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Updated: 10 hours 27 min ago

NYC Goes TPP-Free

Thu, 04/30/2015 - 13:22

 

On April 28, New York City joined a growing chorus of American cities voicing opposition to the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) by passing a City Council resolution declaring the city a “TPP-Free Zone,” and urging Congress to oppose recently introduced fast-track” legislation that would allow the deal to be rammed through Congress without amendments or adequate floor debate.

 

The resolution comes just days after New York Mayor Bill de Blasio called the TPP a “raw deal” in an interview with the New York Daily News. He went on to say that, as a result of the TPP, “we would lose jobs for American workers, [and] that corporations would gain power at the expense of local governments,” while the “stronger labor and environmental standards would be very hard to enforce.”

 

New York City is just the latest in a long list of American cities that have expressed their opposition to fast-tracking the TPP. The previous week, on April 21, the Pittsburgh City Council passed a similar resolution, opposing fast track and urging the President and Congress to conduct “a fully transparent and inclusive legislative process for consideration of the TPP.” Anti-TPP or anti-fast-track resolutions have also been passed in San Francisco, Calif.; Los Angeles, Calif.; Seattle, Wash.; St. Paul, Minn.; Madison, Wisc.; Berkeley, Calif.; Tompkins County, New York; Fort Bragg, Calif.; Mahoning County, Ohio; Bellingham, Wash., Richmond, Calif.; Hollywood, Calif.; Oak Park Township, Illinois; Dane County, Wisc.; Guadalupe, Ariz.; and Columbus, Ohio.

 

The Trans-Pacific Partnership could have disastrous effects on the environment, including increased fracking, increased dependence on dirty fossil fuels, and the empowerment of corporations to challenge climate and clean energy policies in private trade courts. In addition, it has been negotiated in secret – as Senators Elizabeth Warren and Sherrod Brown noted in a recent letter to President Obama. Fast-track legislation recently introduced in the U.S. House and Senate would limit Congressional oversight over trade deals, letting the executive branch send already-signed deals to Congress for limited floor debate, no amendments, and a simple up-or-down vote. Just this week, more than 2,000 organizations in the United States sent a letter to Congress expressing strong opposition to the new bill.

 

Rather than secrecy and corporate giveaways, a new, 21st-century model of trade requires full transparency and accountability to ensure that trade deals protect the environment and deliver benefits for the majority of Americans, not just multinational corporations.

Park MacDougald From Compass

The 10 Greatest Things in “The Great Transition”

Thu, 04/30/2015 - 12:00

Everyone knows fossil fuels are bad. They cause dangerous carbon pollution, adding to climate change, and poison our air and water making us sick. But there’s good news: The Great Transition is happening.  The new book by Lester Brown makes it clear that clean energy is on its way in and dirty coal and gas are on the way out.The United States (and the world!) is switching to renewable energy faster than ever. Check out these great examples to see how we are well on our way to a cleaner, greener, safer future.

  1. We’re moving beyond coal. The Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal Campaign has worked to retire 188 coal plants. And we’re not stopping there. By 2030, we’re hoping to transition half of the coal-fired fleet to clean energy.
  2. Beyond our borders the coal boom is going bust -- for every one new coal plant built world wide, two have been shelved or canceled since 2010.
  3. We’ve even moved entire cities and states beyond coal to clean energy. Los Angeles will be completely coal free by 2025 and the entire state of Oregon will be coal free by 2020.
  4. College campuses and universities are joining the fight. The Sierra Student Coalition is working to both retire on campus coal plants and divest entire campuses from fossil fuels. Even campuses in the heart of coal country are moving beyond coal, the University of Louisville in Kentucky, the University of Tennessee and Western Kentucky University have all pledged to end coal use on campus.
  5. But we’re going farther than shutting down coal plants. We’re replacing dirty energy with clean renewable energy. In early 2014, global wind generating capacity totalled 318,000 megawatts, enough to power more than 80 million U.S. homes. That’s wind generation stat: by early 2014, global wind generating capacity totalled 318,000 megawatts, enough to power more than 80 million U.S. homes. To put that in perspective, the United States has just under 120 million households.

  6. Texas, a state that used to lead the U.S in oil production now leads the nation in wind development, with 12,400 megawatts of capacity at the start of 2014.

  7. Wind isn’t the only renewable energy source that’s soaring. Between 2008 and 2013, solar panel installation worldwide skyrocketed from 16,000 to 139,000 megawatts -- enough to power every home in Germany, a country with 83 million people.
  8. Stateside, solar use is growing too. By late 2014 there were nearly 600,000 individual solar photovoltaic systems in the United States, almost twice as many as in 2012. And this number is expected to grow, by 2016 we may see the number of individual solar systems pass 1 million.

  9. Corporations and billionaires are even switching to renewables. Even Google, a search engine so powerful it’s now a verb is going renewable. Recently they built an 82-megawatt solar PV array in southern California. But what’s even better than the sheer size of it, is that it’s being built on  an abandoned oil and gas field. The old fossil fuel haven has transitioned to a beacon of clean energy.
  10. There’s good reason were transitioning from fossil fuels to clean energy, it’s what the public wants to do. A 2013 gallup poll shows that coal is America's least favored energy source. And a 2015 Navigant Research national poll showed that 79% of Americans want more emphasis on producing solar energy and 70% want more emphasis on producing wind energy.

Not too long from now coal plant smokestacks that dirty the air and harm our climate will be replaced buy solar panels on our rooftops and wind turbines on our hillsides. This transition is well underway but we still need your help. Visit addup.org to join the fight. Sign petitions and get involved with campaigns to move the United States to a clean energy future.

Lauren Lantry From Compass

New Congressional Scouting Report Reveals Who's Hitting Homeruns, Striking Out for Clean Energy, Clean Air

Thu, 04/30/2015 - 09:47

Spring time means baseball season for so many - a nice evening out at the ballpark with a hot dog, peanuts, and a cold beverage. We all love a homerun, except when it's against our team, of course. So we here at the Sierra Club decided to mix baseball and politics [link to release] to make it clear just who's playing on the polluters' team and who's on the side of clean air and clean water protections.
 
In "Scouting the 114th Congress: Polluters Are Out Of Their League,"  we scout the best in Congress. We've even made individual baseball cards [PDF] for the Senators featured in the report, to make it clear which team they’re playing for. The season in Washington is young, but we've already seen way too many attacks on our clean air and clean water, as big polluter-backed politicians are throwing beanballs at critically important public health safeguards meant to protect our families and our communities.
 
After all, poll after poll show that Americans from both red and blue states didn't vote for dirty air, dirty water, or dirty energy last November. Unfortunately, since then Members of Congress have cast lots of votes that could threaten our air, water, and climate - so we're breaking down the box scores with this new report.
 
From the report:

Half the fun of baseball is getting to spend time outdoors (you can guess that we're not big fans of domed stadiums), but what’s the point when the air is too dangerous to breathe or the water in the dugout is contaminated? Fossil fuel companies and their political allies aren't good sports, and they’re pushing an agenda that lets them pollute with impunity. If they had their way, asthma inhalers might end up being part of the uniform for Little Leaguers across the country.
 
Here's what a win for American families would be: communities that are safe, healthy places where we can live and raise our children, with clean air and clean water, and free from the dangers of toxic pollution -- but the pro-polluter agenda of the new Republican-led Congress is blocking the plate.

Senators were divided into teams: The Fossil Fools, sponsored big by big polluters and going to bat for dirty fuels, dirty air, and dirty water every game; the Clean Air Aces, who are lining up with the American public to score the clean energy, clean air, and climate action that our families and communities deserve; and finally, those players that are on the radar, who we’re watching because they aren't firmly in either team's dugout just yet.
 
Check out our special scouting report for the 114th Congress, see how your Senator's playing and who has been sponsoring their work in the big leagues, and find out what YOU can do to help win the game for healthy families and a healthy planet.
 
Play ball!

Mary Anne Hitt From Compass

Raised Richmond: Kiana Ward's Story of Growing Up Near Chevron Refinery in Richmond, CA

Mon, 04/27/2015 - 14:20

 

Richmond, California is a small city about 30 minutes outside of San Francisco, with a Chevron Oil Refinery within its borders.  Not many people had heard of it before 2012, but on a fateful day in August, a large fire exploded through the Chevron facility, which resulted in the almost complete destruction of two of the refinery’s towers, and the city became the focus of national news.  The community was rocked to its core, and over the course of the next few weeks, over 15,000 people sought medical treatment at area hospitals as a direct consequence of the blast and the toxic smoke billowing from the factory.  But the national attention did not end there.  More positively, in 2014, the impossible happened; members of the community defeated Chevron-backed candidates in the local election, winning despite Chevron’s $3 million election campaign and beginning the work to take back their community. It’s an inspiring story, and one that can serve as a beacon of hope to communities across the country fighting dirty fuels and dirty industry money in politics. We had the chance to get the story of one citizen of Richmond, Kiana Ward, to get some insight into what it was like living in this city for the past 3 years.

 

Kiana Ward grew up in Richmond, just a few short miles from the Chevron Oil Refinery.  Throughout her childhood and into her adulthood, she remembers hearing the blast of alarms coming from the facility every two months or so.  It was mostly for testing the alarm system, and making the residents feel as though they would be notified quickly and efficiently if something went wrong.  “It’s always a little disconcerting though,” she recalls. “As a resident, I always felt like I was living in a city where testing is necessary, which can be kind of scary to think about.”

 

The testing was just a part of everyday life for Kiana though.  “Growing up in Richmond, Chevron was sort of always on my radar to some degree, but they didn’t really feel like an evil corporation.  I didn’t really recognize Chevron as something I should be worried about until I went to college,” she states.  Kiana began at Brown University in Rhode Island, traveling 3,000 miles across the country to start her freshman year in 2009, and graduate in 2013.  Growing up, she spent a lot of time outdoors, rock climbing and hiking on the picturesque California terrain.  So it seemed logical that while at the Ivy League Institution, she majored in Environmental Studies with a focus on environmental law and policy.  She even got a scholarship from Chevron to help with her tuition fees.  

 

While taking a class on environmental justice and injustice however, things began to change.  “They used Richmond as a perfect example of environmental injustice.  Here I am, 3,000 miles away, and they’re talking about my home town.  I don’t know how it hadn’t occurred to me before,” she admits.  

 

Her interest in the refinery near her house continued long after the course ended.  She even based her senior year thesis off of the environmental injustices happening right outside her door.  During the process, she had the opportunity to interview a third-party contractor that worked with Chevron, and was even there during the day of the 2012 fire.  His job was to double check the amount of oil being put onto cargo ships.  He told her that on the day of the fire, he was taken to a bunker where he had to stay for about 12 hours.  They told him while he was in there that the shelter could withstand an atomic bomb.  She remembers talking to him and thinking at the time, she was at her house and “this guy was put in a bomb shelter.  At that moment, I was like wow, I’m living next to something that’s close to an atomic bomb,” she says.

 

Other people in her city began to get that impression too after the fire, which served as a “tipping point,” Kiana thinks.  “Residents were finally starting to realize that Chevron wasn’t the best thing for the community.”  So when council elections rolled around a couple years later in 2014, Richmond responded.  “With the most recent election, there were Chevron billboards and flyers everywhere, and city residents just kind of got fed up,” she recalls.  “It was just too much.  We were angry and we felt unsafe.”  So Kiana and hundreds of others in her community rallied together to try to change that.  Kiana joined a very strong progressive force of citizens.  Together they went out every day, knocking on doors, and trying to raise awareness for the Richmond Progressive Alliance that was working to support local candidates against those funded by Chevron.  “The idea that Chevron could win a city council election through money is scary, and we wanted to prove that they couldn’t buy the election.”  

 

And they were successful.  Not one single Chevron candidate was elected to City Council in 2014.  “Maybe it’s because when you have something you’re fighting against, kind of like a bad guy, it brings people together around the common cause,” Kiana explains when asked about the successes of her town.  “Our slogan is ‘The City of Pride and Purpose’.  Growing up, I thought that was kind of silly, but seeing what we have done as a community, now I think that people really do have Richmond pride.  Maybe it’s because of Chevron that Richmond is able to be so progressive.  Richmond doesn't have to be a refinery town, it can be something much more than that.”

 

Moving forward, that’s the dream Kiana has for her city -- that it’s not defined purely as a refinery town, because it has so much more potential.  “Richmond is definitely going in the right direction, and I’d like to see it stay on the same path it’s on right now, or maybe even ramp it up.  We’ve shown that we don’t have to accept Chevron’s money or be beholden to them,” Kiana says.  She’s realistic in her hopes for the future though -- “the Refinery is unfortunately still an integral part of the city, but I think we can move on and not involve them as much in city matters and our daily lives.  I don’t see us getting rid of Chevron entirely, at least not yet, but I want to turn it into something that we don’t have to be afraid of anymore, something that can finally and truly be positive for our community.”

 

Kate McCormick From Compass

First U.S. Offshore Wind Project Breaks Ground

Mon, 04/27/2015 - 13:09

Today, the US took another big step in the transition beyond coal to a clean energy, as the nation's first offshore wind project broke ground.

Block Island calls itself the "Last Great Place," but this small island 12 miles off the coast of Rhode Island is first in the hearts of environmentalists and clean energy advocates across the nation today. Big things are happening just off the shore of that little island. That's where Deepwater Wind has started construction on America's first-ever offshore wind project. (The photo at the top of this post is of Deepwater Wind workers assembling parts for the offshore wind farm.)

This project will provide 30 megawatts (MW) of power-- enough to provide clean energy to every Block Island resident -- while cutting electric bills by 40 percent. Thanks to this new wind farm, the current polluting diesel generators that power the island, which burn 1,000,000 gallons of diesel annually, will be coming offline, the equivalent of removing 150,000 cars worth of carbon emissions from the roads. Switching from dirty fuels to clean energy means cleaner air and water for Rhode Island families. Even better, excess power will flow back onto the grid in the Northeast via an undersea cable that Deepwater is installing.

In 2013, Sierra Club stood side by side with labor and environmental groups including LiUNA, Audubon, and the National Wildlife Federation to turn folks out to a number of hearings in support of the project. Today, we can congratulate our allies and Deepwater Wind on making that hard work a real clean energy success story.

 

(L to R: Sierra Club Massachusetts volunteer David Zeek, Sierra Club Beyond Coal representative Drew Grande, Senator Sheldon Whitehouse [D-RI], former Sierra Club Rhode Island director Abel Collins, and Sierra Club Massachusetts director Emily Norton at today's Deepwater Wind announcement celebration in Rhode Island.)

The Block Island Wind Farm project is just the beginning of a burgeoning offshore wind industry in the United States. The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management has designated a wind management area off the coast of Rhode Island and Massachusetts that has the potential to generate as much as 9,000 MW of clean wind power. If we are able to harness that wind it means power for 700,000 homes and 43,000 offshore wind-related jobs on the east coast by 2030.

That means that 700,000 families could get their electricity from homegrown New England power. And New England isn't alone; up and down the Atlantic coast, from New Jersey and New York to Delaware and Virginia, the clean energy industry is making plans to develop offshore wind power. Investing in clean, safe, renewable offshore wind will power our region and allow us to reap the economic benefits for years to come while providing good paying jobs that stay right here in our communities.

(A Diving Speciality Services employee hard at work on the Deepwater Wind offshore wind farm's structures.)

Today's groundbreaking in Rhode Island is the next in a long line of clean energy successes that underscore a real truth about America's energy future -- renewable energy ready to go and here to stay. The change in America’s energy outlook over the last five years has been dramatic -- coal power is on the decline, now less than 40 percent of our energy mix, and continuing to fall. Over the last five years, 188 coal fired power plants have retired or announced that they will retire. At the same time, clean energy sources like wind and solar are have been on the rise, and are now cheaper than fossil fuels in many places. Wind energy now powers 18 million American homes while solar power keeps the lights on in 3.5 million more.

Moving beyond coal means more than just phasing out coal fired power, it means investing in America's true clean energy promise. Today, on Block Island, we again prove that America can be a leader in creating a clean energy reality that ensures every person has the right to breathe clean air, enjoy clean water and live in a world free from the threat of climate disruption.

Mary Anne Hitt From Compass

Bringing Together a Movement to #KeepItInTheGround

Mon, 04/27/2015 - 09:03

Last week, I had the honor of joining an incredible group of indigenous and frontline leaders and activists from across the Americas for the "Climate Equity Summit: Keeping Fossil Fuels in the Ground." The event, organized by Amazon Watch and the Sierra Club, was envisioned as a space to connect the heroic efforts of people fighting coal, oil and gas developments from the Arctic to the Amazon, and create an opportunity for each of these powerful movements to come together into one broader movement to Keep It in the Ground. 

The summit, hosted at the Sierra Club's San Francisco office,  brought together leaders of the Kichwa people of Sarayaku, Ecuador, the Zapara people of Peru and Ecuador, members of the Inupiaq and Pit River/Wintu and Neets’aii Gwich’in Athabascan tribes of Alaska, the Ponca Nation of Oklahoma, the Navaho (Dine) Nation, the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation of Northern Alberta, Canada, the Dakota of Minnesota and Mdewakanton Dakota nations, along with activist leaders from the U.S., Mexico, Ecuador, and Canada. 

Over the span of two days, we sparked lasting connections and bonded over our shared goals of protecting communities and staving off climate catastrophe by keeping fossil fuels in the ground. We coalesced around the growing consensus that we must leave at least two thirds of proven fossil fuel reserves un-burned if we hope to avoid throwing our planet into a state of unrecognizable peril. 

We also agreed that our fledgling movement must articulate and elevate what we're for, not just what we're against. We discussed that while we’re against new fossil fuel projects that will drive development and unlock the carbon reserves that will push our planet far past the two degrees C* of warming scientists say our planet can handle, we're for the distributed, democratized clean energy that is rapidly taking hold around the world. While we're against government-backed perpetuation of the fossil fuel economy through subsidies and leasing of our public lands, we're for a just transition to a future that protects communities from toxic pollution and fosters an equitable, inclusive and sustainable world for us all.

Those are just a few of the commitments the group hopes to formally announce in a declaration unveiled on World Environment Day, June 5th, a draft of which was adopted unanimously on the last day of the summit.  Many of the groups' participants will be attending the United Nations' climate talks in Paris and may even present the declaration there, as an affirmation of the rights of indigenous peoples and the need to keep fossil fuels in the ground.

Throughout the course of the two day agenda, we heard from activists fighting fracking across the US, from those fighting tar sands developments in Canada and the pipelines that would carry them through the US, from others working to protect the Amazon rainforest from the destruction caused by oil drilling and deforestation, and to block efforts to drill for oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and in the Arctic and Atlantic oceans.

We heard from artists using their craft to engage community members and demonstrate the value of protecting land from fossil fuel developments, and from women working to empower other women to speak up about the urgency of action on climate change. We heard from indigenous leaders fighting to convince their own tribal governments that energy sources other than coal are a viable option and from community members that had formed their own organizations to fight coal export terminals in the Pacific Northwest. The work we learned about was varied and broad, but a single theme connected it all -- we are disparate actors of a single movement to keep it in the ground.

As we neared the end of the summit, we discussed next steps and assessed interest in continued collaboration -- and the desire to keep this moving and take it to the next step was overwhelming. I've never been part of a conference or coalition meeting that elicited more enthusiasm. Clearly, we've touched on something big here -- our movement may be small yet, but it will grow. We hope you'll join us to #KeepItInTheGround.

The event was made possible through the generous support of the Hillary Institute. Particular thanks are due to Mark Prain, Executive Director of the Hillary Institute, who joined us all the way from New Zealand to be part of the inception of our movement. Thank you, Mark and the Hillary Institute for your generous support and visionary leadership!

Lena Moffitt From Compass

Why Small Businesses Are Installing Electric Vehicle Charging Stations

Mon, 04/27/2015 - 08:25

Increasingly, small businesses are installing electric vehicle charging stations as a way to attract new and loyal customers.

The Carlisle House Bed & Breakfast in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, added an electric vehicle (EV) charging station for its guests to use during their stay. Owner Alan Duxbury said he's conscious of his environmental footprint and wants to do what he can to reduce it. He hears from customers that the charging station makes the B&B more competitive with big chain hotels nearby that aren't providing this special perk.

Redhook Brewery in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, recently installed an EV charging station thanks to a $3,000 rebate from PSNH, the largest utility in the granite state. Leaders in Door County, Wisconsin, installed two electric vehicle charging stations in their visitor center lot and have recruited three businesses -the Bay Breeze Resort, the High Point Inn, and the Village of Egg Harbor- to add charging stations to theirs too. "There are times when we, as tourism catalysts, are called upon to be leaders and visionaries and develop new and exciting opportunities in tourism development," said Jack Moneypenney, the president and CEO of the Door County Visitor Bureau.

Big companies, such as Walgreen's, Walmart, Kohl's, and Simon Malls, have begun installing EV charging stations and see the business case. Rocky Mountain Institute compiled a guide for the costs of EV charger installation for individuals and businesses and found that the total cost per charger for a dual curb-side station is between $5,000 and $6,000. Is it financially worth it for small businesses?

The Center for Climate and Energy Solutions recently did an analysis of EV charging infrastructure financing and identified promising ways to get the private sector to fund more of that infrastructure. Said study author Nick Nigro, "Just selling electricity as a transportation service won't bring in enough revenue to pay for owning and operating the charging equipment." He argues that this is why charging business models must capture some of the indirect revenue that flows to other businesses, like automakers, retailers, and electric utilities.

Nigo said that business owners need to take into account how much additional business these charging stations can bring in by attracting new and loyal customers eager to patronize businesses that are supporting the transition to electric mobility. According the EV charging infrastructure company ChargePoint, the installation of an EV charging stations increases customer "dwell-time" significantly -by an average of 50 minutes per customer according to one business customer.  This means more time for customers to spend money.

At Nauna's Bella Casa restaurant in Montclair, NJ, owner Tom Moloughney has two ChargePoint stations for his diners and one ClipperCreek charging station out back for his own EV to charge. Moloughney said he initially installed the stations as a public service to help foster the adoption of electric vehicles, but soon realized there are benefits for his bottom line too.

"Many of the people that come to plug in and eat tell me they only came to Nauna's because of the chargers in the parking lot, and that they didn't know of the restaurant before finding it on their EV charging app," said Moloughney who has been driving electric since 2009. "I'm averaging about five or six electric vehicles per week now, and the number is definitely on the rise."

Drivers can find EV charging stations and potentially new places to visit and do business by using apps such as PlugShare.

If you're a business owner thinking about installing EV charging stations, reporter Brad Berman has helpfully devised a step-by-step tutorial. If you're a business owner with experience in this arena, share your story. Maybe you'll acquire some new customers or find some new places to shop and fuel up.

Kathleen McBride and Christina Rohrbacher, Sierra Club interns, contributed to this article. Photo courtesy of Tom Moloughney.

Gina Coplon-Newfield From Compass

BP Oil Spill Disaster: 5 Years Later

Thu, 04/23/2015 - 14:00

 

On the night of April 20, 2010 at 9:30 p.m., BP executives that had flown in on a helicopter were celebrating the successes of the oil-drilling rig called Deepwater Horizon, standing on the rig’s main deck with some of the more senior-ranking workers. Ironically, they were also toasting to that fact that it had been over seven years since the last injury on the Horizon. Those that were not granted the few premium invites to the party were going about their normal routine: showering, sleeping, getting ready for bed, relaxing from a hard days’ work. In the next 30 minutes, the unthinkable happened -- by 10 p.m., the entire rig was engulfed in flames, and by April 22, it had completely disappeared under the sea.

This week marks the five-year anniversary of that horrific event. Eleven people lost their lives, and a handful more were severely injured. Over the course of the next few days, the oil that the rig was carrying was released into the surrounding ocean, and crude oil continued to leak from the underwater well. It’s estimated that more than 210,000 gallons of oil seeped into the environment every 24 hours, and just eight days later, the resulting oil slick covered 5,000 square miles. Over the course of the next few months, oil continued to leak from the pipes, and overall, the government estimated that around 5 million barrels of crude oil were spilled.

 

The results of the oil spill were devastating to the surrounding area. Birds were covered in the slick liquid, and as a result were unable to retain their buoyancy and regulate their body temperature. Other animals in the area, such as dolphins, fish, and sea turtles, were likely to ingest the oil, causing internal bleeding and painful ulcers. Reefs in the area were completely destroyed, causing the ecosystem that depended on them to completely collapse. It’s estimated that more than 400 species of mammals, fish, and coral were affected by the spill.

Billions of dollars were invested in the cleanup, which involved several attempts to plug the hole releasing the gas, in addition to trying to get rid of the oil that had already escaped and was damaging the surrounding area. And five years later, we’re still dealing with the consequences, and we’re not even done uncovering the full extent of the damage. Realistically, it will take generations for the effects of the spill to be completely eradicated. Balls of tar still surface on the beach, driving down tourism and resulting in decreasing economy for many of the states along the Gulf. The land itself is even beginning to disappear – oil has continued to cover the roots of mangrove trees in the area, which keep many of the islands that dot the coastlines together, killing the trees and causing the land to disintegrate into the ocean.

In 2015, ecosystems and the wildlife that depend on them continue to suffer as a result of the Deepwater Horizon disaster. Many communities and people that depended on these animals and ecosystems, such as the oyster farmers and fishermen, are still reeling as a result. Dead dolphins continue to wash up on the beach, showing signs of poisoning; fish in the region are found belly-up, with oil coating their gills; mollusks and oysters die off as the reefs they live on disappear. It’s a chain reaction that unfortunately shows no sign of stopping.

 

When remembering the horrific event that happened five years ago this week, it’s important to also note that what happened in 2010 is not completely in the past. We’re still dealing with the devastating effects, and the wildlife in the area continues to suffer. And believe it or not, there are new drilling plans in the works, like those being pushed by Shell Oil right now in the Arctic. These plans come with a high risk of an oil disaster -- a 75-percent chance in the Arctic -- not to mention the 100-percent chance of worsening our climate crisis.

The risks are well documented. We've seen time and again that drilling equals spilling, and spills leave lasting effects on communities along our coasts. It’s time to stop dangerous drilling and invest more in clean energy alternatives like wind and solar.


Kate McCormick From Compass

Take Your Kids to Work...And Speak Up for Their Health

Thu, 04/23/2015 - 10:04

Thousands of parents across the U.S. today are taking part in the annual "Take Your Child to Work Day." It's a great chance to show our sons and daughters just what we're up to every day while they're at school (or while they're home, if you work evenings), and maybe even to inspire them to start thinking about careers of their own.
 
I normally work from a small office, so keeping my four-year-old daughter Hazel with me all day as I work on my laptop might bore her to tears -- but she's come with me to other events many times in her short life. She's helped me testify at public hearings, stood with me at rallies, and even joined a conference or two.
 
I do so much of my work with the Beyond Coal campaign for my daughter's future -- and for the future of all kids. I imagine many of my colleagues who are parents feel the same. We work together to phase out coal plants so families can enjoy cleaner air and water. We demand clean energy investments to help fight climate change so our kids and grandkids will have a safer, healthy planet when they grow up.
 
Our kids deserve every opportunity for a safe and prosperous future. Keeping our children happy and healthy is the top concern for every parent, and for our communities as a whole.
 
But, when your kids have asthma, it becomes harder and harder to do just that. All your concerns are multiplied by the time, effort, and anxiety you face when trying to balance their care with the demands of making ends meet.
 
Take Your Child to Work Day shouldn't end in the emergency room. But, for the parents of the seven million American kids that suffer from asthma, sudden trips to the hospital are an all too common occurrence. 
 
One of the major triggers of asthma attacks is smog pollution - the dirty air created after fossil fuel emissions mix with heat and sunlight. The doctors and scientists at the American Lung Association say young children breathing in smog pollution is like getting sunburn on their lungs. It wreaks havoc on their respiratory systems and can cause permanent lung damage, and in some cases, premature death. 
 
Children are at the greatest health risk from smog pollution because they are more likely to be active outdoors and their lungs are still developing. Asthma strikes nearly one out of every 10 school children in the United States and is the number one health issue that causes kids to miss school. On "bad-air days" or "air alert days," particularly during the warmer months, kids with asthma are forced to stay indoors to avoid aggravating their condition.
 
Smog pollution is even worse in communities of color, since African and Latino American kids are more likely to live in counties with serious smog problems. In fact, African American kids have nearly two times the rates of current asthma as white children, and are four times as likely to die from it.
 
We can help change this reality for kids and parents by speaking up for stronger smog standards. Our voices are needed to counter the misinformation from big polluters who consistently choose their bottom line over public health. EPA is due to update our smog protections in October, and we need to push for a standard strong enough to protect the health of all children.
 
This Take Your Child to Work Day, tell the Environmental Protection Agency to side with working parents and their children, not polluters, by strengthening the smog pollution standard and giving us all a better quality of life. You can do just that by going to sc.org/smog.

Mary Anne Hitt From Compass

First Seize the Grid Campaign Event at University of Montevallo! Earth Fest 2015

Tue, 04/21/2015 - 01:00

Over the weekend I realized how dire the situation is for clean energy in Alabama. And realized why it is so important that the citizens of Alabama take the initiative to change our state energy system. So on the day before Earth Day, students took action. Seize the Grid at the University of Montevallo held its very first event at the Earth Fest Celebration.

This past weekend I attended the Samford Energy Forum where people associated with Energy in Alabama came together to discuss energy. At this event, one of our state legislatures discussed how renewable energy is just not geographically feasible for Alabama, and that it would be a very long time before we stopped the use of fossil fuels.

The agenda consisted of topics like: The Status of Oil & Gas Development in Alabama, Development of Gas and Oil Resources: Recent Regulatory Innovations in the US, The Energy-Water Nexus, Alabama Legislative Energy Update, Status of CO2-Enhanced Oil Recovery in the United States, Geological Assessment of Alabama’s Oil Sands Resources, The Future of Unconventional Oil and Gas in Alabama, and Hydraulic Fracturing Current Best Practices.

And I realized state legislatures and leaders in Alabama are not keeping renewable energy in the picture.  Although the Energy Forum was disappointing, students at UM would like to transfer this negative energy into positive energy by changing where our energy comes from to power UM’s campus.

Our goal for Seize the Grid at UM is to get administration to commit to creating an energy plan that will allow UM to be powered by 100% renewable energy by 2030. So at Earth Fest on Tuesday April 21st, UM Seize the Grid urged students to participate in a photo petition. Students wrote their vision for the future of renewable energy at UM on a post it note and took a photo to submit to our Administration.

During our photo petition, many students shared their visions of a campus powered by solar and wind which excites me for Seize the Grid at UM  - - our campus is composed of students that are passionate for renewable energy.

UM has the responsibility to be powered by 100% renewable energy because the coal, gas and oil that Alabama and UM are relying on are polluting our air, water, and lives. We want our Administration and students to lead in the movement for renewable energy because people’s lives are impacted by climate change, pollution, and other consequences of the use of using fossil fuels for energy.

As of now, our vision for 2015 will be working with administration to start the conversation about where our energy at UM comes from, and how renewable energy can be brought into the picture.

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This Earth Week, JOIN the Sierra Student Coalition at the University of Montavello, by taking your own selfie for clean energy!

1) Snap a photo, telling us: 

  • What is your vision for a clean energy future by 2025?
  • What actions are you taking to build that clean energy future?

2) Tag the photo with:

  • Hashtags: #SeizeTheGrid and #CleanEnergyU
  • Handles: @SierraStudent and @seizethegridum

3) Post to Instagram, Facebook or Twitter!

Happy #EarthDay2015!

 

Morgan Pennington From Compass

New Report Once Again Shows Danger of MDB Financing for Large Fossil Fuel Projects

Mon, 04/20/2015 - 13:37

Following decades of detrimental overseas coal project financing by Multilateral Development Banks (MDB), there has been meaningful progress made to secure new policies at MDBs to limit this type of financing -- specifically for coal projects, which are prone to devastating environmental and human rights violations. This includes clear restrictions at some of the world’s largest financiers, including the World Bank, European Investment Bank (EIB), and European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD). But despite this progress, there are some entrenched interests that refuse to get with the times.

Recently yet another damning report was released on the 4,000 megawatt Tata Mundra coal-fired power station in Gujarat, India, which received $450 million in financing from both the World Bank Group's International Finance Corporation (IFC) and the Asian Development Bank (ADB).

This time around, it is the Compliance Review Panel of the ADB that is raising the alarm. In their report, the panel found that impacted communities were not adequately consulted prior to construction of the coal project, and now they are facing drastically reduced fish catch, physical barriers between their homes and fishing grounds, dangerous coal dust and fly ash pollution, and unacceptable air pollution. The report says the damage will continue unless the project is brought into compliance with ADB policies.

For local fishing communities, the devastation wrought by Tata Mundra is almost unimaginable.

Tata switched to an open cycle cooling system despite being permitted for a closed cycle system. The result was a rise in water temperature and the alleged release of pollution into the ocean. The dramatic loss in fish catch means that families are having difficulty sustaining themselves. Moreover, ash from the coal plant is contaminating the drying fish, which the communities need to sell in order to survive. And if that wasn’t enough, fences and barriers enclosing the project mean locals must now travel kilometers out of their way to reach traditional fishing grounds. A proper consultation process would have anticipated the loss of livelihoods and health impacts in advance, but several fishing communities were excluded from the assessment process entirely.

The Compliance Review Panel report follows two similar reports from the Compliance Advisor Ombudsman (CAO), the independent investigative branch of the IFC, which also upheld community complaints against Tata Mundra. But the IFC doesn’t appear to care.

In 2013, the CAO issued a report condemning the human rights and environmental violations at Tata Mundra. But rather than withdrawing from the project or seeking to address the problem, the IFC dismissed the findings in a response that World Bank President Dr. Jim Yong Kim signed off on. This led to an uproar amongst Indian civil society groups, with over 100 organizations signing a letter rebuking the IFC.

One year later, the CAO issued another report examining the progress made to address the project violations, but it found that there was in fact no progress. The utter lack of accountability at the IFC appears shocking, but unfortunately it is the standard operating procedure at the institution.

In a similar case, the IFC did nothing when the CAO criticized it for supporting Corporation Dinant, a Honduran palm oil company that has faced public allegations of violence and intimidation -- including allegedly supporting a coup to overthrow president Manuel Zelayam, links to the murder of 40 leaders from rural farming communities, and forcibly evicting families in a campaign of terror against farmers. It was only after international outcry that the IFC was forced to reverse course and take action to address its failings in Honduras.

But the Gujarati fishermen don’t need another report to tell them their rights are being violated. They have cooperated with every investigation and continued to advocate for their rights despite increasing hardships and with no end in sight. They need action now.

The ADB has an opportunity to do what the IFC failed to do -- use its influence to force the Tata Corporation to take action and start to repair the damage done to local communities. To do less calls into question the legitimacy of the institution and its accountability mechanisms. It is also time for the ADB to join the growing list of institutions and countries -- including the United States, the Nordic Countries, the  United Kingdom, the Netherlands, France, the World Bank, EIB and EBRD -- and end support for dangerous coal projects like Tata Mundra.

Nicole Ghio From Compass

#SeizeTheGrid: How young people will lead the nation to 100% clean energy

Mon, 04/20/2015 - 00:05

As a junior in college, I helped write the Sierra Student Coalition’s Campuses Beyond Coal Campaign to retire the 60 remaining on-campus coal plants on universities nationwide.

 

Students and campuses had the opportunity to lead the nation in moving beyond coal. Today the grassroots power of thousands of students has successfully secured retirement dates for 34 of the 60 on campus coal plants in the nation.

 

I tell this story because today students nationwide are embracing another incredible opportunity to #SeizetheGrid: a campaign to leverage their campus’ energy purchasing power to transform the energy market for clean energy.

 

My vision for clean energy by 2025 is that we move to a locally-owned, decentralized electricity grid entirely powered by renewable energy; one in which campuses nationwide are leading communities and the nation in making the transition to 100% clean energy.

Although incredible organizing has been done to retire on campus coal plants, many of the 4,000 colleges and universities in the United States still rely on outdated, polluting fossil fuels to power their campuses. And that’s mostly due to the fact that utility companies are still consistently providing dirty energy and actively refusing or standing in the way of progress to a more localized, clean energy grid.

To get to a clean and just energy future it is imperative that we start to shift ownership of our energy out of the hands of investor-owned and self-interested utility companies and into the hands of communities.

Students can take action now by calling on their campus administrators to lead in the transition to 100% clean energy through demanding 100% clean energy from their energy providers and by directly pursuing clean energy projects to power campus.

When a major energy user like a college or university, or even a school district, commits to 100% renewable energy and pursues that goal, the demand for clean wind and solar power increases.

 

Through the Sierra Student Coalition’s #SeizeTheGrid Campaign, young people across the country are creating the demand for local clean energy opportunities that work for their campuses, their communities, and their states.

 

This Earth Week I invite students to post pictures to Twitter from Earth Day events, tag #CleanEnergyU and #SeizeTheGrid to be part of a national dialogueand engage your administration by tagging your campus (ie. #MSU or @MSU).  

 

On a piece of paper or in your own creative way, your photo should answer one or both of these questions:

  • What is your vision for a clean energy future by 2025?

  • What actions are you taking to build that clean energy future?

 

Anastasia Schemkes From Compass

Spartans Move Beyond Coal

Fri, 04/17/2015 - 11:40

On the heels of last week's fantastic Bloomberg Philanthropies and Beyond Coal announcement came some news from Michigan demonstrating once again how powerful our activists are.
 
Michigan State University announced that it will retire the largest on-campus coal plant in the U.S. by 2016 -- making it the 188th coal plant announced for retirement since the Beyond Coal campaign started in 2010. Indeed it is the tireless, years-long work by student activists with the MSU Sierra Student Coalition and Greenpeace who helped make this happen.
 
Current MSU students and alumni alike cheered the news, as did people across the U.S., as it is yet another example of how young people are driving the transition from coal to clean energy.
 
"To see MSU finally commit to retiring the use of coal on campus is huge," said Talya Tavor, an MSU alum who led the campus Beyond Coal work during her time on campus from 2009 to 2012. "It says so many things all wrapped up in one neat little announcement.”
 
But Tavor and current MSU students know this is just one small step, since the coal plant's retirement isn't being met with a clean energy commitment.
 
"When I heard the coal stacks would switch from burning fossil fuels to natural gas, I was disappointed," said Courtney Bourgoin, an MSU sophomore and clean energy activist. "Natural gas risks methane leaks as well as increased demand for a dangerous fracking process, which especially hits home when thinking about the risk associated with degrading the health of Michigan's Great Lakes."
 
MSU student activists say their proposed Seize The Grid campaign, to begin in Fall 2015, will push for administrative plans that promise 100 percent renewable energy by 2030. In addition, the campaign will strive to increase student education and activism across campus, emphasizing in-person discussions with the administration about energy-source diversity and its benefits. The group intends to persuade the administration to stand up to the Consumer's Energy utility company, requesting that their power stems from both sustainable and clean sources.
 
"Clean energy is our future -- and not in some romanticized sort of way," said Bourgoin. "Clean energy has so many positive effects. It limits pollution, it increases business, and, of course, it helps our strained planet."
 
Tavor, who is now the interim director of Environment Maryland, agrees. "We created this campaign in order to power our campus with 100 percent renewable energy, and while MSU has taken a step in the right direction, they cannot stop after the first hurdle, they must finish the race."
 
Both, however, say this victory should be an inspiration to young people everywhere that you can and should go out and make a difference.
 
"The change may be gradual and the process at times frustrating," Bourgoin said. "Even if you don't achieve your goals, you are inspiring others to get motivated about something extremely important."
 
To Tavor, even when that victory comes years later, it's still pretty sweet. "Personally, to see the hard work of the dozens of volunteers who spent countless hours dedicated towards a vision for a better future is the most satisfying feeling. We poured our hearts and souls into this campaign, and to see its success now, well, it's a feeling hard to describe."

Mary Anne Hitt From Compass

A Toxic Trade Bill Just Dropped In Congress

Thu, 04/16/2015 - 12:51

BREAKING: Today, Senate Finance Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), Ranking Member Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) and House Ways and Means Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) introduced “TPA-2015,” which is legislation that would grant “fast track” authority for trade deals including the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). And unfortunately, it’s just as bad as we expected. If approved, fast track legislation would allow the President to send the TPP and similar trade deals through Congress for limited debate, no amendments, and a simple “yes-or-no” vote. This means that there would be no opportunities for meaningful input from the elected officials we voted into office to represent our voice.

 

Take a look at Sierra Club executive director Michael Brune’s blog post, “A Fast Track to Disaster” to see what’s at stake with this legislation:

 

The United States is at the tail end of negotiating the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) -- a massive trade deal with Mexico, Canada, Japan, Vietnam, and seven other countries. The negotiations have been conducted in secret. Now Congress will soon decide whether to grant the Obama administration "fast track" authority to have the "final" pact approved as is -- meaning strict limits on congressional debate and no amendments. That's a terrible idea for lots of reasons -- not least of which is that the TPP could sabotage the ability of the U.S. (and other nations) to respond to the climate crisis.

Senator Elizabeth Warren put her finger on the problem in an op-ed for the Washington Post:"Who will benefit from the TPP? American workers? Consumers? Small businesses? Taxpayers? Or the biggest multinational corporations in the world?" Here's a hint: The answer is definitely not "all of the above." Multinational corporations -- including some of the planet's biggest polluters -- could use the TPP to sue governments, in private trade tribunals, over laws and policies that they claimed would reduce their profits. The implications of this are profound: Corporate profits are more important than protections for clean air, clean water, climate stability, workers' rights, and more.

This isn't a hypothetical threat. Similar rules in other free trade deals have allowed corporations including ExxonMobil, Chevron, and Occidental Petroleum to bring approximately 600 cases against nearly 100 governments. Increasingly, corporations are using these perverse rules to challenge energy and climate policies, including a moratorium on fracking in Quebec; a nuclear energy phase out and coal-fired power plant standards in Germany; and a pollution cleanup in Peru. TransCanada has even intimated that it would use similar rules in the North American Free Trade Agreement to challenge a U.S. decision to reject the Keystone XL pipeline.

Remember how scientists and experts have warned that at least three-quarters of known fossil fuel reserves must stay in the ground in order to stabilize our climate?A new studypublished in the journal Nature even spells out in detail which reserves must stay untapped, including almost all of Canada's tar sands, all of the oil and gas in the Arctic, nearly half of global natural gas reserves, and 82 percent of global coal reserves. But do trade pacts like the TPP take that into account?

Not a chance. In fact, as a result of the TPP, the United States Department of Energy would actually be required to approve more fossil fuel exports. The deal would greenlight fracked gas exports to countries in the pact -- including Japan, which is the world's biggest importer of natural gas. A consequence would be more fracking; more pipelines, more export terminals, and more climate pollution.

It has never been more urgent for countries to tackle the climate crisis. Now is the time to ensure that the rules of the global economy support climate action. Now is not the time to be rubber-stamping trade deals that could undermine our prospects for a better future and safer climate. Congress has a responsibility to do its job and ensure that trade pacts protect workers, communities, and our climate.

A fast track bill could be introduced any day -- so it's time to speak out now. Please, join me andwrite to your representative and senators and ask them to oppose fast track legislationfor trade deals like the Trans-Pacific Partnership.  We can win this fight for a fair economy and a safe climate, but we need all of your help.

Michael said it in March, and it’s even more relevant today: the time to speak is now. You can take action today to defeat fast track and help build a new model of trade that’s fair, responsible, and sustainable.

Ilana Solomon From Compass

Tilting at Windmills: The Coal Industry’s Vain Attempt to Stop Carbon Pollution Safeguards

Wed, 04/15/2015 - 12:16

 

If you are looking for the latest sign that the coal industry is desperate, look no further than the three lawsuits coal companies and their defenders are bringing before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit on Thursday. Big Coal -- led by the infamous Bob Murray and Murray Energy -- and a handful of allied Attorneys General are trying a long shot legal strategy to stop the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) from implementing the Clean Power Plan, the agency’s first-ever program to cut climate-disrupting carbon pollution from fossil fuel-fired power plants. The Sierra Club will be fighting back in court on Thursday, and here is why.

 

These power plants account for about a third of the climate pollution emitted in our country - including 30 percent of greenhouse gas emissions and 37 percent of carbon emissions. The Obama administration has recognized that a dramatic cut in emissions from these sources is essential if we have any hope of tackling the climate crisis. In response, the EPA has proposed two programs that serve as the marquee pieces of President Obama’s Climate Action Plan: first, carbon pollution standards for new and modified fossil fuel-fired power plants; and second, the Clean Power Plan, which establishes carbon pollution standards for the existing fleet of plants. These proposed standards represent the agency’s first effort to limit climate-disrupting pollution from these sources. And, thanks to the Clean Air Act -- passed by Congress in 1963 and strengthened in 1970, 1977, and 1990 -- the agency is well within its legal authority to do just that.

 

Setting aside for a moment the many compelling reasons for reducing this dangerous pollution, the U.S. Supreme Court has already ruled in three separate cases that the EPA can legally regulate climate-disrupting greenhouse gases under the Clean Air Act. In particular, the Court has expressly affirmed EPA’s authority under the law to curb carbon pollution from existing power plants. But, the coal industry and its defenders have never let the facts or the law stand in the way of their bogus claims.

 

Big coal and Bob Murray have rolled out a series of illusory legal theories in the hopes that federal courts will stop EPA in its tracks. In Thursday’s hearing, Murray Energy and a group of Attorneys General led by West Virginia are jumping the gun and challenging EPA’s proposed carbon pollution safeguards. These lawsuits are not only meritless but premature.

 

It is a fundamental principle of law that an agency’s action must be final before it can be challenged in federal court. As such, federal courts -- including the D.C. Circuit -- have made clear time and again that they simply have has no jurisdiction over challenges to proposed rules. The coal industry is fully aware of this finality rule but has decided to waste the court’s time and taxpayer resources by bringing this suit anyway. Big coal and its allies are trying to derail a train while it’s still in the station, ignoring the barriers that courts have set up to prevent this sort of action.

 

The finality rule is not only a binding, long-time precedent, but it also safeguards the public’s right to participate in the rulemaking process. It enables federal agencies to make decisions based on an open process and to fully consider all public comments on its proposed actions. Nowhere is this more clear than with the Clean Power Plan: EPA is currently considering upwards of 8 million public comments in support of cutting carbon pollution as well as detailed technical comments from stakeholders. The finality rule is also essential to provide the judges reviewing those decisions with a fully developed record and the benefit of the agency’s expert analysis.

 

You would have thought the coal industry would have learned its lesson by now, but these lawsuits follow two earlier premature challenges to EPA’s proposed standards for new power plants which the courts promptly dismissed based on the finality rule.

 

It’s not just that the timing is wrong for these challenges; the industry’s legal arguments are wholly meritless, too. Murray Energy and its allies insist that because EPA has already curbed one set of dangerous air pollutants (namely, airborne toxics such as mercury) from power plants, it must now give those plants a free pass to emit an unlimited amount of an entirely different set of dangerous pollutants (greenhouse gases such as carbon). In other words, the coal industry would have the public pick its poison, rather than letting EPA do its job as laid out by Congress and the Supreme Court to protect our families and our communities.

 

Even more nonsensically, Murray Energy’s distorted interpretation of the law wouldn’t even prevent EPA from curbing carbon pollution in the long run, which is the coal industry’s stated goal. Instead, it would allow the agency to set standards for both carbon pollution and airborne toxics, but only if it issued carbon standards first. In this case, the coal industry is essentially claiming that since carbon standards came second, they aren’t valid, an absurd outcome that Congress never intended. It’s an argument that, if successful, would needlessly delay protections for our communities that are threatened by the coal industry’s dirty and dangerous practices. Incredibly, the industry bases its claims on the 1990 Clear Air Act Amendments, which comprehensively strengthened the law’s protections and were hailed by supporters as the most important piece of environmental legislation in decades.

 

The fossil fuel industry and its defenders will do whatever it takes to attack these widely-popular, critically-needed steps to curb carbon pollution, tackle the climate crisis, and protect the health of our families and our communities. They’ll bring on hired guns like Laurence Tribe to launch false legal attacks. They’ll use the Koch network and a PR flack known as “Dr. Evil” to launch a smear campaign against EPA and climate action. They’ll even follow the lead of Bob Murray and Murray Energy -- the fossil fuel industry’s poster children for neglecting the safety of its workers, the health of American communities, and the sanctity of our clean air and water in an endless race for profits.

 

It shouldn’t work. Congress passed the Clean Air Act and its subsequent amendments with huge bipartisan majorities in both houses, the Supreme Court affirmed that the law permits—indeed, requires—EPA to curb carbon pollution from power plants, and the President is now implementing rules to carry out that mandate. It’s a textbook example of how government should operate: all three branches coming together on a critical matter of law and policy. The success of this process is exactly the reason the coal industry is now fighting so hard to stop it. But, as we have shown, their attacks have neither merit under the law nor a proper forum in court. The legal basis for rejecting their lawsuits is strong, and we are confident the D.C. Circuit will do so.

 

That’s important because the momentum for climate action is rolling ahead quickly. The transition from coal to a clean energy economy is moving forward at a pace few expected even a few years ago as grassroots action across the country is helping lead the way. The U.S. is steering the course on global climate action, securing a historic deal with China to reduce emissions while nations like the U.K. have followed suit and pledged to effectively go coal-free. The Clean Power Plan is a key element that makes these commitments possible, creating the opportunity to reduce emissions and grow the clean energy economy that we need to secure a significant deal in Paris at the COP 21 climate negotiations later this year.

 

Still, no matter what happens with these desperate challenges, the Clean Power Plan is just the start of our ambition for clean energy and climate action. The clean energy market and citizens around the world aren’t waiting around for the coal industry and their desperate arguments to get out of the way. Instead, we’re going around them -- locally, nationally, and globally -- in the months and years to come.

Joanne Spalding From Compass

Private Banks Ditching Destructive Coal Investments, International Financial Institutions Need To Follow Suit

Fri, 04/10/2015 - 13:43

Earlier this week, Barclays Bank did something amazing -- one of the world’s largest banks announced it would no longer finance coal-mining companies that pursue the destructive practice of mountaintop removal mining (MTR) in Appalachia.

 

As of only twelve months ago, Barclays Bank had been identified by the Rainforest Action Network as number one worldwide in providing financing for MTR producers. But after increasing pressure from environmental advocacy groups, Barclays joined Wells Fargo, Royal Bank of Scotland, UBS, BNP Paribas, Societe Generale, and, most recently, PNC in divesting from the practice of mountaintop removal -- a particularly invasive process that involves blasting off the summit of a mountain in order to expose underground coal and then dumping the debris into adjacent valleys and streams.

 

Barclays’ divestment from mountaintop removal mining is just the most recent step in a shift that companies and citizens are making to move toward a clean energy future that gets the world off dirty fossil fuels.

 

In fact, divestment from more than just MTR -- from fossil fuels entirely -- has been growing, particularly on college campuses. Since, 2011, the Sierra Student Coalition has committed to asking colleges across the country to divest from fossil fuels entirely. The movement has expanded to over 300 campuses -- including heavyweights like Harvard which has the largest endowment in the world -- where clean energy champions are working to push college and university administrations to stop investing billions of dollars of college and university endowment money in the fossil fuel industry and reinvest in environmentally and socially responsible alternatives. In just the past four years, nine colleges and universities have committed to divesting from fossil fuels and the momentum is growing.

 

At the same time, public funding for coal is drying up. President Obama pledged to end U.S. financing of overseas coal when he announced his Climate Action Plan in June 2013. Soon after, the Nordic Countries, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, and most recently France also pledged to end financing for overseas coal plants. Meanwhile, International Financial Institutions (IFIs) that receive public funds -- including the World Bank, the European Investment Bank, and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development -- have put in place new policies to end support for coal except in rare circumstances.

 

This represents a massive shift in global energy financing. Between 2002 and 2012, the United States and France were both in the top five Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) countries to finance coal. We are already seeing the effects of this shift, with the U.S. Export-Import Bank’s (Ex-Im) decision to reject a coal project in Vietnam. However, it is up to us to ensure that entrenched forces within these institutions do not exploit loopholes that could allow them to backslide into supporting dangerous fossil fuel projects.

 

Recent media reports indicate Ex-Im is considering using one such loophole to finance coal giant Adani’s proposed massive coal mine and export terminal Australia, which would release a huge carbon reserve from the country’s Galilee Basin through ports expanded by dredging three million tonnes of seabed from the bottom of the Great Barrier Reef. The Reef is already crumbling under the pressure of warming oceans, and we shouldn’t accelerate its demise by dredging or by increasing carbon emissions from coal. We should instead be working to save it.  

 

More importantly, the Adani project represents everything that is wrong with public financing being used to prop up fossil fuels. Private banks -- including Citibank, Deutsche Bank, Royal Bank of Scotland, HSBC, Barclays, Goldman Sachs, and JPMorgan Chase -- have all stated that they will not support the project due to the environmental risks and mounting evidence that it is not financially viable.

 

Instead of trying to salvage the outdated, dangerous, and economically risky coal sector, we should invest in the booming clean energy sector, where every dollar creates more jobs than that same dollar would in the fossil fuel sector. Barclays’ divestment from mountaintop removal mining, in addition to the nine U.S. college and university campuses that have already divested from fossil fuels in their entirety and the 300 more on their way to fully divesting, are another big step toward a 100 percent clean energy economy.

Now its time for the laggards -- countries, IFIs, and the private sector -- to follow suit.

Nicole Ghio, Lauren Lantry From Compass

What The U.S. Climate Commitment Means For Global Climate Action

Fri, 04/10/2015 - 12:00

Last week, the U.S. joined the ranks of the European Union, Norway, Switzerland, Gabon, and Mexico among others in announcing their Intended Nationally Determined Contribution (INDC), the commitment each country is presenting in an effort to tackle the climate crisis. Each of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change’s (UNFCCC) 195 member countries is putting forth an INDC in the run up to the COP21 climate negotiations in Paris later this year.

 

As promised, the U.S. commitment has followed through on promises the Obama Administration made in the game changing U.S.-China deal last November. Acting as a leader on climate action, the U.S. is committing to a 28 percent reduction in carbon emissions by 2025, which, as the world’s largest emitter, is a significant contribution to the fight to protect the planet for future generations.

 

And it’s clear that the American people are ready for climate action. A recent poll found that 72 percent of American’s support the U.S. signing an international climate agreement.


On top of that, from what we’ve already seen, this commitment is not only doable, but we’re already on our way to meeting this goal.  The U.S. offer, combined with the explosive growth of clean energy, an grassroots driven shift away from coal, and continued climate action at all levels of government, will begin to move us toward a safe pathway that avoids catastrophic climate disruption.

 

Wednesday, Bloomberg Philanthropies committed $30 million to the Sierra Club in order to continue the fight to move beyond coal and transition to the clean energy economy. This major boost to the campaign will help ensure the U.S. can follow through on climate commitments and lead the way on international climate action.

 

And in just the past five years, we’ve seen 187 coal-fired power plants either retired or announced to retire -- accounting for a whopping 77 gigawatts of dirty coal generation. At the same time, clean energy powerhouses like wind and solar have seen exponential growth not only in the U.S. but around the globe. As these trends continue to accelerate, it’s clear that the U.S. will not only be able to meet its commitment for Paris but will ultimately be able to achieve a 100 percent clean energy future.

 

Despite all of this, we know that the U.S. is not the only global carbon emitter, and its commitment alone won’t be able to stave off the worst effects of climate disruption. In order to avoid the most catastrophic consequences of climate disruption, governments will have to continue to accelerate emissions reductions around the globe. But the U.S.’s commitment coupled with the climate commitments from around the world will help keep the door open for a healthier, safer, more resilient future for our planet.

 

And it’s clear from the commitments from ally countries and global climate action in recent months -- from the UK pledging to move toward a low-carbon economy and end the use of unabated coal for power generation to China pledging to peak carbon emissions by 2030 -- the U.S. isn’t alone in the fight.

 

Combined, with the INDCs that have already been submitted, 60 percent of global carbon pollution has already been accounted for within these positive, transparent commitments for climate action. With more than 160 countries left to announce their commitments, it’s clear that meaningful climate action is within the planet’s grasp.

John Coequyt From Compass

The Best City Programs Promoting Electric Cars

Fri, 04/10/2015 - 08:05

This post was co-written by Hayley Hoverter, a Sierra Club intern and Dartmouth College student.

In just the last couple of weeks, there has been good news and bad news about state electric vehicle (EV) programs. Georgia decided to end its $5,000 consumer EV tax credit by this summer (so run out and buy one now if you live in the peach state!), and Illinois quietly cancelled its $4,000 EV rebate program. However, Massachusetts renewed its $1,500-2,500 EV consumer rebate program last week, and it looks like new state EV incentives might be coming down the pike in states like Oregon and Rhode Island.

State programs are important, but what can cities and towns do to accelerate a consumer switch to EVs?

I was recently approached by Marc McGovern, one of my own city councilors, to explore what Cambridge, Mass., can do. A lot, I told him, and he filed a resolution asking the city manager to look into options. His fellow City Councilor Leland Cheung has expressed interest in promoting EVs to Cantabrigians too. I'm looking forward to what they will achieve. Here are some models for them and others to consider:

City Fleets

EVs save communities fueling and maintenance costs in addition to reducing pollution. This is why New York City has integrated more than 600 plug in electric vehicles into its fleet of Fire, Sanitation, and Parks & Recreation Department vehicles. Smaller cities are getting in the game too; Somerville, Mass., is adding 16 EVs to its municipal fleet. In February, Seneca, South Carolina, announced that it logged over 100,000 miles with six electric Proterra buses, the only all-electric transit bus fleet in the country.

Registration and Parking Incentives 

What would prevent EV owners from having to go an extra mile to find parking? Since 2005, New Haven, Connecticut, has provided free metered parking for hybrids and EVs. Cincinnati EV drivers get free parking at any meter in the city and at two city-owned parking garages. Warren, Rhode Island, and Washington, DC, offer their residents with plug-in cars an excise tax exemption and reduced registration.  

Public Charging Stations

In February, Jacksonville, Florida, unveiled Chargewell, a program setting up 30 charging stations throughout the city through a partnership with the N. Florida Transportation Planning Organization and the Jacksonville Electric Authority. Austin, Texas, provides unlimited charging for under $5 a month at over 170 public charging stations. Last summer, Palo Alto, California, passed an ordinance that requires all new apartments, commercial buildings, and hotels to have charging stations.

Public Education

We have yet to see a fantastic EV web site put out by a city or town (please share if you know of a good one). But many mayors have been getting behind EVs by attending and promoting EV awareness events, like at National Drive Electric Week activities last September when Stephanie Rawlings-Blake of Baltimore and Eric Garcetti of Los Angeles were among many mayors who issued 'drive electric' proclamations.  Portland, Oregon's Electric Avenue, the city's program that partnered with Portland State University to provide EV charging stations, raised public awareness by holding a ribbon cutting with the Mayor and staging a flash mob. Their efforts paid off - the program was featured in more than 200 news stories.

The Road Ahead

A new report from the journal Nature shows that a switch to EVs actually helps cool cities down by not producing heat that builds up in traffic jams. That, in turn, reduces the need for air conditioning, a major energy sucker. It's more important now than ever that our mayors, city councilors, and other community leaders aren't just taking a backseat, but are driving the acceleration for EVs.

Tell us: what is happening to promote EVs in your own local community?

Gina Coplon-Newfield From Compass

Doubling Down with Bloomberg Philanthropies to Replace Coal with Clean Energy

Tue, 04/07/2015 - 14:03

Today, I had the honor of standing with Michael Bloomberg and dozens of Sierra Club volunteers, staff, and supporters in Washington, DC, to announce a new round of investment by Bloomberg Philanthropies in the work of the Beyond Coal Campaign. With this new support of $30 million over three years, we plan to double down on our past success and secure replacement of half the nation's coal plants with clean energy by 2017.

It's been four years since I first stood with Michael Bloomberg, Sierra Club executive director Michael Brune, and our staff and volunteers in front of the polluting GenOn coal plant in Alexandria, Virginia, to announce the launch of our game-changing partnership with Bloomberg Philanthropies. The goal of that first round of funding: replace one-third of the nation's coal plants with clean energy by the end of 2015.

That initial investment by Bloomberg Philanthropies has delivered some incredible results, and we're on our way to meeting that goal. The Alexandria coal plant is one of 187 coal plants that have either retired or announced they will retire since 2010, thanks to the work of Sierra Club and over 100 partner organizations, helping to secure clean air and clean water for millions of Americans by supporting the amazing work of activists nationwide. Even better, we're on track to replace that coal with clean, renewable energy like wind, solar, and energy efficiency.
 
We've been able to expand our Beyond Coal campaign from 15 to 45 states, and we've helped build the coalitions that have demanded an end to unchecked pollution in communities all across the nation. Coal has plunged from 52 percent of U.S. electricity generation to under 40 percent.
 
Make no mistake about it -- this energy transition has not been driven by Washington or Wall Street, but by Main Street. It was made possible by regular people fighting in their backyards for the safety of their families and the future of their communities, in places like Chicago, Indianapolis, North Omaha, Milwaukee, Green Bay, Austin, San Antonio, Los Angeles, Minneapolis, Gulfport, and Alexandria. From fighting coal exports, to retiring dirty coal plants in low income neighborhoods, to protecting the Appalachian mountains from mountaintop-removal coal mining, and so much more, these activists of all ages and from all backgrounds are a force to be reckoned with.

These campaigns being led by city council members, pastors, doctors, parents, teachers, and kids are the deciding factor in replacing coal plants with clean energy. These regular Americans are the deciding factor that has turned the tide on climate change. They will be the deciding factor in our success in this next chapter of our partnership with Bloomberg Philanthropies.

And we're not done yet.
 
With a new $30 million of funding over the next three years, Bloomberg Philanthropies is recommitting to the Sierra Club's Beyond Coal strategy.  Acting as a catalyst in the fight against climate disruption, Bloomberg will lead a coalition of funders that aim to match up to $30 million of funding, further boosting the Sierra Club's capacity to move the U.S. toward cleaner energy sources faster. This new support will allow us to:

  • Save lives by cleaning up the air and water. The health benefits of our work to date include preventing 5,000 premature deaths,  avoiding 82,600 asthma attacks, and saving $2.3 billion in health care costs - every year. Retiring even one coal plant can  prevent 29 premature deaths, 47 heart attacks and 146 asthma attacks annually. Peer-reviewed research has also shown families living next to mountaintop-removal coal mines have higher risks of cancer, birth defects, and premature death. Replacing half the nation's coal plants with clean energy will bring real improvements to people's lives.
  • Accelerate the shift to clean energy. From Oklahoma to North Omaha and beyond, community leaders are replacing retiring coal plants with wind and solar power, increasing energy efficiency, and calling on their public officials to make their cities and states leaders in the clean energy economy. This new funding will help us drive that transition even faster.
  • Position the U.S. as a climate leader. Our reduced use of coal and increased use of renewables made it possible for the US to reach a climate agreement with China, and positioned the U.S. as a global leader going into the 2015 United Nations climate change conference in Paris, where nations, businesses, cities, and other actors will convene to make bold commitments on greenhouse gas emission reductions. But the science is clear that we must do more, and the goals announced today by the Sierra Club will put the nation on a path to exceed the U.S. climate targets announced in late March by the Obama Administration.
  • Advance an economic transition. I live in West Virginia, so I understand that the shift away from coal poses big challenges to some parts of the country. It's also something that we have long seen coming -- Senator Robert Byrd warned in 2009 that big changes were facing the coal industry, and told his fellow West Virginians we could "choose to anticipate change and adapt to it, or resist and be overrun by it." That transition is now upon us, and we will continue our work with partners and communities to find pathways and resources for economic transition, so that the whole nation will benefit from the rise of the clean energy economy, especially the places that already have sacrificed so much to power this nation.

It's exciting to imagine what we will accomplish over the next three years of this partnership with Bloomberg Philanthropies. We look forward to continuing this legacy of moving beyond coal to save lives, clean up our air and water, stop climate disruption, and secure the clean energy necessary to power our nation.

Mary Anne Hitt From Compass

EPA Report Shows Automakers are Exceeding Historic Vehicle Standards

Thu, 04/02/2015 - 10:58

Last week the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released its report card on how automakers complied with historic vehicle standards in 2013. These vehicle standards will cut average vehicle emissions to 163 grams of carbon dioxide per mile in 2025, equivalent to 54.5 miles per gallon. The key takeaway from EPA's report - automakers are exceeding standards for the second year in a row.

Every year, each automaker is required to meet a certain standard based on the vehicles they sell. The standards are based on each sold vehicle’s "footprint," with larger vehicles facing less stringent standards than smaller vehicles. In 2013, automakers collectively exceeded the standards by 12 grams of CO2 per mile, equivalent to roughly 1.4 miles per gallon.

These vehicle standards are working, which is good news for consumers and the climate. More efficient vehicles mean spending less on gas and refilling less frequently. According to our colleagues at the Union of Concerned Scientists, 2013 vehicles were roughly nine percent more efficient than vehicles sold in 2010, saving owners around $100 a year at current gas prices.

Automakers are offering more efficient models than ever before, using technologies such as gasoline direct injection, variable valve timing and more efficient transmissions. From 2009 to 2014, the number of available car models averaging more than 30 miles per gallon more than tripled. There are now more models of plug-in electric vehicles to choose from than ever before. Additionally, manufacturers are reducing the global warming impacts of vehicle air conditioning systems, both by switching to less harmful refrigerants and by reducing leaks. The EPA report also details how automakers are taking advantage of flexibilities in the standards by generating, storing and using credits.

Although automakers are on track to meet standards both now and in the future, some have begun to reference low gas prices an excuse to back off these historic standards. Given the volatility of gas prices, now is exactly the time to ensure our cars and trucks continue to be more efficient. It is clear that vehicle standards are working, saving consumers money at the pump and reducing our dependence on oil, which news worth celebrating.

Photo courtesy of Anthony Inswasty, WikiPedia.

Jesse Prentice-Dunn From Compass

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