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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

EPA Takes Real Steps Toward Curbing Smog Pollution - Now We Need Your Voice

11 September 2014 - 12:25pm






The Environmental Protection Agency recently found that we’ve been doing it wrong for years; our air is not as clean or as safe as we once supposed. The agency’s smog pollution policy assessment, released in late August, found that current “safe” levels of smog pollution are actually not strong enough to protect our communities, our kids, or the air we breathe.

Doris Toles could tell you that.The Baltimore resident struggles with serious respiratory issues which are only made worse by the poor air quality in the city.

“I had my first asthma attack when I was two. I’m now living with Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD),” says Doris. “A person gets COPD like I have after years of asthma attacks permanently weaken the lungs, and there is no cure.”

Doctors told Doris that her asthma is triggered by pollution in the air where she lives. “I have to be very careful and keep my inhaler close at hand on days when smog levels are high.”

When smog is inhaled, the harm it does has been likened to getting a sunburn on your lungs. Thankfully, we’ve got a chance to put things right. This December, the EPA will propose new smog pollution protections that can get America’s air quality back on track.

 “Safe” smog pollution levels were first lowered in 2008 from 88 parts per billion (ppb) to 75 ppb, but it turns out those protections were not enough to ensure clean, safe air for children and vulnerable populations living near the sources of this pollution. New recommendations from scientists since the 2008 protections have found that we need to ratchet them down to 60 ppb, in order to guard against dangerous air. The recent smog pollution policy assessment echoed this sentiment, recommending that the levels be reduced to a range of 60 to 70 ppb.   

While we applaud the EPA’s assessment for acknowledging the need to strengthen the current safeguards, it’s important to note that the devil is in the details, which is why we need your help. Thousands of lives hang in the balance between 60 ppb and 70 ppb, and are pushing hard for the EPA to propose 60 ppb protections in December.

At Sierra Club, we have strongly advocated for a 60 ppb standard for years because the science is clear that it will better protect families from smog pollution from power plants and tailpipe emissions. Smog pollution can trigger respiratory problems like asthma attacks and cardiovascular problems. Over time, continued exposure can even lead to premature death.

Doris has lost friends and family to severe asthma attacks. For her and many others, it’s a matter of life and death. “Cleaning up this pollution helps people like me stay alive,” she says.

A 60 ppb standard would safeguard families, especially young children and the elderly, from these health hazards and save roughly $100 billion in health care costs. The EPA also estimates that cutting back to safer levels of smog pollution (60 ppb) would prevent 12,000 premature deaths, 21,000 hospitalizations and the stop the loss of 2.5 million work and school days each year. In view of this, the smog pollution policy assessment is an important step toward holding polluters accountable and lifting this huge burden off our communities.

In the months ahead, we work to secure the strongest possible protections for those who need them most. Let EPA know you support strong standards here.

--Mary Anne Hitt, Beyond Coal Campaign Director

Categories: Sierra Club National

China’s Coal Imports Drop For The First Time Since Country Became Net Coal Importer

10 September 2014 - 1:40pm

All is not well with the Chinese coal industry.

A recently published analysis compiled by Lauri Myllyvirta and Greenpeace International showed the unthinkable -- Chinese coal consumption fell for the first time this century in the first half of this year. Even more striking is the fact that China’s gross domestic product (GDP) growth and coal consumption have decoupled, suggesting a structural shift in the Chinese economy.

Taken in sum, with potential policy shifts associated with the upcoming five year plan and China’s war on coal, these look like the first indications of an approaching peak in coal consumption.

Now, new statistics [source in Chinese] from August show another first: Chinese coal imports in the first eight months of 2014 dropped by 5.3 percent. This is the first time the import rate has dropped since the country became a net importer in 2009. More importantly, the industry forecast indicates an even steeper 8 percent drop by year’s end. So much for the Asian supercycle, Peabody Energy.

 

But there is something far more important happening here than simply putting an end to the last remaining lifeline of the moribund U.S. coal industry. China has single handedly driven the growth in coal consumption we’ve seen over the past decade. But, it is increasingly clear that the time of unending coal growth is nearing an end.

Peak coal consumption is one thing, but avoiding the entrenched emissions of the enormous coal fleet China has already built is another. The crucial decisions to secure a peak in coal consumption -- and reduce that consumption in absolute terms -- will be made in China’s new five-year plan, currently under preparation and covering the years 2015-2020. That means all eyes are on China’s next moves in its war on air pollution.

For citizens struggling under the weight of ‘airpocalypse,’ those moves couldn’t come a moment too soon.

-- Justin Guay, Associate Director, International Climate Program, and Lauri Myllyvirta, Greenpeace International

Categories: Sierra Club National