Sierra Club Compass Blog

Syndicate content
Updated: 1 day 3 hours ago

Connecticut on its way to a coal-free future

25 September 2014 - 7:30am

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

END of resolution

Categories: Sierra Club National

Wrapping Up the UN Climate Summit

24 September 2014 - 1:36pm

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

that the

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

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

will wander rootless

with only a passport to call home

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

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



Categories: Sierra Club National

Why The Climate Movement Cannot Ignore Trade

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Categories: Sierra Club National

Developing clean energy and protecting wild places

23 September 2014 - 2:21pm

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Categories: Sierra Club National

Developing clean energy and protecting wild places

23 September 2014 - 2:21pm

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Categories: Sierra Club National

People's Climate March draws more than 400,000

23 September 2014 - 9:23am

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

Categories: Sierra Club National

People's Climate March draws more than 400,000

23 September 2014 - 9:23am

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Categories: Sierra Club National

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

19 September 2014 - 1:00pm

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Categories: Sierra Club National

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

19 September 2014 - 1:00pm

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Categories: Sierra Club National

Massachusetts Promotes Electric Vehicles in Three-City Tour

19 September 2014 - 11:54am

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Categories: Sierra Club National

Massachusetts Promotes Electric Vehicles in Three-City Tour

19 September 2014 - 11:54am

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Categories: Sierra Club National

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

18 September 2014 - 4:55pm

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

By Ivy Main, Sierra Club Virginia Chapter Chair

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Categories: Sierra Club National

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

18 September 2014 - 4:55pm

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

By Ivy Main, Sierra Club Virginia Chapter Chair

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Categories: Sierra Club National

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

16 September 2014 - 4:25pm

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Categories: Sierra Club National

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

16 September 2014 - 4:25pm

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Categories: Sierra Club National

400 more reasons to march on Sept. 21

12 September 2014 - 9:58am

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

RSVP for the People’s Climate March today!

 --Sierra Club Media Team

Categories: Sierra Club National

400 more reasons to march on Sept. 21

12 September 2014 - 9:58am

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

RSVP for the People’s Climate March today!

 --Sierra Club Media Team

Categories: Sierra Club National

Even polling from Koch-backed group finds support for clean energy

12 September 2014 - 8:08am

The American Energy Alliance (AEA), a group with deep ties to the Koch brothers, has released a new national poll they claim shows voters are wary of the federal government’s involvement in energy policy. But two of their primary conclusions -- that “many Americans are skeptical of [the] EPA’s proposed power plant rule” and “voters are pretty skeptical of all facets of the wind production tax credits” – are inconsistent with nearly every other national poll I’ve seen recently. In June, a Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll found that two-in-three Americans supported new EPA rules limiting carbon pollution from coal-fired power plants. And a USA Today poll released in December found 73 percent of Americans favored extending tax reductions for wind companies and other sources of renewable energy. Sure, the samples and questions are not identical to the AEA poll, but the spread between these numbers is stark.

Has public opinion really shifted so dramatically?

For answers, I turned to the AEA’s poll questionnaire (which you can read here). While I found several instances where the question wording and ordering appeared to be biased, I honed in on the questions pertaining to the new carbon pollution standards and wind energy tax credits.

 

After being told that “the Obama Administration recently proposed rules which would require States to reduce greenhouse gas emissions within their borders,” survey respondents were asked whether they thought it was a “good” or “bad” thing that “as a practical matter, the rule would require States to impose mandates on their citizens to buy certain amounts of renewable energy, whether or not it is cost-effective.” Given this phrasing and its vague – if not scary – implications, it is not surprising that 60% of respondents said this was “mostly a bad thing”. The description of "mandates" (itself a loaded term) could be interpreted in a variety of ways. The respondent could take this to mean that the state government will force them to buy renewable energy themselves (as opposed to through their utility) or even to purchase more energy than they need. Furthermore, there is no benchmark or context given about the price issue, so a respondent could assume that renewable energy costs are much higher than they actually are. With biased language likely skewing responses from those polled, it is not surprising that AEA got the results they were looking for. But, as a result, this poll does not prove that Americans are skeptical of the EPA’s proposed carbon pollution standards themselves.

Some of the poll’s other findings actually seem to go against the anti-wind energy agenda the Koch Brothers have been pushing. While AEA’s press release claims that “the majority of voters are skeptical of preferential subsidies like the two-decades old wind PTC [production tax credit]”, even their own data does not support this.

In a rather ironic twist, their poll actually found majority support for tax breaks for wind energy companies, which help expand and create jobs in this sector. Before being asked for their opinions of wind tax credits, respondents heard a series of questions that framed tax credits in a negative light. One being “Do you think foreign companies should get tax breaks from American taxpayers?” and another being “Do you think that companies that are already making a profit on a new technology should get tax breaks for using or producing that technology?” Even after hearing such questions -- which hardly define the reality of the American wind energy manufacturing across the country -- 51 percent of respondents said still they thought it was a “good thing” that “companies that generate electricity using wind power get a tax credit from the federal government which is paid for by taxpayers.” This level of support is surely lower than the ones found in other national polls (another example), but it is comforting to know that most voters are not easily swayed away from their support for renewable energy -- even when some of the technology’s biggest opponents offer up what they believe are their strongest arguments.

If this American Energy Alliance poll tells me anything, it is that it is tough to hide the overwhelming public support for renewable energy.

--- Grace McRae, Polling and Research Director, Sierra Club

Categories: Sierra Club National

Even polling from Koch-backed group finds support for clean energy

12 September 2014 - 8:08am

The American Energy Alliance (AEA), a group with deep ties to the Koch brothers, has released a new national poll they claim shows voters are wary of the federal government’s involvement in energy policy. But two of their primary conclusions -- that “many Americans are skeptical of [the] EPA’s proposed power plant rule” and “voters are pretty skeptical of all facets of the wind production tax credits” – are inconsistent with nearly every other national poll I’ve seen recently. In June, a Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll found that two-in-three Americans supported new EPA rules limiting carbon pollution from coal-fired power plants. And a USA Today poll released in December found 73 percent of Americans favored extending tax reductions for wind companies and other sources of renewable energy. Sure, the samples and questions are not identical to the AEA poll, but the spread between these numbers is stark.

Has public opinion really shifted so dramatically?

For answers, I turned to the AEA’s poll questionnaire (which you can read here). While I found several instances where the question wording and ordering appeared to be biased, I honed in on the questions pertaining to the new carbon pollution standards and wind energy tax credits.

 

After being told that “the Obama Administration recently proposed rules which would require States to reduce greenhouse gas emissions within their borders,” survey respondents were asked whether they thought it was a “good” or “bad” thing that “as a practical matter, the rule would require States to impose mandates on their citizens to buy certain amounts of renewable energy, whether or not it is cost-effective.” Given this phrasing and its vague – if not scary – implications, it is not surprising that 60% of respondents said this was “mostly a bad thing”. The description of "mandates" (itself a loaded term) could be interpreted in a variety of ways. The respondent could take this to mean that the state government will force them to buy renewable energy themselves (as opposed to through their utility) or even to purchase more energy than they need. Furthermore, there is no benchmark or context given about the price issue, so a respondent could assume that renewable energy costs are much higher than they actually are. With biased language likely skewing responses from those polled, it is not surprising that AEA got the results they were looking for. But, as a result, this poll does not prove that Americans are skeptical of the EPA’s proposed carbon pollution standards themselves.

Some of the poll’s other findings actually seem to go against the anti-wind energy agenda the Koch Brothers have been pushing. While AEA’s press release claims that “the majority of voters are skeptical of preferential subsidies like the two-decades old wind PTC [production tax credit]”, even their own data does not support this.

In a rather ironic twist, their poll actually found majority support for tax breaks for wind energy companies, which help expand and create jobs in this sector. Before being asked for their opinions of wind tax credits, respondents heard a series of questions that framed tax credits in a negative light. One being “Do you think foreign companies should get tax breaks from American taxpayers?” and another being “Do you think that companies that are already making a profit on a new technology should get tax breaks for using or producing that technology?” Even after hearing such questions -- which hardly define the reality of the American wind energy manufacturing across the country -- 51 percent of respondents said still they thought it was a “good thing” that “companies that generate electricity using wind power get a tax credit from the federal government which is paid for by taxpayers.” This level of support is surely lower than the ones found in other national polls (another example), but it is comforting to know that most voters are not easily swayed away from their support for renewable energy -- even when some of the technology’s biggest opponents offer up what they believe are their strongest arguments.

If this American Energy Alliance poll tells me anything, it is that it is tough to hide the overwhelming public support for renewable energy.

--- Grace McRae, Polling and Research Director, Sierra Club

Categories: Sierra Club National

The Voice of Bart Simpson Wants You to Check Out Electric Cars Next Week

11 September 2014 - 1:59pm


I knew the fourth annual National Drive Electric Week would be big, but I didn't realize it would be this big! We're having free events in 135+ cities September 15-21 to share the fuel cost-saving, clean-air, and fun-driving benefits of electric vehicles (EVs); there is probably an event near you. The Sierra Club, Plug In America, and the Electric Auto Association -- the three national organizers of Drive Electric Week -- are pleased to announce this week that we've hit the quarter million mark of EVs on the road in the U.S. EVs are turning the corner -- and fast.

Even (the voice of) Bart Simpson is excited. "I bought a Nissan Leaf about two years ago," said The Simpsons actor Nancy Cartwright. "I shaved nearly an hour off my driving to The Simpsons set and back because I can drive in the carpool lane. Got lots of thumbs up on the freeway. That said, I am a HUGE fan of Tesla and can't wait to 'fly' with my 'falcon-doored' bird, the Tesla Model X…Aesthetic, functional and sets a great example for safeguarding our environment."  

Ever wonder what it's like to drive an electric car? Have questions about where and how to charge them, whether they're reliable, and whether they are actually better for the environment than conventional cars? EV drivers will be on-hand to offer test drives, provide honest information, and -- in many cases -- feed and entertain you, too. Check out the web site and register for an event near you.

In Scottsdale and Tucson, AZ, Las Vegas, and other cities there will be solar-powered public EV charging stations. In Los Angeles, actor Ed Begley, Jr. will talk about charging his EV with rooftop solar at his home. In Worcester, MA, event go-ers will be able to check out an all-electric transit bus that takes people to work cleanly and quietly. In Cupertino, CA, a group will attempt to set the Guinness Book of World Records for the largest parade of electric vehicles ever held. In Hartford, CT, the state's Commissioner of Energy & Environmental Protection Rob Klee and other leaders will offer test rides and present an award to the state's dealership that has sold the most plug-in cars.

Several mayors, including those in Cupertino and Huntington Beach, CA, Storrs, CT, Charlotte, NC, and Melbourne, FL, are expected to speak and or issue Drive Electric Week proclamations and will talk up the benefits of EVs for their residents. Below, Oldsmar, FL, Mayor Doug Bevis (at right) presents a Drive Electric Week proclamation last week to the city's Sustainability Coordinator, Estevan Baza, with Helda Rodriguez of NovaCharge and Florida Sierra Club organizer Phil Compton. I wish I were closer and could take my kids to the street festival planned for this Oldsmar event.

I'll be attending events in my home state of Massachusetts next week. Then on September 21, I'll be joining an 'EV Bloc' at the People's Climate March. If you're planning to attend the People's Climate March, expected to be the largest climate rally ever, calling on world leaders gathered at the United Nations to take aggressive action on climate disruption, I hope you'll consider joining our EV Bloc; you can register here.

"Clean energy prosperity is on the way and there's no turning back," said Sierra Club director Michael Brune. "National Drive Electric Week and the dramatic increase in the number of plug-in electric vehicles on the road are just the latest examples of how American consumers are demanding 21st-century solutions to energy and the climate crisis, and given the choice would leave dirty fossil fuels in the ground."

Gina Coplon-Newfield is the Sierra Club's Director of Future Fleet & Electric Vehicles Initiative. You can learn more about electric cars at the Sierra Club's online EV Guide.

Top photo from Huntsville, AL, courtesy of Tennessee Valley EV Drivers; middle photo courtesy of the City of Oldsmar, FL; bottom photo courtesy of Christina Rohrbacher. Drive Electric logo courtesy of National Drive Electric Week.

Categories: Sierra Club National