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Lots More Electric Vehicles Coming Soon to Massachusetts

28 March 2014 - 9:41am

Though there are no leaves on the trees yet, my home state of Massachusetts became a greener place to live this week. Governor Deval Patrick announced Thursday a rebate program that will provide state residents who purchase or lease an electric vehicle (EV) a rebate of up to $2,500 - an incentive that we in the Massachusetts Electric Vehicles Taskforce enthusiastically recommended.

In the past, I've blogged about Massachusetts lagging behind other states, like Oregon and Georgia, in EV incentives and sales. The new rebate program, expected to go into effect early this summer, will allow for catch-up and help clear the air from Cape Cod to the Berkshires.

On Thursday, the governor also celebrated the launch of six new fully electric public transit buses in Worcester, MA. "This is wicked cool," said Governor Patrick (that means "really, really great" for you non-New Englanders). State transportation officials said each of the new buses is expected to eliminate 130 tons of carbon dioxide emissions per year compared to diesel buses and will cut operating costs by nearly $3 million over 12 years. The buses are manufactured by Proterra, headquartered in Greenville, SC. The growing company has e-bus contracts with transit agencies in a number of other cities, including Nashville, San Antonio, and Tallahassee.

The governor was on a roll because he also announced nearly $600,000 in Massachusetts Electric Vehicle Incentive Program (MassEVIP) grants for 16 municipalities, two universities, and one state agency to install EV charging stations and acquire about 200 EVs for their fleets. This is the second round of grant awards through MassEVIP since its launch last year.

As a parent whose children take the school bus every day, I'm also excited to learn that, working in partnership with the Clinton Global Initiative, the Massachusetts Department of Energy Resources will provide $1.8 million in grants for eight electric school buses. These e-buses will have vehicle-to-grid capability to serve as back-up energy resources during natural disasters. It would be exciting if my daughters could ride on one of these clean driving technological marvels in our home city of Cambridge.

Massachusetts, which has signed an eight-state agreement to significantly ramp up EV programs and sales, has a long way to go to reach its commitment of getting 300,000+ plug-in vehicles on the road in Massachusetts alone by 2025. But this week, there was a jolt of real progress.

-- Gina Coplon-Newfield, Director of the Sierra Club Future Fleet & Electric Vehicles Initiative. Photos by XiaoZhi Lim of the Massachusetts Department of Energy Resources.

Categories: Sierra Club National

Choosing the Right Tool for the Energy Access Job

27 March 2014 - 3:27pm
Eneji Pwop provides clean energy technology products like these to people in Haiti. The Power Africa initiative could provide a space for similar off-grid renewable projects.

Across the world, there are still 1.3 billion people living in severe energy poverty, and almost half of them—587 million—live in Sub-Saharan Africa. In an attempt to expand energy access for people in Sub-Saharan Africa, President Obama announced the Power Africa initiative in June 2013, and today, the Sierra Club submitted written testimony for a Senate hearing on the ambitious initiative.

The initiative has brought much-needed attention to the critical problem of energy poverty in Africa. Today, the U.S. Senate Committee on Foreign Relations’ Subcommittee on African Affairs sought to examine the power of that initiative.

While commendable, this initiative should include avenues for small-scale, clean energy projects. These are called “distributed renewables,” and are often owned by individuals or groups instead of utilities. In the written testimony, the Sierra Club calls for the Power Africa Initiative to expand its support for distributed renewables in the form of off-grid and mini-grid energy access projects. So far, support from the Power Africa Initiative has been skewed toward large-scale power plants. Clean energy has received significantly less support.  

The traditional approach to the problem of energy poverty has been powering homes and buildings with large-scale power plants connected to a geographically extensive grid. It’s becoming clear that this approach won’t be sufficient or economical. In many cases, distributed renewables are the best tool for the job as they’re better suited for many of the rural areas where people lack electricity. This is because grid extension is often slow and expensive, and is many times unreliable even in the areas where it reaches.

On the other hand, distributed renewables are quickly becoming reliable, rapid, and affordable. Entrepreneurs have developed innovative financial models that help the poor avoid paying up-front costs. These models, including pay-as-you-go systems and mobile phone-enabled money transfer platforms, make energy more affordable for poor families. Additionally, game-changing efficiency improvements in appliances such as lights, cell phone chargers, fans, and televisions have enabled smaller, cheaper solar systems to deliver more energy services at lower costs.

The Sierra Club’s written testimony argues that, to capture the benefits of new technologies and financial models and move beyond outdated approaches, Power Africa should strike a balance among grid extension, mini-grid, and off-grid solutions. Of these three approaches, we currently see the least emphasis on, and most need for, distributed clean energy sources that power mini-grids and off-grid solutions. The testimony recommends that Power Africa implement a dedicated loan guarantee for distributed clean energy projects.

If we are able to move beyond business as usual, we can help catalyze a 21st-century transition in Africa. Just as mobile phones have leapfrogged landlines, distributed renewables can leapfrog centralized grids in energy-poor places like Sub-Saharan Africa. It’s time we unlock the world’s most sophisticated technologies for the world’s poorest populations.

--John Coequyt, Director of the Sierra Club's International Climate Program

Categories: Sierra Club National

Hip Hop Caucus Empowers Youth For Climate Action

27 March 2014 - 2:21pm
Rev. Yearwood speaking at the Forward on Climate Rally in Feb. 2013

What do a Grammy-nominated singer-songwriter, a comedian, a hip hop artist, a minister, a global sustainability expert, and a civil rights leader have in common?

They all want you to act on climate disruption.

Raheem DeVaughn, Amanda Seales, Dee-1, Rev. Lennox Yearwood Jr., Dr. Micheal Dorsey, and Rev. Dr. Gerald L. Durley will be speaking and performing at the Hip Hop Caucus’ Act On Climate campus tour starting tonight.

The Hip Hop Caucus (HHC) was founded in 2004 by Rev. Lennox Yearwood “to organize young people to be active in elections, policymaking and service projects. [They] mobilize, educate, and engage young people, ages 14 to 40, on the social, issues that directly impact their lives and communities.”

This includes issues like economics, education, healthcare, housing, environment, and social justice.

The HHC “harnesses the platforms of our celebrity, media, and entertainment partners to inform and move the urban community to action.” That diverse community includes more than 650,000 people. Seventy percent of them are under the age of 40, 60 percent of them are women, and a majority of members are African American and Latino.

One of the main challenges facing these communities is climate disruption, which already disproportionately affects communities of color and low-income communities, and will only get worse unless major changes are made.

“The effects of climate change are expected to be more severe for some segments of society than others because of geographic location, the degree of association with climate-sensitive environments, and unique cultural, economic, or political characteristics of particular landscapes and human populations,” a study from the United States Department of Agriculture states. “Social vulnerability and equity in the context of climate change are important because some populations may have less capacity to prepare for, respond to, and recover from climate-related hazards and effects.”

That’s why the HHC is hosting the campus tour this year to reach out to young people around the country. Their message for our leaders is clear: “we need them to act on the issue of climate change.”

Their campus tour has gained major notoriety and is supported by the Obama administration, the Environmental Protection Agency, and Reps. Keith Ellison (D-MN) and André Carson (D-IN). EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy is expected to make an appearance during the tour.

The Sierra Club’s Environmental Justice program has been working for over 20 years to link environmental quality and social justice, and the Sierra Club is proud to support the Act on Climate campus tour.

The tour begins tonight at 6 p.m. EST at Hampton University in Virginia and will continue on to Central State University in Wilberforce, OH, Wayne State University in Detroit, Howard University in Washington, D.C., North Carolina A&T University in Greensboro, NC, and conclude at Clark Atlanta University in Atlanta.

--Cindy Carr, Sierra Club Media Team

Categories: Sierra Club National

The Toxic Waters of the Tar Sands Industry

27 March 2014 - 12:54pm

Let's be real: tar sands are a disaster for the climate, for water, for public health, for Indigenous communities that live in tar sands extraction sacrifice zones, and for communities along existing and proposed pipeline and rail routes. If they have their way, the industry's plans for tar sands extraction would destroy a swath of boreal forest the size of Florida, and already the toxic tailings lakes of mining wastewater can be seen from space.  

North America's biggest corporations, as the biggest consumers of oil, need to sit up and pay attention. Any company with a concern for sustainability and public health, including water conservation and protection, has a responsibility to move its vehicle fleet/product shipping fueling away from tar sands-derived petroleum, end of story.
The Sierra Club's Future Fleet campaign is putting pressure on corporations to get off tar sands and reduce their overall oil use, and this week, the Sierra Club released a new report that highlights a tar sands issue of growing concern: The Toxic Waters of the Tar Sands Industry - An Opportunity for Companies to Reduce Their Consumption of Tar Sands Fuel.

Let's look at the report by the numbers:

  • At least seven: The number of poisonous chemicals released by the tar sands industry into freshwater systems each day.
  • 11,000 cubic meters: The amount of wastewater that seeps from toxic tailings lakes into adjoining ground each day.
  • Two to four: The number of barrels of fresh water used per barrel of tar sands oil produced through mining.
  • Three times more: The amount of water used by tar sands operations compared to conventional oil.
  • 0.2 percent: The amount of land disturbed by tar sands development that has been certified as reclaimed.
  • 68 square miles: Size of toxic tar sands tailings lakes.
  • 170 percent: The expected growth in freshwater use by the tar sands industry by 2030.
  • Zero: The number of oil sands companies complying with 2009 Alberta regulations on tailings waste management

To release the report this week, the Sierra Club invited industry representatives and activists from across the country to join a web session on the water impacts of tar sands. Speaking at the session were Sierra Club's Future Fleet & Electric Vehicles Initiative Director Gina Coplon-Newfield; Environmental Defence Canada's National Program Manager Hannah McKinnon; and Sierra Club Canada's Prairie Chapter Climate & Energy Campaigner Crystal Lameman, who is a member the Beaver Lake Cree Nation directly impacted by the tar sands industry. If you missed the live broadcast, you can see the session here.

In short, the report lays out for corporate tar sands consumers what is already clear to communities in the path of tar sands extraction and export: tar sands destroy the climate and pollute water. The report identifies steps that major fuel buyers, such as companies with large shipping and vehicle fleet operations, must take to get off this dirty fuel.  

The good news is that companies such as Walgreens, Trader Joe's, and Columbia Sportswear have publicly committed to reduce their reliance on tar sands fuel by working with their fuel and transportation providers to make sure that the fuel, whenever possible, is coming from refineries that do not process tar sands.  

It's time that America's other corporations - we're looking at you, PepsiCo - put their money where their marketing is and say no to tar sands.

-- Rachel Butler is a campaigner with the Beyond Oil Campaign's Future Fleet Initiative

Categories: Sierra Club National

Twenty-five Years Since The Exxon Valdez And Zero Lessons Learned by Big Oil

26 March 2014 - 1:05pm
Activists from the Sierra Club and Allied Groups Speak Out About the Exxon Valdez Spill and Beyond

They say that with age comes wisdom. But 25 years after the Exxon Valdez catastrophe, the oil industry isn’t any wiser.

Four years ago, the BP Deepwater Horizon oil disaster devastated the Gulf Coast’s habitats and businesses, and now a barge has crashed off the coast of Texas, leaking as much as 168,000 gallons of tar-like bunker fuel into the Gulf.

This past Saturday, March 22, the Cleopatra Shipping Agency owned-barge, Summer Wind, collided with a ship in the heavily-trafficked Houston Ship Channel in Galveston Bay. The barge was being towed by Kirby Inland Marine’s tow boat, Miss Susan.

Not only has the heavy fuel oil spread miles out into the Gulf of Mexico and affected 15 miles of shoreline, but most ships are unable to travel the channel.

The immediate environmental burden is not yet known, but if this spill is anything like the BP disaster or the Exxon Valdez spill, they’ll have years of environmental costs and clean-up ahead of them.

A study published Monday by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration found that the oil spilled from Deepwater Horizon severely harmed the embryos of several different fish species. These species—including Atlantic bluefin tuna, yellowfin tuna, and amberjack—that were exposed to the toxic polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) developed an “irregular heartbeat, circulatory disruption and pericardial fluid accumulation.”

"For a species like bluefin tuna, whose populations have crashed due to overfishing and are fighting to rebuild their former abundance, BP's oil was a shot to the heart," Jacqueline Savitz, a spokeswoman for Oceana, told the LA Times.

But the oil didn’t just remain on the surface.

Dr. Paul Montagna, the Endowed Chair for Ecosystems and Modeling at Texas A&M Corpus Christi, studied the oil from Deepwater Horizon.

He told NPR’s StateImpact, “That was something that was unexpected — oil floats, so everybody expected the oil to come to the surface and not impact the deep sea. But we found the opposite was happening.”

The crude oil sank to the bottom of the Gulf, threatening creatures and ecosystems thousands of feet below the surface. This could happen again with the Summer Wind disaster.

The oil that doesn’t sink is at risk of spreading further into the water and coating the nearby shore lines. A crucial shorebird habitat on both sides of the channel is currently home to thousands of wintering birds.

Authorities aren’t yet sure how many birds are oiled, but at least 10 have died so far.

And this destruction isn’t the only recent oil-related disaster we’ve seen in the U.S. Last week, nearly 20,000 gallons of crude oil leaked from Sunoco-owned piping onto a acre of protected marshland in Ohio’s Oak Glen Nature Preserve. On Monday, 500 gallons of oil leaked into Lake Michigan from one of BP’s Indiana refineries.

Albert Einstein once said, “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”

The oil industry is doing just that. For decades, they have drilled and shipped oil at an alarming rate, leaving disaster in their wake so they can continue to rake in billions of dollars each year. Countless oil spills have threatened sensitive habitats, coated animals, and contaminated both land and water.

How many more oil spills will it take before the oil industry starts putting people and the environment before profits?

--Cindy Carr, Sierra Club Media Team

Categories: Sierra Club National

North Carolinians Want Coal Ash Safeguards Now

25 March 2014 - 1:53pm

The controversy continues almost two months after a Duke Energy spill of toxic coal ash into the Dan River. First, the Waterkeeper Alliance discovered Duke Energy dumping some 61 million gallons of coal ash wastewater into yet another waterway - the Cape Fear River. Duke Energy has been cited eight times since the Feb. 2 Dan River spill!

Now, state regulators have withdrawn the sweetheart coal ash violation settlements offered in previous years and instead have asked the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to step in to further investigate coal ash violations.

Today we released a poll showing that these inexcusable and shocking continued water violations are taking their toll on North Carolinians. Some highlights from the poll:

  • A stunning 90 percent of North Carolina voters want Duke to clean up all coal ash sites in the state, including the Dan River spill, and 88 percent feel coal ash should be stored away from water in specially lined landfills.
  • A large majority of North Carolina voters – 75 percent – are aware of the Dan River coal ash spill and there is broad concern about it within the state's electorate.

There is strong bipartisan support for regulating coal ash as a hazardous substance, to the tune of 83 percent of North Carolina voters, including super majorities of Democrats (91 percent), Independents (85 percent), and Republicans (75 percent).

  • North Carolinians, particularly those who have heard the most about the spill, place the blame for it squarely on Duke Energy.
  • North Carolinians strongly favor more regulation and enforcement when it comes to coal ash, and overwhelmingly believe that without this another spill will occur.
  • 70 percent of voters would support a candidate who favors strong regulations and enforcement to protect the water, air, and health of North Carolinians and to prevent future incidents like the recent coal ash spill, including 55 percent of Republicans, 69 percent of Independents, and 87 percent of Democrats.  

These results are strikingly similar to the poll we recently conducted in West Virginia. Taken together, the two polls demonstrate a clear finding that turns conventional wisdom on its head - people in states where the coal industry is still powerful want protections against coal pollution, and they want to support independent leaders who will stand up for clean air and water safeguards.  

This story is not going away, in part because residents of the affected states continue to suffer from these spills. In Charleston, residents are still not drinking their water and new test results revealed just today that the coal chemical MCHM is still leaking into the Elk River and showing up in household drinking water.

In North Carolina, officials say it will take at least two years to clean up the Dan River spill, while more coal ash problems are being revealed all the time. In Virginia, which also received some of the Dan River pollution, residents are angry and worried about their health, safety, and economy, and Governor McAuliffe has called on Duke to cover the costs of the cleanup.

The EPA has the tools it needs to prevent another Dan River spill from happening. As Politico reported this week, the EPA is coming under increased scrutiny for failing to finalize long-overdue coal water protections. No more delay – just ask the people of North Carolina. TAKE ACTION: It's time to protect our water from coal pollution.

-- Mary Anne Hitt, Director of the Sierra Club Beyond Coal Campaign. Photo of the Dan River coal ash spill courtesy of Appalachian Voices.

Categories: Sierra Club National

Norway’s Investment Can Help End Energy Poverty

25 March 2014 - 11:10am
Solar panels in India

Against the fervent protests of global coal lobbyists, Norway is considering divesting from coal while doubling down on investments in renewable energy and sustainable development internationally. These unprecedented initiatives could unleash billions in investments in renewable energy around the globe. This is great news, but we can’t forget that how we get people access to solar and other clean energy is just as important as whether we deploy them at all. That’s why Norway should include a commitment to transition energy access investment away from large-scale, centralized energy projects to small-scale, distributed clean energy like off-grid solar that turns on the lights while benefitting local economies.

No country is better placed to take advantage of these resources than India. Current estimates peg the Indian off-grid solar market at three gigawatts. That’s enough to get 75 million off-grid homes powered with basic services like lighting, mobile phone charging, and fans. But right now, Indian banks have a cap on investments to the power sector, limiting the solar industry’s access to finance because it’s all going to the struggling coal sector. It’s hard for the solar industry as a whole to get finance from public institutions compared to other energy sources, and it’s particularly hard for off-grid companies, given the banks’ current predisposition to support large-scale, centralized solar arrays.

That’s why Norway could soon be in a position to help India’s off-grid solar sector. If high-profile calls from leading solar entrepreneurs like Jigar Shah, founder of solar technology manufacturer SunEdison, are heeded, Norway could make $500 million available to off-grid renewables around the world. If this money is used in a strategic way, as loan guarantees that unlock billions more, we could see this sector explode like the mobile phone business in the early years.

Already the off-grid solar lighting market in sub-Saharan Africa, aimed to improve access to better lighting in areas not yet connected to the electricity grid, is almost doubling every year according to an international program called Lighting Africa. In Bangladesh, renewable energy company Grameen Shakti and others are deploying 30,000 to 40,000 solar home systems every single month. But India is already falling behind these fast-moving markets, even though states like Uttar Pradesh are housing a hotbed of distributed solar activity.

Despite the solar industry’s initial success in parts of the world, these markets are suffering from a lack of finance, making it hard for entrepreneurs to raise the money they need to get up and going. That means billions wait in the dark, living in energy poverty, the term for the situation that so many in developing nations find themselves: negatively affected by a lack of of energy, use of dirty fossil fuels, and inefficient time spent collecting fuel to provide for families. One quarter of that population resides in rural India with hundreds of millions more only receiving a few hours of electricity from the grid every day.

Luckily, small amounts of financial support from mainstream, hard-nosed investors have helped to transform investment in the sector in just the past six months. But financial capital from the private sector isn’t enough. We need the scale that only public institutions can bring. That’s why India needs this commitment from Norway to carve out support for off-grid clean energy access.

Norway has already heard the call for a $500 million fund from 20 of the world’s leading off-grid clean energy entrepreneurs. That’s why the government’s Energy+ Initiative has supported India’s national solar mission to provide solar in off-grid areas. Now it’s time to actually unlock this money and end energy poverty in India once and for all.

As Shah said, we have a once-in-a-generation opportunity to do something that matters. The eradication of energy poverty is an essential step to the education of children, effectiveness of health care, and attainment of the millennium development goals. Around the world, there are over one billion reasons for Norway to help make this happen. India is home to 300 million reasons alone. It’s time Norway helped provide the investment India’s entrepreneurs need to turn the lights on.

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

Categories: Sierra Club National

Victory in Georgia: Students Continue to Make Progress Against Campus Coal Plants

20 March 2014 - 9:55am

I am thrilled for students at the University of Georgia: After more than four years of campaigning, gathering more than 5,000 signatures and 100 faculty endorsements, and a slew of community and campus events, the UGA Beyond Coal Campaign is seeing some serious results. Last week the UGA administration announced that the campus coal boiler will be replaced!

Students at UGA were among the first to bring the Campuses Beyond Coal Campaign to their campus. Their movement started with just a few students in the Fall of 2009 and grew exponentially, so much that hundreds of students, faculty and community members turned out to their first on campus rally. This inspiring group of students forged ahead through a change in campus administration and multiple negative outlooks to continually recruit new leaders who carried on the campaign each year.

I couldn't be happier for these inspiring young people. Their work has been tireless.

From panels of guest speakers, to nightly ghost tours of the campus coal plant, to movie screenings and ample press coverage, the UGA Beyond Coal students have strived to educate the campus about coal's health effects. They know burning coal contributes to increased heart disease and asthma rates, premature death and is also one of the biggest contributors to climate disruption. From the mountaintop-removal coal mining in Appalachia, to the recent coal ash spills in North Carolina, coal is poisoning our air and water - even on college campuses.

The UGA students are not patting themselves on the back just yet - their push now is to get the school's administration to retire the coal boiler by 2018 and commit to clean energy for campus. This past year administrators began studying alternatives to burning coal on campus. Yet, even during that time, the administration refused to speak openly about the need to retire the coal boiler.   

So the students made a bold move. They presented their Administration with two options: Announce the intent to replace the coal boiler and the students run a positive ad in local papers; or if the administration continued its silence, the students would run a negative ad in local papers and call out the administration on its lack of action.

You can imagine how thrilled the students were when the administration publicly stated, for the first time in four years, that the coal boiler must be replaced with a cleaner fuel source.

This welcome news comes at a time when we are pushing the entire state of Georgia to invest more in clean energy, and move away from the dirty fuels of the past. Georgia Power has announced it intends to make one of the biggest solar purchases in Southern history, as part of its future energy plan. UGA's leadership in moving beyond coal is another step in the right direction for the state.

But as I said, the students aren't resting now. They will continue to hold the administration to a strict timeline to retire the coal boiler by 2018 and switch to real clean energy solutions. You can help - tell UGA President Jere Morehead to move UGA beyond coal.

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

Categories: Sierra Club National

Agencies Dodge Responsibility for Human Cost of Mountaintop-Removal Coal Mining

14 March 2014 - 12:00pm

This week, we got some disappointing news - a judge ruled that the Army Corps of Engineers isn't responsible for considering the health effects of coal pollution when it issues permits to fill valleys with rubble from mountaintop-removal coal mines. As Appalachian residents continue to suffer every year from well-documented health problems linked to mountaintop removal, this decision highlights a deadly loophole that requires long-overdue action from the White House and Congress.

Responsibility is a tricky thing. In our daily lives we work to be conscientious of our bills, our taxes, our family lives and a myriad of other duties that come up every day. But what happens when say, no one in the house takes responsibility for the dirty dishes? They keep piling up and things get pretty nasty.

Now, instead of dishes, think about what happens when no one chooses to take responsibility for the terrible effects coal pollution has on public health. From soot and smog to asthma, cancer and heart attacks, things go from nasty to life-threatening.

That's exactly what's happening right now in Kentucky where a court ruled (PDF) in essence that the Army Corps doesn't need to consider the health problems caused by mountaintop-removal coal mining because the Corps is only responsible for issuing permits that allow stream destruction associated with the mining, not the mining operation itself, even though the Corps admits that the mining operation could not go forward without the permit it issued. The crux of this ruling is that no one is currently taking responsibility for mining pollution that poses a serious threat to our health, waterways and communities.

Congress, the Environmental Protection Agency, the Army Corps and the Kentucky Division of Mining Permits all have the ability to protect our health, but they’re currently all saying "it's not my problem."

This Appalachian health crisis isn't one that can be solved by pointing fingers. The statistics are staggering: the health care costs associated with mountaintop-removal coal mining in Appalachia is estimated to be $80 billion per year. Further, roughly 60,000 additional cases of cancer can be attributed to the process and significantly higher rates of birth defects are just two of the many additional health issues facing residents in mining communities.

Simply put, we're having the wrong conversation. Solutions to the Appalachian health crisis, and who's responsible for ensuring safe, healthy communities, shouldn't be a game of hot potato. We're deeply disappointed in the Army Corps for again arguing against the best interests of the communities it serves.

It's up to the Environmental Protection Agency to create and enforce strong clean water and mining health protections. The Army Corps has a responsibility to take into consideration dangers to human health in its work. Congress should ensure that mountaintop-removal mining ceases to be a cause of human pain and suffering in Appalachia by passing the Appalachian Community Health Emergency Act, which would halt new permits for mountaintop removal while requiring  the federal government to complete a comprehensive health study of its effects. And every state where coal mining occurs should work to ensure that coal companies aren’t writing or ignoring rules meant to protect our communities' health.

With hundreds of thousands reeling in the aftermath of coal pollution spills in West Virginia and North Carolina, its more clear than ever that we need to close these loopholes, and protect our health, our families, and our communities.

-- Mary Anne Hitt, Beyond Coal Campaign Director. Image courtesy of Kentuckians For The Commonwealth.

Categories: Sierra Club National

Nurses Say No To Tar Sands

14 March 2014 - 11:35am
                 Senator Boxer, center, with the representatives of National Nurses United.

The Senate was buzzing yesterday about the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline.

If approved, the highly controversial pipeline would transport 830,000 barrels of corrosive crude oil each day from the tar sands of Alberta, Canada to refineries in places like Port Arthur, Texas. To put that in perspective, it would be the equivalent of building 46 new coal burning power plants.

Tar sands that are already being transported in the U.S. have resulted in major problems, including pipeline leaks, petcoke dust, and increased rates of rare cancers near extraction sites.

That’s a health and national security risk we can’t afford for ourselves, our future generations, or our planet. Luckily, climate and public health champions like Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA) recognize these hazards and are sticking up for our families and our planet.

Two weeks ago, Sen. Boxer hosted a press event where citizens and medical professionals who live near each part of the Keystone XL pipeline process, from extraction to waste removal, testified about the harmful effects tar sands oil is already having on their health and their communities. They called for a comprehensive human health impact study to determine the real costs of building the pipeline.

Sen. Boxer echoed that sentiment again yesterday when she invited five nurses from National Nurses United (NNU), the largest union and professional association of nurses in the country, to speak to the health effects they see in their patients on a daily basis as a result of the tar sands.

The nurses hailed from all across the country, representing 185,000 nurses nationwide, and their message was clear: we cannot authorize a pipeline that harms our planet and the health of our families.

“It’s a nightmare,” Boxer said. “Is it in the national interest to keep our people healthy? Yes.”

Karen Higgins, a Boston-based nurse and NNU co-president, agreed with Sen. Boxer that building the KXL pipeline is not in our nation’s best interest, citing the epidemic proportions of asthma in the U.S. as well as increased rates of cancer, leukemia, skin and eye issues, and nervous system damage as a result of tar sands production.

Kari Columbus, a nurse from Kansas City, Kansas, sees the impacts of tar sands daily on herself, her children and her patients.

“We need to look at the long term consequences as a whole,” she said. “It seems like they’re more concerned about money than they are the people that are affected.”

Rolanda Watson, a Chicago nurse, has seen an increase in respiratory diseases as a result of the plumes of petcoke dust that swirl around the Windy City. Petcoke, also called Petroleum Coke, is the waste leftover after tar sands are refined. The waste is then stored in open-air pits where it is free to blow about the city and is inhaled by unsuspecting people.

“Lung diseases decrease the ability to fight other diseases,” Watson said. “I am urging stricter regulations and stricter fines for the companies that violate them.”

Brenda Prewitt, a Houston-based nurse, has seen what these types of pollution do to our children. Houston is already home to various refineries for everything from tar sands to chemicals. The addition of the KXL pipeline will increase the amount of oil being refined, thus increasing the amount of pollution in the air and water.

“Our children are our future,” Prewitt said. She cited a study by the University of Texas School of Public Health that revealed “children who live within two miles of the Houston Ship Channel have a 56 percent greater chance of getting leukemia than children living elsewhere.”

The Houston Ship Channel would refine the tar sands and pollute the air even more, a health risk the children there can’t afford.

Rounding out the group was Katy Roemer, a California nurse who lives near the Richmond, Calif. tar sands refinery. She sees the health effects in her patients and in the 25,000 people who live near the refinery.

“We can and must do better for our planet and all who live here,” Roemer said. “Do not approve the Keystone XL pipeline unless you can prove it won’t harm our communities, patients, families, and environment.”

“People need to hear these voices,” Sen. Boxer added. “These are the people who take care of our families and see mistakes from policies.”

The nurses have launched a petition to make sure their voices are heard by Secretary Kerry.

That’s also why Sen. Boxer brought the nurses’ fight to the forefront during today’s Senate Foreign Relations committee hearing on Keystone XL. The Sierra Club’s executive director Michael Brune and renowned climate scientist James Hansen were among the speakers today who opposed Keystone XL.

“The sad truth is that the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline is all risk and no reward,” Brune said.

“We’re going to leave our young people a climate system that is spiraling out of control,” Hansen said. “We're all on the same boat, we'll all either sink together, or find a way to float together.”

“I know this is an uphill battle,” Sen. Boxer said to conclude her press conference. “I’ve had that before. [But] ask any American if increasing the leukemia risk for children is worth it. They’d say no.”

--Cindy Carr, Sierra Club Media Team

Categories: Sierra Club National

Colorado Air Quality Rules a Step in the Right Direction

13 March 2014 - 3:30pm

Photo by Sarah White, courtesy of Conservation Colorado.

By Catherine Collentine, Sierra Club Beyond Natural Gas Campaign Representative, Colorado

On February 23, Colorado's Department of Public Health and Environment Air Quality Control Commission (AQCC) finalized a set of air quality regulations that make Colorado the first state in the nation to regulate methane emissions statewide. The rules were finalized following five days of public comment and stakeholder testimony that included many concerned citizens.

Sierra Club Rocky Mountain Chapter members joined other community members, industry representatives, and elected officials to voice their concerns to the AQCC. One RMC member, Tara Meixsell, traveled across the state to make her voice heard. That's Tara, below at right, with Catherine Collentine and Matt Sura, an attorney representing a group of affected and concerned citizens at the rulemaking.

Tara had testified before the AQCC six years earlier in a similar rulemaking process, but the resulting rule had been limited to the Front Range, and she saw the need for strong, statewide rules to come out of this process. In her three-minute testimony, Tara spoke on behalf of her neighbors who are "dead, ill, or slowly dying and watching their country homes being turned into industrial sites as property values plummeted." She spoke of those close to her, saying "these people are not environmental activists; they are everyday people" and imploring the AQCC to this time pass rigorous statewide air quality standards with no exemptions.

Tara's heartfelt testimony on behalf of affected landowners in Colorado was heard along with testimony from more than 100 other community members, the majority supporting strong, statewide rules. Public comments were followed by testimony from industry, environmental groups including the Sierra Club, students, craft brewers (they made a special beer for the occasion), health professionals, faith leaders, and local governments.

Below, representatives of Brewery Rickoli from Wheat Ridge, Colorado, just west of Denver, hand out beer brewed for the occasion to the commissioners at the rulemaking.

The final rules were passed to apply statewide, regulate methane emissions from oil and gas operations, and reduce smog-forming volatile organic compound emissions. Additionally, the rules include:
  • The most comprehensive leak detection and repair program for oil and gas facilities in the country.
  • Regulation of a range of hydrocarbon emissions that can contribute to harmful ozone formation as well as climate change. The rules include first-in-the-nation provisions to reduce methane emissions.
    • Implementation of the rules will reduce more than 92,000 tons per year of volatile organic compound emissions. VOC emissions contribute to ground level ozone that has adverse impacts on public health and the environment, including increased asthma and other respiratory ailments.
    • Implementation of the rules also will reduce methane emissions by more than 60,000 tons per year.
  • Expanded control and inspection requirements for storage, including a first-in-the-nation standard to ensure that emissions from tanks are captured and routed to the required control devices.
  • Expanded ozone non-attainment area requirements for auto-igniters and low-bleed pneumatics to the rest of the state.
  • Requirement for no-bleed (zero-emission) pneumatics where electricity is available (in lieu of using gas to actuate pneumatic).
  • Requirements that gas stream at well production facilities either be connected to a pipeline or routed to a control device from the date of first production.
  • More stringent control requirements for glycol dehydrators.
  • A requirement to use best management practices to minimize the need for -- and emissions from -- well maintenance.
  • Expanding operator use of infrared (IR) cameras, which allow people to see emissions that otherwise would be invisible to the naked eye. Colorado obtained IR cameras for the Colorado Department of Public Health and the Environment and the Department of Natural Resources inspectors last year. They are an effective tool in identifying leaking equipment and reducing pollution.
  • Comprehensive recordkeeping and reporting requirements to help ensure transparent and accurate information.

The Commission also rejected two major pushes by industry parties to weaken the rules. An effort to exempt wells with low levels of VOC emissions from the leak detection rule (which would have exempted numerous wells) got a lot of attention during the hearing, but the commissioners voted it down 6-3. Industry parties also pressed hard for a "step down" provision that would let companies conduct less frequent leak inspections after two clean inspections (with the threshold to qualify for the "step down" set so high that most of the companies in Colorado already meet it). For technical details, the final rules can be reviewed here.

These rules are an exciting step forward for Colorado in regulating oil and gas emissions across the state. However, the Commission failed to adopt strong proposals to further protect communities that have drilling near homes and schools; push for the best available technology for both prevention and detection of leaks; and eliminate the exception for downstream compressor stations that account for 15 percent of leaks nationally. Coloradans will continue to fight the powerful oil and gas industry to protect their air and public health, and the Sierra Club will continue to support and engage in this battle on every level.

Categories: Sierra Club National

Michael Brune's Testimony on Keystone XL to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee

13 March 2014 - 1:55pm

Today Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune testified at a Senate hearing about the Keystone XL pipeline. Here's video of his testimony:

And here are the printed remarks:

Mr. Chairman, Ranking Member Corker, members of the committee, it is an honor to appear before you today to discuss whether Keystone XL is in the national interest. I’m Michael Brune, Executive Director of the Sierra Club.

The Sierra Club, and the more than two million people who submitted comments last week to the State Department, know this pipeline is not in our national interest. The Keystone XL tar sands pipeline would cut through more than a thousand miles of American farms and ranches, carrying oil that is more toxic, corrosive, difficult to clean up, and more carbon intensive all the way to the Gulf, where most of the oil would be exported.

Like many of you, I am a parent, and I am deeply concerned about the world we are leaving for our children. One lesson my wife and I try to teach our kids is the need to set goals and remain focused as you strive to achieve them. Our country has a clear, science-based goal to limit climate pollution.  We must keep this in mind and recognize that achieving that goal, is incompatible with permitting this pipeline.

None of the scenarios in the State Department’s analysis show how Keystone XL could be built in a way that insures our nation can meet those climate goals. In fact, Keystone XL would significantly exacerbate climate pollution because it would increase the development of tar sands substantially. A report last week from Carbon Tracker found that Keystone XL would spur additional production of roughly 500,000 barrels per day, the emissions equivalent of building 46 new coal plants.

I would like to enter this report into the record today.
Although the climate impacts of tar sands are sufficient reason to reject this project, there are others:

Any spill from this pipeline could be catastrophic.

Transporting tar sands crude into the United States poses a heightened risk to communities and their air and water than conventional oil. Diluted bitumen is heavier and more toxic than conventional crude. When it spills in a waterway, it sinks. Just one tar sands oil spill in Michigan fouled more than 35 miles of river. After three and a half years and more than a billion dollars, that spill still has not been cleaned up. Take a look at this image from a neighborhood in Mayflower, Arkansas where an ExxonMobil pipeline ruptured, spilling more than 7,000 barrels of tar sands into resident’s backyards and driveways.

Even without spills, the Keystone XL would risk the health and livelihood of communities living near each stage of the project. Petcoke is a byproduct of tar sands production, and its a major health hazard for U.S. communities. Fuel-grade petcoke contains high levels of toxins, including mercury, lead, arsenic, selenium, chromium, nickel, and vanadium. Huge petcoke piles from refining processes have begun to appear in cities like Chicago and Detroit.

Furthermore, Keystone XL would not even benefit American consumers.  

This oil is intended for export.

Keystone XL would deliver tar sands to refineries on the Gulf Coast that already export most of their refined product, have increased their exports nearly 200 percent in the past five years and are planning to increase these exports further in the future.

Keystone XL would also be be a threat to national security.

Because it would facilitate the development of one of the world’s most carbon intensive sources of oil, it is important to consider the impacts that these additional greenhouse gas emissions would have on people worldwide and America’s national security.

Since 2010, key national security reports have indicated that floods, droughts, and rising seas brought on by a destabilized climate in places of geostrategic importance to the U.S. multiply threats and risks for Americans working in those areas.

Climate disruption directly affects our armed forces. Admiral Samuel Locklear, head of the U.S. Military’s Pacific Command, believes the single greatest threat to his forces is the instability sparked by climate disruption.

Finally, clean energy will power a new American economy. Let’s not delay.

America is a land of innovators. Today the factories of Detroit, the laboratories of Silicon Valley, and the next generation of American consumers are already investing in and profiting from clean technology. Thanks to fuel-efficiency standards, gasoline demand in the U.S. is decreasing and projections show decreases through 2040 and beyond.

Investing in the clean energy economy is supported by  American businesses, workers, and all who care about clean air, water and a stable climate. That’s a win-win-win scenario. Compared this to Keystone XL, which jeopardizes our drinking water, farmland, climate, and health.  The sad truth is that the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline is all risk and no reward.

Secretary Kerry has called climate disruption “the world’s most fearsome weapon of mass destruction,” and last week, he instructed all U.S. diplomats and employees around the world to “lead by example through strong action at home and abroad” to fight the climate crisis.  America can lead on climate, by saying no to this polluting pipeline, and saying yes to clean energy.

Thank you.

Categories: Sierra Club National

Dr. Kim’s World Bank Legacy Hinges on Kosovo Climate Test

11 March 2014 - 3:07pm

Dr. Kim, President of the World Bank, has declared the world must do more to address climate disruption. His lofty rhetoric has soared over that of previous World Bank presidents, drawing widespread support for his progressive stance. But for those who follow this institution closely, one thing has always been true – talk is cheap. That’s why all eyes are now focused on whether Dr. Kim will walk the walk by rejecting a highly controversial new coal plant in the tiny Eastern European country of Kosovo. When it comes to making decisions that test their willingness to build climate legacies, President Obama has the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline, and Dr. Kim has a massive coal plant in Kosovo.

Dr. Kim’s decision should be cut-and-dried. The World Bank recently put coal finance restrictions in place, putting the institution on the right side of history. These restrictions essentially ended the institution’s support for the most carbon-intensive and destructive fossil fuel known to man or, as Grist blogger David Roberts, calls it, “the enemy of the human race.” But rather than adhere to these restrictions, let alone his own calls to address climate disruption, Dr. Kim is allowing the World Bank to pave the way for support for yet another coal plant, this time in Kosovo.

About three years ago, the World Bank began considering a loan guarantee for the construction of a new coal plant in Kosovo on the baseless assertion that this tiny nation was a renewable energy wasteland. But that’s not the case. In fact, the Bank’s own former chief clean-energy czar, Dr. Daniel Kammen, released a study showing that Kosovo can power itself with clean energy and do so more cheaply while producing more jobs than it would by building a coal plant. But rather than listen to his own former staff, Dr. Kim, a public health champion, has made embarrassing statements about Kosovars “freezing to death” as the alternative to funding this controversial project.

Kosovars have not responded kindly to the idea that their country, on course to join the European Union, has advanced so little that their citizens are freezing and dying in the streets. That’s why local civil society led by KOSID has waged a campaign for several years demanding Dr. Kim make good on his rhetoric and help move their country onto a clean-energy path that aligns with the rest of the EU. From high profile public service announcements about the health and economic risks of this ill-advised project to illuminating their demand for “no new coal for Kosovars” on the World Bank’s building in Washington, D.C., Kosovar citizens have made their opinion abundantly clear.

The problem is Dr. Kim isn’t listening. Instead, the World Bank is moving forward by conducting an environmental and social impact assessment that is likely to be perfunctory and pave the way for a final board vote that would approve millions of dollars for the coal-burning plant. Worse, sources are saying that in addition to providing a loan guarantee, the institution might double down and invest directly in the plant since even coal-plant construction companies aren’t investing.

But it’s not over yet. Across the world, civil society groups including the Sierra Club and KOSID are banding together to draw a line in the sand. It’s no longer enough to simply make strong statements about climate. It’s time to walk the walk. So let Dr. Kim know, just like President Obama, you’re watching to see if he passes his climate test.

Join us in taking Twitter by storm today (Wednesday, March 12) and sending him a message: All eyes now on Dr. Kim @WorldBank, will he pass his #ClimateTest & reject #coal in #Kosovo?

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

Categories: Sierra Club National

#Up4Climate: Sierra Club Volunteers Stand With Senate Climate Champs

11 March 2014 - 11:44am
                   Senator Markey (D-MA) meeting with constituents and Sierra Club volunteers

Remember the last time you pulled an all-nighter? Whether it was for work or school or family reasons, you know its a lot easier to get things done in the wee hours of the morning when you know you’ve got a little support from your friends.  

Last night, a group of 30 friends of the planet in the U.S. Senate stayed up all night urging action on

Senator Whitehouse (D-RI) meeting with Sierra Club volunteers.

climate disruption. And we wanted to be sure they knew that Sierra Club members and supporters all across the country were standing side by side with them as they fought off fatigue and fought back against the climate crisis.

That’s why Sierra Club staff and volunteers took to Capitol Hill, to bring support for the long night ahead to the offices of Senators Heinrich, Whitehouse, Schatz, Markey, Kaine, Shaheen, and Murphy.

The Senators from the Senate Climate Action Task Force have had enough of the inaction by their colleagues when it comes to acting on climate disruption, which Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid recently called “the worst problem facing the world today.”

Senator Schatz (D-HI) meeting with Sierra Club volunteers.

"The cost of Congress' inaction on climate change is too high for our communities, our kids and grandkids, and our economy,” Senator Whitehouse said in a statement. “On Monday we’ll be sending a clear message: it’s time for Congress to wake up and get serious about addressing this issue.”

Senator Reid, along Senators Heinrich, Whitehouse, Schatz, Markey, Kaine, Shaheen, and Murphy, were joined for the 14 hour 36 minute ‘talkathon’ by Senators Durbin, Schumer, Murray, Boxer, Feinstein, Wyden, Nelson, Cantwell, Cardin, Sanders, Klobuchar, Mark Udall, Tom Udall, Merkley, Gillibrand, Franken, Blumenthal, King, Leahy, Warren, Coons, Reed, and Booker.

While we’d love to visit with every Member of Congress to help them arise from their collective slumber

Senator Heinrich (D-NM) meeting with Sierra Club volunteers.

over the climate crisis, we hope that last night’s action by the Senators drove the message home that the time is now to wake up and act on climate.

We had our own cup of joe in hand while we tweeted the action last night. Follow the @SierraClub and the hashtag #Up4Climate for updates. You can see more reactions here.

-- Cindy Carr, Sierra Club Media Team

Categories: Sierra Club National

Nurses Oppose the Keystone XL Pipeline

6 March 2014 - 12:10pm

There's only one more day til the deadline to comment on Keystone XL. Check out this great video from National Nurses United on why President Obama should reject Keystone XL.


TAKE ACTION: Send your comment NOW!

Categories: Sierra Club National

Our Last Coal Ash Spill: No More Delays for Coal Water Pollution Protections

5 March 2014 - 1:37pm

Last week, security guards at Duke Energy's Charlotte headquarters blocked me from delivering 9,000 petitions signed by Duke customers calling on the company to clean up its toxic coal ash, in the wake of a spill that decimated 70 miles of the Dan River. It was the culmination of a dramatic rally that shone a glaring spotlight on one company’s reckless pollution practices, and the urgent need for the Environmental Protection Agency to finally close coal water pollution loopholes, without delay.

After keeping the crowd waiting for 45 tense minutes, a Duke spokesperson finally accepted our petitions. You'd think Duke would roll out the red carpet for the public, given all the scrutiny of this spill and their cozy relationship with NC governor Pat McCrory, a former Duke employee - outlined in this recent front page New York Times article with the telling headline "Coal Ash Spill Shows How a Watchdog was Defanged." Instead, they shut the door in our faces, perhaps symbolic of how they wish this whole issue would just go away.

Well, the issue of coal pollution in our water is not going away - not by a long shot.

In their coverage of the rally, CNN pointed out there are hundreds more Dan River disasters waiting to happen, at hundreds of coal ash storage sites nationwide. As I told the crowd in Charlotte, reported by CNN,

"This needs to be our last wake-up call. Our last coal ash spill."

The good news is that the EPA has the opportunity, and the authority, to ensure this is our last coal ash spill. The agency has drafted two standards (one for coal ash disposal and the second for coal plant water pollution) that could prevent a disaster like this from ever happening again. The bad news is that the coal industry - including big coal burning utilities like Duke - is putting the screws to the EPA and the White House to try and make the final standards toothless. We can't let that happen.

Coal ash is a waste product from power plants, and it contains a witches' brew of toxic chemicals like mercury, arsenic, and lead. It may be stored near your drinking water supply - check out our new map of coal as sites to find out.

Meanwhile, in my home state of West Virginia, people are still afraid to drink their water, almost two months after a coal chemical spilled into the drinking water supply for over 300,000 people. Last week, West Virginians delivered 50,000 petitions calling on the U.S. Department of Interior's Office of Surface Mining to take over enforcement of mining and water pollution standards, currently being run by the state. But that hasn't stopped Gov. Tomblin from continued grandstanding against EPA regulation of carbon pollution, despite the recent poll showing two out of three West Virginia voters support more enforcement and stronger environmental regulations in the state.

Over the coming weeks, we will be working hard to make it crystal clear to the EPA, Duke Energy, and all the nation's coal water polluters that enough is enough. No more delays. No more excuses. No more coal pollution spills. If you want to help now, click here to send a message to the EPA.

-- Mary Anne Hitt, Beyond Coal Campaign Director

Categories: Sierra Club National

Health Miseries Follow Tar Sands

26 February 2014 - 4:23pm
Sen. Barbara Boxer (center) with -- from left to right -- Dr. Stuart Batterman, Tom Shepherd, and Hilton Kelly.

Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA) knows the consequences from the Keystone XL pipeline go far beyond the pages of the State Department's hotly contested Final Environmental Impact Survey (FEIS).

Setting aside the critically important fact that Keystone XL and the tar sands oil it would tap into would have devastating repercussions on our climate crisis, what the FEIS omits entirely are the serious health effects on the people along its proposed route from Canada to Texas.  Every step of the way, from extraction to refining to waste removal, is a proven public health disaster.

"I'm concerned about the impact of tar sands on our people wherever they live," Boxer said.

Today, four voices that could speak to that joined Boxer and Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) to talk about their first-hand experiences with tar sands oil at each stage of the process of its production.  

The tar sands originate and are mined largely in Alberta, Canada, the home of Dr. John O'Connor. In the Fort Chipewyan area that O'Connor serves, residents of this tiny town are 30 percent more likely to develop cancer -- specifically rare cancers like cholangiocarcinoma, a fatal bile duct cancer.

Disturbed by the drastically increasing cancer rates, O'Connor brought this information to the attention of authorities starting nearly a decade ago. Since then, he says, tar sands extraction has increased, and the authorities have done nothing.

"It's a public health crisis in this community," O'Connor said.

A bit further to the southeast, Dr. Stuart Batterman, a professor of Environmental Health Sciences at the University of Michigan School of Public Health, has found the public health crisis to be just as dramatic. He's observed an increase in the number of adult males developing leukemia in the area surrounding tar sands oil refineries. And he believes we are significantly underestimating the number of chemicals used in the refining process.

"We need to be proactive and avoid this situation in the first place," Batterman said, arguing that the key is solving the problem before the cancer develops, not doing damage control after it's been found.

Even further south, at the ultimate destination of the Keystone XL pipeline in Port Arthur, Texas, Hilton Kelly, an environmental justice activist and founder and CEO of Community In-power and Development Association Inc., said introducing tar sands oil to an area already saturated with numerous oil refineries and chemical plants would make a bad situation much worse. Kelly said tar sands and Keystone XL would increase emissions of benzene, heavy metals, and volatile organic compounds (VOCs) into the air that residents of Port Arthur breathe every day.

"Enough is enough," Kelly said. "We do not need nor do we want tar sands in our community. It's time for the onslaught to end."

Once the oil is refined, the leftover waste, called petroleum coke or petcoke, needs to go somewhere. One of those places is southeast Chicago, home of Tom Shepherd, vice president of the Southeast Environmental Task Force in Chicago. These mountains of petcoke line rivers in the area and are dangerously close to backyards, parks, and schools. Because the petcoke is stored in open-air pits, large clouds of black dust have been swirling around southeast Chicago for months. It has affected children inthe community and has forced residents to stay in their homes for fear of developing asthma and other diseases.

"The dust coats our homes, and we're afraid it will coat our lungs," Shepherd said. "It has no place near homes, schools, and parks, not in southeast, not in any community.”

If the Keystone XL pipeline is approved, these Americans and millions more like them will continue to suffer at the hands of tar sands oil and all of the waste and contamination associated with it.

"If we continue with the status quo, we're in for a dangerous ride," Whitehouse said.

Senators Boxer and Whitehouse are writing a letter to Secretary of State John Kerry in hopes of changing that. Their goal is for the State Department to conduct a human health impact study on the tar sands and to determine once and for all what harm tar sands oil and Keystone XL is having on the health of Americans.

"Nothing less than the health of our families is at stake," Boxer said.

-Cindy Carr, Sierra Club Media Team

Categories: Sierra Club National

A Witness to Environmental Justice Over 20 Years

26 February 2014 - 2:45pm

Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Gina McCarthy proclaimed the month of February 2014 as Environmental Justice Month. Environmental justice activists all across the country are commemorating the 20th anniversary of the Environmental Justice Executive Order 12898 signed by President Bill Clinton twenty years ago on February 11, 1994.

This column was written by Sierra Club Environmental Justice Organizer Rita Harris, pictured above on the right.

Wow, it's really been 20 years! I remember where I was on that day in 1994 clearly. I was attending a conference at the Crystal City Marriott being hosted by NIEHS (National Institute for Environmental Health Sciences). There was a horrible snow storm and government offices in Washington, D.C. were all closed. However, word was quickly passing around the crowds of people at the conference that a select group of activists from our ranks had been called over to the White House.

There was so much excitement among the attendees, and it grew even wilder once the group returned and told us why they went to the White House. We were told that President Clinton had signed an Executive Order that would mandate all federal agencies develop strategic plans to address environmental justice (EJ). This was groundbreaking and historic! Many of the activists that were present at the conference and at the signing felt like this was just the one-two punch that was needed to help us with our many EJ fights and help communities across the country.  "EJ will finally be recognized now that we have the President in our corner," is what some said.

The back story to the Executive Order's signing was that strong grassroots EJ advocates on the EPA National Environmental Justice Advisory Council (NEJAC), which was established in 1993, actually pushed for Clinton to take the executive action he took in 1994. Although federal agencies did produce plans to address environmental justice in their decision making, environmental justice was not practiced or addressed in local government agencies and within most state environmental agencies. EJ battles are still taking place across this country and many times the term itself is even challenged, so the struggle continues.

There have been many success stories -- just not as many as EJ activists would have hoped. Over the past 20 years we have seen a few Superfund sites remediated, some Brownfields have been redeveloped, some buyouts have occurred that relocated residents plagued by toxic hazards, some polluters have been shut down, and some 'bad actors' have been criminally prosecuted.

Partnerships have been promoted, colleges and universities have embraced EJ communities and worked to alleviate suffering and raise the level of consciousness about disproportionate amounts of pollution and contamination in neighborhoods. Large environmental groups like the Sierra Club that had not traditionally been involved in EJ felt compelled to do so and established staff and programs to support poor and people of color communities.

Within the Sierra Club EJ guidelines and procedures were developed to ensure we worked in a respectful and sensitive way. In the broader community, lots of policy work has been done to counter policy work that was being done by corporate and business lobbyists. Numerous reports, articles, and academic studies have been produced.  Numerous books have been written on the subject of EJ, and folks from coast to coast have kept the EJ movement fires burning over the years.

When I think back to all the community members that were "fighters" and present at the time Executive Order 12898 was signed in 1994, I am saddened because many have passed away. They fought a good fight for so many years, but have left us with a legacy that demands we continue to be strong fighters for clean healthy communities and never give up.  

(L to R, Vernice Miller-Travis of the Maryland State Commission on Environmental Justice & Sustainable Communities; Rita Harris; Angelo Logan of East Yard Communities for Environmental Justice in Los Angeles; Richard Moore, former member of NEJAC and former director of the Southwest Organizing Project in New Mexico; and Charles Lee, the deputy associate administrator for environmental justice at the EPA.)

These were my personal thoughts as I sat in the EPA National Environmental Justice Council meeting held in Denver, Colorado, on February 11, 2014. I had the opportunity to participate in the 20th anniversary commemoration of Executive Order 12898 with other colleagues and friends. It was a time to reflect and also a time to rededicate ourselves to continuing the hard work of so many fighting for environmental justice. In addition, there was a moment of silence for all those EJ fighters who have passed away that was quite moving.

EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy attended and addressed NEJAC, expressing continued support for environmental justice communities coast to coast. The political climate has given us peaks and valleys in the EJ movement and has activists now trying to regain the momentum we lost during eight years of the Bush Administration. As we all know, we must keep the pressure on to achieve success, but at least for now we have an EPA administrator that supports environmental justice. "EJ Plan 2014" is the EPA's roadmap to achieve success. We can all help keep the focus on support for EJ issues and EJ communities.

Categories: Sierra Club National

New Poll, Rally Show WV, NC, and Beyond Are Fed Up With Coal Industry's Pollution

24 February 2014 - 10:58am

West Virginians hold the coal industry responsible for air and water contamination in the state, and they are tired of the stranglehold they believe the industry's lobbyists have on state politics.

That's just one of many powerful findings of a new poll out today about the aftermath of the January coal chemical spill in Charleston, West Virginia.

The Sierra Club and Hart Research Associates polled West Virginia voters, and look at the results:

1) West Virginians do not view the January coal chemical spill as an isolated incident
-- 69 percent think the spill was a result of companies acting irresponsibly (only 21 percent saw the spill as an accident) and believe spills will happen again unless something changes.

2) West Virginians strongly support increased regulations and enforcement to protect air and water. And they don't just want "better enforcement" in the abstract -- they solidly endorse specific changes in policy and more EPA involvement in the state.

3) Two out of every three West Virginians support political candidates who are independent of the coal industry.

This is major news -- even in a state long dominated by the coal industry, my fellow West Virginians have made it clear that a majority want strong EPA and state action on coal industry pollution. They want the coal industry out of the pockets of their state politicians, and they want state leaders to stop cozying up to the industry.

Meanwhile, in North Carolina, where thousands of people are reeling after a coal ash dam leaked into the Dan River earlier this month, there is major frustration as well. State officials confirmed last week they've known for years that toxins from Duke Energy's 14 coal ash ponds around the state are seeping into groundwater.

That's on top of the controversy surrounding just how close Governor Pat McCrory (a former Duke Energy employee) and the state's Department of Environment and Natural Resources are with Duke Energy.  Recent reports have exposed the state's practice of intervening in coal ash pollution suits brought by environmental groups and then giving Duke a small fine that amounts to a slap on the wrist, while avoiding a full hearing before a judge. Federal attorneys are now investigating Duke for any possible legal wrongdoing.

So on Tuesday, February 25, hundreds of people are expected to rally at Duke Energy's headquarters in Charlotte as the Sierra Club, Appalachian Voices, the North Carolina Conservation Network, and Greenpeace deliver more than 8,500 letters demanding that the utility clean up its coal ash.

I'll be in Charlotte at the Duke rally -- if you're in the area please join us!

Americans are standing up to the coal industry in the face of its continuous pollution of our air and water. How many more spills will it take before we see action by the EPA to close these coal water pollution loopholes?

-- Mary Anne Hitt, Beyond Coal Campaign Director

Categories: Sierra Club National

A Clean Environment Is Not For Trade

21 February 2014 - 3:57pm

This week, more than 120 Members of Congress sent a clear message to the United States Trade Representative: the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade pact must have a robust, fully enforceable environment chapter that addresses the core conservation challenges of the region.

The letter comes just days before officials from the 12 governments involved in the TPP will meet in Singapore to try to make progress on an agreement that is facing increasingly steep opposition from the American public and Members of Congress.

In the letter, Members of Congress recognized that while they don’t all agree on the trade pact in general, they do all agree on the need for a strong environment chapter that builds on the so-called “May 10th Agreement,” a political agreement struck on May 10, 2007 between then-President George Bush and Congress.

The May 10th Agreement set minimum standards for all environment chapters of U.S. trade pacts. It said that environment chapters must be legally enforceable and subject to “dispute settlement,” meaning a country violating an environmental trade rule could be penalized with trade sanctions.  It also required that countries uphold their domestic environmental laws in addition to commitments made in international environmental treaties.

Members of Congress have good reason to be concerned about the environment chapter of the TPP. On January 15, Wikileaks published a leaked version of the environment chapter, which environmental organizations including the Sierra Club, the Natural Resources Defense Council, and the World Wildlife Fund deemed “unacceptable.” The leaked text actually rolled back  the May 10th standards. It wasn’t enforceable, and it didn’t obligate the TPP countries to uphold commitments in environmental treaties.

Members of Congress said it well: “To build on the May 10th Agreement, TPP must include new and robust commitments for member countries to protect and conserve forests, oceans, and wildlife and obligate member countries to comply with both domestic environmental laws, not derogating from those laws, and meet their commitments under multilateral environmental agreements (MEAs).”

The letter also said that “these commitments must be strong, binding and enforceable, and subject to the same dispute settlement procedures as the commercial chapters, including recourse to trade sanctions.”

In order to help ensure that increased trade doesn’t destroy our environment, the chapter should include, to name a few, a ban on trade in illegally harvested timber, wildlife, and fish; the elimination of harmful fisheries subsidies; and a ban on shark finning and commercial whaling.

Members of Congress also wrote that a strong environment chapter would help the U.S. tackle climate disruption. But a recent leak revealed the opposite. It showed that the United States Trade Representative is actually trying to weaken language in the pact that deals with climate disruption and biodiversity. The U.S. seems to want to eliminate even a reference to climate change and the international forum designed to address the climate crisis—the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change—and refer instead to the “transition to a low emissions economy.”

This letter’s signers won’t accept a weak or unenforceable environment chapter, and they won’t succumb to pressure to strike a deal that’s not in the interest of communities, workers, and the environment.

And if Congress wants a deal that protects people and the planet, they must also look beyond the environment chapter. The pact’s chapter on investment, which was also leaked, allows foreign corporations to sue governments over policies designed to protect our environment. Corporations such as Chevron and ExxonMobil have launched hundreds of these cases against 95 governments using similar rules, and many cases directly attack policies on the environment, climate, and clean energy.

The pact would also require the U.S. to approve all exports of fracked gas to other TPP countries without any review or protections in place for communities and the environment. More natural gas exports would mean more fracking next to schools and hospitals throughout the U.S. and more climate-disrupting pollution.

As trade negotiators go to Singapore, they should take heed from these Members of Congress. And Members of Congress should note that a strong environment chapter is critical, but not sufficient to protect the environment and our climate from the risks of the TPP.

What we know isn’t good. What they’re hiding could be far worse.

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

Categories: Sierra Club National