal plants. These small scale projects, such as home solar systems and community renewable energy, can cost effectively generate power where it is needed and can be installed now instead of waiting years or decades for grid extensions.

 

According to the International Energy Agency (IEA), to reach “energy for all,” 64 percent of new energy investments must go to off-grid and mini-grid solutions. This has been backed up by the World Bank, which warned of the devastating health effects caused by coal-generated energy, saying that coal is not the solution to the world’s energy access needs. The most persuasive argument perhaps was the former secretary of India’s ministry of power, EAS Sarma, who in an opinion piece for The Guardian noted that his country has added 95,000 megawatts of largely coal-fired power since 2001, but it has done little to help the 45 percent of rural households living without access to electricity. Meanwhile, unsafe levels of mercury and other pollutants are already impacting the health of pregnant women and children who live near India’s coal plants. In fact, pollution from coal causes over 100,000 deaths every year in India. But instead of actually helping alleviate energy poverty, the electricity is gobbled up by existing, more affluent users.

 

As for impoverished urban residents with access to the grid, many cannot afford to pay for energy or have other technical barriers to access. This is particularly relevant in Kenya where the cost of grid-based power and connections is a major factor behind energy poverty. The truth is that building coal plants is expensive and often plagued with long delays and cost overruns, as we have seen in South Africa where the Medupi and Kusile coal plants. These two projects are at least four years behind schedule and $6 billion and $7 billion over budget respectively. This is not a good precedent for the Lamu coal plant, which is already facing delays.

 

And where coal fails at alleviating energy poverty, it succeeds in spreading deadly pollution. It is this concern over the health effects of coal that spurred locals in Lamu to action, starting with a petition calling on Lamu Governor Issa Timamy to stop the coal project. While project proponents insist this will be a “clean coal” plant, saying “the only thing that comes out of the chimney is water vapour,” the truth is there is no such thing as “clean coal.” The Environmental and Social Impact Assessment (ESIA) has yet to be released, but we can glean some details about the project from statements and interviews given by project spokespeople. For example, the proposed Lamu plant does not employ the best available technology to limit pollution, and it will begin operation without Selective Catalytic Reduction (SCR) to reduce nitrogen oxides. The operator says they will add an SCR later, but the time to add an SCR is during construction, not after emitting pollutants for an indefinite amount of time. And while the project will have controls for particulates and sulfur, there are no controls that can capture every emission, resulting in untold tons of deadly sulfur, nitrogen oxides and particulate matter spewed into the air. The proposal also states the plant will employ supercritical technology, which is hardly advanced at a time when more efficient ultra-supercritical plants are being built -- and even those are still far from clean.

 

With regards to water pollution, the ash dump for the toxic leftovers that remain after the coal is burned will be lined, but a single layer of high density polythene paper is not sufficient, and without leak detection dangerous heavy metals could still contaminate nearby waters. It is also unclear whether there is a plan for catastrophic failure of the ash dump, as happened in Tennessee and North Carolina. It is also unclear what sort of cooling system the plant will use. Chemicals discharged from coal plants into the water can have devastating effects on local ecosystems and fishing, especially if the plant has an open cycle cooling system which releases water at a temperature significantly above that of local bodies.

 

There are still many questions surrounding the proposed Lamu coal plant, but perhaps none is more critical than the question of whether the plant it is even necessary. With the cost of clean energy sources dropping -- even to the point of making them cheaper than coal in places -- and knowing that coal is not an effective solution to alleviate energy poverty, is building a new coal plant that will force locals to live with deadly pollution really the best option for Lamu? For those organized against the project, the answer is clearly no.

Nicole Ghio From Compass

Back-To-School, from West Virginia to the White House

Thu, 08/27/2015 - 09:11

Last week was a big one for me - I sent my daughter, Hazel, off to her first day of kindergarten. I'll never forget how she gave me a big, big hug, and then looked back at me over shoulder one last time before heading into her classroom, and into her new adventures as a school-aged kid.

Later that same week, I had the honor of visiting the White House to attend a White House back-to-school climate education event, where educators and student leaders came together to share resources and ideas about climate education. I was there with a team from the Emmy-winning climate series Years of Living Dangerously, for the release of their fantastic new curriculum to accompany the series, which was developed by the National Wildlife Federation (NWF) - you can find it at ClimateClassroom.org.  It was especially wonderful to be reunited with Anna Jane Joyner who co-starred in the "Preacher's Daughter" episode that I appeared in, executive producer Joel Bach, and Carey Stanton of NWF who spearheaded the creation of the curriculum.

The curriculum is excellent, and it will be a great resource to students and educators around the world. It uses short video links from the series to help students understand a wide range of issues, including climate science, deforestation, fossil fuels, clean energy, and how to navigate conversations with climate skeptics. It provides teachers with all the resources they need to talk about, and make class assignments around, these episodes and topics. And the celebrity correspondents featured in the series will certainly help wake up a classroom - I can tell you from personal experience that just saying the name "Ian Somerhalder" in a high school auditorium definitely gets you the students' attention, along with a lot of wild screaming.

The head of NOAA noaa.org, Dr. Kathryn Sullivan, kicked off the event with the shocking news that July 2015 was the hottest month in recorded history, and 2015 is on track to be our hottest year ever (NOAA is the federal agency that houses the National Weather Service and National Storm Prediction Center, and also tracks our country's weather and climate data). But the White House countered that sobering news with stories of leadership from inspiring young people, lots of resources for educators, and a clear commitment to increasing our climate literacy nationwide.

As a mom, this was music to my ears. Just in Hazel's first days at kindergarten, I'd already been told that the kids won't play outside in her afterschool program on hot and muggy days, because some of the kids have asthma. As our climate changes and hot days increase, medical science tells us that the future will just get harder for kids with asthma, and more will join their ranks, just one of many dangers climate change poses to our children's future.  

The young people at the White House understood this, and they're doing everything they can to turn the tide, from installing solar panels and starting recycling programs at their schools, to reducing energy use at home, to mentoring younger kids about careers in science, technology, and math. I was especially pleased to run into my old friend Amee Kapadia, a young woman who joined us in April at an event with Michael Bloomberg to announce the next phase of the Sierra Club's Beyond Coal partnership with Bloomberg Philanthropies. Back in April, Amee shared her personal experiences of not only suffering from the health effects of coal pollution, but also experiencing the clean air benefits of a coal plant retirement. At the White House, Amee told me she's now working to have electric vehicle charging stations installed at her high school, which has already gone solar thanks to efforts by students - what superstars.  

Now that Hazel has kicked off her school years, I'm so grateful for the Years curriculum and the other climate education resources shared at the White House, the Obama Administration's commitment to climate literacy, and the support for these young leaders from the highest levels of our government. Most of all, I'm thankful for these young leaders themselves. At the White House last week, their optimism and determination to solve the climate crisis was electrifying. 

As one of the student leaders, Jack Ruiz of New York, put it: "No problem is too big for anyone." I couldn’t agree more.

Mary Anne Hitt From Compass

Why Millennials in the United States and China are Partnering for the Paris Climate Talks

Wed, 08/26/2015 - 16:14

Tired of being disenfranchised  by our governments in the negotiating process because of our age, youth leaders from the United States and China are working together to prepare for the United Nations climate talks  that will take place in Paris this December. We are brought together by our shared concern for our future and the solutions we know we can build together.

 

Last year, U.S. and Chinese youth released a joint statement calling on our governments to be leaders by making stronger commitments to address climate change.

 

Our partnership has grown, and I recently had the opportunity to travel to the Seventh Annual International Youth Summit on Energy and Climate Change (IYSECC) in Shenzhen, China. While there, I met with long-time youth partners from the China Youth Climate Action Network (CYCAN), the host organization of IYSECC, and a number of youth from the Asia-Pacific region.

 

What I learned is that, just like youth in America, Chinese youth are craving to find unique ways to bring climate change to the forefront of concerns that they want their government to address. To share these learnings, I sat down with Mia Zhou, a young environmental leader from Maoming, China to talk about her concerns and opinions going into Paris.

 

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

 

Natalie Lucas: Mia, you were such a powerful speaker at the IYSECC 7.0 conference last month and I think it is important for youth in the U.S. to hear your story. First, can you tell me what is it like to be a young environmentalist in modern China today?

 

Mia Zhou: I grew up in Maoming, a city next to the southern coast of China. After building Sinopec Maoming Company in 1950s, 60% GDP of Maoming depends on petrochemical industry, which succeeds greatly in international market. Living in this city, citizens are used to pungent air when raining or windy conditions.

In 2011, my last year in senior high, Maoming’s mayor, Mr. Luo committed bribery exceeding 70 million RMB. Shocked by the news, I wondered about the possibility of ending wrong-doings by optimizing mechanisms of internal political systems, I chose international politics as my major when applying for Sun Yat-sen University (SYSU).

Although I have learned about politics for the past four years, I don’t have enough confidence about it under Chinese context. On March 30th of 2014, some citizens in Maoming stood up together to protest a Paraxylene (PX) project in front of government. It was the first time that the people of Maoming expressed their voice on environmental issue, through non-violent action, which I had doubted its effectiveness from the era of Gandhi for a long time.

 

NL: That is an incredible story and one that seems to affect you very personally. What do you hope to see in your hometown to correct these environmental and corruption issues?

 

MZ: The PX issue in Maoming made me realize that everyone is responsible for protecting where we live, our city, our country and our earth. Combined with my Maoming background, I will study Master of International Energy in Sciences Po for two years. I want to propose an more effective and environmental approach to develop petrochemical industry in Maoming, by borrowing political operation and supervision systems from other countries.

 

NL: What role are Chinese youth playing in the climate movement today?

 

MZ: Climate change covers a wide range of topics and international youth can take measures on everything. It’s useless to just provide slogans. Three years ago, in my campus, Environmental Protection Association called for the conscious waste separation after dinner. They designed poster, collected signatures and communicated with the canteen.

Finally the canteen adopted their suggestion to add more garbage bins for different type of waste. Three years passed, three other campuses have also followed the measure and students have already developed the habit to separate paper, plastic and kitchen waste by themselves.  

 

NL: That is a great reminder that U.S. and Chinese youth have so much in common when working on local issues and international issues. What do you think of the current climate commitments that the U.S. and China have made?

 

MZ: Overall, the current climate commitments that the U.S. and China have made are positive to global climate change, but it is not enough. On the one hand, the U.S. and China are both focusing on climate change mitigation but ignore other fields such as adaptation, funds and technology.

Related to adaptation, funds and technology, both two countries expressed vague statements, without any promise. Actually, these fields are equally as important as mitigation. Especially for developing countries, which carry lower responsibility on the history of global carbon emission but influenced easily by climate change, the lack of support on adaptation, funds and technology will affect their confidence and policy to the response of climate change.

On the other hand, although in Sino-US Joint Statement on Climate, U.S. and China claimed the principle of ‘common but differentiated responsibilities’, which was admitted by Lima call for climate action.

 

NL: I think that is a good assessment and I think it’s important to continue pushing our governments to be more ambitious in Paris. What do you hope the U.S. and China will do in Paris?

 

MZ: The contradiction of climate fairness still obviously exist between developed countries and developing countries. Developed countries oppose the idea of taking ‘historical responsibility’ because those developing countries which go into the industrialized accelerated phase will also create large carbon emission. In contrast, developing countries still insist the idea of ‘historical responsibility’. Whether from responsibility or from the moral standpoint, U.S., China and EU should take the initiative to assume a leadership role in the field of climate change.

 

NL: How do you think international youth should work together on climate change?

 

MZ:  Climate change is an international issue which asks for global cooperation and we must start by sharing information. For example, in the upcoming climate talks in Paris, in order to achieve the goal of controlling warming within 2 degrees, every country has to try their best to put forward reasonable commitments.

The negotiation process is not directly accessible for youth to provide input on these important topics. On the other hand, because of languages, region and public policy, many regional climate information cannot be spread globally.

For better international youth cooperation, it is necessary and fundamental to build an information sharing platform. Technology has already changed our lives. In my opinion, the internet provides a free and efficient place for communication, information sharing and cooperation.

 

Learn more about how international youth are partnering on the road to Paris through the #OurFuture Campaign.

Natalie Lucas, Mia Zhou From Compass

How the Clean Power Plan is a Game-Changer for Clean Energy

Mon, 08/24/2015 - 14:44

(Photo: "Fentonwindpark1" by Windtech at en.wikipedia. Licensed under CC BY 3.0 via Commons)

**Note:** This blog post is part of a series geared toward discussing the wide ranging impacts of the President's Clean Power Plan. Over the course of this week, Sierra Club experts will add to this series with posts on what's new in this plan and its effects on coal, environmental justice, labor, policy, and international climate negotiations (coming soon). 

The final Clean Power Plan is the most significant single action any President has taken to date to tackle climate disruption. It establishes the first-ever set of national carbon limits on power plants, our biggest source of the pollution that's throwing our climate into chaos. It's also a game-changer for clean energy, because it creates big, important new opportunities for renewable energy and energy efficiency in every state. This post provides an overview of the clean energy elements of the Clean Power Plan.

The Clean Power Plan opens up the opportunity for every state to chart its clean energy future and rapidly expand renewable energy generation. And the Clean Power Plan is happening at just the right time, because clean energy is becoming cheaper every month and is outcompeting dirty fuels in the marketplace at a rapidly accelerating rate. Wind reached nearly five percent of U.S. electricity demand in 2014, at an average of $0.59 per kilowatt hour (kWh), as compared to an average $1.06 per kWh for coal and $0.74 per kWh for natural gas, and its technical resource potential has increased due to newer wind turbines designed for areas with lower wind speeds. Meanwhile, some of the latest solar projects are offering power at prices cheaper than coal or natural gas. In addition, innovative approaches to community solar, like Maryland's community shared solar program, are popping up all over the country.

But what does the Clean Power Plan mean for the future of clean energy, and how has EPA improved its approach to renewable energy in the final version of the plan?

EPA's draft version of the Clean Power Plan, released in June 2014, vastly underestimated the role that renewables could play in our electricity market and used outdated data for renewable energy that did not reflect the current market conditions or recent technologies. There was a broad consensus among environmental organizations like the Sierra Club and the Union of Concerned Scientists, as well as clean energy companies and renewable energy trade associations like the American Wind Energy Association and the Solar Energy Industries Association, that EPA needed to improve its methodology in order to incorporate the true power and growth of renewables. 

Senator Merkley (D-OR) and eleven other senators, also sent a letter to EPA detailing how the agency could update and improve their methods for calculating clean energy potential in the Clean Power Plan. After carefully reviewing these submissions, EPA ended up making substantial changes in the final standard that are widely beneficial. 

Here are four ways the Clean Power Plan has improved its approach to renewables and energy efficiency:

  1. EPA recognized that the grid and renewable potential are regional: EPA revised the plan to better account for the regional nature of the electric grid and used an improved methodology to estimate the regional technical potential of renewable energy. The agency then used that as a basis to set state targets across each region, in a manner that would align better with existing renewable standards. The end result -- state carbon reduction targets that incorporate much larger projected growth in renewable energy, which reflects the rapid rise of renewables actually underway in many states.
  2. EPA used better renewables data and included distributed generation: EPA used better, more current data to evaluate renewable resource potential for calculating state carbon reduction targets, and also included distributed generation technologies (power that’s generated on the site where it's used, like rooftop solar, and not at a distant power plant), as a measure states can use to comply with the standard. Distributed generation is on the rise, providing a significant and increasing portion of renewable energy production, and utilities are not only increasing distributed energy within their energy portfolios, but are also purchasing renewable credits from distributed energy. The final Clean Power Plan creates a framework that will encourage these good trends to grow.  
  3. EPA recognized renewables can directly replace dirty energy: EPA improved the way renewable energy is calculated towards a state’s carbon reduction target by reflecting what actually happens on the grid -- when new renewables are added, they displace dirty coal generation. The final plan relies much more heavily on investment in new renewables rather than natural gas and now expects gas-fired generation to increase no more than would have occurred anyway under a business-as-usual scenario -- a significant reduction from the gas projections in the draft Clean Power Plan.
  4. Clean Energy Incentive Program gives renewables an early push: Under the Clean Power Plan, states are expected to submit a final plan to meet their carbon reduction target by September 2018 at the latest, and all states must begin complying with their plans in 2022. To ensure renewable energy projects built before 2022 are getting proper credit, the EPA developed the Clean Energy Incentive Program (CEIP) as an option for states, and has also proposed to incorporate the CEIP as a mandatory element of the draft federal plan for states that don’t submit a plan of their own. 

Through the CEIP, states will have the opportunity to award early compliance credits (CO2 allowances or Emission Reduction Credits) to wind and solar projects. Renewable projects that start construction after a state's compliance plan is finalized (or after September 6, 2018 for states that do not submit a compliance plan) will be eligible for credits for the energy they produce in the years 2020 and 2021. States can also grant early credits to providers of energy efficiency projects in low-income communities that reduce energy use in 2020 and 2021. For every credit a state grants to an eligible project, EPA will grant a matching credit for renewable projects. Energy efficiency projects get double matching credits. Across all states, EPA will provide up to the equivalent of 300 million tons of CO2 allowances of matching credits. The voluntary program should give states a jumpstart on their compliance strategies and help keep the momentum in renewables deployment going. This coupled with renewal of federal renewable energy incentives, the wind Production Tax Credit and the solar Investment Tax Credit, can keep our momentum on renewables growing throughout the country. 

Thanks to these changes, EPA has greatly increased projections of renewable energy deployment in the final Clean Power Plan.The EPA estimates that the final rule could result in 706,000 GWh of new renewable generation by 2030 (for comparison's sake, that’s the equivalent of 45% of the generation from coal-fired power plants in 2013), compared to the proposal’s estimates of 305,000-335,000 GWh. Under the Clean Power Plan, EPA projects renewables could account for as much as 28 percent of the nation's overall electricity generation mix by 2030, versus approximately 22 percent in the proposed plan and 13 percent today.

Overall, the Clean Power Plan is poised to be a game changer for clean energy. Now, it's up to each one of us to get involved with the creation of state plans, and make sure it delivers. 

Liz Perera , Mary Anne Hitt From Compass

What's New and Noteworthy in the Clean Power Plan?

Fri, 08/21/2015 - 13:42

**Note:** This blog post is part of a series geared toward discussing the wide ranging impacts of the President’s Clean Power Plan. Over the course of this week, Sierra Club experts will add to this series with posts on what’s new in this plan and its effects on coal, environmental justice, labor, policy, clean energy, and international climate negotiations.

EPA first released the draft Clean Power Plan in June 2014 and over the course of the fourteen months that followed, the agency engaged in an extensive process of public outreach. It collecting over 4.3 million comments on all aspects of the proposal and hosting hundreds of in-person meetings with stakeholders. The agency incorporated much of the feedback it received during this process into the final standard, which reflects substantial changes from the proposal.

Below, we discuss major changes in the final plan that we believe improve the policy’s effectiveness and will help the United States move away from dirty fossil fuels while transitioning to a clean energy economy.

  • Renewable energy (RE). In the draft guidelines, EPA based its emission reduction goals partly on the availability of renewable energy, such as wind and solar, to replace fossil fuel-fired power plants. However, the proposal greatly underestimated the nation’s capacity to build out RE generation and did not properly account for the dramatic growth in renewable capacity. The final guidelines greatly increase their projections of RE build-out with a new methodology based on recent growth patterns. Overall, the EPA estimates that the final plan will result in at least 540,000 MWh of new renewable generation by 2030, compared to the proposal’s estimates of 305,000-335,000 MWh.

  • Source-based standards. It is critical that any carbon standard for power plants achieve emission reductions from the pollution sources themselves—that is, from individual coal and gas plants. The proposed Clean Power Plan established statewide rather than source-specific goals tied to each state’s fleet of fossil fuel-fired plants. The final plan takes a different tack, and creates two source-specific standards as its primary targets: a maximum CO2 emission rate for coal plants and another rate for gas plants. States can also choose other options in their implementation plans, however, including a blended rate for coal and gas plants together, a state-specific cap on total CO2 emissions from existing plants, and a CO2 cap that covers both new and existing sources. The final guidelines retain the proposal’s flexibility, but place a new focus on source-specific emission reduction goals.

  • Federal enforceability. The draft Clean Power Plan would have allowed states to hold entities other than the regulated power plants (such as energy efficiency companies) legally responsible for achieving some of its emission reduction goals. While those entities would have been subject to enforcement actions in federal court if they fell short, there would have been no recourse against the regulated fossil plants for failure to achieve those emissions reductions. By contrast, the final guidelines ensure that regulated plants will carry the full legal burden of reducing their own CO2 emissions. States may still impose state-level obligations on entities other than power plants, but regulated power plants will bear ultimate legal responsibility if the state falls short of its emission reduction targets. 

  • Distributed generation (“DG”). Distributed renewable resources are those that generate electricity at or near the place that the electricity will be consumed, such as rooftop solar panels. These resources offer a huge opportunity to reduce electric sector CO2 emissions while lowering consumers’ electric bills. With rapidly declining costs, DG resources are expected to grow exponentially over the next decade. EPA’s proposal did not account for DG in its emission reduction targets and made little to no mention of DG as a potential compliance mechanism. While the final guidelines still do not account for DG in their emission reduction targets, they highlight the benefits of DG as a compliance tool, noting that “cost-effective opportunities for distributed generation alone could satisfy one-third to over one-half of the stringency associated with building block 3” (the renewable energy building block, which is one of three building blocks EPA used to set carbon reduction targets and create options for compliance). 

  • Decreased reliance on natural gas. The proposed Clean Power Plan expected states to achieve a heavy proportion of the required emission reductions by replacing large amounts of coal with natural gas. Yet gas-fired electricity still emits large quantities of CO2, in contrast to renewable resources which emit no CO2. In addition, the process of extracting natural gas from the ground produces climate-disrupting methane leaks and degrades landscapes and water quality through dangerous hydrofracking methods. Compared to the proposal, the final guidelines rely much more heavily on investment in new renewables rather than gas (as noted above), and now expect gas-fired generation to increase no more than would have occurred anyway under a business-as-usual scenario.

  • Regional focus. Our nation’s electric sector is structured as a network of large, interconnected grids that span many states and link generation resources across broad regions of the country. Therefore, it makes the most sense to calculate the potential for emission reductions in light of the regional electric grids, rather than the approach that EPA took in its draft standard, where it calculated EPA reduction targets on a purely state-by-state level.  The final plan takes a regional approach for all of the building blocks, a change that reflects how the electric sector actually functions much better than the original proposal’s state-by-state model.

  • Environmental and economic justice. Environmental justice, or EJ, focuses on the ways in which environmental harms disproportionately affect people of color, low-income, and indigenous communities. Unlike the proposal, which barely touched on EJ issues, EPA’s final Clean Power Plan addresses these topics in depth. First, the final guidelines now analyze the physical proximity of the nation’s coal and gas plants to EJ communities. Second, the guidelines require states to ensure meaningful participation from communities and encourage them to perform EJ analyses of their plans. Third, EPA has proposed a voluntary program to spur investment in low-income energy efficiency projects prior to the rule’s compliance period.  The final guidelines also explore federal programs to assist workers in communities heavily dependent on the coal industry that may be affected by the transition away from coal toward cleaner electricity resources.

Read more about the environmental justice components of the Clean Power Plan in English and Spanish, and more about the economic justice elements in English and Spanish, in their respective links.  

  • Nuclear power. EPA’s proposed guidelines included a mechanism that encouraged aging nuclear power plants to remain online beyond their expected retirement dates and seek renewed operating licenses. Yet the costs and environmental risks of nuclear power are too great to justify when renewable resources like wind and solar offer a safe and clean pathway toward climate stabilization. EPA changed course in the final plan and removed any incentive for old nuclear units to remain in operation longer than necessary.

With all these changes and improvements, the Clean Power Plan creates an exciting opportunity for states to chart a course to renewable energy, and for all Americans to get engaged in creating a safe, prosperous clean energy future. The Sierra Club and our allies will be working hard in the coming months to defend the standard and push states to write and implement strong plans. Join us!

Sierra Club Clean Power Plan Blog Series

  • Policy Impacts Blog Post (Coming Soon)

  • Clean Energy Impacts Blog Post (Coming Soon)

  • International Impacts Blog Post (Coming Soon)

Andres Restrepo, Joanne Spalding From Compass

Justicia Económica y el Plan de Energía Limpia: Más Empleos, Más Justicia

Fri, 08/21/2015 - 08:18

Desde la perspectiva laboral y de justicia económica, hay muchas buenas noticias en la versión final del Plan de Energía Limpia que la Agencia de Protección Ambiental (EPA, por sus siglas en inglés) dio a conocer a principios de este mes. Después de escuchar las recomendaciones de los sindicatos, los defensores de la justicia económica y sus aliados ambientales, la Administración del Presidente Obama insertó varios elementos clave en el Plan de Energía Limpia y políticas públicas relacionadas, los cuales establecen las bases para crear miles de buenos empleos sindicalizados para aquellos que más lo necesitan, y para proteger los medios de vida de las familias de trabajadores cuyos ingresos han dependido de carbón. Esta entrada de blog ofrece una visión general de dichos elementos del Plan, los cuales incluyen muchas nuevas y emocionantes oportunidades para la participación de los defensores de los trabajadores y la justicia económica.

El Plan de Energía Limpia ha sido estructurado para crear miles de nuevos empleos en los sectores de energía limpia y eficiencia energética, ofreciendo incentivos para crear buenos empleos en las comunidades vulnerables. El Plan recomienda estándares robustos para asegurar que los nuevos puestos de trabajo creados conduzcan a carreras de calidad. El Plan de Energía Limpia e iniciativas de política pública relacionadas también contienen protecciones vitales para los trabajadores en el sector del carbón y para sus comunidades. La EPA y el Departamento de Energía (DOE, por sus siglas en inglés) han tomado medidas para ayudar a asegurar que los sindicatos, los trabajadores afectados y sus comunidades sean tratados como partes interesadas, cuyas opiniones sean escuchadas y reflejadas en los procesos estatales para crear planes de implementación (en adelante “planes estatales”). Lo que es más, el Plan de Energía Limpia aborda las preocupaciones de los sindicatos en cuanto a la confiabilidad de nuestro sistema eléctrico, el período para su cumplimiento, y crédito por reducción de emisiones originadas por procesos industriales, como la cogeneración eléctrica y térmica.

Nuevas carreras en los sectores de energía renovable y eficiencia energética

En general, el Plan de Energía Limpia anticipa un mayor crecimiento de la capacidad de generación proveniente de energía limpia que la propuesta de regulación - 28 por ciento en el reglamento final, en comparación con 22 por ciento bajo la propuesta. Además, aunque la eficiencia energética ya no es un "pilar" para el establecimiento de metas estatales de reducción de carbono, el Plan de Energía Limpia aún proporciona fuertes incentivos para que los estados y las regiones implementen programas de eficiencia energética como mecanismo de cumplimiento.

Lo anterior es una buena noticia ya que, según estudios independientes, las inversiones en energía limpia requieren una mayor mano de obra que las inversiones equivalentes de combustibles fósiles, lo cual implica que crean más puestos de trabajo. El sector de energía limpia también utiliza una mayor proporción de mano de obra estadounidense. Un estudio reciente que analiza el impacto de combinar políticas públicas que provean incentivos para la energía renovable con estándares laborales superiores (ver abajo) en California, concluyó que dichas políticas, en combinación, resultaron en miles de nuevos puestos de trabajo bien remunerados con beneficios de seguro médico y pensiones sólidos.

Incentivos para la creación de buenos empleos en las comunidades vulnerables 

El Plan de Energía Limpia establece un "Programa de Incentivos de Energía Limpia" (CEIP, por sus siglas en inglés) que crea incentivos para la expansión temprana de inversiones en energía renovable y eficiencia energética. Aunque los estados deben comenzar el cumplimiento de los planes estatales en 2022, las plantas de generación pueden recibir crédito por proyectos de energía renovable y programas de eficiencia energética que comiencen antes de ese año, y la EPA está alentando la creación de proyectos en comunidades de bajos ingresos. Específicamente, la EPA dará créditos por proyectos de energía solar y eólica y por programas de eficiencia energética que resulten en reducciones de carbono en 2020 y 2021, siempre y cuando la construcción de esos proyectos o la implementación de dichos programas comience después de la fecha en que dichos estados sometan a la EPA sus planes estatales finales. Además, a través de este programa la EPA está proporcionando incentivos adicionales para crear nuevos puestos de trabajo en las comunidades vulnerables al dar doble crédito por proyectos de eficiencia energética en comunidades de bajos ingresos durante este mismo período.

Estándares laborales superiores

Cualquier sindicalista sabe que hay un mundo de diferencia entre un "trabajo" y una carrera de calidad. Los estándares de formación y certificación robustos generalmente resultan en trabajadores bien remunerados y altamente cualificados, que fabrican un producto de calidad y durable. Uno de los elementos más importantes que ha pasado desapercibido en el Plan de Energía Limpia es que la EPA verá favorablemente los planes estatales que preparen a los nuevos trabajadores en los sectores de energía renovable y de eficiencia energética bajo programas de aprendizaje sindicales registrados (al igual que bajo programas de colegios comunitarios e universidades técnicas) que den lugar a certificaciones de habilidades válidas.

Lo que es más, la EPA está alentando a los estados a asegurarse de que las habilidades de los trabajadores que instalen proyectos de energía renovable o eficiencia energética o que realicen auditorías energéticas sean certificadas por un tercero (como un programa de aprendizaje registrado en el Departamento de Trabajo -DOL, por sus siglas en inglés-, una agencia estatal o una entidad de acreditación reconocida por el DOE) que desarrolle programas de certificación sobre la base del consenso.

Estándares laborales superiores como éstos tienden a conducir a más trabajos sindicalizados. Esto es particularmente importante porque 1) ser parte de un sindicato es uno de los mejores indicadores de un "buen trabajo", y 2) dichos estándares ayudarán a aumentar la densidad sindical en los trabajos de energía limpia que vayan a crearse en el marco del Plan de Energía Limpia, densidad que actualmente es más baja que en los tipos de trabajos que podrían perderse.

Aumento neto de puestos de trabajo, en varios cientos de miles

Estudios del Instituto de Política Económica (EPI, por sus siglas en inglés), Economía Industrial y el Fondo Interindustrial de Investigación Económica, el Departamento de Comercio y otros centros de investigación sugieren que la creación de empleo será mucho más robusta que las estimaciones conservadoras de la EPA de hasta 83.000 puestos de trabajo creados en el sector de eficiencia energética hacia el año 2025.

Por ejemplo, el EPI, usando datos de la EPA y el DOL utilizados en la propuesta de reglamento, o sea, antes de que la EPA adoptara estándares laborales más robustos en los sectores de energía limpia y eficiencia energética, como lo hizo en la versión final del Plan de Energía Limpia, estimó que un total de 120,000 nuevos puestos de trabajo directos serían creados por la implementación de la propuesta de reglamento hacia el año 2020, mientras que sólo se perderían 24,000 puestos, resultando en un número neto de 96,000 nuevos puestos de trabajo directos. Cuando se tienen en cuenta los empleos indirectos y los empleos en la cadena de suministro, el aumento neto del número de puestos de trabajo hacia el año 2020, después de contar las pérdidas, será de 360,000 puestos, según el EPI.

Protección para los trabajadores de la industria del carbón y sus comunidades

A pesar de que el Plan de Energía Limpia creará muchos más empleos de los que desplazará, es probable que se perderán algunos puestos de trabajo. Esto es particularmente cierto en los sectores de la minería del carbón y las empresas de generación de energía eléctrica a base de carbón, las cuales vienen sufriendo pérdidas desde hace varios años debido a los cambios económicos en la industria del carbón. La implementación del Plan de Energía Limpia, así como las iniciativas administrativas y legislativas relacionadas, ayudarán a asegurar que los trabajadores afectados y sus comunidades no lleven injustamente la carga por las políticas de protección del clima que beneficiarán a todos.

El "Plan POWER +" de la Administración Obama es la piedra angular de los esfuerzos de política pública federal, estatal y locales que necesitamos para proporcionar una "transición justa" que proteja los medios de subsistencia de las comunidades que dependen de la industria de carbón.

Además de la iniciativa POWER, que proporcionará $ 55 millones este año a las comunidades que dependen del carbón para ayudarles a trazar un futuro económico más saludable, bajo el Plan de Energía Limpia la EPA está alentando a los estados a proporcionar empleo y capacitación a los trabajadores afectados y ayuda económica para las comunidades afectadas. El objetivo es diversificar sus economías, generar nuevas fuentes de inversión y crear nuevos puestos de trabajo.

Además de los fondos federales y estatales, existen varias medidas bipartidistas actualmente en estudio en el Congreso orientadas poner en práctica los elementos legislativos del Plan POWER+. Estos incluyen: 1) $1 billón de dólares por más de cinco años proveniente del Fondo de Tierras con Minas Abandonadas (AML, por sus siglas en inglés) para restauración de tierras y aguas contaminadas por la minería del carbón, en formas que apoyen el desarrollo económico; y 2) $3.9 billones de dólares en diez años para reforzar los beneficios de salud y de pensiones para los mineros de carbón jubilados.

Por otra parte, los defensores de los derechos de los trabajadores y sus aliados, entre ellos la Alianza BlueGreen (BGA, por sus siglas en inglés), una alianza nacional de 15 sindicatos y organizaciones ambientales que representa a 16 millones de personas, están tratando el Plan POWER+ como una base, no como un límite. BGA está abogando por la implementación de medidas de "transición justa" más robustas y completas que construyan nuevas infraestructuras y se traduzcan en la creación de carreras de calidad tanto dentro como fuera del sector de la energía limpia.

Participación de sindicatos y trabajadores como partes interesadas

La robusta participación laboral en la creación del Plan de Energía Limpia tuvo al menos dos beneficios importantes. En primer lugar, la EPA reconoció expresamente que las partes interesadas en los procesos de desarrollo de los planes estatales pueden incluir los sindicatos, los trabajadores y las comunidades afectadas. Esto es importante porque, entre otras razones, los estados que busquen prorrogar el plazo de un año para presentar sus planes finales deben demostrar la "participación significativa" de las partes interesadas y describir las oportunidades que dichas partes tuvieron para comentar sobre los planes estatales propuestos.

En segundo lugar, el DOE y tres sindicatos anunciaron un Grupo de Trabajo Sindical-DOE que ayudará a los sindicatos a maximizar la creación de empleos en los planes estatales que los estados van a desarrollar. Los tres sindicatos, Trabajadores Siderúrgicos Unidos (USW, por sus siglas en inglés),  el Sindicato de Trabajadores de Servicios Públicos de Electricidad y Gas (UWUA, por sus siglas en inglés), y la Hermandad Internacional de Trabajadores Eléctricos (IBEW, por sus siglas en inglés), representan a los trabajadores en las industrias relacionadas con el carbón y la energía limpia.

Como el DOE señaló en su comunicado de prensa anunciando el grupo de trabajo, "muchas de las opciones disponibles para los estados en el diseño de sus Planes Estatales de Implementación son grandes generadoras de empleo para los trabajadores de los Estados Unidos, tales como. . .instalación de unidades de cogeneración en las instalaciones industriales, la actualización de la infraestructura de energía, o la instalación de equipo de energías renovables y eficiencia energética."

La implementación del Plan de Energía Limpia por los estados ofrece otras oportunidades para dar forma a los planes y crear carreras de calidad para las personas que lo necesitan

La EPA diseñó el Plan de Energía Limpia para ser implementado a través de procesos estatales y regionales. Esto significa que coaliciones locales, estatales y regionales para la justicia ambiental y económica tendrán excelentes oportunidades en los próximos uno a tres años para utilizar el proceso de implementación con objeto de crear cientos de miles de buenos puestos de trabajo para personas que los necesitan. A través de nuestra alianza con grupos como la BGA, Sierra Club está trabajando duro para aprovechar estas oportunidades. Los miembros de la BGA han acordado ciertos principios básicos para trabajar juntos en el Plan de Energía Limpia en los estados, los cuales incluyen lo siguiente:

  • Maximizar la creación de empleo con salarios que sostengan a las familias y apoyar el derecho de sindicación;

  • Minimizar y reducir el impacto de la pérdida del empleo; e

  • Incluir a las comunidades de bajos ingresos y a las comunidades de color, para asegurar que reciban su parte justa de los beneficios y no lleven cargas injustas.

Los miembros de la BGA también han acordado un enfoque de política pública, en consonancia con lo que propone la EPA, para asegurar que los puestos de trabajo creados mediante la implementación del Plan de Energía Limpia en los estados conduzcan a carreras de calidad. Estas estrategias incluyen lo siguiente:

1) Dirigir la inversión pública y privada a los sectores de la economía de energía limpia orientados a la sindicalización y los salarios más altos;

2) Incorporar estándares laborales robustos como parte de mandatos e inversiones públicas; e

3) Incorporar políticas complementarias que maximicen los buenos trabajos, sobre todo en el sector manufacturero.

La EPA ha respondido a otras preocupaciones de los sindicatos: confiabilidad del sistema eléctrico, plazo para el cumplimiento y uso de la cogeneración

Algunos cambios en la versión final del Plan de Energía Limpia deberían aliviar las preocupaciones planteadas por los sindicatos afectados, las cuales tienen que ver con la confiabilidad del sistema eléctrico a medida que aumenta la generación de energía limpia, el plazo para el cumplimiento, y la posibilidad de utilizar unidades de cogeneración en las instalaciones industriales para cumplir con el reglamento. La EPA ha dado a los estados más tiempo para desarrollar sus planes estatales al diferir el comienzo del período de cumplimiento de 2020 a 2022, y junto con el ajuste de las metas estatales, se ha eliminado cualquier preocupación sobre un "precipicio" para el cumplimiento.

El Plan de Energía Limpia también exige a los estados abordar cuestiones de confiabilidad del sistema eléctrico en sus planes estatales, y aclara cómo esos planes deben ser revisados ​​por los organismos reguladores de energía y las entidades de confiabilidad. La EPA permitirá modificaciones a los planes estatales si surgen problemas de confiabilidad y el reglamento también proporciona una “válvula de seguridad” en el caso muy poco probable de problemas de confiabilidad en centrales eléctricas específicas.

Por último, los sindicatos de fabricación  están satisfechos porque el Plan de Energía Limpia reconoce la cogeneración, una tecnología que produce calor y electricidad a partir de una única fuente de combustible, como una opción para ayudar a reducir las emisiones de carbono mediante la sustitución de la producción de electricidad de las centrales eléctricas reguladas bajo el reglamento.

No es una solución a todos los problemas, pero el Plan nos pone en el camino correcto

¿Es el Plan de Energía Limpia una panacea para todos los problemas que aquejan a nuestra sociedad, o para todos los efectos potenciales de la alteración del clima y la transición del carbón a la energía limpia? Ciertamente no. Pero está claro que la Administración escuchó las preocupaciones de los trabajadores y sus representantes, y actuó en consecuencia mediante la emisión de una versión final del Plan de Energía Limpia que nos pone en el camino correcto hacia la generación de energía que ayude a estabilizar nuestro clima, con carreras de calidad en el sector de energía limpia para las personas que las necesitan, y con protecciones vitales para las familias y comunidades dependientes de la industria del carbón.

Otros articulos:

Dean Hubbard, Alejandra Núñez From Compass

Labor and the Clean Power Plan: More Jobs, More Justice

Fri, 08/21/2015 - 07:42

**Note:** This blog post is part of a series geared toward discussing the wide ranging impacts of the President’s Clean Power Plan. Over the course of this week, Sierra Club experts will add to this series with posts on what’s new in this plan and its effects on coal, environmental justice, policy, clean energy, and international climate negotiations.

From a labor and economic justice perspective, there is a lot of good news in the final Clean Power Plan that the EPA released earlier this month. After listening to recommendations from unions, economic justice advocates, and their environmental allies,  the Obama Administration built several key elements  into the policy that set the groundwork to create thousands of good union jobs for people in dire need of them, and to protect the livelihoods of working families who have depended on coal. This post provides an overview of those elements of the plan, which include many new and exciting engagement opportunities for labor and economic justice advocates.  

The final Clean Power Plan is structured to create thousands more new jobs in clean energy and energy efficiency, with incentives to create good jobs in vulnerable communities.  It recommends robust standards to ensure that the new jobs lead to quality careers. The Clean Power Plan and related initiatives also contain vital protections for coal workers and communities.   The EPA and DOE have both acted to help ensure that unions, affected workers, and their communities will be treated as stakeholders whose views are heard and reflected in the state processes to create implementation plans. What’s more, the plan addresses concerns from affected unions about ensuring our power system is reliable, the timeline for compliance, and emissions reduction credits for manufacturing processes such as combined heat and power.

  • New careers in renewable and efficient energy:

Overall, the Clean Power Plan anticipates considerably greater clean energy growth than the previous version  did--28 percent of generating capacity by 2030 as compared to 22 percent under the initial, proposed version.  In addition, although energy efficiency was removed as a “building block” for setting state carbon reduction targets, the final Clean Power Plan  still provides strong incentives for states and regions to deploy energy efficiency as a compliance mechanism.

This is good news, because, according to independent studies, clean energy investments are more labor intensive than equivalent fossil fuel investments, meaning they create more jobs. They also use a higher proportion of US labor.  A  recent study of the combined impact of renewable energy standards and “high road” job standards (see below) in California found that these policies together resulted in thousands of new well-paid jobs with solid health and pension benefits.  

  • Incentives to create good jobs in vulnerable communities:

The Clean Power Plan establishes a “Clean Energy Incentive Program” to incentivize early expansion of renewable energy and energy efficiency. Even though states are required to begin compliance in 2022, power plants can get credit for renewable energy and energy efficiency projects that begin earlier, and EPA is especially encouraging projects in low-income areas. Thus, EPA will give credits for wind and solar and energy efficiency projects that result in carbon reductions in 2020 and 2021, as long as those projects begin construction or deployment after the date that states submit their final implementation plans.  In addition, EPA is providing additional incentives to create jobs in vulnerable communities through this program by giving double credit for energy efficiency projects in low-income communities during this same period.

  • High road job creation standards:  

Every trade unionist knows there’s a world of difference between a “job” and a quality career. Robust training and certification standards generally lead to well-paid, highly skilled workers who produce a quality product that lasts. One of the most important and little-noticed elements of the the Clean Power Plan is that the EPA  will look favorably on state plans that prepare workers for the new renewable and energy efficiency careers with registered union apprenticeship programs (as well as community and technical college programs) that result in validated skill certifications.   

What’s more, EPA is encouraging states to make sure that the skills of workers who install renewable energy or energy efficiency projects or do energy audits are certified by a third party (such as an apprenticeship program registered with the Department of Labor or state agency, or an accrediting entity recognized by the Department of Energy) that develops certification programs based on consensus-based standards.  

“High road” job standards like these tend to lead to more union jobs. That is particularly important because 1) having a union is one of the best indicators of a “good job,” and 2) these standards will help raise union density in the types of clean energy jobs likely to be created under the Clean Power Plan, which is currently lower than in types of jobs likely to be lost.

  • Net increase in jobs totaling several hundred thousand:   

Research from the Economic Policy Institute, the Industrial Economics  and the Interindustry Economic Research Fund, the Department of Commerce, and several other research institutions suggest job creation will be significantly more robust than EPA’s conservative estimates of up to 83,000 “demand-side” (energy efficiency) jobs created by 2025.  

For example, the Economic Policy Institute, using EPA and Department of Labor data from the initial version of the Clean Power Plan before the more robust clean energy and energy efficiency job creation standards of the final plan were adopted - predicted direct new jobs created by Clean Power Plan implementation by 2020 would total 120,000, while only 24,000 would be lost, for a net of 96,000 new direct jobs. When indirect and supply chain jobs are taken into account, the net increase in number of jobs by 2020, after jobs lost, will be 360,000, according to the EPI.  

  • Protection for Coal Industry Workers and Communities:

Even though the Clean Power Plan will create far more jobs than it displaces, it is likely that some jobs will be lost. This is particularly true in coal mining and coal-fired electric utilities, which have for several years experienced losses due to the changing economics of the coal market. Implementation of the Clean Power Plan, as well as related agency and legislative initiatives, will help ensure that affected workers and their communities do not unfairly bear the burden of climate protection policies that benefit everybody.

The Obama Administration’s “POWER + Plan” is the cornerstone of the all-out federal, state and local public policy effort  that we need to provide a “just transition” that protects the livelihoods of coal communities.  

In addition to the federal POWER initiative, which will provide $55 million this year alone for coal communities to chart healthier economic futures,  under the Clean Power Plan, EPA is encouraging states to provide employment and training to affected workers and economic development assistance to affected communities. The goal is to diversify economies, attract new sources of investment, and create new jobs.

On top of federal agency and state funding, there are several bipartisan measures currently under consideration in Congress to implement the federal legislative elements of the POWER+ Plan.  They include 1) $1 billion over five years from the Abandoned Mine Lands (AML) fund to support restoration of land and water polluted by coal mining in ways that support economic development; and 2) $3.9 billion over 10 years to shore up health and pension benefits for retired coal miners.

Moreover, labor advocates and their allies, including the BlueGreen Alliance, a nationwide partnership of 15 unions and environmental organizations representing 16 million people, are treating the POWER+ plan as a floor, not a ceiling.  They are pressing for implementation of even more robust and comprehensive “just transition” measures that build new infrastructure and create quality careers both within and outside the clean energy sector.

  • Participation of Labor as Key Stakeholder

The robust labor participation in the creation of the Clean Power Plan had at least two key benefits.  First, EPA expressly recognized that stakeholders in the state implementation processes may include unions, workers and affected communities. This is significant because, among other reasons, states seeking extension of the one-year deadline to submit their plans must demonstrate “meaningful engagement” with stakeholders and describe the opportunities stakeholders were given to comment on the proposed state plans.

Second, the Department of Energy (DOE) and three unions have announced a DOE-Labor Working Group that will help unions maximize job creation as states develop their implementation plans.  The three unions, the United Steelworkers (USW), the Utility Workers Union (UWUA), and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW), all represent workers in both coal-related and clean energy industries.  

As the DOE noted in its news release announcing the working group, “[m]any of the options available to states in designing their State Implementation Plans are major job creators for America’s workers such as  . . .installing combined heat and power units in manufacturing plants, updating energy infrastructure, or installing renewable energy and energy efficiency equipment.”  

  • State-based implementation provides other opportunities to shape plans to create quality careers for people who need them

The EPA designed the Clean Power Plan to be implemented via state and regional processes. This means local, state, and regional coalitions for environmental and economic justice will have excellent opportunities over the next one to three years to use the implementation process to create hundreds of thousands of good jobs for people who need them.  Through our partnership in groups like the BlueGreen Alliance (BGA), the Sierra Club is working hard to build on these opportunities. The BGA partners have agreed on core principles for working together on the Clean Power Plan in the states which include the following:  

  • Maximize job creation at family sustaining wages and support the right to organize;

  • Minimize and reduce the impact of job loss; and

  • Include low-income, communities of color to ensure they receive their fair share of benefits and aren’t unfairly burdened.

The BGA partners have also agreed on a policy approach, consistent with what the EPA is proposing, to make sure that the jobs that are created by implementing the Clean Power Plan in the states lead to quality careers.  These strategies include:

1) Directing public and private investment in higher wage, more union-friendly parts of the clean energy economy;

2) Incorporating strong labor standards as part of mandates and public investments; and

3) Incorporating complementary policies that maximize good upstream jobs, particularly in manufacturing.

  • Other union concerns met: Reliability, Compliance Timeline, Combined Heat and Power

Some changes to the final Clean Power Plan should alleviate concerns raised by affected unions about reliability of the energy grid as we move to clean power, the compliance timeline, and the availability of credits for combined heat and power (CHP) units in manufacturing plants. EPA is giving states more time to develop their implementation plans by pushing the beginning of the compliance period from 2020 to 2022, and  adjusting  the state goals eliminate concerns about a compliance “cliff.”  

The Clean Power Plan also requires states to address reliability in their state plans,  and clarifies how those plans are to be reviewed by energy regulatory agencies and reliability entities. EPA allows for changes in state plans if reliability issues arise and provides a safety valve in the extremely unlikely event of a plant-specific issue.

Finally, manufacturing unions are pleased that the Clean Power Plan recognizes CHP, a technology that produces both heat and electricity from a single fuel source, as an option to help reduce carbon emissions by replacing electricity generation from power plants covered by the Plan.

  • Not a silver bullet, but the plan sets us on the right track

Is the Clean Power Plan a panacea for all that ails our society, or even for all the potential effects of climate disruption and the transition from coal to clean energy? Certainly not. But it is clear that the Administration heard the concerns of workers and their representatives, and acted on them by issuing a final version of the Clean Power Plan  that sets us off on the right track on the rapid journey we must take towards power generation that helps stabilize our climate, with quality clean energy careers for people who need them and vital protections for coal families and communities.  

Alejandra Núñez, Dean Hubbard From Compass

La Justicia Ambiental en el Plan de Energía Limpia

Thu, 08/20/2015 - 15:02

El 3 de agosto de 2015, la Agencia de Protección Ambiental (EPA, por sus siglas en inglés) dio a conocer la versión final de su Plan de Energía Limpia.  Este reglamento federal establece, por primera vez en la historia de los Estados Unidos, límites a la contaminación de dióxido de carbono de las centrales eléctricas existentes en el país.  El Plan de Energía Limpia incluye importantes disposiciones de justicia ambiental, ganadas a pulso, y esta entrada de blog ofrece una visión general de los elementos del reglamento, así como los próximos pasos y herramientas para las comunidades.

Las centrales eléctricas de combustibles fósiles son la fuente más grande de dióxido de carbono en los Estados Unidos, la contaminación que está causando caos en nuestro clima.  Estas plantas de generación también emiten contaminantes del aire que contribuyen a muchas enfermedades respiratorias y del corazón, así como a la muerte prematura.  La implementación del Plan de Energía Limpia conducirá a reducir el cambio climático y a mejorar la salud pública para toda la población, incluidas las minorías, las comunidades de bajos recursos y las comunidades indígenas.

De conformidad con la Orden Ejecutiva 12898, bajo la cual la EPA tiene la obligación de hacer de la justicia ambiental parte de su misión, el Plan de Energía Limpia incluye una serie de disposiciones para garantizar que el reglamento beneficie a las comunidades que han llevado la peor parte de la contaminación de los combustibles fósiles--las minorías, las comunidades de bajos ingresos y las comunidades indígenas.  El reglamento proporciona herramientas para ayudar a garantizar que estas comunidades no sufran impactos a la salud causados por la contaminación de las centrales eléctricas de combustibles fósiles, y también crea avenidas para que dichas comunidades reciban los beneficios de salud y económicos esperados por la implementación del reglamento.

La EPA realizó un proceso de difusión pública sin precedentes, antes y después de la publicación de la propuesta de reglamento en junio del 2014.  Como parte de este proceso, la EPA buscó la participación de los grupos de justicia ambiental, las organizaciones religiosas, las organizaciones de salud pública y otros grupos de la comunidad.  Sierra Club trabajó con las organizaciones de justicia ambiental y sometió a la EPA comentarios sobre la propuesta de reglamento en diciembre pasado, los cuales reflejan las preocupaciones de las comunidades.  En el reglamento final está claro que la EPA escuchó e integró las consideraciones de justicia ambiental en el Plan de Energía Limpia, de conformidad con las “Directrices para considerar la justicia ambiental durante el desarrollo de acciones regulatorias”, que la EPA finalizó hace solamente algunas semanas.

Consideraciones de justicia ambiental en el Plan de Energía Limpia

En el reglamento final, la EPA hizo tres cosas:

1. Análisis de proximidad: EPA llevó a cabo un análisis de proximidad, para el cual utilizó su nueva herramienta EJSCREEN.  Este análisis concluyó que un mayor porcentaje de minorías y comunidades de bajos ingresos viven cerca de las centrales eléctricas de combustibles fósiles, en comparación con los promedios nacionales.  El reglamento también sugiere a los estados llevar a cabo sus propios análisis de justicia ambiental durante la elaboración de sus planes de cumplimiento del reglamento (en adelante “planes estatales”), y también les recomienda evaluar los impactos reales de dichos planes sobre las minorías y las comunidades de bajos recursos durante su implementación.  Por último, después que los estados hayan elaborado sus planes y comiencen a implementarlos, la EPA también evaluará la existencia de impactos locales que resulten a raíz de cualquier aumento de emisiones de contaminantes, en cuyo caso trabajará con los estados para mitigar los impactos adversos sobre las comunidades.

2. Requisito de participación significativa: El reglamento final requiere a los estados garantizar la participación significativa de las comunidades en el proceso de desarrollo de los planes estatales.  La primera fecha límite para que los estados sometan sus planes a la EPA es el 6 de septiembre de 2016, y cualquier estado que busque obtener una extensión más allá de dicho plazo deberá someter un plan inicial a la EPA antes del 6 de septiembre del próximo año, el cual debe demostrar que dicho estado ha involucrado a las comunidades y también debe explicar cómo va a garantizar su participación continua durante el desarrollo de la versión final de su plan estatal.

3. Distribución de beneficios: Bajo el reglamento final, la eficiencia energética continúa siendo una opción importante para el cumplimiento de las metas de reducción de carbono, y la EPA ha ofrecido incentivos específicamente para beneficio de las comunidades de bajos ingresos.  Bajo el Programa de Incentivos de Energía Limpia (CEIP, por sus siglas en inglés), la EPA ha propuesto que las centrales eléctricas sujetas al reglamento obtengan doble crédito por proyectos de eficiencia energética en comunidades de bajos ingresos.  La EPA también se ha comprometido a trabajar con otras agencias federales para proporcionar información sobre programas de ayuda para que las comunidades de bajos ingresos tengan acceso a energías renovables y eficiencia energética, por ejemplo, la Asociación Nacional de Energía Solar (National Community Solar Partnership), una iniciativa de varias agencias federales orientada a aumentar el acceso a la energía solar para los consumidores de bajos y medianos ingresos.  La EPA también ha dado ejemplos de programas estatales que otros estados pueden utilizar como modelos.

B. Los planes estatales deben abordar las preocupaciones de las comunidades

La EPA ha dado un gran paso adelante en cuanto a la integración de la justicia ambiental en sus reglamentos al haber abierto la puerta a la participación de las comunidades en el proceso de desarrollo de los planes estatales para implementar el Plan de Energía Limpia.  Pero esto es sólo el comienzo de un largo camino.  Como Kim Wasserman de la Organización de Justicia Ambiental de Little Village en Chicago señaló recientemente, las comunidades tendrán que expresar plenamente sus preocupaciones, y en alianza con la comunidad ambiental, deberán trabajar duro con las agencias que elaborarán los planes estatales para asegurar que dichos planes eviten cualquier impacto desproporcionado y de hecho beneficien a las comunidades vulnerables.  

Los planes estatales tendrán que abordar las siguientes cuestiones, entre otras:

1. Mayor uso de las centrales eléctricas de combustibles fósiles:  Las comunidades están preocupadas por la posibilidad de un aumento de emisiones localizadas de contaminantes del aire a causa de un mayor uso de las centrales de carbón y las centrales de gas natural que podría tener lugar durante la implementación del reglamento.  El análisis de proximidad de la EPA es el primer paso para identificar las centrales eléctricas que pueden causar problemas de contaminación en las comunidades ubicadas alrededor de esas plantas.  Las agencias estatales también deberían modelar las emisiones de contaminantes del aire (por ejemplo, dióxido de azufre, óxidos de nitrógeno) de esas centrales como parte del proceso de desarrollo de sus planes, y  combinar los resultados con sistemas de información geográfica (GIS, por sus siglas en inglés) para identificar a las poblaciones afectadas por dicha contaminación que se encuentran más allá del radio de 3 millas utilizado en el estudio de proximidad. 

Sierra Club trabajará arduamente para abogar porque los estados reemplacen el carbón con energía limpia proveniente de fuentes renovables y eficiencia energética.  El Plan de Energía Limpia en realidad ofrece la oportunidad para un mayor desarrollo de la energía renovable en comparación con la propuesta de reglamento, durante el período de cumplimiento y posiblemente antes del mismo, a través del CEIP propuesto por la EPA.

2. Impactos acumulativos: Los grupos ambientales y de justicia ambiental han abogado durante mucho tiempo para que la EPA considere los impactos acumulativos de otras fuentes de contaminación.  El Plan de Energía Limpia no aborda este tema.  Muchas centrales eléctricas de combustibles fósiles en los Estados Unidos se localizan en zonas donde hay otras grandes instalaciones industriales que contaminan el ambiente.  Las herramientas de detección y mapeo  de justicia ambiental, como la EJView de la EPA, permiten a los usuarios identificar estos riesgos ambientales, los cuales deben ser estudiados a profundidad.  Muchas de esas instalaciones industriales contribuyen a violar otras normas de la Ley de Aire Limpio.  Los estados deberían modelar dichas instalaciones junto con las plantas de carbón y las plantas de gas natural que preocupan a las comunidades, y dichos resultados deben informar la imposición de límites a las emisiones de las plantas de combustibles fósiles bajo esas normas de la Ley de Aire Limpio y el Plan de Energía Limpia.  Por eso las comunidades deben abogar para que los estados adopten un enfoque de contaminantes múltiples, considerando no solamente las emisiones de dióxido de carbono sino también de otros contaminantes del aire, como la EPA ha sugerido en el reglamento final.

3. Fijación de límites máximos e intercambio de derechos de emisión: En el Plan de Energía Limpia, la EPA ha permitido los programas que fijan límites máximos y permiten el intercambio de derechos de emisión de dióxido de carbono (“cap-and-trade”), incluidos los enfoques “listos para el comercio de derechos de carbono” (“trading-ready” programs).  Dichos programas preocupan gravemente a las comunidades y los grupos de justicia ambiental.  La participación de las comunidades y los análisis de justicia ambiental también serán fundamentales para asegurar que los estados no permitan que las centrales de energía sucias que causan impactos desproporcionados en las comunidades operen sin restricciones.  Existen varias formas para integrar las consideraciones de justicia ambiental en el diseño de programas de “cap-and-trade”.  

En primer lugar, los estados (o regiones) deben promulgar límites máximos estrictos, lo cual eliminará los incentivos para aumentar el uso de las centrales eléctricas de combustibles fósiles.  

En segundo lugar, como la EPA ha señalado en su manual de “cap-and-trade” titulado “Herramientas del Oficio” (“Tools of the Trade”), los estados podrían delimitar aquellas zonas con concentraciones de contaminación inaceptables (“hotspots”) y prohibir o restringir severamente el flujo de derechos de emisión en esas zonas; en otras palabras, las plantas de energía con el potencial de causar “hotspots” no deben ser autorizadas a comprar derechos de emisión que les permitan seguir contaminando.  

En tercer lugar, si los derechos de emisión son asignados a través de subastas, los estados deben utilizar una parte de los ingresos generados para financiar inversiones en energías renovables y eficiencia energética en las comunidades más afectadas por la contaminación de combustibles fósiles.

4. Quema de basura: La quema de basura para la producción de electricidad es otra gran preocupación para las comunidades porque en varios estados del país ésta califica como energía renovable.  En las últimas semanas, la Asociación para la Integridad de la Política Pública (Partnership for Policy Integrity) publicó un análisis que demuestra que la propuesta de reglamento consideraba toda quema de desechos - incluyendo materiales derivados de combustibles fósiles, como el plástico y los neumáticos - como si tuvieran cero emisiones de carbono.  

La Alianza Global para Alternativas a la Incineración (GAIA, por sus siglas en inglés) advirtió que la quema de combustible derivada de residuos no solamente es peor para el clima que el carbón; la quema de basura también crea impactos desproporcionados porque expone a las comunidades al mercurio y otros contaminantes tóxicos.  El reglamento final todavía permite a los estados usar residuos para cumplir con el Plan de Energía Limpia, pero sólo la porción biogénica de los residuos sólidos urbanos podrá ser utilizada en los planes estatales.  

El reglamento también reconoce que estas fuentes producen emisiones de carbono, y por lo tanto, los planes estatales que busquen incluir residuos biogénicos deberán tener en cuenta sus características y sus beneficios para el clima.  La EPA revisará la determinación de los estados para incluir estas medidas en sus planes, y no todos los tipos de residuos sólidos serán aprobados.  EPA ha solicitado comentarios sobre estas cuestiones en su propuesta de Plan de Implementación Federal, y Sierra Club incitará a la EPA para que tome en cuenta las preocupaciones de las comunidades.

5. Racismo ambiental: Muchos grupos de justicia ambiental pidieron a la EPA que asegure que los estados que reciban fondos de la agencia para desarrollar sus planes estatales cumplan con el Título VI de la Ley de Derechos Civiles.  En el reglamento final, la EPA ha animado a todo aquel que crea que alguna de las leyes federales contra la discriminación ha sido violada por una entidad que reciba fondos de la EPA, a presentar una queja administrativa con la Oficina de Derechos Civiles de la agencia (OCR, por sus siglas en inglés).  

Hay, sin embargo, mucho trabajo que hacer para mejorar el proceso de quejas administrativas de la EPA.  En agosto, el Centro para la Integridad Pública difundió un análisis que reveló que, en el procesamiento de casi 300 quejas por discriminación ambiental promovidas en los últimos veinte años, la OCR de la EPA nunca ha hecho una determinación formal de violaciones de derechos civiles.  El gobierno federal, sin embargo, está dando pasos en la dirección correcta.  En julio, la Comisión de Derechos Civiles de los Estados Unidos (U.S. Commission on Civil Rights) anunció que su informe de cumplimiento de 2016 se centrará en violaciones de los derechos civiles relativos a la justicia ambiental.  Sierra Club continuará trabajando con otras organizaciones para abogar por modificaciones al proceso de investigación y resolución de quejas administrativas de manera que se logre el cumplimiento efectivo del Título VI de la Ley de Derechos Civiles.

En conclusión, las disposiciones de justicia ambiental del Plan de Energía Limpia son un gran paso adelante para la EPA, las comunidades locales, y la nación, pero las mismas sólo son tan sólidas como los planes estatales que ahora toca a los estados preparar.  Sierra Club y nuestros numerosos aliados trabajarán duro en los próximos años para asegurar que la implementación del reglamento beneficie a las comunidades más afectadas por la contaminación de los combustibles fósiles.  Nuestro éxito dependerá de la participación y dedicación de los líderes y defensores de la comunidad de costa a costa.  ¡Únete a nosotros!

Alejandra Núñez, Leslie Fields From Compass

Environmental Justice in the Clean Power Plan

Thu, 08/20/2015 - 13:55

**Editors Note:** This blog post is among the first in a series geared toward discussing the wide ranging impacts of the President’s Clean Power Plan. Over the course of this week, Sierra Club experts will add to this series with posts on what’s new in this plan and its effects on coal, labor, clean energy, and international climate negotiations.

On August 3, 2015, the EPA released its final Clean Power Plan, the first-ever limits on carbon pollution from existing power plants. The standard includes important, hard-won environmental justice provisions, and this post provides an overview of those elements of the plan, as well as next steps and tools for communities.  

Power plants are the largest source of carbon dioxide in the United States, the pollution that is throwing our climate into chaos.  Power plants also emit conventional and toxic air pollutants that contribute to respiratory and heart diseases, as well as premature death.  The Clean Power Plan will lead to significant climate and public health benefits for all, including minority, low-income, and indigenous communities.  

In accordance with Executive Order 12898, which requires EPA to make environmental justice part of its mission, the final rule includes a host of provisions to ensure that the rule benefits communities that have long borne the brunt of fossil fuel pollution--minority,  low-income, and indigenous communities.  It provides tools to help ensure that these communities do not experience disproportionate pollution and health impacts from fossil fuel-fired power plants, and it creates avenues to ensure our most vulnerable communities share in the public health and economic benefits expected from the Clean Power Plan.

EPA conducted unprecedented outreach before and after issuing the proposed rule in June of 2014, engaging environmental justice, faith-based, public health, and community organizations.  Sierra Club worked with environmental justice partner organizations and submitted comprehensive comments that echoed communities’ asks and concerns.  It’s clear from the final rule that EPA listened, considered, and integrated environmental justice considerations in the Clean Power Plan in accordance with its recently finalized “Guidance on Considering Environmental Justice During the Development of Regulatory Actions.”

A. Environmental Justice Considerations in the Final Rule

In the final rule, EPA did three things:

1. Proximity Analysis: EPA conducted a proximity analysis using its newest screening tool EJSCREEN, which found that a higher percentage of minority and low-income communities live near power plants when compared to the national averages.  The rule also encourages states to conduct environmental justice analyses of their own as they develop their state implementation plans (SIPs), and to evaluate the SIPs’ actual impacts on low-income and minority communities during implementation.  Finally, after states have written their plans and begin implementing them, EPA will assess any localized emission increases that result and will work with states to mitigate any adverse impacts on communities.

2. Meaningful Participation Requirement: The final rule requires states to ensure meaningful participation from communities in the SIP development process.  The initial deadline for states to submit their plans is September 6, 2016, and any states seeking an extension beyond that deadline must still submit initial plans by September of next year that demonstrate how they have engaged low-income and minority communities, and they must also explain how they intend to ensure their continued involvement as they develop their final plans.

3. Distribution of Benefits: Under the final rule, energy efficiency continues to be a major option for meeting the carbon reduction targets, and EPA has offered specific incentives for the benefit of low-income communities.  Under the Clean Energy Incentive Program (CEIP), EPA proposed to give sources double credit for energy efficiency projects in low-income communities.  EPA has also committed to work with other federal agencies to provide information on programs to help low-income communities gain access to renewable energy and energy efficiency (for example, the newly-created National Community Solar Partnership, a multi-agency initiative to increase access to solar for low- and medium-income consumers), and has offered examples of state programs that other states can use as models.

B. State Plans Must Address Communities’ Concerns

EPA has taken a big step forward in integrating environmental justice in rulemaking by opening the door to community participation in the Clean Power Plan SIP development process.  But this is just the beginning of a long road.  As Kim Wasserman of Little Village Environmental Justice Organization in Chicago recently pointed out, communities will need to fully express their concerns and, in partnership with the environmental community, must work vigorously with state agencies developing the SIPs to ensure the plans avoid any disproportionate impacts and actually benefit vulnerable communities.  

State plans will have to address the following issues, among others:

1. Increased Use of Fossil Fuel-Fired Plants: Communities are concerned about the potential for air pollution hotspots associated with the increased use of coal plants and natural gas plants that could take place during the implementation of the rule.  EPA’s proximity analysis is the first step to identify power plants that may raise pollution concerns in the communities located in close proximity to those plants.  States should model emissions of conventional air pollutants (e.g. sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides) from those plants as part of their planning process, and those results should be combined with geographic information systems (GIS) software to identify the populations affected by the pollution from those plants beyond the studied radius.  

Sierra Club will work hard to ensure that states replace retiring coal plants with clean, renewable energy and energy efficiency.  The final Clean Power Plan actually provides an opportunity for significantly greater development of renewable energy than the proposal anticipated, both during the compliance period and potentially before compliance begins, through the proposed CEIP.  

2. Cumulative Impacts: Community and environmental justice groups have long advocated for EPA to consider cumulative impacts of other pollution sources, which the Clean Power Plan does not address.  Many fossil fuel-fired plants in the United States are located in the same areas where other large industrial facilities are sited.  Basic environmental justice screening and mapping tools, such as EPA’s EJView, allow users to identify these environmental hazards for further study.  Many of those facilities contribute to nonattainment of other Clean Air Act standards.  States should model these facilities together with the coal plants and natural gas plants of concern to communities, so that appropriate emission standards are set under those Clean Air Act rules and the Clean Power Plan.  Communities should push states to take a multi-pollutant approach to plan development, as EPA has suggested in the final rule.

3. Cap-and-Trade: Of great concern to environmental justice communities is that EPA has allowed cap-and-trade programs (including “trading-ready” programs) for compliance.  Community participation and the environmental justice analyses will also be critical to ensure that dirty power plants that cause disproportionate impacts on communities are not allowed to trade without restriction.  There are several ways to integrate environmental justice considerations in the design of trading programs.  

First, states (or regions) must enact stringent caps, which will remove incentives to increase the use of fossil fuel-fired plants.  

Second, as EPA has noted in its “Tools of the Trade” guidance, states could delineate those zones with unacceptable pollution concentrations (hotspots) and forbid or severely restrict the flow of allowances into those zones; in other words, power plants with the potential to cause hotspots should not be allowed to purchase allowances that permit them to continue polluting.  

Third, if allowances are auctioned, states should use a portion of those revenues to finance investments in renewable energy and demand-side energy efficiency for those communities most affected by fossil fuel pollution.

4. Waste-burning: Waste-burning for electricity production is another big worry for communities because, in several states in the country, it qualifies as a renewable source.  In recent weeks, the Partnership for Policy Integrity released an analysis that showed that the proposed rule treated all waste burning--including fossil-fuel derived materials such as plastic and tires--as carbon neutral.  

The Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives warned that burning waste-derived fuel is not only worse for climate than coal, but it also creates disproportionate impacts by exposing communities to mercury and other toxic pollution.  The final rule still allows the use of waste, but only the biogenic portion of municipal solid waste will be eligible for compliance.  

The rule also acknowledges that these sources are not carbon-neutral, and therefore, state plans seeking to include biogenic waste must consider their characteristics and climate benefits.  EPA will review the appropriateness and basis for states’ determination to include these measures, and not all of them will be approvable.  EPA is currently taking comment on these issues in its proposed Federal Implementation Plan (FIP).  Sierra Club will comment on this issue and will advocate for EPA to take communities’ concerns into account.

5. Environmental Racism: Many environmental justice groups asked EPA to ensure compliance with Title VI of the Civil Rights Act by states that receive funding from the agency to develop their SIPs.  In the final rule, EPA has encouraged anyone who believes that any of the federal non-discrimination laws has been violated by any recipient of EPA funds to file an administrative complaint with EPA’s Office of Civil Rights (OCR).  

There is, however, much work to do to improve EPA’s administrative complaint process.  In August, the Center for Public Integrity released an analysis that found that, in processing nearly 300 environmental discrimination complaints filed in the last twenty years, EPA’s OCR has never made a formal finding of civil rights violations.  The federal government, however, is taking steps in the right direction.  In July, the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights announced that its 2016 enforcement report will focus on civil rights violations relating to environmental justice.  Sierra Club will continue to work with its partners to advocate for modifications to the administrative complaint investigation and resolution process in a manner that ensures effective enforcement of Title VI complaints.

In conclusion, the environmental justice provisions of the Clean Power Plan are a tremendous step forward for EPA, local communities, and the nation, but they are only as strong as the state plans that will now be developed.  Sierra Club and our many allies will be working hard in the coming years to ensure the implementation of the rule benefits communities most affected by fossil fuel pollution. Our success will depend on the involvement and dedication of community leaders and advocates from coast to coast.  Join us!

  Leslie Fields, Alejandra Núñez From Compass

The EPA Cracks Down on Methane Pollution

Thu, 08/20/2015 - 11:14

This week, the EPA announced first-ever limits on industrial methane pollution from the oil and gas industry. These rules will require the oil and gas industry to begin cleaning up their act by cutting emissions of methane pollution, a potent greenhouse gas that traps more than 80 times as much heat as CO2 over a 20 year time period. These rules are a critical first step in the Administration's plan to reduce methane pollution by 40-45% by 2025, a key piece of the President's Climate Action Plan. In addition to cutting climate-warming methane emissions, these standards will also protect public health by curbing emissions of smog-forming volatile organic compounds and carcinogens like benzene and toluene. 

With these regulations, which cover new and modified sources in the oil and gas industry, the EPA has taken an important first step in combating a rampant pollution problem that is harming our climate and communities. However, these rules are only a first step. It’s critical that the Administration quickly move to regulate existing sources, to truly reduce the harm imposed on the more than 15 million Americans living near existing oil and gas infrastructure. While the rules announced yesterday will help avoid the 25% increase in emissions expected from this industry absent any new standards, we simply won’t achieve the significant reduction in emissions that is truly needed without addressing existing sources. In fact, studies show that through 2018 90% of the emissions from this industry will come from existing sources.

And while some opponents of these regulations have claimed that these standards are unnecessary, the facts tell a different story. The oil and gas industry is the single largest industrial source of methane pollution, and recent studies indicate that these emissions are likely substantially underestimated. And voluntary programs aren’t enough - less than 1% of oil and gas companies participate in the EPA’s voluntary methane reduction program.

As part of our work to highlight the clear need for these regulations, the Sierra Club partnered with EarthWorks to host a press event featuring leaders from around the country who have dealt with the impacts of this industry first-hand, who spoke to the urgent need to for EPA to quickly take the next step, and regulate pollution from existing sources in this sector.

We heard from Dr. Peggy Berry, an Ohio occupational, safety, and environmental nurse consultant from Ohio, and formerly a safety and health manager with UPS, who spoke about the substantial health impacts from air pollution from the oil and gas industry, including asthma and aggravation of existing cardio and cardiovascular disorders. 

We also heard from Eva Henry, a County Commissioner from Adams County, Colorado. Commissioner Henry highlighted the fact that Colorado has a strong state methane regulation while at the same time maintaining a strong state economy with some of the highest job-growth rates in the country!

Glenn Schiffbauer, the Executive Director of the Santa Fe Chapter of the New Mexico Chamber of Commerce also presented at the press event. Glenn spoke about the economic opportunity posed by these standards for companies that manufacture and install methane mitigation technology. He also addressed the substantial methane hotspot in New Mexico, which has caught national attention and demonstrates the need to address this pollution source.

And finally, we heard from Crystal Yost, a mother of three with the Mom's Clean Air Force of Pennsylvania. Crystal highlighted the particularly heavy toll that pollution from the oil and gas industry takes on children, and shared her powerful story about why she’s uprooting her family and moving away from Pennsylvania to avoid the pollution from the natural gas infrastructure where she currently lives.

These stories highlight just a few of the many common-sense reasons to clean up pollution from the oil and gas industry. We applaud EPA taking this important initial action and we hope these new source rules pave the way for bigger and bolder action to regulate existing sources and protect our climate and communities.

 

Lena Moffitt From Compass

Coal, Clean Energy, and Energy Transition Under the Clean Power Plan

Thu, 08/20/2015 - 09:51

**Note:** This blog post is among the first in a series geared toward discussing the wide ranging impacts of the President’s Clean Power Plan. Over the course of this week, Sierra Club experts will add to this series with posts on what’s new in this plan and its effects on environmental justice, labor, clean energy, and international climate negotiations.

Now that the dust has settled and the ink is dry on the final Clean Power Plan, it’s clear that the standard is one of the most significant single actions any President has taken to tackle climate disruption. It sets the first-ever national carbon pollution limits for power plants, which are the largest US source of the pollution that has pushed our climate to the brink The Clean Power Plan will lead to significant reductions in carbon pollution - 32 percent from 2005 levels by 2030 - and promote the development of clean energy.  The standard opens up the opportunity for every state to chart its clean energy future.  But what is the most affordable and reliable way to meet the carbon reduction targets in the plan?  

There are hundreds of coal-fired power plants that lack basic pollution controls for deadly and dangerous  air pollution such as smog, soot, and mercury. Many plants are also utterly failing to address massive water pollution problems, discharging dangerous chemicals like arsenic into the streams, rivers, and lakes where millions of Americans fish, swim, and get our drinking water.

These facilities are also some of the largest sources of carbon pollution contributing to climate disruption.  While the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal Campaign has helped retire 200 coal plants since 2010 and replace them with clean energy, many more outdated coal plants are still chugging along and face major decisions in the next few years about whether or not to install basic technologies to address their egregious air and water pollution.  Retiring these dirty facilities and replacing them with renewable energy and energy efficiency is one of the most affordable ways to meet the goals of the Clean Power Plan.  

We have abundant and cost-effective ways to replace these plants with cleaner options while providing reliable energy to power our nation. We continue to waste massive amounts of electricity in our homes and businesses, and the cheapest way to replace dirty coal plants is to save money by wasting less.  At the same time, the prices of electricity generated by harnessing the wind and sun have been falling so dramatically that renewable energy is now cheaper than coal in many parts of the country. The best way to maintain affordable energy is to reduce energy waste and shift to modern, clean renewable energy that doesn’t rely on volatile coal and natural gas prices. By decreasing our reliance on fossil fuels, the Environmental Protection Agency has estimated that the Clean Power Plan will save American consumers nearly $85 per year on their electricity bills in 2030 and that consumers will save a total of $155 billion from 2020 to 2030.  

If we were to replace just a fraction of the most inefficient, expensive, and dirty coal plants that will likely have to make a decision in the next few years about whether or not to keep operating, more than half of the states would be on track to meet or exceed their carbon pollution reduction targets under the Clean Power Plan.

That is what the Sierra Club will be working to do in the coming years. As this graphic from our partners at Bloomberg Philanthropies illustrates, we are already on track to exceed the carbon reductions in the Clean Power Plan through our state-based, grassroots efforts to retire coal plants and replace them with renewable energy. As this recent column about the Clean Power Plan by Michael Bloomberg puts it:

The primary reason for the public revolt against coal is simple: It causes death, disease and debilitating respiratory problems. A decade ago, coal pollution was killing 13,000 people a year. Today, the number is down to 7,500, which means that more than 5,000 Americans are living longer, healthier lives each year thanks to cleaner power.

And if the latest phase of the Sierra Club’s campaign succeeds, coal power will fall far below 27 percent well before 2030 -- even if the EPA rules are rescinded by the next president or struck down by the U.S. Supreme Court.

As a West Virginian, I understand that this transition to clean energy poses significant challenges for parts of the country traditionally reliant on coal. EPA recognizes it too, and has incorporated robust economic transition elements into the final Clean Power Plan, which are outlined in upcoming columns by some of my Sierra Club colleagues. In another great upcoming column, my colleagues will also lay out the important, hard-won environmental justice provisions of the new standard, and the exciting new public engagement opportunities the plan creates for low income communities and communities of color, which have long borne the brunt of fossil fuel pollution. And, another upcoming post outlines the renewable energy and energy efficiency opportunities created by the Clean Power Plan, and the measures EPA is taking to ensure they benefit communities that need them most.

The Environmental Protection Agency estimates the Clean Power Plan will avoid up to 3,600 premature deaths, result in 90,000 fewer asthma attacks in children, and prevent 300,000 missed school and work days.  Together with other clean energy policies, the Plan will reduce premature deaths from power plant pollution by almost 90 percent in 2030 compared to 2005, and will decrease the pollutants that create soot and smog by more than 70 percent.  Replacing dirty and outdated coal plants with energy efficiency and clean energy will save money and save lives.  That’s just common sense.

Mary Anne Hitt From Compass

Los Angeles Pioneers Electric Car-Sharing for Low-Income Residents

Thu, 08/13/2015 - 08:07

Photo above: Sen. DeLeon with an EV from the car sharing program. 

Due to a wealth of local, state, and federal incentives, Los Angeles is already one of the best places to live if you want to drive an electric vehicle (EV). Plus, because the make-up of energy sources in southern California, total emissions from electric vehicles are substantially lower than from gasoline-powered cars. In L.A., a Nissan LEAF emits less than 70% of what a comparable Toyota Camry would.

On top of all of this, California state Senate President Pro Tempore Kevin de Leon recently announced a new electric vehicle car-sharing grant for the City of Los Angeles that will make zero emission driving available to low-income residents.

The plan, called L.A. Leading by Example: Partnering to Pilot EV Car Sharing in Disadvantaged Communities, is made possible with a $1.6 million grant funded by the California Air Resources Board’s Cap-and-Trade program.

The car-sharing stations housing the 100 pilot vehicles will be located in some of the lowest income communities, including parts of Downtown L.A., Koreatown, and Pico Union. Local community-based organizations will not only provide input on where to install the charging stations, but will also take the lead in outreach to area residents about how the program works. They hope to recruit at least 7,000 commuters, keep 1,000 private gasoline-powered vehicles off the road, and prevent the release of 2,150 tons of CO2 annually.

The pilot program is part of Mayor Garcetti’s Sustainable City pLAn, which focuses on improving Los Angeles’ environment, economy, and equity.  One of Mayor Garcetti’s goals is to reduce GHGs by 45% by 2025.

Susana Reyes, Senior Analyst in the Mayor’s Sustainability Team, said: “Not only will it bring car-sharing within reach of hundreds of thousands of Angelenos, but it will also increase investments in L.A. and create jobs.” She also notes that the car sharing program integrates with other regional transportation priorities, providing invaluable first and last mile connections to the subway and light rail and complementing Los Angeles’ Integrated Mobility Hubs.

The car-sharing program is the most recent in a string of efforts in the state to increase green transportation options to disadvantaged communities. Last year new programs championed by the California Charge Ahead Coalition were put in place to fund and restructure the state’s clean vehicle rebate program and to enhance opportunities for low-income Californians to purchase electric vehicles. They also incentivize car-sharing in low-income neighborhoods, the installation of charging equipment at multi-unit dwellings, and establish a goal of 1.5 million plug-in vehicles on California’s roads by 2025. 

When asked what makes programs such as L.A. Leading by Example successful, Reyes answered, “It takes a coalition of organizations who feel empowered that they can make impacts in a diverse community.” She added that municipalities should take advantage of programs state agencies are offering to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Joel Espino and Sekita Grant from the Greenlining Institute, a Berkeley-based non-profit  dedicated to empowering disadvantaged groups, also shared with us tips on what communities outside California should consider when creating their own programs to make EVs more accessible to low-income residents: 1) low-income residents and local community-based groups should be involved in any green transit planning and design processes; 2) community-based organizations should play a case worker role in helping residents understand the benefits and how to qualify and sign up for these programs; 3) planning should engage closely with car dealerships; 4) programs and paperwork should be as simple as possible; and 5) incentives should include new, used, and leased vehicles.

While electric cars tend to get all of the hype (looking at you, Tesla, but we know lots of more affordable options exist), they’re certainly not the only clean transportation choices. Exciting work is taking place across the country with zero emission buses. Pioneering cities such as San Antonio, Tallahassee, Nashville, Worcester, and (of course) L.A. provide great examples for cities to replicate, making cleaner transit possible for residents of all income levels.

All of this is certainly cause for celebration in itself, but if you’re looking for an actual celebratory event to attend, the City of Angels has got you covered there, too. L.A.’s National Drive Electric Week event, one of more than 100 planned nation-wide, is set to take place at Exposition Park on Sunday, September 13th,  and is “poised to be the biggest in the nation,” according to Reyes, who also serves on the Sierra Club’s national board of directors.

According to the event description, this EVent will include test drives, food trucks, and a press conference with notables such as Mayor Garcetti, state Senator De Leon, film-maker Chris Paine, race car driver Leilani Munter, actress Alexandra Paul, and Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune expected to attend.

As if being able to get behind the wheel of an electric car for free isn’t incentive enough, the organizers are also planning to give away food truck gift vouchers to test drive participants. Reyes also hinted at a possible unveiling of a much-anticipated electric vehicle that has a 200 mile-plus range.

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Sounds like our kind of party! Break out the champagne (if you’re not driving) and cue Kool & The Gang.

Gina Coplon-Newfield, Max Menard From Compass

Thai Community Says No To Coal

Mon, 08/10/2015 - 14:04

As we’ve seen throughout history, when governments have failed to protect people from dangerous fossil fuel projects, citizens are forced to take desperate measures. Last month, Thai activists Prasitchai Nunuan and Akradej Chakjunda engaged in a two week long hunger strike, which only ended when Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha agreed to put the proposed 800 megawatt Krabi coal-fired power plant on hold and set up a joint committee with stakeholders to investigate the project.

Prasitchai Nunuan and Akradej Chakjunda are part of the Save Andaman from Coal Network, a coalition group working to protect Thailand’s southern coast, where local communities rely heavily on the Andaman Sea for their livelihoods. This includes a thriving tourism industry that draws on the region's famous, pristine beaches and which brought in an estimated $11 billion last year. Instead of a dirty coal plant, the Save Andaman group wants to see Krabi turned into a 100 percent clean energy province. But despite the danger a posed by coal, the  government was prepared to allow the Electricity Generating Authority of Thailand (EGAT) to start the bidding process for the coal-fired power plant and sea port before completing an environmental impact assessment. This spurred the network to take action.

 

Petitions circulated that challenged the coal plant, and community members traveled to Bangkok to protest the government’s position. However, not everyone was happy about the action. Prasitchai Nunuan reported that seven soldiers visited his home in an effort to intimidate his mother and put an end to the hunger strike and protests, and a similar visit to the home of another activist, Sitthipong Sangshet, was also reported.

 

Deputy Defense Minister and Army Chief General Udomdej Sitabutr has a different take on the visits, saying they were part of the Army’s peacekeeping responsibilities. He also suggested it would be inappropriate for anyone to use the protests to further a political agenda, and unbelievably claimed the proposed coal plant “would cause no environmental impact.”

 

This last assertion is particularly troubling, as it is well known that nothing can make a coal plant clean. It is also important to remember that the military has run Thailand since taking control and suspending the constitution after months of political unrest culminated in a bloodless coup on May 22, 2014. The country has lived under martial law ever since.

 

But Krabi isn’t the only place where communities are taking a stand against coal. Local residents in the Songkhla Province are fighting a massive 2,200 megawatt coal-fired power plant proposed for the Thepha District. Over 100 Tambons, or local government units, have signed a declaration opposing the project. Communities say the plant will devastate the organic food industry in an area where farmers and fishers refrain from using chemicals in accordance with Islamic halal regulations. They say the project will do little to provide jobs, only employing about 300 people, most of whom will be skilled engineers rather than local residents.

 

Last week, a public hearing on the Thepha coal plant took place under what media reports call “tight security.” Songkhla Governor Thamrong Charoenkul banned gatherings at the hearing, and 400 military, police officers, and defense volunteers were sent to the meeting. The hearing proceeded despite a petition calling on the Governor to step down as chair of the hearing and protests against the ban on gatherings. The final straw came when activists were not allowed to bring placards with them into the forum, and they boycotted the hearing.

The fight to protect Krabi and Thepha is far from over, but local people made it clear that they will not be silenced. They even forced the Prime Minister to make concessions to their demands. A larger movement is brewing, and it is clear that the people are willing to stand up to fossil fuel interests, despite the risk.

Nicole Ghio From Compass

Broad Coalition Fights to Restore Voting Rights

Thu, 08/06/2015 - 09:49

Today marks the 50th anniversary of the Voting Rights Act, one of the most historic and landmark pieces of legislation in this country. Rewind to a month ago, when I boarded the bus in the early morning and arrived in Roanoke, surrounded by hundreds on the two-year anniversary of the crushing Shelby County v. Holder Supreme Court decision. Speakers and organizations at the rally ranged from the Sierra Club and NAACP, to the National Center for Transgender Equality and the ACLU, calling on local Congressman Bob Goodlatte to hold hearings and #RestoreTheVRA. The hugely diverse representation demonstrates how coalition building makes us stronger, and even more so, how much we all need a fair democracy to fight for the causes we are most passionate about.

Yet today, the progress that was made for equal voting rights on the backs of Civil Rights activists from the ‘60s is now crumbling. The Supreme Court decision in 2013 gutted Section 4 and the preclearance provision, opening the floodgates for harsher voting rights restrictions in states across the country – including eradicating same-day registration, early voting days, and placing new restrictions on voter registration drives. In Virginia, where the rally was held, new photo ID laws prevented almost 200,000 active voters from casting a ballot in the most recent election. Considering that the 2014 Senate election was decided by a 0.6 percent margin of only 12,000 votes, it is likely that the voter suppression may have influenced the outcome.1 

All of these restrictions disproportionately affect low-income communities, people of color, young people and the elderly, who are all less likely to have easy access to a government issued ID or have the flexibility to take time off from work to vote. Barriers for marginalized communities continue to pass through state administrations long before active citizens reach the voting booth curtains, perpetuating systemic issues of inequality.

As many as 25 percent of African-Americans do not possess a current and accepted form of government-issued photo ID,2 while approximately 68 percent live within 30 miles of a coal-fired power plant.3 "Communities that are on the front lines of the climate crisis and facing the worst environmental injustices are the same ones experiencing voter suppression and racial discrimination. Voter suppression holds communities back from truly participating in our democracy addressing pressing issues like the climate crisis,” Sierra Club president Aaron Mair said. Recognizing the intersection of our movements is crucial to building power and supporting the change we want to create for a just and sustainable democracy.

Students and youth can help propel this effort by hosting voter registration drives on campus or in their communities and educating people about their state's laws. Allowing student IDs to be used for proof of identification and opening up online voter registration - which many states have already begun to do - are all tangible efforts to take back the rights and make our democracy fair and easily accessible to all people. You can take action by signing the online petition telling Congress to restore the Voting Rights Act, signing up for updates from the Democracy Program, and organizing your university body to pressure local legislators and administration to take a bold step in the right direction. 

The success of the Roanoke rally is just one step in the fight to restore the Voting Rights Act to its full strength. As the climate crisis heats up, so does the need to protect our democracy. Students and young voters are ready and engaged; the question is: how will you take a stand for justice?

 

1 http://www.brennancenter.org/blog/how-much-difference-did-new-voting-restrictions-make-yesterdays-close-races

2https://www.americanprogress.org/wp-content/uploads/issues/2012/04/pdf/voter_supression.pdf 

3 http://action.naacp.org/page/-/Climate/JustEnergyPolicies%20VIRGINIA%20REPORT--FEBRUARY%202014.pdft.

Anne Davis From Compass

International Summit Brings Asia-Pacific Youth Together

Wed, 08/05/2015 - 13:08

Last week, Sierra Student Coalition (SSC) organizers Natalie Lucas, Jacqueline Yap, and Randy Downs attended the Seventh Annual International Youth Summit on Energy and Climate Change (IYSECC) in Shenzhen, China. While there, SSC organizers met with long-time youth partners from the China Youth Climate Action Network (CYCAN), the host organization of IYSECC, and a number of youth around the Asia-Pacific region.

At the Summit, SSC organizers developed lasting friendships and strong global connections while simultaneously facilitating personalized trainings about organizing strategies and grassroots youth campaigns. SSC organizers provided examples of successful American organizing techniques to Chinese youth participants and discussed possible integration strategies for localized projects.

If you are a youth organizer interested in building a partnership with Chinese youth organizers, check out the recently-launched Online Youth Exchange program and apply TODAY!

CYCAN estimates that approximately 280 young people from around the Asia-Pacific region, including participants outside of CYCAN and SSC, came together during this summit to learn more about climate change, renewable energy, and the annual international climate negotiations (UNFCCC). Specially-selected speakers presented on a variety of climate-relevant topics, such as the Green Climate Fund, Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDC), and China’s clean energy future. Discussion of these topics were designed to prepare IYSECC participants for the upcoming climate negotiations in Paris, 21st Conference of the Parties (COP21) and to encourage youth to take decisive action to move their countries toward a clean energy future.

Prominent keynote speakers at the summit called for global youth collaboration and for ambitious climate actions to be taken. The speakers included 

Sophia Quach, Director of University Cooperation at the Consulate General of France in Guangzhou, who emphasized that “climate change knows no borders;” 

Randall Robinson, Environment, Science, Technology, and Health Consul at the American Consulate General in Guangzhou, who stated that “the United States and China will demonstrate clean energy on the ground;” 

Chinese climate leaders, such as Jiang Nanqing, United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) Beijing office, and Li Junfeng, Director of National Center for Climate Change Strategy and International Cooperation, who emphasized the need for Chinese youth innovation in green technology research and development; and Li Junfeng, who said “climate change is the number one greatest challenge for the future development of the human race.” (translated)

The bottom line is that climate change is not a localized issue, and youth from around the world need to act on climate now to protect #OurFuture. Click HERE to learn more about the 2015 solidarity statement that U.S. and Chinese youth are signing on to.

 

Jacqueline Yap From Compass

Americans from Coast to Coast Cheer Major Climate Action Announced by President Obama, EPA

Mon, 08/03/2015 - 08:31

Today President Obama and the Environmental Protection Agency took a major step in the fight against climate disruption by releasing the Clean Power Plan. Until today, there were no limits on the amount of carbon pollution that power plants could dump into our air, wreaking havoc on our health and our climate.

More often than not, the power plants spewing this dangerous carbon pollution have a disproportionately negative effect on low-income communities and communities of color already suffering from toxic pollution's worst effects, including heart attacks, asthma, and premature death.

Cleaning up carbon pollution will help protect public health: Coal pollution in the United States results in more than $100 billion annually in health costs and more than 12,000 emergency room visits per year. Polluters are putting their profits ahead of people and the environment, and it’s time for that to end.

Also important, by establishing carbon pollution protections, President Obama and the EPA are beginning the essential work of cleaning up and modernizing how we power our country. This creates jobs and boosts the economy. Several studies out recently show the positive economic impact possible with the Clean Power Plan.

Americans strongly support this climate action, with polls from this year showing that nearly 70 percent of Americans across party lines support the Clean Power Plan.

Regular Americans aren't just cheering this announcement -- they were the key to making it happen. In July, the Sierra Club announced the 200th U.S. coal plant retirement, and clean, renewable energy is at record levels. Grassroots advocacy made that happen and, as a result, the U.S. is leading the industrialized world in reducing carbon emissions. We are are on track to meet -- and even exceed -- the carbon reduction targets in the Clean Power Plan.

One of those hard-working advocates is Verena Owen, the volunteer leader of the Beyond Campaign and a long-time champion for clean air. Here's what she had to say about today's announcement:

"I am excited by how much the Clean Power Plan will benefit communities and families in the form of lower electricity bills, better health, increased clean energy, and more jobs," said Verena. "The American people overwhelmingly support these efforts. And to know how much work grassroots activists have put into getting this national climate action to happen -- it's thrilling to see yet again how much of a force the people can be when we work together."

This is the U.S. taking the lead on climate action, and with the international climate meetings happening this fall in Paris, it is a powerful example for other countries to follow. Already, it's bringing other nations to the table with strong plans of their own.

We applaud the EPA and the Obama administration for taking this strong step for people and the planet -- and I thank the thousands upon thousands of activists nationwide who have marched, rallied, protested, written letters, made calls, and so much more  to demand serious climate action from our leaders.

Mary Anne Hitt From Compass

First Wind Turbine Foundation Put In Place Off Rhode Island's Coast

Thu, 07/30/2015 - 12:54

Earlier this spring I wrote about the new Deepwater Wind Block Island offshore wind farm breaking "ground" off the coast of Rhode Island. Just this past weekend, the first foundation for the first wind turbine was placed into the water! My colleagues Aaron Mair (Sierra Club President), and Drew Grande (Beyond Coal campaign representative) were there in person to watch it all happen.

They were joined by a who's-who list of elected officials and business leaders who know that clean energy, like wind power, is the way forward for Rhode Island and the rest of the U.S.

(From L to R: Deepwater CEO Jeff Grybowsku, Aaron Mair, Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, Senator Jack Reed, Interior secretary Sally Jewell, and Representative Jim Langevin.)

"Rhode Island is the first state with steel in the water for wind," said Drew. "And more importantly, everyone from Deepwater CEO Jeff Grybowski to Rhode Island governor Gina Raimondo spoke about how this project was the start of a new industry that's ready to expand from Rhode Island."

This clean energy project is another great move in the right direction for New England, Drew noted. The region leads on coal retirements and clean energy innovation. In Massachusetts alone, more than 850 megawatts of solar power has been installed. The solar industry employs more than 12,000 people in the state as well. And according to the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, offshore wind leases offer a potential 8,000 megawatts of renewable energy to southern New England.

Sierra Club Aaron Mair told me he loved his time on the packed ship hearing from officials and seeing the project being constructed, that it is a beautiful sign of what's happening now and what's to come for clean energy in the U.S.

"We're not spilling oil. We're spilling air. We're spilling sun," said Aaron. "This is much more environmentally sound than any form of energy production."

Mary Anne Hitt From Compass

Rocky Mountain Power Should Move Past Risky, Polluting Coal Plants

Wed, 07/29/2015 - 17:47

If you live in Utah, you may or may not know that our biggest utility, Rocky Mountain Power (RMP), still gets most of its power from coal plants, including two of Utah’s biggest, the Hunter and Huntington plants. Coal plants like these are big polluters that hurt public health and the environment, and they also are becoming too expensive for ratepayers to support.

A new report, written by Dr. Ezra Hausman, Ph.D., and commissioned by the Sierra Club, shows how Rocky Mountain Power’s coal plants are becoming increasingly costly, with a growing risk that these costs will be passed on to customers in the form of rate hikes. The report, called Risks and Opportunities for PacifiCorp in a Carbon Constrained Economy, with an accompanying mini-report focusing on Utah and Rocky Mountain Power, details how PacifiCorp/RMP’s coal plants will continue to require expensive retrofits to meet clean air standards, and are becoming uncompetitive compared with cleaner forms of energy.

This information comes at an important time, as Utah’s Public Service Commission is taking public comment until Aug. 25 on Rocky Mountain Power’s “integrated resource plan.” In its plan, Rocky Mountain Power proposes to continue using coal plants for the next 20 years, with the costs being passed on to customers. This new report contributes some important facts to the debate, including:

  • Two of Rocky Mountain Power’s coal plants, Hunter and Huntington, are responsible for more than 40 percent of the nitrous oxide air pollution from Utah’s electric sector. Nitrous oxide emissions add to smog and haze, and contribute to bad air days and poor air quality in Utah, including at Utah’s treasured national parks.
  • It could cost more than $1 billion for Rocky Mountain Power to bring its coal fleet into compliance with the highest air quality standards.
  • Rocky Mountain Power’s customers face a risk of higher electricity bills once the costs of carbon pollution and the remediation costs from environmental harm created by coal plants are internalized. Coal is already becoming less competitive due to increasing fuel costs and the need to protect public health and the environment.
  • Which raises the question: Why should Utahns be asked to pay for these dirty, outdated coal plants for the next 20 years?

But the report is not all bad news. It also goes into Utah’s remarkable clean energy potential. Nationwide, prices for both wind and solar power dropped by more than 60 percent between 2009 and 2013, putting new renewable energy projects increasingly at cost parity with coal and natural gas. Dollar for dollar, investments in clean energy create more jobs in Utah than power plants burning fossil fuels do. And there is effectively no ceiling to Utah’s clean energy development -- the report cites multiple studies showing that Utah’s potential solar, wind, and geothermal resources are more than sufficient to meet the state's power needs.

When we look at other states, we see a national trend of moving away from coal. Coal use has fallen from 44 percent of U.S. power to 30 percent in five years, and coal is no longer our country’s largest source of energy, as it was for decades. More than 200 U.S. coal plants have retired since 2010. At the same time, clean energy prices have dropped sharply; 70 percent of new projects coming online are renewable energy, and some utilities have integrated 30 percent renewables or more into their energy mix without suffering reliability problems. This is a great thing -- it has been estimated that reducing pollution from coal plants has prevented 60,000 asthma attacks and 3,600 deaths each year.

We should welcome Utah’s transition from coal. Rocky Mountain Power has a chance to set out purposefully away from coal and toward cleaner sources of energy. RMP’s polluting coal plants are becoming too expensive to maintain and run, and the price tag for customers, let alone the harm to public health and the environment, is becoming hard to justify. Utahns should seize this opportunity to lessen our dependance on 20th-century fuel sources, diversify our energy mix with modern technology like wind and solar, and create good local jobs in the renewable energy economy. All Utahns should do their part to secure this cleaner energy future by demanding that the Public Service Commission do better than locking us into risky coal plants for the next 20 years.

Lindsay Beebe From Compass

U.S. and Chinese Youth Prepare for Paris Climate Talks During International Summit

Tue, 07/28/2015 - 10:36

Last week, Sierra Student Coalition (SSC) organizers were in Shenzhen, China attending the International Youth Summit on Energy and Climate Change 7.0 (IYSECC). At the Summit, U.S. and Chinese youth facilitated trainings and exchanged ideas about organizing strategies and grassroots youth campaigns in the U.S. that are also applicable in China.

Last year, the U.S. and China -- the two largest emitters of carbon pollution -- came together last year to make commitments to the world that they would address climate change by taking action in their countries to cut back on emissions. This was a significant moment because it helped build trust in the international community that large emitters were actually taking initiative.

Although this announcement was crucial for the international community to start creating a global deal as a global community, the youth from the United States and China think this plan should only be the start. In order to stay below a 1.5°C world, more action is needed from both countries.

Together, SSC and the Chinese Youth Climate Acton Network (CYCAN) wrote a joint youth statementencouraging the U.S. and China to be more ambitious when it comes to climate change for our future. In 2014, we presented the youth statement at the Conference of the Parties (COP) 20 in Lima, Peru. As we have moved into 2015, SSC and CYCAN have been working closely together to build momentum in the U.S. and China around making significant contributions to address climate change through tthe #OurFuture campaign. We have also  been working to build our base of organizers to make changes at a local level to have a global impact.

Throughout last week at the youth climate summit, we discussed ways to engage these young people as we put pressure on our countries to help develop and support an ambitious agreement at the climate talks in Paris this December.

In order to secure a healthy planet for our future, the time to act is now. To learn more about the #OurFuture campaign, sign on to the #OurFuture climate statement.

Natalie Lucas From Compass

In Africa, President Obama Can Highlight Clean Energy's Success

Fri, 07/24/2015 - 09:26

President Obama’s trip this week to Nairobi, Kenya for the Global Entrepreneurship Summit offers an opportunity to shine a light on clean energy entrepreneurs working in African countries. That’s why the Sierra Club and 20 other civil society organizations and companies sent the President a letter urging him to showcase “beyond-the-grid” entrepreneurs as examples of successful entrepreneurship that creates jobs while providing the energy needed to help lift people out of poverty.

Through his Power Africa initiative, the President has shown that he understands the importance of ending energy poverty. Power Africa’s goal is to provide clean and efficient electricity while increasing electricity access for homes and businesses throughout sub-Saharan Africa. 600 million people in sub-Saharan Africa lack access to electricity, and this initiative is designed to solve that problem while creating economic growth.

While Power Africa has yet to truly realize its full potential, off-grid and small-scale clean energy solutions prioritized by the Beyond-the-Grid sub-initiative represent one of the most exciting aspects of Power Africa. Off-grid energy companies, including those featured in the letter to the President, offer affordable clean energy solutions in rural areas beyond the reach of centralized power grids. The basic energy access they provide improves education, health, and economic development outcomes on the timescales needed. The Summit is an opportunity to show how solar energy and the companies behind it make this possible.

Clean energy is also making strides through the Overseas Private Investment Corporation’s U.S.-Africa Clean Energy Finance (ACEF) initiative, which has directed millions of dollars toward renewable energy for the whole continent. ACEF-supported projects include a 150 megawatt Senegalese wind farm and a 12 megawatt run-of-the-river hydroelectric power facility in Rwanda.

In sum, we hope that President Obama seizes this unique opportunity to highlight these incredible energy access success stories.

Vrinda Manglik From Compass

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