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Community Leaders Storm Capitol Hill for Clean Air, Clean Water, Climate Action

Thu, 03/19/2015 - 12:49

"Sierra Club Campaign to Storm the Hill." That was the Monday morning headline in POLITICO's popular daily energy newsletter, "Morning Energy," which reaches over 14,000 Washington movers and shakers.



This red carpet introduction is what greeted nearly 100 volunteers and organizers from 16 states who traveled to our nation's capital this week -- from as far away as Washington State, California, Minnesota, and Missouri -- to fight for clean air, clean water, and climate action. And storm the Hill is exactly what they have done, meeting with well over 100 congressional offices. As the Congress gears up for high-profile budget votes beginning next week, these community leaders have been pounding the halls of the House and Senate office buildings to make one thing crystal clear -- we will hold the line to stop congressional polluter payoffs that threaten the safety of our air, water, and climate.

I was proud to join these Americans from all walks of life, including veterans, teachers, students, and civil rights activists, who took time away from their jobs and busy academic schedules, with many leaving one parent or grandparent juggling the kids back home. They were here in DC because they've seen firsthand both the benefits of clean energy and the suffering caused by coal pollution. They know we are making progress on cleaning up our energy -- including the recent news that in 2014, global carbon emissions stopped rising for the first time ever, even as the economy grew. These community leaders are determined to keep moving forward, and they are in Washington calling on their elected officials to do the same.


One of those volunteers put it this way:

"We are here to speak up because everyone's health is dependent on the quality of our air and water," said Jessica Ulery, a former youth pastor and current early childhood educator, and mother and grandmother from Indiana participating in the actions in Washington this week. "We came here to let our representatives know that an attack on the EPA is an attack on their constituents' health and peace of mind. Their job is first and foremost to protect us from harm, and pollution is the number one danger in my book."

These community leaders are standing up for millions of Americans who have weighed in during recent years to support EPA protections for smog, carbon, and water pollution from coal plants. Just this week, clean air advocates announced that a half million Americans have submitted comments to EPA calling for stronger smog standards.

The week ended with a fantastic, energizing congressional reception, held in collaboration with the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) and the House Sustainable Energy and Environment Coalition (SEEC). Sierra Club Executive Director Mike Brune and President Dave Scott welcomed the dozen Members of Congress who attended the reception, including members of the CBC and SEEC, along with other long serving members of the House who are champions of clean air and water. The members thanked the volunteers for their hard work and effective advocacy during the week, and shared some of the work they are doing in Congress to keep moving the nation forward on clean energy.


When these volunteers return home, they’ll work with more passion and determination then ever to spread the word, organize their friends and neighbors, and hold their Members of Congress accountable for how they speak and vote on these issues. They will stand up to these polluter-driven attacks on EPA. And they’ll ensure that we continue moving forward on clean air, clean water, clean energy, and climate action. If you couldn’t make it to DC but want to weigh in with your support, just click here.

Mary Anne Hitt From Compass

Peabody's Man In Congress

Tue, 03/17/2015 - 07:45

 

This morning, Professor Laurence Tribe, a Constitutional law professor at Harvard University, will be testifying before a U.S. House’s Energy and Commerce subcommittee, and we fully expect that he will take aim at one of the most significant policies this country has ever undertaken to curb climate-disrupting carbon pollution --  the Clean Power Plan. Big polluters and their allies love to point to Tribe’s attacks on the EPA’s broadly popular policies, and for good reason: he’s on their payroll.


While using the Harvard name and reputation, there’s one aspect of Tribe’s portfolio that’s lesser-known: he’s done the dirty work for oil and coal companies that poison our air, our water, and our climate. Tribe’s disclosure form for Harvard Law lists clients ranging from the American Petroleum Institute to the Petroleum Marketing Association of America to the Alliance to Protect Nantucket Sound -- an organization with an innocuous enough name that was actually bankrolled by none other Bill Koch.


And, of course, there’s one of his latest clients: Peabody Energy, the nation’s largest coal company. Tribe is on board with Peabody as part of their efforts to attack the Clean Power Plan. He’s submitted comments to the EPA attacking the plan alongside Peabody, and now he’s set to do the same in front of a friendly audience in the Republican-held U.S. House.


Other legal scholars have already picked apart Tribe and Peabody’s arguments.


Lisa Heinzerling, a Professor of Natural Resources Law at Georgetown University, told ThinkProgress that “Tribe and Peabody Energy do not raise any new points that are relevant from a legal perspective in this document.” In fact, Heinzerling notes that they are based more on colloquial persuasion toward political minds than in legal grounding, saying arguments “are not made in a way that seems seriously pitched to legal actors. They seem much more like a kind of political declaration for an argument pitched to politicians.”


Richard Revesz, dean emeritus and Lawrence King Professor of Law at New York University School of Law, went even further, saying Tribe’s arguments are “flatly wrong.” Revesz further contested Tribe’s assertion that the Clean Power Plan was a “drastic change” from past Presidential action, noting that “For the past quarter of a century, each president, Democratic and Republican, has taken measures to regulate the emissions of existing power plants because they are the nation's largest sources of many harmful air pollutants.”


Indeed, despite Tribe’s lengthy credentials and powerful alliances, his earlier fights on behalf of big polluting industries haven’t been successful. Tribe fought against a foundational piece of the Clean Air Act, arguing against the National Ambient Air Quality Standards on behalf of the American Trucking Association, and lost in a unanimous Supreme Court ruling. He also helped develop an argument on behalf of General Electric that claimed the federal Superfund law (CERCLA) was unconstitutional. But, he came up short twice.

 

It’s all part of a disturbing trend of so-called experts pushing polluter propaganda to the public while collecting checks from the oil, gas, and coal industry. That’s why its important to remember that when Tribe testifies before Congress, we’ll be hearing what the coal industry wants us to think. Other scholars and the public have a different opinion entirely.  In fact, millions of Americans have submitted comments in support of the Clean Power Plan. Poll after poll shows strong majorities support it and want it enacted. Now, its time we turn down the polluter propaganda and turn up the pressure to make sure distractions don’t derail this critically important effort to protect our families and our communities.

John Coequyt From Compass

Small Town Beats Big Oil

Mon, 03/16/2015 - 12:23

 

Richmond, CA is a small, previously unknown, town with just over 100,000 residents on the coast of the San Pablo Bay.   That changed in 2014 when Chevron contributed over $3 million to win legislative seats in Richmond -- and failed.  

 

Chevron, one of the biggest oil corporations in the world, has a refinery based in town.  On August 6, 2012, an explosion at the refinery rocked the small city, sending over 15,000 of its residents to nearby hospitals and starting a community movement to take back Richmond from the corporate giant.   The community rallied, and in the 2014 elections gained positions over the Chevron candidates.  We had the opportunity to talk to one of these successful candidates, Jovanka Beckles --  now a city council member -- about her experience with Chevron in Richmond, the difficulties her community faces, and above all, how she and her town defeated Big Oil.

 

Q: Can you please give the readers an idea of what the Richmond community is like? What is its relationship with Chevron?

 

Richmond is a diverse community. We have large populations of Latinos and African-Americans and smaller populations of Asians and Caucasians. It is primarily a working-class city with a relatively large number of unemployed, disenfranchised residents. More recently, we have seen a lot of improvement in the lives of our citizens. We protect our undocumented workers. Our crime levels have decreased substantially.

As far as Chevron goes, until recently Chevron dominated our economy and politics, doling out favors to residents at its leisure. Most people, with the encouragement of Chevron, had bought into the idea  that Chevron was good to, and for, the community. Finally, that understanding is changing.

Q: What kind of effect does being so close to the Chevron Refinery have on your community and the health of the people that live there?

 

We have known for years that the refinery emissions are a real threat to our health. We can see environmental racism at work in Richmond. [Environmental racism refers to the idea that dangerous and harmful practices by companies are oftentimes committed in minority neighborhoods.]  The asthma rates in children living downwind from the refinery, who are mostly children of color, are much higher than in other communities. Yet Chevron has consistently put their profits before our health. They couldn’t get away with it if they were polluting a middle-class community.

 

Q: Can you talk about the Chevron Refinery Fire and the days that followed, and how you think that affected your community’s relationship with Chevron?

 

The fire was a real wake-up call and made us all aware of the potential dangers we face every day being next to the Chevron refinery. We know that it could have been much worse. But at the same time it woke many of the people who had believed the corporate hype about how good Chevron is for our community, showing them what we had been saying all along—the Chevron refinery was and is a threat to our welfare. If Chevron wants to really help the Richmond community it will do everything in its power to make its operations as safe as possible.

 

Q: In 2014, despite the fact that Chevron contributed over $3 million to get their candidates elected, members of the Richmond community succeeded in beating out these candidates and electing community members that were not backed by the corporation, you being one of them.  Can you tell us what it was like being a part of such an incredible success story and how you think it impacted Richmond?

 

It is an incredible feeling to have beaten the Chevron candidates. Hundreds of people worked hard for months to mobilize and use our collective strength as a powerful tool that money could not buy! I'm so very proud of Richmond voters. It shows that when a community is paying attention, no amount of misinformation and outright lies will prevail, no matter how many times it’s stated throughout the city on billboards, internet ads, and all the outlets that money can buy. It shows that a united, informed community is powerful!

 

Q: What do you think makes your community different? Why were you successful in challenging the big money of Chevron?  

 

I think what makes our community different is that a group of dedicated, progressive individuals who oppose corporate control has worked incredibly hard for the last ten years to bring progressive change to Richmond. At the same time, dedicated environmentalists organized to stand up against Chevron, uniting our causes.

 

Q: Moving forward, what would you like to see Chevron do to prevent fires like the one in 2012 from happening again?  What would you like them to do to reduce the health concerns for everyone in the Richmond community?  Do you have a strategy in mind to get these plans going?

 

There are a number of steps that can be initiated to reduce the likelihood of fires and make the refinery safer for the community. These include having more oversight of production, using “best available control technology,” BACT, to run the refinery, putting in place severe penalties for failure to reduce emissions and unsafe operations, and making the unions stronger, including giving workers the right to shut down dangerous operations.

Q: What would you hope other communities fighting similar battles can learn from Richmond?

I would like other communities to be inspired, motivated, and have the confidence to know that it is possible to beat what seems like insurmountable odds. We have learned a lot about how to run a ground campaign, how to fight back. I think we learned how to balance attacking Chevron and putting our positive vision forward. We’d be happy to talk with anyone who is thinking about mounting a people’s campaign.

 

Kate McCormick From Compass

Global Wave of New Coal Plants Is Going Bust, New Report Finds

Mon, 03/16/2015 - 10:24

Today, the Sierra Club and CoalSwarm, keeper of the global coal plant tracker database, released a comprehensive report on the global coal pipeline -- and the news is big. The global boom in coal-fired power plant construction is going bust.

Since 2010, for every coal plant completed worldwide, two proposed coal plants have been shelved or canceled. We have known for a while that the coal industry was facing serious headwinds  -- even banks like Citi and Goldman Sachs have been warning of coal’s impending decline -- but the scale of project failure should be a wakeup call to anyone who still thinks the coal industry’s salvation lies in a 21st-century global coal boom.

Globally, in 2014, for the first time ever, carbon emissions were flat as the world economy grew, largely due to reduced coal use and the expansion of clean energy. Even as coal use continues its rapid decline in the United States with 187 coal plants announced for retirement since 2010, thanks in large part to widespread grassroots pressure from communities demanding an end to deadly pollution, the U.S. coal industry was counting on a booming exports business to keep it afloat. But today’s report shows this is simply not going to happen.

According to this new report, coal use in China declined for the first time in 2014, while the economy simultaneously grew at 7.3 percent, proving that coal is not synonymous with growth. The picture in India is even more dismal for coal companies looking to the subcontinent for salvation. There, for every one project that was completed, six were shelved or canceled. And that coal renaissance that was supposedly going to take place in Europe? In the EU, retired coal capacity outpaced new capacity by 22 percent. Nowhere is the European shift away from coal more apparent than in the UK, where the leaders of the three main political parties recently made a joint commitment to accelerate the shift to a low carbon economy and to end the use of unabated coal for electricity.

The evaporation of coal prospects overseas also buoys the work of local residents and First Nation communities as they fight to stop new coal export terminals in the Pacific Northwest and the Gulf of Mexico. These groups have been working to demonstrate the devastating effects that the proposed railway and port infrastructure would have on human health and traditional fishing. All along, activists have worked to show that these coal projects were financially untenable. This new report provides further evidence that coal industry forecasts of an insatiable coal boom in Asia were more marketing pitch than business plan. This will further undermine the remaining projects, as the proposed export terminals continue to fall like dominoes under the combined pressure of grassroots activism and economic realities.

But there is also a warning to accompany this good news. While larger trends are turning against coal, there are still over 1,000 gigawatts of new coal-fired generation proposed worldwide. This may not be enough to revive the coal industry in the face of accelerating coal plant retirements, but it is enough to devastate the climate and public health. To avoid catastrophic climate disruption and the global instability and human suffering it would cause, we must continue building on the progress found in the report to phase out coal plants and replace them with clean energy.

With attention turning toward the COP21 climate negotiations in Paris this December, it is critical that countries commit to ending subsidies and policies that favor coal, and instead focus on cutting-edge clean energy solutions that not only create jobs but also protect public health. As the latest reports on carbon emissions make clear, we’re moving in the right direction. Whether or not we can reach a meaningful global agreement will depend, in large part, on whether countries can continue making the progress identified in this report -- phasing out dangerous, outdated, and polluting energy, while deploying the clean energy technologies of the 21st century.

Mary Anne Hitt, Nicole Ghio From Compass

Mitch McConnell: An Example of When “Just Say No” Goes Wrong

Mon, 03/16/2015 - 09:49

 

Leave it to Senator Mitch McConnell to turn a powerful anti-drug slogan into a mantra for self-destruction.

 

The new Senate Majority Leader has been struggling to find his sea legs ever since his Republicans took over the upper chamber of Congress in January. When not locked in intractable fights with his own party in the U.S. House, McConnell’s taken loss after loss in the Senate. He wasted nearly a month of time trying to force approval of the Keystone XL pipeline when he knew the President would veto the legislation anyway. In the meantime, his caucus fractured badly on votes acknowledging the basic realities of climate science, exposing his members to well-earned scorn. And, to go from the absurd to the downright bizarre, his chairman of the Environment and Public Works Committee balled up some Feburary snow and threw it on the Senate floor, ostensibly to argue that climate science isn’t real but practically only earning theGOP headlines that placed themsquarely in the stone age.

 

Yet McConnell can only blame himself for the latest embarrassment, as his attempt to attack the Environmental Protection Agency’s first-ever protections from carbon pollution from power plants puts himself on the wrong side of the public, the law, other conservatives and even the utilities in his own home state.


Last week, McConnell authored an op-ed last week attacking the Clean Power Plan, instructing State’s to “just say no” and not abide by the law of the land on curbing dangerous carbon pollution. In suggesting states reject carbon pollution safeguards, McConnell trotted out all of the tired attacks the fossil fuel industry has used every time they’ve been asked to clean up their act, from saying it’d raise energy bills to claiming it’d hurt American families. But, his arguments have gone over like a lead balloon, with even McConnell’s conservative allies objecting, and critics deriding his “just say no” plan “futile”, “reckless”, and “not grounded in factual understanding.” Here’s a rundown:

 

  • The Libertarian Think Tank, Niskan Center, called McConnell’s “plan” a “futile attempt to make a point” and applauded the Clean Power Plan noting that it  “gives states plenty of flexibility to decide how to meet the emissions reductions dictated by the agency.”

  • Former US Energy Department Official Susan Tierney called McConnell’s plan “not grounded in factual understanding,” writing to the Lexington Herald-Leader that McConnell “fails to recognize the serious threats facing our public health and environment from carbon pollution. Contrary to McConnell's claims, the Clean Power Plan allows states genuine flexibility in their efforts to reduce carbon pollution — while protecting our electrical reliability and economy and taking a powerful step toward curbing carbon pollution.”

  • In an op-ed in Real Clear Energy, Foley & Lardner attorneys Brian H. Potts and David Zoppo  fact-checked McConnell’s “plan,” and urged states to “Just Say No” to “Just Say  No,”: “Before recommending this approach, however, Senator McConnell should have done his homework… refusing to comply with the rule is not going to lower energy bills—in fact, it will only make things worse. Indeed, if the Senator’s home state “just says no,” it will increase the Plan’s cost to Kentucky by a whopping 75%.”

  • The New York Times shredded McConnell’s suggestions in an editorial, blasting his “plan” as “reckless,” “shocking,” and a “travesty of responsible leadership.”

To make matters worse for McConnell, his own home state is even ignoring him:

  • Kentucky leaders think it would be “unwise” to stop working on a strategy to implement the Clean Power Plan.  According to an article in Kentucky.com, “Gov. Steve Beshear's top energy and environment experts believe it would be unwise for Kentucky to stop working toward a potential plan for complying with likely new rules to limit carbon from coal-fired power plants.”

  • Kentucky’s Energy and Environment Cabinet says, "The overwhelming majority of our stakeholders are telling us to make preparations to submit a plan.” In an article in the Courier-Journal, Energy and Environment Cabinet spokesman Dick Brown stated, "Failing to follow through with creation of that plan means Kentucky would most likely have to abide by a federal implementation plan.”  

  • Even Kentucky’s largest utility, Louisville Gas & Electric supports the state’s emerging Clean Power Plan strategy. According to E&E News, Louisville Gas & Electric and Kentucky Utilities spokeswoman Liz Pratt says, "Kentucky, as all other states should, is seeking to implement these new requirements under the EPA's proposed Clean Power Plan in a manner which least impacts its residents.” (E&E News, 3/4/15)

 

McConnell seems to be sitting alone with his pals in the coal industry, because opinion everywhere else is quite clear: we need to just say yes to the Clean Power Plan.

 

-- Sierra Club Media Team

From Compass

Detroit-Area Residents Demand Clean Air

Fri, 03/13/2015 - 07:47

On Wednesday night I was proud to join  hundreds of residents from River Rouge and other Michigan communities in speaking out for cleaner air in Detroit. For decades, the residents of River Rouge and surrounding communities have been living with severe air pollution from nearby coal plants, and together, they came out in force to pack a public hearing and call on the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ) to put a plan in place that will finally clean up this pollution, and correct a longstanding environmental injustice.
 
Detroit is home to some of the most polluting coal plants in the country, which are major contributors to significant health problems in Wayne County. In fact, the River Rouge coal plant was listed as one of the nation's top environmental justice offenders by the NAACP in their "Coal Blooded" report.  Exposure to sulfur dioxide pollution -- which comes from coal plants -- is a known trigger of both short term health emergencies, like asthma attacks, and long term chronic health problems.
 
"It's not right to let big corporate polluters dirty our air for so long and threaten the health of our families," said Ebony Elmore, a childcare provider and activist in River Rouge. "We deserve safe air to breathe. This is a basic human right and MDEQ isn't protecting us."
 
Asthma rates in Wayne County are through the roof - the statistics will shock you: According to recent studies, the county has the highest number of pediatric asthma cases in Michigan. Asthma hospitalization rates are three to six times higher than the state as a whole. The prevalence of asthma among Detroit adults is 50 percent higher than the rest of Michigan.
 
At Wednesday's rally and hearing I heard person after person tell stories about asthma and respiratory problems from the bad air quality in the area. These families have lost loved ones to respiratory illnesses. One man described comforting the mother of an 11-year-old who died from asthma. Another young woman who grew up in the shadow of a coal plant described childhood soccer games where asthma attacks were so frequent that her teammates were regularly taken away by ambulance. It was heart-wrenching.
 
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has determined Wayne County has chronic, dangerous levels of sulfur dioxide pollution. And Detroit-based DTE Energy's coal plants are responsible for a whopping 85 percent of all sulfur dioxide emissions in Wayne County. That means cleaning up this pollution would go a long way towards improving public health in these communities.
 
The state of Michigan is now required to put a plan in place to reduce this dangerous air pollution by 2015. As part of its plan to clean up sulfur dioxide emissions in Wayne County, the state must hold DTE responsible for its major contribution to health impacts. The state must require DTE to prevent its emissions from exceeding health standards, by either installing best-performing pollution controls or by ceasing burning coal, which is the source of these dangerous pollutants.
 
This is all very possible. I have seen city after city make the decision to phase out an outdated, polluting coal plant, as a result of tenacious grassroots campaigns launched by local residents. From Chicago to Indianapolis, from North Omaha to Alexandria, Virginia, just across the Potomac from Washington, DC, local residents have won campaigns to phase out the coal plants that were contributing to sky-high asthma rates and other local health problems. Electricity rates have stayed low and the lights have stayed on, thanks to cheap, clean alternatives like wind, solar, and energy efficiency.
 
If MDEQ doesn't put a plan in place to clean up this pollution, the Sierra Club will continue to join our partners and friends in River Rouge and across the region to fight for clean air by calling on EPA to put a federal plan in place that will do the job. We aren't going to stop until the air is safe, and the kids and families of Wayne County no longer have to fight for the right to breathe.

Mary Anne Hitt From Compass

Developing California's Panoche Valley is Repeating the Mistakes of the Past

Thu, 03/12/2015 - 09:32

Californians have built many new wind and solar projects across our state in recent years, and clean, renewable energy now accounts for more than 20 percent of California's electricity. More is on the way - we're set to have one-third of our energy come from renewable sources before 2020, and Gov. Jerry Brown recently announced a new goal of 50 percent by 2030. This is great news for California and the fight against climate change.

But as the first wave of new wind and solar projects comes to completion, many projects have caused unintended consequences for California’s lands and wildlife. Some poorly sited projects have removed scarce habitat for wildlife and further imperiled California's natural legacy, harming sensitive species like the Mojave desert tortoise, golden eagle, and San Joaquin kit fox among others.

For activists and state regulators alike, it's now time to assess the impacts of that first wave of projects and see how we can learn from them and do a better job next time around.

Unfortunately, some California officials are repeating the mistakes of the past. As soon as today, the California Public Utilities Commission could approve the power purchase agreement for the Panoche Valley Solar Project, located in the Panoche Valley south of the Bay Area. The valley has been identified by federal agencies as one of three remaining core recovery areas for the endangered San Joaquin kit fox, blunt-nosed leopard lizard, and giant kangaroo rat, and is a key habitat for many other imperiled species, including golden eagles, burrowing owls, tiger salamanders, and many more. It is also an Audubon Globally Important Bird Area.

It is outrageous that such a rare and unusual site, hosting a wide range of threatened and endangered species, was ever seriously considered for a major development project in the first place. If the Panoche Valley Solar Project goes forward, it will preclude any hope of recovery for the wildlife that call it home. It could literally threaten survival of the San Joaquin kit fox and other upland species.

That a project  would be built in such a delicate place is painful. That it may be built when we know there are better options is disgraceful. Southern California Edison had over two hundred renewable energy projects vying for power purchase agreements when it chose the Panoche Valley project. These include numerous projects in the Central Valley and other parts of California which wouldn’t cause such damage for wildlife and lands.

The Nature Conservancy has identified hundreds of thousands of acres of low-conservation value land in the Western San Joaquin Valley that could host solar  projects with minimal impact to wildlife. We can develop solar power in California and protect the environment, and we have to take advantage of the wealth of sites that do not cause such serious harm to wildlife.

California’s ongoing transition to clean energy is an incredible achievement, rightly recognized and respected around the world. But clean energy can and must be balanced with preserving our other great environmental legacy, our state’s beautiful landscapes and diverse ecosystems.

Californians should insist that clean energy be developed sustainably and in balance with healthy ecosystems and wildlife. And the California Public Utilities Commission should not approve a project that is on-track to put a wide range of endangered species in peril.

Bill Corcoran is the Western Campaign Director for the Sierra Club'' Beyond Coal Campaign

From Compass

New Report Sheds Light On Overseas Coal Financing By Export Credit Agencies

Wed, 03/11/2015 - 12:27

 

As the 34 member countries of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) met in Paris last Wednesday, Oil Change International released a new report with a shocking revelation. Not only has export credit agency (ECA) financing for coal by OECD countries increased, these ECAs financed nearly one-quarter of all new coal development outside of China between 2005 and 2012.

 

What is an ECA? ECAs are government agencies that support domestic business overseas. For example, an ECA like the U.S. Export-Import Bank (Ex-Im) uses taxpayer dollars to support overseas projects that then purchase goods and services from U.S. companies.

 

And Ex-Im has used a lot of our tax dollars to support overseas coal. In fact, the report reveals that the United States -- together with South Korea, Japan, France and Germany -- account for 92 percent of OECD ECA financing for coal power plants in the last five years. Sadly, the inclusion of the United States in this list is not a surprise to those who have been following Ex-Im’s actions. The Bank embarked on a coal binge under current Chairman Fred Hochberg, with support for fossil fuel projects increasing exponentially.

 

But all that changed in June 2013 when President Obama announced an end to financing for overseas coal power plants in his Climate Action Plan. While some entrenched forces at Ex-Im continue to look for loopholes in the ban that would allow them to siphon money to coal interests, the historic action taken by President Obama has already changed the way Ex-Im operates, starting with the Bank’s decision to reject a coal project in Vietnam.

 

The decision to end financing for overseas coal came after years of dedicated work to expose the devastating human rightsviolations at Ex-Im-backed fossil fuel projects, as well as damning evidence on the financial viability of coal. It also was the first domino in an ongoing series of countries and financial institutions committing to ending support for overseas coal, including the World Bank, the European Investment Bank, the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, the Nordic countries, the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, and most recently, France.

 

With both the United States and France committed to ending ECA support for coal, two of the five top OECD ECA coal financiers are out of the game. Now it’s time for the laggards, South Korea, Germany, and Japan to step up – and they know it. Japan’s ECA, the Japanese Bank for International Cooperation (JIBC), has been bogged down by its support for the Batang coal plant in Central Java, Indonesia, which has been delayed for years due to locals refusing to sell their land to make way for the project.

 

Coal is deadly. Coal is outdated. And coal is a bad investment. A very small number of ECAs support the vast majority of projects worldwide and even that number is dwindling. It’s time for the remaining nations -- South Korea, Germany and Japan -- to get with the times and get out of coal.

Nicole Ghio From Compass

"Extraordinarily Dirty"

Tue, 03/10/2015 - 13:29

Last Friday, President Obama continued his streak of negative comments about the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline, telling a South Carolina audience that it would carry heavy Canadian oil sands whose production is "extraordinarily dirty" and that it would create safety risks by carrying the crude through agricultural land. "I haven't made a final determination on it," Obama said, "but ... we're not going to authorize a pipeline that benefits largely a foreign company if it can’t be shown that it is safe and if it can’t be shown that, overall, it would not contribute to climate change."

Tom Valtin From Compass

The Importance of Selma 50 Years Ago and Today

Tue, 03/10/2015 - 07:49

By now, most Americans should know the significance of Selma, Alabama. Fifty years ago, Martin Luther King, Jr., led hundreds of Americans on a planned march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama. In the fight to secure voting rights for African Americans and other minorities across the country, the march was meant to be a peaceful representation of the outrage many felt in their fight to overcome the obstacles standing in the way of voting. Yet, they were met with violence at the hands of the local police force -- assaults themselves representing the oppression and brutality regularly present in communities of color across the country.

 

Days later, after massive public outrage as the images from the Edmund Pettus Bridge were beamed across the world, King and the other marchers completed their journey. Eventually, the march went on unimpeded -- and the echoes of its significance reverberated so loudly in Washington, D.C., that Congress passed the Voting Rights Act, which secured the right to vote for millions and ensured that Selma was a turning point in the battle for justice and equality in the United States.

 

This weekend, President Obama led a march of thousands in Selma to commemorate the historic struggle that occurred there 50 years ago and to note that, as he said, "our march is not over." And, I was proud to march as a member of the Sierra Club, crossing the Edmund Pettus Bridge alongside politicians, union members, civil rights champions, and concerned citizens, joining not only in the celebration but also in the continued fight to protect voting rights across the United States.

 

This march was not just a ceremony -- it was a call to action. In fact, the Voting Rights Act that the original Selma marchers pushed for in 1965 has been jeopardized by a deeply flawed Supreme Court decision and a series of bills introduced across the country that would suppress the vote of communities of color, seniors, and young people.  

 

In 2013, the Supreme Court decimated a vital portion of the Voting Rights Act that guaranteed federal review of changes to voting laws on a state level. The Court declared this law was somehow outdated, putting the onus on Congress to update it. As Congress has sat idly by, many state legislatures took the loss of oversight as an opportunity to go back in time to the pre-Selma era, when obstacles to the ballot were numerous and the constitutional ability to vote for millions was severely limited.  In fact, since the recent Court decision, 41 state legislatures have introduced 180 pieces of legislation to limit voting rights.  And of course, Congress has been deadlocked when it comes to updating and fixing the Voting Rights Act.  

 

For the sake of our democracy and our environment, it's past time for that to change. The Sierra Club marched side by side with thousands in Selma because attacks on our democracy are attacks on all of us. But, beyond that, the fact is that the communities of color and low-income Americans targeted so often by suppressive attacks on voting rights are the same ones facing the worst abuses from big, polluting corporations and the worst consequences of climate change.  In other words, communities in Texas leading the fight against dangerous fossil fuel refineries are also at risk of having their voices silenced by voter-suppression legislation. People in Virginia who are seeing the reality of sea level rise on a frighteningly regular basis are also having to fight restrictive registration and voter ID laws.

 

Who could be surprised? When more people are shut out of the system, it makes it harder to change the status quo that has empowered polluting corporations so much in the first place. And if we lose our right to vote, we lose a powerful weapon to fight back. It's happening all across the country, and it's vital that we close the floodgates on these attacks before it's too late.

 

To protect our environment, we must protect our democracy. That's why I marched in Selma. And this is only the beginning. Seeing the thousands who marched around me and who feel the same way, I couldn't help but feel hopeful for the future. Fifty years ago, brave Americans in a small Alabama town set the foundation for what can be achieved with grassroots action. Our coalition is bigger and stronger than ever before, and we're not going to stop marching until we've won yet again.

-- Glen Besa, is the director of the Sierra Club Virginia Chapter. He traveled to Alabama from Virginia with three others from the Virginia Chapter.

From Compass

New Report Identifies Need for Investment in India’s Beyond-The-Grid Sector

Mon, 03/09/2015 - 12:29

 

A new report from The Climate Group and Goldman Sachs,The Business Case for Off-Grid Energy in India, makes the case for off-grid energy businesses in India.

 

India’s Prime Minister Modi hasset the goal of harnessing solar in order to provide every household in India with at least one light bulb by 2019. There is reason to believe that basic energy for all is a feasible goal for India within this decade, but it will require some changes; business-as-usual won’t deliver the desired results.

 

The approximate number of households in India without access to the grid is currently 360 million people, and another 95 million people are considered under electrified.  As thenew report from The Climate Group and Goldman Sachs points out, while grid extension is expected to expand in coming years, population growth and the fact that the vast majority of India’s unelectrified population lives in rural areas -- where it is costly and challenging to extend the grid -- means that, with business-as-usual approaches to electrification, the number of unelectrified people living in India in 2024 would be quite similar to that number today. The report cites projections suggesting a mere five percent reduction in the number of unelectrified households in India over the next 10 years, assuming a business-as-usual approach.

 

Business-as-usual approaches won’t bring electricity to India’s unelectrified population on a reasonable timescale. Photo courtesy of Vrinda Manglik.

 

But, here’s the thing. Business-as-usual is not the only way to work toward electrification.  Business-as-usual means extending the grid, but off-grid solar companies -- like the ones we featured inour video about clean energy access in India -- are putting power into people’s hands today and are ready to scale up their efforts, given a favorable regulatory environment and access to large-scale commercial debt.

 

Thereport from The Climate Group and Goldman Sachs looks at what off-grid enterprises need in order to succeed in India, identifies promising business models, and recommends catalytic investments for the sector – driving home the point that what companies need most at this point is debt.  Within the category of off-grid energy businesses operating in India, the report focuses on solar home system (SHS) enterprises (e.g. Selco, Barefoot Power, and Simpa Networks) and decentralized renewable energy (DRE) enterprises (e.g. OMC Power, Mera Gao Power, Husk Power Systems).

 

The report estimates the market size of the SHS space in India to reach US$200-250 million by 2018, and for the market size of the DRE space in India to reach US$150 million by 2018. The two types of enterprises have projected annual growth rates as high as 400 percent (for SHS enterprises) and 250 percent (for DRE enterprises).

 

According to the report, the Indian government has said that US$250 billion will be needed over the next five years to reach more off-grid households in the context of population growth.  They note that US$100 billion of that should be invested in clean energy over the next five years, and 90 percent of annual investment will need to come from the private sector. To date, barriers to large-scale commercial investment have included restrictions around how foreign loans can be used and insufficient data on the sector (something which companies like Angaza arehelping to revolutionize).

 

Beyond just creating a favorable environment for investing, government policy has a significant role to play in shaping how clean energy gets deployed. For example,the report points out that solar is currently more prevalent in India than other forms of clean energy because it is favored by current regulations. There is also a mandate by the Government of India requiring 50 percent of rural cell phone towers to use renewable energy.  

 

This could potentially lead to significant revenues for off-grid companies such as OMC Power who can recover costs more easily by serving “anchor clients” like cell phone towers and ultimately have less risk to their bottom line when serving rural households.        

 

OMC Power uses rural cell towers as anchor clients. Photo courtesy of Vrinda Manglik.

 

It is an exciting time for off-grid renewable energy in India, and this report does a great job laying out what is needed for off-grid energy to reach even more unelectrified households.  Thanks in large part to Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’sambitious solar goals, India’s solar sector has been receiving some major investments and attention lately. SunEdison is working with OMC Power to install a cumulative 250 megawatts of off-grid power in 5,000 villages and alsoannounced plans to invest $4 billion to build a large solar panel factory in India.  Additionally, during his January visit, President Obama indicated that the U.S. would provide financial support for India’s solar goals.  

 

As we noted inour call for a “Power India” initiative, consolidated U.S. support could help put Prime Minister Modi on track to meet his solar for all ambitions, opening the door to commercial debt by de-risking investments.

Vrinda Manglik From Compass

Diagnosing Fossil Fuel Delusion Syndrome

Fri, 03/06/2015 - 14:28

2014 was Earth's hottest year ever. 14 of the hottest 15 years on record have occurred in the 21st century. Virtually all scientific organizations, from NASA to the World Health Organization to the EPA, and at least 97 percent of qualified scientists agree that the world is heating up and human activity is to blame. And, an overwhelming majority of Americans are demanding Congress act to protect our communities and public health by curbing carbon pollution.

 

Yet, inside the walls of Congress, we are seeing signs that some elected officials are living in what seems to be an altered state of reality. In fact, there is ample evidence of some politicians discarding common-sense and scrambling in the opposite direction of where science, public opinion and logic are pointing. It’s left many experts scratching their heads, concerned that some strange condition may be afflicting these denizens of the beltway.

 

Yet preliminary research and investigation seem to indicate that what we are seeing amongst many Congressional Republicans may be evidence of a dangerous political condition known as fossil fuel delusion syndrome (FFDS).

 

It’s a serious condition. All the cases on record exhibit scary symptoms for the carrier: confusion, logic loss, delusions of grandeur, destructive behavior and worse. The results for the friends, families, and constituents of the afflicted are just as bad -- legislation crafted by those with FFDS has been shown to result in dirtier water, dirtier air, and dirtier politics.

 

So, what causes FFDS? There’s only one known factor: long-term exposure to fossil fuel cash. It appears that the prevalence of this condition among Republican members of Congress and their allies is a result of the fact that they have taken extraordinarily large sums of campaign money from the fossil fuel industry, potentially exposing them to extreme amounts of oily fumes that -- when inhaled -- cause this dreadful condition.

 

For those who feel they may be vulnerable to FFDS, its important to watch for the early warning signs. Please examine these test cases. But, be warned, some of these cases are disturbing to sensitive readers or those who care about healthy communities and a safe climate.

 

Jim Inhofe: Experts point to Senator Inhofe as one of the earliest examples of FFDS in Washington, given the extreme measures he has gone to in order to try and claim climate science is a “hoax.” Most recently, however, it seems Inhofe has suffered from a flare up of this condition. Last week, Inhofe took to the floor of the Senate with a snowball in hand and subsequently meekly threw it across the Senate floor -- inappropriate behavior for the World’s Greatest Deliberative Body and bizarre, to say the least.

 

Inhofe attempted to explain his behavior by suggesting that since it had snowed in February, his snowball was evidence that climate science is not real. Of course, that sort of scary lack of reasoning that’s common amongst those suffering from FFDS, and an examination of Inhofe’s political history shows all of the warning signs were there. In fact, the Senator has taken over one million dollars from the fossil fuel industry, long-term exposure that unfortunately has been shown to cause FFDS in other politicians as well.

 

Interestingly, Inhofe is a known associate of another FFDS case, also known to be extensively exposed to toxic fossil fuel cash, namely...

 

Willie Soon: Dr. Soon is one of the few scientists who’ve released academic studies denying climate science - a flag for anyone checking for the warning signs of FFDS. However, the extent of the danger for Soon wasn’t made clear until recently, when it was revealed that those paying for Soon’s work are none other than some of the biggest names in the fossil fuel industry. In fact, Soon reportedly took tens of thousands from the Koch Brothers, ExxonMobil, and a subsidiary of Southern Company -- and he then failed to disclose those facts to not just the academic journals publishing his “work,” but also to Congress. Its a lapse in judgement that’s often observed in those suffering from FFDS, while Soon’s resulting confused studies are also manifestations of the devastating effect of FFDS on logic. The fact that another FFDS sufferer -- Senator Inhofe -- regularly cites Soon’s work is even further evidence of the toll this condition is taking on both.  

 

Roger Wicker: Perhaps the most extreme flare up of FFDS in Congress came fromSenator Roger Wicker, of Mississippi. Wicker recently stood alone as the only member of the upper chamber to oppose legislation that simply stated “Climate Change is real and not a hoax” - a frightening sign that FFDS may have been affecting Wicker for a considerable amount of time. Even more disturbing, Wicker justified his actions by comparing himself to famous scientists, thinkers, and movie actors, exhibiting delusions of grandeur that experts warn are among the worst symptoms of FFDS.

 

"I include Galileo as pretty good company right now. Copernicus [too],” Wicker told the National Journal after the vote. Subsequently, Wicker pointed to a scene from the Hollywood film The King's Speech in which a speech therapist challenges a doctors' recommendation that King George keep smoking as evidence that "the smartest people of our time might be wrong and that some of the very learned and educated contrarians on the issue of climate change will turn out to be vindicated.”

 

Its a pattern of absurdist, surrealist behavior that shows just how devastating FFDS can be to our politicians. Indeed, fully manifested FFDS can be a frightening thing. Again, the warning signs were there: Wicker has taken over $700,000 in fossil fuel cash, which should serve as another warning sign to our younger politicians to avoid such toxic substances and choose alternatives like small-dollar donations and public matching funds where possible.

 

In conclusion, these examples of FFDS should serve as a warning to all those tempted by oil, gas, and coal money: quit before its too late. A world in which Willie Soon would win a Nobel Prize, Jim Inhofe would win a Cy Young award, and Roger Wicker would win an Oscar is the terrible conclusion if these habits are not halted early in a political career. If you or anyone you know exhibits the FFDS warning signs outlined above, you should stop taking dirty money right away, and see a real scientist immediately.

 

--Sierra Club Media Team

From Compass

Oregon Passes Bill to Open Voting for Hundreds of Thousands

Fri, 03/06/2015 - 11:06

To put it simply, if we don’t have a healthy democracy, we can’t expect to have a healthy environment. Any system that shuts out the voices of those who are on the front lines of the worst abuses by corporate polluters and the worst effects of the climate crisis is shutting out the voices of those who need to be heard the most in the effort to protect our air, water, and climate. Yet, for a few years, there has been a dangerous trend of legislation in states across the country that puts up new barriers to the right to vote that threaten to sideline low-income voters, communities of color, young people, and seniors. We’ve seen restrictive voter suppression bills pop up from Texas to Wisconsin to Florida. But, now, there is good news and some evidence that the tide may be turning.  


Yesterday, Oregon made history by tearing down obstacles to voting, not putting them up. That’s because the State Senate passed House Bill 2177, advancing legislation that will add hundreds of thousands of Oregonians to the voter registration rolls.


The bill is intended to “put a ballot in the hand of virtually every eligible Oregonian” -- giving all who are eligible access to the vote. It does that by enhancing the state’s Motor Voter program by automatically registering eligible Oregonians to vote when they obtain or renew their driver's license. In a democracy, the responsibility to create and maintain voter rolls should be with the state, and Oregon is the first state to make this historic commitment.


Traditionally, Oregon does well in participation of registered voters in elections, but not so well in the proportion of citizens who are registered. This legislation stands to change that. House Bill 2177 is estimated to add about 300,000 voters to Oregon’s current total of just under 2.2 million registered -- or about half of the 800,000 eligible but currently unregistered voters.


That’s a huge step forward. That’s why this legislation is a big victory for everyone who agrees that every citizen should have the same opportunity to have their voice heard in our democracy.


Our democracy can only thrive when everyone is on a level playing field, which is why registering to vote should be easy, fair, and transparent. The Sierra Club applauds all those who fought for this bill that recognizes that essential American principle.

 

-- Andy Maggi, Oregon Chapter Director

From Compass

Help UNC Go Coal Free!

Thu, 03/05/2015 - 11:01

Over the last four years, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s Sierra Student Coalition has constantly adapted its campaign to effect change. It all began in fall 2009, when SSC met to create a student movement against burning coal to power our campus.

After a series of galvanizing moments, including former NASA climate scientist James Hansen’s support of our cause at the campus cogeneration plant, Chancellor Holden Thorpe announced that UNC would cease to burn coal on campus by 2020. But our campus’s endowment, currently valued at $2.7 billion, still supports the very industry that the university has vowed to quit sourcing its energy from.

So our campaign adjusted accordingly, and by fall of 2011 we were lobbying the Board of Trustees to recognize our shared stake in divesting from the Filthy Fifteen. These companies jeopardize public health, contribute to climate change, and concentrate their pollutants on low-income communities, and most importantly to the managers of our endowment, prove a losing investment for large stakeholders.

Since we began our divestment campaign, we’ve had both triumphs and troubles. In 2013 77% of UNC’s student voters came out in favor of divestment from coal, and similar support was provided by Student Congress. Last fall,  nearly 3 years after the divestment campaign began, the Board of Trustees agreed to target clean energy in future investments. This provided a recognition by university leaders that renewable energy resources have a sound return on investment.

But the BOT’s agreement has still not signaled a willingness to divest from dirty coal companies. UNC is still implicated in these companies’ egregious actions, whether or not it targets clean energy investments.

In February, we met with Joshua Humphreys of the Croatan Institute to discuss the launch of a partnership with his organization and the Responsible Endowment Coalition. In conjunction with members of the fossil fuel divestment group at UNC-Asheville, we created the North Carolina Divestment Coalition, which will help divestment groups in the UNC system coordinate action and increase the collective impact of our campaigns. A few weeks ago, SSC held its spring semester kickoff meeting and led a discussion on UNC’s Climate Action Plan with other leaders in campus sustainability.

Though senior members of our group prepare to graduate in the spring, UNC Chapel Hill’s divestment campaign will not leave campus with them. Younger voices and fresh faces are ready to step up to lead the movement through the next series of challenges and victories.

---

Want to help UNC and all universities go coal free? Sign the Sierra Student Coalition's #SeizeTheGrid Campaign petition for 100% clean energy by 2030!

--

Brian Vaughn From Compass

Nation's First Offshore Wind Farm Comes to Rhode Island

Wed, 03/04/2015 - 14:01

When Samuel Slater sneaked out of England in the late eighteenth century with smuggled plans to build an innovative textile mill, little did he know that his bold idea for Pawtucket, Rhode Island, would ignite the Industrial Revolution that would transform America in major and inspired ways.

Now, once again, Rhode Island is making history, with the first offshore wind farm in North America. Local company Deepwater Wind recently announced its plans for a fully funded wind farm off the coast of Block Island with five wind turbines that will be able to provide 30 megawatts (MW) of power -- enough to provide clean energy to all Block Island residents, cutting electric rates in half.

In addition to making history and setting up Rhode Island as a leader in clean energy, the new wind farm will also free Block Island from burning more than a million gallons of dirty diesel each year.

The Block Island project is a big step forward for the offshore wind industry and for Deepwater Wind -- but it's just a small piece of what is to come for New England. The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management has designated a wind-management area off the coasts of Rhode Island and Massachusetts that has the potential of 9,000 MW of clean wind power. That means cleaner air and water for New England families.

The potential for offshore wind power in New England is huge -- and if history shows us anything, it's that one splash in Rhode Island can start a wave of transformation all over the nation.

-- Drew Grande, Sierra Club organizing representative

From Compass

Nation's First Wind Offshore Wind Farm Comes to Rhode Island

Wed, 03/04/2015 - 14:01

When Samuel Slater sneaked out of England in the late eighteenth century with smuggled plans to build an innovative textile mill, little did he know that his bold idea for Pawtucket, Rhode Island, would ignite the Industrial Revolution that would transform America in major and inspired ways.

Now, once again, Rhode Island is making history, with the first offshore wind farm in North America. Local company Deepwater Wind recently announced its plans for a fully funded wind farm off the coast of Block Island with five wind turbines that will be able to provide 30 megawatts (MW) of power -- enough to provide clean energy to all Block Island residents, cutting electric rates in half.

In addition to making history and setting up Rhode Island as a leader in clean energy, the new wind farm will also free Block Island from burning more than a million gallons of dirty diesel each year.

The Block Island project is a big step forward for the offshore wind industry and for Deepwater Wind -- but it's just a small piece of what is to come for New England. The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management has designated a wind-management area off the coasts of Rhode Island and Massachusetts that has the potential of 9,000 MW of clean wind power. That means cleaner air and water for New England families.

The potential for offshore wind power in New England is huge -- and if history shows us anything, it's that one splash in Rhode Island can start a wave of transformation all over the nation.

-- Drew Grande, Sierra Club organizing representative

From Compass

Court Ruling Means Cleaner Air for Millions of Americans

Wed, 03/04/2015 - 10:43

This week, we secured an important victory for public health when a federal court approved a timeline and framework for protecting Americans from an especially harmful type of air pollution. Sulfur dioxide pollution is a dangerous air pollutant -- so much so, that even short term exposure for as little as five minutes is associated with breathing problems like asthma attacks, particularly among vulnerable populations such as the elderly and asthmatics. And the medical community has established connections between chronic exposure and even more serious conditions, such as aggravation of cardiac conditions, hospitalization, and even premature death.

In the U.S., sulfur dioxide pollution comes overwhelmingly from coal-fired power plants.  Some of the worst areas for this pollution are in Texas, Alabama, and across the Midwest, where massive, outdated coal plants still emit huge quantities of sulfur dioxide every year.

To help protect families from this harmful pollution, in 2010 the Environmental Protection Agency issued a new health-based air standard for sulfur dioxide. When fully implemented, the health standard is expected to prevent 2,300-5,900 premature deaths and 54,000 asthma attacks annually, and save tens of billions of dollars from reduced hospital admissions, emergency room visits, work days lost due to illness, and cases of aggravated asthma and chronic bronchitis, among other benefits.

However, issuing and implementing the standard are two different things.  The first step EPA has to take is identifying what parts of the country suffer from unsafe air, and what parts don't. Thus far, EPA has only identified a tiny fraction of the country -- just 29 areas comprising roughly 40 counties out of roughly 3,000 counties nationwide -- leaving the rest in limbo.

But thankfully, that will end soon. This week the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California approved an important legal framework that serves as a big step towards providing relief for thousands of communities across the country now suffering from dangerous sulfur dioxide air pollution. The road map imposes deadlines for the EPA to identify areas that exceed the sulfur dioxide health standard.

The court's decision approves a settlement with EPA in a lawsuit brought by Earthjustice on behalf of the Sierra Club and the Natural Resources Defense Council under the federal Clean Air Act. The lawsuit cited analysis which estimates that potentially hundreds of counties across the country fail to meet this important public health measurement.

This week's court decision put the agency on an enforceable timeline to complete the process, and fix air quality status for the entire rest of the country, focusing first on areas with some of the largest emitters of sulfur dioxide.

It is long overdue that EPA put a road map in place to clean it up. Families -- especially those caring for a loved one with respiratory problems--can breathe easier knowing that we are one step closer to cleaning up this dangerous coal plant pollution.

My colleague Zachary Fabish said it well: "This decision is a victory in the fight to protect the most vulnerable Americans from runaway air pollution. Major emitters of harmful sulfur dioxide, like the coal industry, must be held accountable for their pollution, and this helps ensure that they will be."

This is great news for air quality nationwide and we look forward to seeing the standard finally implemented, and steps taken to truly clean up the air in the most polluted areas and beyond.

Mary Anne Hitt From Compass

Leaked Canadian Report Lumps Climate Activists with Terrorists

Thu, 02/26/2015 - 14:50

It looks like Canada may be on the brink of entering the twilight zone.

A stunning "intelligence assessment" by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police recently made public contains some shocking statements about what that force views as a dramatic threat within Canada’s borders and beyond. What's the problem? Well, the Mounties are alarmed about a “highly organized and well-financed” movement in Canada that, they believe, could “jeopardize the health and safety of its participants, the general public, and the natural environment.”

Sounds dangerous, right? Maybe cancel that trip to Vancouver? Don’t. The fact is, that language isn’t being used to refer to an international terrorist group or a racist militia, but people like you and me. In fact, the report in question is about a so-called “anti-Canada petroleum movement.” Or, as we like to call it, people who don’t want to see ancient forests destroyed so the dirtiest oil on the planet can be dug up and burned.

A proposed anti-terror bill in Canada -- C-51 -- effectively labels any action that opposes so-called "critical infrastructure" or "interferes with the economic or financial stability of Canada" as "activity that undermines the security of Canada." Under that definition, if you peacefully oppose a particular pipeline, voila! You are now thrown into the same league as violent anti-government terrorists.

It's an absurd categorization that doesn’t pass the laugh test. After all, climate activists, public health champions, and First Nations voices across Canada and the U.S. who oppose the dirty Keystone XL pipeline and the expansion of toxic tar sands extraction are doing so specifically because they care about protecting their friends, their neighbors, their communities -- and their kids and future generations. They've seen firsthand what happens when polluters are allowed to run wild in the tar sands, from skyrocketing cancer rates to higher incidences of leukemia in nearby communities. They've seen how destructive tar sands pipeline leaks and oil train derailments can be to waterways, homes, and farms. They know about the extreme weather tragedies spurred by the climate crisis, fuelled by dangerous emissions from sources like burning tar sands.  That's why they're standing up to big polluters in the oil industry and demanding clean energy solutions.

Speaking of clean energy, it's hard to make the argument that climate activists are undermining the economy while they are pushing clean energy sources that create three times as many jobs as fossil fuels.

Of course, logic plays no role in the alternate reality where governments become the agents of the fossil fuel industry. The twilight zone mentality that has befallen the Canadian government under Prime Minister Stephen Harper is on the verge of putting the needs of oil companies ahead of the rights of its own citizens. It's a scary proposition, a red flag for doing business with the Harper government, and one more reason why President Obama should stand with the people and not the polluters by saying "no" to Keystone XL.

-- Marc Weiss, Volunteer Lead, Sierra Club Tar Sands Campaign

From Compass

How Sprog Helped Me Succeed

Wed, 02/25/2015 - 11:44

Caring about environmental conservation is a passion that I’ve had during all my life and even a detail about some of my first memories. This was something I always thought I could do as a small hobby until I started to study at the University of Puerto Rico, Rio Piedras Campus. During my early college years I got involved into the Eco-Environmental Society, a student environmental organization that allowed me to notice that students could have a significant voice over environmental issues. While participating in this group, I was approached by a professor who wanted to research about plastic bottle waste in our campus and was looking for collaboration from our group. This started in 2010, were we learned about the massive quantity of plastic that was consumed at the university and noticed that very few students knew about this.

One thing that made me feel uncomfortable about many projects on campus was the fact that great things were being studied, but no actions were taken later on in order to fix the issue that the participants were working on. Having this in mind, I felt that the plastic bottle issue was too important to stay only in a poster or document and decided to start No more bottles, an educational campaign about the environmental impacts of bottled water.

At the beginning I was putting a lot of effort on this campaign but I didn’t know what exactly I was doing. I felt stuck on educating and was insecure on how to move forward to action, how to engage more people in this issue or what exact steps I needed to take to have my campus join the list of universities around the world that banned the sale of bottled water.

Around the time I started to feel some frustration about this campaign, I learned that the 2011 Puerto Rico Sprog was accepting applicants. I read the description of the program and it mentioned exactly the leadership skills I was looking to learn. I applied, got accepted and was really excited to learn how to succeed at organizing.

This program opened a new world of opportunities and gave me all the organizing knowledge I needed to work on No more bottles and the Eco Environmental Society while also looking forward to pursue other interests in the environmental movement. During this week I learned all the skills I needed to allow the campaign and organization to succeed; like recruiting, managing volunteers, working with communities, fundraising, campaign planning and much more. This was also the first time I saw that I could professionally dedicate my life to organizing and the first space where I found a large group of people that shared my same interests and passion for conservation.

All the motivation gained helped me to go back to campus and help the organization grow. I succeeded in finding passionate volunteers and redesigning the No more bottles campaign to move forward in banning bottled water on campus.

The following years we worked extensively in education with a research background, addressing the issues that people didn’t know about and the areas of the campus where we had not previously worked. We evaluated whether our campaign was being effective and what actions were helping spread our message. Additionally, we worked on having more accessible tap water by petitioning to have new drinking fountains, cleaning these and selling reusable bottles. After gaining more support from the community, we wrote a proposal to officially ban the sale of bottled water.

Even though we had done a lot of work, we still had to wait a year until the chancellor of the university agreed to meet with us in October 2013. After this, the proposal received a lot of support from wonderful professors, students and the administration. Later, in October 2014, we celebrated our victory in becoming the first campus in Latin America and the Caribbean to ban the sale of bottled water.

Currently, we are looking to expand this to the whole University of Puerto Rico, which consists of 11 campuses. We also continue to work on education about the importance of reducing plastic use. In our country, tap water is safe and accessible yet around 60,000 plastic bottles are consumed each month on campus and many people distrust this resource. Bottled water brings a series of issues like water privatization, oil extraction, lack of regulations and BPA, but it’s most noticeable impact in our island is the large quantity of waste and the fact that we lack recycling at a large scale, as well as landfill space.

Having a successful campaign was no easy task. It took years of patience, of learning from mistakes and looking really hard for solutions to some problems. This could have never been possible without good organizing skills, good motivation, a network of support and a great team that cares deeply about the cause. I gained all of this after attending Sprog and through the connections I made during that week.

It doesn’t matter how difficult your cause may seem, there is always a way to start and a place where you can make a real difference for the environment and society. I invite you to apply to Sprog and give yourself the best opportunity to meet passionate people who will help you grow as a leader while also gaining the skills that will take part in helping you make the change you want to see in the world.

From Compass

North Carolina's Brevard College First to Divest in the Southeast

Fri, 02/20/2015 - 12:40

College students, faculty, and administrators at North Carolina's Brevard College are cheering at Friday's news that the school will divest from fossil fuels by 2018 -- making it the first university in North Carolina and in the entire Southeast U.S. to divest!

The school has a robust group of student organizers (Divest Brevard and the Brevard College Greens) who've been rallying, speaking, and working hard toward this goal since 2013.

"Divestment is important to our students because Brevard College is a place that, to quote from the mission statement, '(i)nspires social action,'" says Brevard student and co-president of Brevard College Greens Emily Crowley. "As students we feel it is important to embrace the inspiration Brevard has given us to ignite a movement that is important to all facets of the world."

The students worked closely with Jim Reynolds of the Sierra Club North Carolina's Pisgah Group - who is also a professor at Brevard. Together they got more than 400 students and faculty to sign on in support of divestment. The students also organized a sit-in - which prompted Brevard College President David Joyce to invite students to present to the Board of Trustees.

"Part of our mission is to teach students to connect knowledge to action," said Joyce in a statement after Friday's vote. "The process and outcome of this issue demonstrates our commitment to encouraging personal growth and inspiring social action."

Once again, I am so inspired and impressed by the leadership of young people in the move away from fossil fuels and toward clean energy in the U.S. These Brevard College students are to be commended - and I hope more colleges and universities in the state and across the Southeast follow the school's lead.

"Divestment for us means that our school is taking climate change issues seriously, that our administration cares about the desires of its students, and that our administration is committed to doing all that we can to contribute to solving issues that directly affect social, economic, and personal values and lives," said Crowley.

Congratulations to Emily, Jim, and the many, many others who helped make this happen.

Mary Anne Hitt From Compass

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