Sierra Club Compass Blog
According to Brad Markell, Executive Director of the AFL-CIO's Industrial Union Council, increased investment in advanced vehicle technology is leading to more domestic jobs. "Why do hybrids and electric vehicles produce more jobs?" asked Markell. "New content," he answered. "Somebody has to engineer it, create production tools, and put the vehicles together."
This week, I attended the Good Jobs, Green Jobs conference in Washington, DC. This is an annual conference where labor union organizers, environmental organizers, and business leaders come together to discuss challenges and opportunities in creating more domestic union jobs that move us forward to a clean energy future. The conference is organized by the BlueGreen Alliance, which is a coalition of some of the nation’s largest and most influential environmental groups and unions, including the United Steelworkers, United Auto Workers, AFL-CIO, Union of Concerned Scientists, National Wildlife Federation, and Sierra Club.
I had the pleasure of putting together a workshop panel called Green Fleets –Ramping Up Demand and Production of Cleaner Fleet Vehicles. Markell, one of our speakers and someone who worked for many years at the United Auto Workers, said there is growing demand for more fuel efficient and smaller vehicles, including hybrids and electric vehicles. He shared that the number of jobs in the U.S. automotive sector went steadily down over the last decade, but they started to rise again in 2011 and 2012. This increase in auto industry jobs coincides with thousands of jobs in dozens of U.S. states recently created in the advanced vehicle technology arena.
Joyce Mattman, General Motors' Director of Commercial Product & Specialty Vehicles, also spoke on our panel. Mattman said that her government and corporate fleet customers are increasingly asking for "greener" vehicle models. "Three years ago, 16 percent of our [total number of] vehicles sold achieved at least 30 mpg highway; today, it’s 40 percent," said Mattman. GM manufactures cars and light trucks that run on gasoline, natural gas, E85, hybrid power, and electricity, including the Chevy Volt -- today’s best-selling plug-in vehicle. GM is also doing research into vehicles that can run on hydrogen fuel cells and next generation biofuels. Mattman was proud to say that GM has received more clean-energy patents in the last two years than any other company or organization.
I talked about the importance of addressing vehicle fleets if we are to combat climate change pollution. Even though fleet vehicles only make up about seven percent of the vehicles on U.S. roads, they consume up to 35 percent of the oil. New light-duty vehicle efficiency and emissions standards and upcoming medium- and heavy-duty standards will only be strong and only be met if we can get individual consumers and the companies that operate large numbers of fleet vehicles to demand cleaner vehicles. Also, America's biggest companies are also among the biggest consumers of tar sands, the dirtiest source of oil on earth -- and a source that will dramatically increase if we allow the Keystone XL pipeline to be built. You will soon here much more from Sierra Club about oil, vehicle fleets, and what companies and activists can do.
The conference included dozens of workshop panels and an illustrious group of plenary speakers, including House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune, President of the Communication Workers of America Larry Cohen, President of the United Steelworkers Leo Gerard, U.S. Congresswoman Michelle Lujan Grisham, and AFL-CIO President Richard Trumpka. Many major corporations, including International Paper, General Motors, and Alcoa, also sent high-level speakers.
While there have been important efficiency improvements by GM and other vehicle manufacturers as well as in numerous other industries, we cannot rest on our laurels if we’re to meet the crises we face in our economy and our climate. We need to build upon the enthusiasm from this conference to work in earnest for more and better good, green jobs.
(Top photo: Gina Coplon-Newfield. Bottom photo: Todd Post.)
-- Gina Coplon-Newfield is the Sierra Club’s Director of Green Fleets & Electric Vehicles Initiative.
Big Coal has a dirty little secret: For coal mined in the Powder River Basin (PRB) of Montana and Wyoming, transported to the coast, and shipped to East Asia, the industry only pays government royalties at the time it’s mined and not when it is actually sold overseas, when the price can "increase more than fivefold," reports Associated Press, "saving them millions of dollars in the process."
The Interior Department is investigating and considering a new royalty payment system after two U.S. senators raised the point that taxpayers are the ultimate losers in this scheme. Meanwhile, Big Coal is enabled by a complacent Bureau of Land Management, which is leasing out PRB coal at rock bottom prices to boost industry profits. No wonder why coal companies are rushing a number of proposals to expand their exporting operations up and down the Pacific Northwest.
PRB leasing should cease until we learn more from the investigation and the federal government considers the massive climate impacts from such mining. Coal from PRB accounts for 13 percent of U.S. climate changing emissions. The federal government has leased more than 2.1 billion tons of PRB coal between 2011 and 2012, directly causing the release of more than 3 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide. Without a moratorium, the potential for another 3.5 billion tons of new coal mining could happen.
Applying fair market practices to how Big Coal does business will reveal that the industry has been relying on special favoritism for far too long. Thousands upon thousands of families in communities across Washington and Oregon have made it loud and clear that they don't want miles-long coal trains snaking through their neighborhoods and polluting their cities and crops. They know that a clean-energy future will do more for local jobs, public health, and the climate crisis.
--Bill Corcoran, Western Regional Campaign Director of the Sierra Club's Beyond Coal campaign
Every year the Goldman Environmental Prize committee selects an amazing group of winners from around the world to receive what is sometimes called the environmental Nobel prize - and I could not be more thrilled with their pick for North America this year: Kim Wasserman Nieto of Chicago, Illinois.
Kim is a phenomenal environmental justice activist and mom from the Little Village neighborhood in Chicago. Her work with the Little Village Environmental Justice Organization (LVEJO) has been inspiring and ground-breaking. The Little Village community is primarily Latino, and is located next to one of the most notorious, polluting coal-fired power plants in America. As a woman of color on the frontlines of the fight to stop the pollution, Kim not only served as an inspiration to many others, but she also led a winning campaign that ultimately secured the retirement of not one, but two, deadly coal plants.
We are proud to have been one of Kim and LVEJO's allies in the work to retire Midwest Generation's old, dirty Fisk and Crawford coal plants in Chicago last year. The pollution from these two plants caused significant health problems for kids and adults in the nearby neighborhoods, including increasing the number of asthma attacks suffered by Kim's children.
LVEJO and dozens of other organizations, including Sierra Club, joined together in the Chicago Clean Power Coalition to push for the coal plants to be cleaned up or retired. The coalition was powerful because it was led by frontline community members who not only marched in the streets, but also sat at the decision-making table. It’s an inspiring model of successful environmental justice work that I hope will get more of the national attention it deserves, thanks to the Goldman Prize.
The impact of the plants on Kim and her children provided a compelling story and images that we will never forget. You might recognize Kim's son Peter from these hard-hitting ads that filled billboards across Chicago.
Kim also shared her story in a powerful op-ed in the Chicago Tribune about her children's struggles with asthma. As a mom, I'll never forget reading this piece, and imagining how frightening it would be to see my own baby struggling for air. In the piece, Kim wrote:I'm not saying that Fisk and Crawford caused my sons' asthma. After all, there's industry everywhere in our community - it's a regular toxic soup. But Fisk and Crawford depend on outdated technology, and they're impacting my environment more than anyone else. I don't necessarily blame them for causing my kids' asthma, but I do blame them for making it worse.
My husband Stan and I are also trying to do our best by our kids. We try to make sure they eat healthy food and get lots of physical activity to strengthen their lungs. But we can only do so much. After that it falls on our city, state and federal government to provide Peter and Anthony and all the other little kids with a clean environment.
The Environmental Protection Agency last week featured Kim's path to activism on its environmental justice blog. In the blog, Kim highlights her commitment to engaging young people in environmental justice advocacy, and points to her latest focus bringing more green space to Little Village.
Here is how Christine Nannicelli, a Sierra Club organizer who has worked closely with Kim over the years, described her:
"Kim worked on these issues for over a decade, and at a time when many people were scared to talk about them. Ultimately, Kim stood up and said her family in Little Village, and other working class Latino families on Chicago's southwest side, have just as much right to breathe clean air as wealthy white people on the north side. That was the blunt reality, and Kim called it like she saw it."
We joined activists from communities all over Chicago and celebrated alongside Kim and residents of Little Village when Midwest Generation formally announced that Fisk and Crawford would be retired. Those victories wouldn't have happened without Kim, LVEJO did and their decade of tremendous work organizing creative events to raise awareness and call for the closure of Fisk and Crawford.
Today, we join with many of those same activists in celebrating North America's newest Goldman Prize winner. Congratulations to Kim for this well-deserved honor. The world needs more wonderful activists like her.
-- Mary Anne Hitt, Beyond Coal Campaign Director
Consider these facts: African-American children are six times more likely to die from asthma than other children. Race is the number one factor in predicting the location of toxic waste sites in America, and there is a direct relationship between the rate of poverty in a community and cumulative environmental impacts.
This is not new information. Leslie Fields (pictured sitting above), Director of the Sierra Club's Environmental Justice and Community Partnership program discussed these incredible statistics on Tuesday, at a briefing for congressional staff on environmental justice and building healthy communities. She spoke alongside leaders from other environmental justice organizations including Jalonne White-Newsome and Cecil Corbin-Mark from the Harlem-based "WE ACT for Environmental Justice", and Dr. Nicky Sheats (pictured speaking above) from the "Center for the Urban Environment" from New Jersey.
Together, these advocates and leaders are fighting to relieve the staggering disparity in this country of how different people are affected by environmental hazards. Poor and minority communities bear a disproportionate burden from pollution, climate disruption, and other environmental threats compared to white and more affluent communities. Their briefing was meant to get environmental justice on everyone’s radar, especially lawmakers.
"Children grow up sick and compromised when they grow up in compromised communities," said Fields. She spoke about Title VI of the Civil Rights Act, which prohibits discrimination for any program that receives federal funding. This has been a useful tool in fighting many environmental injustices, according to Fields.
Dr. Jalonne White-Newsome (pictured at the podium above) from WE ACT for Environmental Justice discussed urban air toxics, which is only one of the many problems that affect at risk communities. Because of some failing regulations, "super-pollution," the overabundance of multiple types of pollution, concentrates in certain areas and turns neighborhoods into toxic air pockets. Children and adults living in highly contaminated areas are at higher risk of respiratory diseases, birth defects, and infertility.
The panelists emphasized that environmental justice is not an issue, but a perspective. Decision makers have to incorporate this perspective into every stage of development for programs and projects that may affect the environment. Most importantly, community members should engage as much as possible to protect their health and communities through environmental justice actions. The Sierra Club has a number of local environmental justice programs throughout the country. Locate a program near you on the Sierra Club's Environmental Justice and Community Partnership Regional Programs page.
--Kristen Elmore, Sierra Club Media Team Intern
Southern Nevada's Moapa Band of Paiutes are organizing a 16-mile "Walk from Coal to Clean Energy" on April 20, 2013 in concert with Earth Day. This walk will celebrate the tribe's efforts to retire the polluting Reid Gardner coal plant that adjoins their tribal lands, and also their success in developing the largest solar project on tribal lands in the nation, which will begin construction later this year. The walk will start at the coal plant and end at the solar site - a powerful symbol of change for Nevada and the nation.
The Moapa and a broad coalition of environmental and community groups in Nevada have been pushing to retire NV Energy's Reid Gardner coal plant for many years. A recent announcement by NV Energy CEO Michael Yackira that the company wants to retire its coal plants and contracts early and replace them with renewable energy and natural gas power is a key milepost in the decades-long struggle of the Moapa for environmental justice.
"Coal is a fuel of the past in our state" - that's how Yackira put it, in a recent interview discussing the announcement. The company has drafted legislation to be considered by the Nevada legislature that would allow the coal plant retirements.
So on Earth Day, tribal leaders and members, as well as other tribes from the region, will walk 16 miles starting at sunup and arriving at the solar plant site by mid-afternoon. Environmental activists and other community supporters will meet them to rally and celebrate this important milestone in their campaign, and to call for the expansion of more renewable energy like solar, wind, and geothermal for Nevada's clean energy future.
Grassroots supporters from throughout southern Nevada will meet at a location 1.5 miles from the rally site (about 40 miles northeast of Las Vegas) and walk to the site. The rally will feature a drum circle and several speakers including William Anderson, Chairman of the Tribal Council, and Allison Chin, President of the Sierra Club. It will conclude with a round dance by the Moapa Band of Paiutes.
The Reid Gardner coal plant is located directly adjacent to the tribal community, only a few hundred feet from the nearest homes. Built beginning in the 1960s, it is a source of serious air and water contamination. Over the decades the Moapa have experienced many health problems that are likely related to the plant, including very high rates of asthma, heart disease and cancer.
The Moapa were featured in Sierra magazine's recent "Cost of Coal" series, too.
The Moapa and other organizations like the Sierra Club and the Nevada Clean Energy Campaign are hopeful that NV Energy's change in strategy will ultimately lead to a just, fair and environmentally sound resolution to close the Reid Gardner plant and move Nevada quickly to a clean energy future.
The city of Los Angeles has already agreed to purchase the energy from the Moapa solar project, as part of the city's commitment to move beyond coal, announced just last month by L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, Al Gore, Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune, and others. We look forward to keeping the clean energy momentum rolling with this powerful, symbolic march.
For more information about the "Walk from Coal to Clean Energy" on April 20, please contact Sierra Club Organizer Elspeth DiMarzio at (702) 732-7750 or email@example.com. Second photo by Craig Rock.
-- Mary Anne Hitt, Beyond Coal Campaign Director
A coal ash/slurry impoundment at a mountaintop removal coal mine in West Virginia.
Today, Lisa Evans, Senior Administrative Counsel at Earthjustice, stood up for the 1.54 million children living near coal ash waste sites who have an increased risk of being diagnosed with cancer, heart damage, lung disease, respiratory distress, and a host of other life-threatening illnesses. Evans gave voice to those who, through no fault of their own, jeopardize their health daily simply because of where they live.
Evans testified today (read her full testimony here) before the Subcommittee on Energy and Environment in the U.S. House of Representatives against a recently-introduced bill that fails to substantively protect children and vulnerable communities from exposure to hazardous chemicals in coal ash.
Coal ash is the toxic by-product that is left over after coal is burned for electricity. Right now, it is dumped into open-air pits and precarious surface waste ponds, contaminating drinking water supplies and polluting the air in communities across the country. Coal ash ponds and landfills are disproportionately located in low-income communities, with almost 70 percent of coal ash ponds in the U.S. in areas where household income is lower than the national median.
While health professionals and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) have recognized for years that many of the hazardous substances found in coal ash are among the most deadly known to man, Evans' testimony shed light on the fact that coal ash is far more dangerous than previously understood. Using improved protocol, EPA found that some coal ashes leached toxic metals, such as arsenic, barium, chromium and selenium, at levels that far exceeded federal thresholds established for hazardous waste. Given this, it's no wonder that people living within one mile of unlined coal ash ponds can have a 1 in 50 risk of cancer - more than 2,000 times higher than what the EPA considers acceptable.
Establishing means to properly and safely dispose of coal ash should clearly be a national priority - and yet, as Evans explained in her testimony before Congress today, the Coal Ash Recycling and Oversight Act of 2013 introduced by West Virginia Rep. David McKinley cannot and will not adequately protect American communities from the toxic pollution from coal ash. Among other things, the bill fails to establish a national protective standard for coal ash, meaning that state regulations would not necessarily be required to protect human health and the environment, and owners of coal ash disposal units do not need to obtain enforceable permits by any specified date. This absence of a deadline renders the bill nearly meaningless.
Today, Evans shed light on a toxic problem that is causing real pain to children and communities across the country. Congress should reject Rep. McKinley's inadequate coal ash bill and get to work on legislation that sufficiently protects public health, our drinking water, and our environment.
-- Ed Hopkins, Environmental Quality Program Director, Sierra Club
A while back we wrote a piece clarifying some myths about increased coal consumption in the EU. We did that because the clear trend in the EU is just like the U.S. - a move beyond coal. Now it looks as though a similar set of myths is developing around coal growth in Japan. The problem is, just like the EU, the myth doesn't match reality. Here's what's really going on.
The 2011 earthquake and super tsunami have taken a big chunk of Japanese electrical production off line. Today only two of the country's fifty nuclear reactors have come back online and the national debate still rages over the future of nuclear power. In this vacuum a few analysts have suggested coal is filling the gap. It turns out this in fact is not happening, but it's getting attention because reporters love a good counter factual argument.
As it turns out Japan's total coal consumption hit a peak in 2007 and hasn't moved upwards much since then. In fact, in 2011 total coal consumption dipped roughly 6 percent. This changed slightly in 2012 when coal consumption did go up - a whopping 0.2 percent in the power sector and 4 percent for industrial uses. Hardly a resurgence.
But why didn't it go up if they needed the power? A big part of the reason coal didn't replace nucleari mmediately after the tsunami is that coal plants were also forced to idle production given the impacts of the storm. At the same time, the plants that were still functioning didn’t have a lot of spare capacity so there wasn't much room to increase production. Since you can’t build a coal plant overnight -- they typically take around five years -- there wasn’t much the country could do.
Well maybe they couldn't ramp up fast, but they must be planning a wave of new coal plants now right? Nope. According to World Resources Institute, Japan only has plans to build four new plants totaling 3.2 gigawatts. Fifty percent of this capacity is scheduled for commissioning soon, but the other half (1.6 gigawatts) is not even supposed to be commissioned until the next decade. One 600 MW unit is not slated to even start construction until 2015. meaning, at best, it won't be online until 2020. Another 1,000MW project, which has been on the drawing boards for years, has a commissioning date of 2023 "or later". But even if all of it were to come online next year it is only about one percent of total electricity capacity in Japan. So much for the hype.
It's also important to note that while most of the coal-fired fleet of power stations in Japan is relatively modern (1990s+) there are a number of older generating units (including a couple of coal/oil units from the 1970s) and a handful from around 1980. That means that while there are two new coal plants being commissioned soon, and maybe one more by 2020, there are a number of older plants which are getting towards the end of their life that will need to be retired. A booming coal sector this scenario does not make.
Of course as long as we're discussing facts, it's also important to point out that Bloomberg forecasts that Japan will become the world's second largest solar market this year. Solar isn't the only growth market though. Bloomberg reported that another 21 geothermal plants are under consideration and that wind is also likely to boom.
The combination of wind and solar could be particularly problematic for the future of coal (and nuclear) because it is as inflexible a source of power as you'll find - it just doesn't mix well with variable output. Japan could be facing a situation where coal and others with fuel costs would be forced to ramp down their output to accommodate the variable solar and wind output. That means if they do get the nukes restarted, a few coal plants get built and solar keeps growing, there could be a clash. That means the economic future for coal is anything but certain.
The truth is that as the US EIA data above shows Fukushima marked the end, not the beginning of a clear trend in rising coal consumption. So where's all the coal hype coming from? Hard to say, but with the winds of change against the coal industry it’s clear they are trying to take advantage of this tragedy - facts be damned.
-- Co-authored by Lauri Myllyvirta of Greenpeace International, and Ted Nace and Bob Burton of Coal Swarm.
Congressman Ed Markey and Sierra Club Volunteer Sheila Loayza in Concord, MA on Saturday
Congressman Ed Markey has been an outspoken and tireless champion on climate and clean energy issues since first being elected to the U.S. House. There, he has lead the charge to hold big polluters responsible for the damage they do to the people and places we care most about, and acted time and time again to pursue climate solutions. That’s why so many excited Sierra Club members stood in support of his U.S. Senate campaign on Saturday at a kick-off rally in Concord, Massachusetts.
Congressman Markey was greeted by loud applause from the crowd of more than 100 at the outdoor event at Nashoba Bakery in Concord. As he addressed the group, among the first people he thanked was Massachusetts Sierra Club Chapter Chair Dan Proctor and the dozens of Sierra Club members that came out to support his campaign. And the feeling is mutual. His remarks on Saturday - like his campaign and his record - make it easy to see why so many Sierra Club members are fighting to ensure he is the next Senator from the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.
Congressman Ed Markey in Concord on Saturday (Photo: Diana Bowen)
Ed told the story of growing up in Lawrence, MA as the son of milkman in a poor immigrant family, working to put himself through school when his family was not able to. He talked about how he went back to the house he grew up in just last year to meet the family now living in that triple-decker, suggesting that though the neighborhood has changed, the children living in that house still have the opportunity to become a U.S. Senator just like he does - if we continue the fight to ensure they have a safe and secure future. To ensure that opportunity remains, Markey spoke passionately about the need to ensure our schools are strong, safe and free from gun violence. And he talked about another issue critically important to our children’s future - the climate crisis.
“There are no emergency rooms for planets,” said Congressman Markey. And he spoke of the need to pursue a clean energy revolution driven by the same passion found in Concord nearly 240 years before, when Minutemen helped start the American Revolution.
With Congressman Markey’s campaign, Sierra Club members know we have the opportunity to send a true hero for climate action to the Senate. Just look at his record. Markey’s name was on the most significant piece of legislation to address climate change to come before the House in years. He’s led the fight to end tax giveaways to big oil companies and proposed critical bills to increase invest in clean energy solutions. And, he’s proudly campaigning on those achievements. That’s why Sierra Club members cheered loudly on Saturday when Congressman Markey noted that 19th century dirty fuels like coal and oil need to make way for wind and solar technology that will not only help turn around our climate crisis, but put people in Massachusetts back to work. And it’s why Sierra Club members are going to get to work for Markey.
Sierra Club member Sheila Loayza was able to meet Ed after the event and had her picture tweeted by the campaign. Sheila and many more Sierra Club members have been inspired by Markey’s commitment to climate action and clean energy - and they’re pledging to help his campaign with neighborhood phone banks and canvasses. You can help, too. The Sierra Club and our members are holding Environmentalists for Markey events this coming weekend and you can RSVP today to do your part in sending an environmental hero to the Senate.
-Drew Grande, Sierra Club Organizer, Boston, MA
Paid for by Sierra Club Political Committee, SierraClub.org, and Authorized by the Markey Committee.
Like a moth to the flame, U.S. Export-Import Bank (Ex Im) Chairman Fred Hochberg has an affinity for controversial fossil fuel projects. Instead of shying away from coal plants and mines that destroy the communities, tank local economies, and endanger the climate, Ex Im uses our taxpayer dollars to support them.
Under Hochberg’s leadership, the bank has ignored a Congressional mandate to direct 10% of financing towards renewables, and instead gone on a fossil fuel bender. Ex Im approved $900 million in financing for the 4,000 megawatt Sasan coal-fired power station in India, which displaced entire villages and used dangerous labor practices that lead to worker deaths. It directed $800 million in financing for the 4,800 MW Kusile power station in South Africa, despite local protests and the fact that the area around the project already exceeded pollution limits set by the South African government. Essentially, the Ex Im Bank is completely at odds with President Obama's desire to address climate change.
But it doesn’t have to be this way. An institution that is following President Obama's promise to lead on climate, is ExIm Bank’s sister organization - the Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC). Thanks to a robust climate policy and strong leadership, OPIC financed over $1 billion in clean energy in 2013. Even better, they didn't support a single fossil fuel project.
Now that Hochberg has announced he will stay on as Ex Im Chairman in Obama's second term, he has a responsibility to live up to the high standards set by the President, become more like OPIC, and kick the fossil fuel habit.
We shouldn't have to wait long to see which path Hochberg will choose. Ex Im is circling not one, not two, but three dangerous coal projects that will serve as litmus tests.The first two are highly controversial coal mine and export proposals in Australia's Galilee Basin. Just how bad are these projects? A recent UNESCO report cites coal development as a major threat to the Great Barrier Reef, and Greenpeace has dubbed the push "Monster Mine Madness".
The third project is Rio Tinto's Oyu Tolgoi mine in Mongolia, which ExIm will vote on this week. aside from being destructive in its own right, will also include a dangerous captive coal-fired power plant. Oyu Tolgoi has been a disaster from the start with two open investigations into impacts on local herders who rely on the region's scarce water resources to survive.
The U.S. government has already implicitly opposed Oyu Tolgoi by abstaining from a vote on a $900 million funding package from the World Bank's International Finance Corporation (IFC), citing water resources and the coal plant as major concerns.
Given the position U.S. Treasury took in that vote, rejecting financing for Oyu Tolgoi should be a no brainer for Hochberg. But Hochberg's legacy says otherwise. In 2010 the U.S. abstained from a vote on World Bank funding for the Medupi coal-fired power plant in South Africa, but a year later Ex Im ignored this guidance and approved $800 million in financing for Medupi's sister plant, Kusile.
If Fred Hochberg is going to stay on as Chairman of the U.S. Export-Import Bank, he must start living up to the clean energy agenda laid out by President Obama. Tell Fred Hochberg it's time for Ex Im to join the 21st century by rejecting fossil fuels and redirecting resources towards clean energy.
-- Nicole Ghio, Sierra Club Campaign Liaison
Ever since President Obama invited the American public to a national climate conversation, thousands of Americans have taken him up on that offer by participating in town hall meetings held by the Sierra Club and our allies.
I'd like to highlight one of these events I found particularly powerful and worthy of more attention.
North Omaha, Nebraska, is home to one of the dirtiest coal plants in the nation, the North Omaha coal plant operated by Omaha Public Power District. The NAACP ranked it the 16th worst environmental justice offender in the nation (although with recent coal plant closures and retirements, it's now in the top ten).
This coal plant is poisoning the air in the neighborhood. According to Graham Jordison, a Beyond Coal organizer in North Omaha, "North Omaha is largely an African American population with an average household income of $17,000. The asthma rate in this community is 20%."
To that end, the Sierra Club has been working with allies such as Black Men United and The Malcolm X Foundation to move beyond coal and secure more clean energy for Omaha and the entire state. The fight for clean air in Omaha has even started new partnerships in the city: the NAACP's Omaha branch spoke out at a recent Omaha Public Power District board meeting, voicing concerns about the North Omaha coal plant and air pollution.
Another reason moving beyond coal in Nebraska is so exciting? The state's enormous clean energy potential.
"Nebraska is the state with the nation's fourth greatest potential for wind energy and is ranked ninth for solar power potential," said Graham.
Graham said the local partners have organized many community meetings to educate and organize residents. They've held energy efficiency forums and more - but in the past few weeks came two events that show the power of North Omaha's families.
"First, a record number of people showed up to Omaha Public Power Districts board meeting to deliver comments on retiring the North Omaha coal plant," said Graham. "They got an immediate response from the board and a promise from the CEO, Gary Gates, to meet in the following weeks.
"Then on March 23 we had an environmental justice forum at the Malcolm X Foundation (birth site of Malcolm X) that turned out a record number of people and spurred some deep discussion on the coal plant and environmental racism."
North Omaha's residents - and Americans nationwide - know that coal poisons our air and water. They're tired of the asthma attacks, the ER visits, the code red air quality days where kids can't play outside.
I'm inspired by the people of North Omaha and the amazing community partnerships forming locally. There are faith groups, the NAACP, the Sierra Club, and so many others who are committed clean air and local clean energy development. They know the future is brighter without coal, that clean energy and energy efficiency create jobs and won't cause asthma attacks.
Graham says it best: "We are building a powerful movement here in Omaha! We are rich with passion and we are winning!"
Find more great clean energy events and climate town halls on our StandWithThePlanet.com website.
-- Mary Anne Hitt, Beyond Coal Director
By Kathryn Phillips, Director,Sierra Club California
Sometimes fact is so much stranger than anything even the best novelist could write.
Take California, which sits atop a 1,700-square-mile oil shale deposit that is threatened to be accessed by hydraulic fracturing, or fracking. Fracking is an ugly, largely unregulated process that forces massive amounts of water, sand, and an unknown cocktail of chemicals into the ground, the end result of which is to release more dirty fossil-fuel pollution into our environment.
As news of fracking's destructive impacts from states like Pennsylvania and Wyoming spreads across the country, it is no wonder Californians have grown worried about what might happen in our own backyard, and are demanding a moratorium to stop any new fracking from taking place.
The state already has two of the most polluted air basins in the nation—the San Joaquin Valley and the Los Angeles region—where air pollution is responsible for more than 3,800 premature deaths and costs local economies more than $28 billion annually, according to a 2008 study by California State University, Fullerton. At least 680 communities also currently rely on polluted water due to groundwater contamination. Add fracking to that mix, and you have a disaster waiting to happen. It promises more water contamination, more air pollution, more land destruction, and will only hasten climate catastrophe.
On the the national level, fracking for oil and gas is still largely exempt from common-sense environmental laws—seven to be exact—like the Clean Air and Clean Water acts. With these loopholes in place, the industry essentially has a free ticket to frack U.S. public land without fearing any repercussions.
Up to now, protecting air and water quality has only been possible at the state and local levels, and often even that has proven to be difficult. In California, by the industry's own estimate, more than 600 oil wells have been fracked in the last decade, with virtually no oversight or monitoring by the state agency that provides well permits.
Last year in California, legislators tried to rein in the industry's irresponsible fracking practices by introducing bills that called for greater public notice and regulatory oversight. These proposals were quickly shot down by oil lobbyists, who represent one of the most powerful interest groups working in the State Capitol.
Then just two months ago, the New York Times published an article highlighting how the Monterey Shale formation-which stretches from the northern San Joaquin Valley into Los Angeles County, and west to the coast-could turn California into the nation's top oil-producing region, literally changing the Golden State's landscape overnight. The story put a national spotlight on how oil and gas companies are quickly buying up leases on federal land so they can expand oil fracking in California, just as they are doing for natural gas in Pennsylvania.
Responding to increased public concerns, California legislators sprang into action in March to establish public protections. They introduced ten bills to address the environmental and public health effects of fracking. Three of those bills call for a moratorium on any new fracking projects until it can be proven that our air, water, public health, and environment will not be harmed.
While these bills move through the legislative process, Sierra Club California and our 150,000 activist members will work to ensure that our policymakers are making decisions based on people, not profits. Protecting our public health and the environment is essential, especially since we don't know the potential health risks associated with fracking.
Californians are among the most environmentally conscious citizens in the nation. We want clean water, clean air, and solid decreases in greenhouse gas emissions now. We want a moratorium to stop any new fracking and we want our legislature to do the right thing to protect our environment and our health.
A war is shaping up that pits an entrenched, aging, and uncompetitive fossil fuel industry against a young, innovative and increasingly competitive set of renewable energy technologies. The former relies on their entrenched status chock full of obscenely high subsidies to fight of a set of disruptive innovations that could send them the way of whale oil.
While renewables are doing an impressive job they continue to play on the home team's turf. It just so happens that a new front – a guerilla insurgency – has opened where their opponents are weak that could help tip the balances - off-grid energy markets that serve the world's poor.
This front is critical to the broader war because technological disruption, and more importantly economic activity, doesn't happen in a vacuum. It occurs in a world of imperfect information that is exacerbated by power politics -- politics shaped by political maneuvering that would make Sun Tzu blush. That is why a value-destroying and increasingly expensive industry (read: coal) is able to maintain itself in spite of the clear advantages of its competitors.For disruptive innovations to succeed in this environment they must be fueled by reaching customers the incumbents aren't. In other words, attacking them where they are weak. For coal that is off-grid markets where 1.3 billion customers are waiting to upend the dominant narrative of coal's ability to cost effectively feed the world’s ever expanding appetite for energy.
This Achilles heel was confirmed by the International Energy Agency (IEA) in a series of reports that conclusively show that in order to deliver universal energy access over half of all energy services flowing to the un-electrified must be provided by off-grid decentralized clean energy. The reports also show that an over reliance on the opposite (large-scale centralized power - often dirty coal plants) will still leave one billion of the world's poor without energy access by 2030. That means regardless of climate concerns, the right tool for the energy access job is decentralized off-grid clean energy.
It just so happens that a vast amount of entrepreneurial energy is laying the foundation for decentralized clean energy to succeed by piggy-backing on the most successful leapfrog technology to date - mobile phones. Currently 411 million people have access to a mobile phone network but lack access to energy. That's because over the past decade there has been a rapid increase in mobile phone users in rural parts of the developing world. India for instance is home to almost 300 million people without electricity access, but has nearly universal mobile phone coverage.
This leapfrog technology has induced demand for power from rural users who want to keep their cell phones charged - and from mobile phone providers who want those cell phones charged to increase revenues. This has touched off a race amongst mobile phone companies climbing all over one another to provide off-grid customers with cheap small-scale distributed clean energy. In 2010 the GSMA estimated providing clean energy to this market was worth nearly $3.3 billion in increased revenues for mobile phone companieshttp://bit.ly/L35DoQ.
On top of this scramble the mobile phone companies must now construct 639,000 off-grid "base stations" - radio towers that convert electricity into radio waves - by 2012. In India alone there are an estimated 240,000 towers projected to grow to more than 350,000 by 2012. Currently these towers are powered by costly and insecure diesel supplies whose economics simply don't work in a world of ever increasing oil prices. In fact some countries like India have mandated that diesel be replaced with cheaper and cleaner decentralized clean energy – solar, biomass, and wind. Current estimates peg the Indian cell phone tower conversion market alone (diesel to solar) at 2 GW.
But that's just the tip of the iceberg. Building excess capacity into these systems builds the bridge into the real market - the 1.3 billion people currently lacking access to electricity. This excess capacity can be sold to local communities via mini-grids, transportable batteries, or by directly charging applications on site expanding this market opportunity through distributed community power. The cell phone operators provide anchor demand and a stable revenue stream, third-party entrepreneurs (the Husk Power), Frontier Markets, Simpa Systems, SELCO-India, GreenLightPlanet, and OMCs of the world own/operate these renewable energy plants, and local communities receive electricity and provide revenue for the entrepreneur.
But the opportunity doesn't end there. These social entrepreneurs are also busily pioneering 'pay as you go' solar systems that leverage mobile money and M2M technology to create flexible payment systems for the world's poor. This can break down traditional barriers of cost and cash flow that have halted efforts to shift away from dirty energy to the world's most sophisticated technologies. In essence innovations like these open the financial door to the 1.3 billion person strong market ready to fund our insurgency.
There is no reason to believe the scale and speed of this transition will be anything less than revolutionary. Remember in the U.S. the shift to cars from horses or from steam to diesel electric locomotives took less than 12 years. Or more recently the shift from landlines to mobile phones has largely happened in just 10 years. Already off-grid solar has grown leaps and bounds with countries like Bangladesh installing 30,000 to 40,000 solar home systems every month with a total of one million systems installed to date.
As the shift from centralized and dirty to distributed and clean speeds up it will remove the rhetorical justification fossil fuels rely on. But more importantly it will dry up the cash reserves that would have helped maintain political influence. That means that how we power the world's poor is just as important, and perhaps even more, than how we power the rest.
-- Justin Guay, Sierra Club International
Riding on momentum from Los Angeles' huge announcement that it will be coal-free in 12 years, 150 clean-energy supporters, utility representatives, and entrepreneurs recently gathered for Huntington Park's first ever "Energy Fair" in Los Angeles County that aims to build community leadership on clean-energy issues.
Led by the Sierra Club and Communities for a Better Environment (CBE), the event focused on ways clean-energy leaders can reach residents and families and motivate communities to jump on the clean-energy trend, save on energy bills, and support energy that also benefits community health. Informing residents on local services available to them and ways to utilize all the benefits of local clean energy is a top priority.
"Community members in Southeast Los Angeles have defeated two power plants in less than eight years," said CBE Community Organizer Robert Cabrales. "Put together by mostly community members, the Energy Fair sent a message to decision makers that Southeast L.A. residents want real solutions to energy production. Fossil fuel power plants are so last century, and we demand truly clean energy production."The fair showcased a strong coalition of companies and organizations: the Sierra Club's L.A. Beyond Coal Campaign and CBE were joined the My Generation Campaign, California Environmental Justice Alliance, Mexican American Opportunity Foundation, Southeast Community Development Corporation, WIC, Grid Alternatives, Real Goods Solar, Southern California Edison, and more.
At the end of the Energy Fair, the My Generation Movement Academy held a graduation ceremony for 41 participants, who were each awarded a "Certificate of Achievement" for their commitment.
“The Energy Fair was a success,” said Michael Sarmiento, a Sierra Club clean-energy campaign organizer. “One of the best comments I got was from a representative from Real Good Solar, who told me this event was the first for him that really focused on reaching communities like Huntington Park, which is mostly a low-income community of color.”
Organizers collected nearly 40 petitions for a Clean Energy Bill of Rights (pdf) -- a demand for universal access to clean energy and the right to be paid for on-site solar generation -- which will eventually land on Governor Jerry Brown's desk.
A panel at the fair discussed the various obstacles that are still in the way of California’s quest to move beyond dirty fuels.
"We need to do more to educate people about the opportunities available, especially in low-income communities," said Sarmiento. "There is some pushback from utility companies to help develop local clean-energy projects, which is why we need to focus on communities to support clean energy and all the benefits it brings."
Over the last several years, California has made huge progress in expanding access to local clean energy. Last year, roughly two-thirds of all rooftop solar installations went up in middle class communities. Huntington Park’s Energy Fair was one important step toward ensuring low-income communities enjoy the same benefits of clean energy.
Photo from a coal export public hearing.
This week, the Sierra Club, several Waterkeepers, and other allies in the Northwest filed legal action that put companies on notice for coal pollution coming off of trains and polluting the region. The Pacific Northwest is home to some of the most spectacular, legendary waterways on the planet, such as the Columbia River Gorge and Puget Sound. Residents grow, eat, and export foods that are economic mainstays for the region and are prized around the world -- from vegetables to wine to salmon.
Yet the health and safety of the residents and this economy are threatened by proposed massive increases in coal exports through the region. Thousands of railcars loaded with coal are already traveling through communities, and coal rocks and dust are falling and blowing off the cars alongside, and into, the waterways. Coal companies have grand plans to vastly increase those coal shipments through the Northwest and export the coal to Asia -- plans that local communities and tens of thousands of residents are battling fiercely and effectively.
"We have people living in areas currently affected by coal trains, who are facing the threat of more coal traffic from proposed coal export projects, and they are already finding coal chunks and dust discharged in public waterways," said Cesia Kearns, a Beyond Coal campaign representative and acting director of the Power Past Coal coalition in the Pacific Northwest.
That's why the Sierra Club joined Puget Soundkeeper, Columbia Riverkeeper, Re-Sources for Sustainable Communities, and Friends of the Columbia Gorge on Tuesday to send a 60-day notice of intent to sue to Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway (BNSF) and several coal companies for violations of the federal Clean Water Act.
Even BNSF admits that its four daily coal trains moving through Washington lose a staggering 120 tons of coal dust daily. Residents are worried this number would only increase if the five proposed coal export terminals planned for the region are built. Those new terminals would add an additional 60 trains through Washington every day -- a staggering increase!
These trains (and the ones already moving through the region) carry coal mined in Wyoming and Montana's Powder River Basin. This coal contains mercury, arsenic, uranium, and hundreds of other toxins harmful to human health and to fish and other aquatic life. The Clean Water Act exists to protect our health and well-being -- and, under the Clean Water Act, anyone dumping pollutants or fill into U.S. waters must first obtain what is known as a National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permit or a Section 404 dredge-and-fill permit.
"Discovering the impacts of coal transportation by rail right now illustrates how much more problematic pollution from increased coal exports could become for local communities, and for our food,water, families, and economies," said Cesia.
A huge crowd at a recent coal export public hearing in the Pacific Northwest.
For years communities have been asked to bear the financial, health, and quality of life costs of mining, transporting, and burning coal. These costs should be covered by the companies, not American families. Meanwhile, this legal action should also underscore for the Army Corps of Engineers how critical it is to complete a full, cumulative impacts analysis of all the proposed coal export projects through an area-wide environmental impact statement.
The Sierra Club and our amazing coalition partners will hold polluters accountable for violating the law and call attention to the many dangers of much more coal coming through Pacific Northwest communities.
With such vast wind and solar power resources, the Pacific Northwest should be a leader in clean energy, not a thoroughfare for massive, polluting coal exports. Just last week, the governors of Washington and Oregon sent a letter to the White House calling on them to fully evaluate the climate and air pollution impacts of the proposed coal export terminals. It was yet another sign of how controversial these projects are in the Northwest, and a reminder that these ill-advised coal export plans will ultimately affect us all, and the fate of our planet.
-- Mary Anne Hitt, Beyond Coal Director
A while back I wrote about the need for social bankability based on the casual observation that our financial and energy systems are broken. Social bankability, simply put, is the decision, by fiat, to use public funds to fill in gaps where private banking has failed, but where the evidence shows the investments are entirely credit-worthy and socially desirable.
This is what Franklin Roosevelt did in 1933 when he decided that American farmers setting up electricity co-ops were credit worthy, even though banks didn't trust them. Muhammad Yunus did the same thing for enterprise loans to the poor with micro-credit. Now a new class of entrepreneurs are demanding the World Bank step up and do the same for off-grid clean energy access.
While innovations like crowd-funding are needed to disrupt the system, we can't let the system off the hook when it's our money being used. That's why it's exciting to see 22 of the world's leading off-grid clean energy entrepreneurs, as well as the Global Off Grid Lighting Association (GOGLA), demanding social bankability from the World Bank Group in the form of $500 million in risk adjusted investment. Because as countries around the world struggle with the ever increasing burden of austerity, the idea that scarce taxpayer money from donor countries would be used to make risky investments to subsidize a broken system is, simply put, infuriating.Let's start with the why. In order to make good on the pledge to deliver universal energy access, the International Energy Agency (IEA) has found that half of all energy services flowing to the unelectrified must be provided by off-grid clean energy. The IEA has also shown that an overreliance on the opposite (large scale centralized power -- often dirty coal plants) will still leave 1 billion of the world's poor without energy access by 2030. That means regardless of climate concerns the right tool for the energy access job is decentralized off-grid clean energy.
The problem is that today's investments in energy access are heavily skewed toward the problem, not the solution. That happens because the financial system is not designed to finance small nimble decentralized investments (the kind that serve the poor). Worse, the system views all things new (including clean energy) with skepticism. That means in practice large-scale investments for centralized generation receive the lion's share of finance despite the fact that they do little to solve the problem (but a lot to cause climate change). And this practice continues even when, as with the proposed Kosovo coal project, the underlying economics are wildly unfavorable to the investment. This is just bad banking.
In the absence of dedicated credit mechanisms, the poor themselves have had to finance off-grid clean energy often through cash purchases (You and I don't do that with our share of the grid -- the middle class gets to pay as they go). The poor are able to do that thanks to a combination of highly innovative business and financial models, and the plummeting cost of renewable energy, which has made it affordable to early adopters. Adopters who know that it is energy's presence, not price, that changes lives.
This has laid the foundation for a revolution that demonstrates that small can be big in places like Bangladesh, where 1 million solar home systems have been installed (including 30,000 to 40,000 solar home systems every month. Now "pay-as-you go" systems, mobile banking payments, and community power that extends clean energy from off-grid cell phone towers to surrounding communities promises to build an entirely new bottom-up decentralized clean energy powered "grid." It's not leap-frogging; it's catapulting past the heavily polluting centralized grid that dominates the western world.
But to go from here to there means crossing the vaunted "valley of death,"' which requires dedicated credit sources. Given the maturity and returns of the sector today, that means deeming such investments, by fiat, socially bankable, even if commercial banks say, in a Catch 22, "We can't make these loans because these are not the kind of loans we make."
Which is exactly why the off-grid sector has made clear it wants the World Bank to step in. The problem is the Bank, even under Dr. Kim’s leadership, continues to do the opposite. Instead of funding the off-grid sector, it continues to support new coal plants like the one in Kosovo. In fact, nearly 60 NGOs from around the world sent a letter the same day demanding the institution stop funding fossil fuels or not receive future funding from donor governments.
Which takes us back to where we began. Public money is increasingly hard to come by, and the World Bank keeps using it to follow the lending practices of the past, rather than fulfilling its mission, which is to forge a credit pathway to the systems of the future. There are literally 1 billion reasons to change course. So Dr. Kim, what will it be?
-- Justin Guay, Sierra Club International
Big Coal's overreach turned into a huge win for healthy air and clean water supporters in Kentucky when a proposed permit for a coal ash pit recently went up in smoke.
Louisville Gas & Electric (LG&E) and Kentucky Utilities Energy had targeted a Trimble County natural cave to dispose of about one million tons of coal ash waste each year. The state Division of Solid Waste Management denied the permit, siding with grassroots organizers and volunteers who worked two years to defeat it. The decision followed a unanimous state House of Representatives resolution that urged LG&E to consider an alternative.
"This is tremendous news for Trimble County families," said Sonia McElroy (pictured), a farmer who lives near the proposed site and led local residents in opposing the plan.LG&E’s permit request also demonstrated Big Coal's complete disregard for history and sensitivity, pushing for the proposal even after evidence surfaced that the targeted cave was part of the Underground Railroad of the 1800s, when slaves sought freedom north of the Ohio River. As if that weren't enough: It is "unlawful to remove, kill, harm or otherwise disturb any naturally occurring organism" in Kentucky caves.
"This is one of those rare cases where a group of concerned citizens, in a rural area, take on a major company and win. There's still more work to be done, but this speaks to the tremendous efforts of the dedicated families in Trimble County," said Lauren McGrath, a Sierra Club organizer in Kentucky.
This latest victory is another example of grassroots support continuing to build across the state. On Valentine’s Day, 1,500 Kentuckians marched and rallied at the state capitol to celebrate I Love Mountains Day. The rally was led by a coalition of groups demanding an end to mountaintop-removal mining.
The Beyond Coal movement is also resonating with young people on college campuses. Western Kentucky University has committed to moving beyond coal, and University of Kentucky students are rallying to kick coal money off campus.
That being said, there will be more battles in the months to come.
"LG&E will probably come back with a new permit, and our residents are concerned about what the end game might look like," said Sierra Club National Organizing Director Bob Bingaman. "But for now we will enjoy this great victory for the people of Kentucky."
-- Brian Foley
The U.S. Government took an important step to protect local communities from deadly coal pollution by abstaining from a vote on a $900 million funding package for Rio Tinto's Oyu Tolgoi mine in Mongolia. The U.S. Government decision amounts to a vote of no confidence in the International Financial Corporation (IFC) financed project. More importantly it sets an important precedent for coal projects seeking support from the United States -- a welcome sign given its continued support for the Kosovo coal project.
While the U.S. government's support for Kosovo continues to be controversial, Treasury's decision on the Mongolian project was the right one to make, and the Sierra Club commends them for it. Included in the project is a 450-750 MW coal fired-power station that is in clear violation of the Bank's own coal guidance, but which the IFC failed to consider by labeling it an associated facility. When explaining the decision, Treasury officials stated, "The ESIA does not provide a sufficiently detailed analysis of associated facilities and cumulative impacts, notably concerning a coal-fired power plant that will likely be needed to provide reliable power for the project."
The Oyu Tolgoi project has been a boondoggle from the start with, not one, but two open investigations by the IFC Compliance Advisor/Ombudsman (CAO) into impacts on local herders who rely on the region's scarce water resources to survive. While the U.S. vote was not enough to sway the full IFC Board of Directors, which approved the project on February 28, the concerns raised in the U.S. position paper send a strong signal that it is time for the World Bank and IFC to live up to the promise of the Bank's "Turn Down the Heat" report and stop rubberstamping funding for dangerous coal projects.
Today the Sierra Club applauds the U.S. Treasury and hopes that other agencies, including the U.S. Export-Import Bank (Exim), will follow Treasury's leadership and reject financing for Oyu Tolgoi and other dangerous fossil fuel projects.
-- Nicole Ghio, Sierra Club Campaign Liaison
University of Georgia (UGA) students Ian Karra and Sara Black each found their environmental activist callings after attending the Sierra Student Coalition's nationally-recognized Summer Leadership Training Program (SPROG). Meeting through the Sierra Club's UGA Beyond Coal Campaign, they immediately became best friends and took their campus by storm, dedicating most of their time to running two of the campus' most active environmental campaigns and organizations. Now Ian and Sara have won the great distinction of being nationally recognized as 2013 Udall Scholars.
The Udall Foundation was established by Congress in 1992 to provide federally-funded scholarships for college students like Ian and Sara, who intend to pursue careers related to the environment, as well as to American Indian students pursuing tribal public policy or health care careers. It recognizes students who exhibit future leadership potential, academic achievement, and a record of public service.
Ian was one of the original founders of the UGA Beyond Coal campaign nearly three years ago. Along with a small group of other students, he designed the original strategy to pressure UGA’s President and administrators to retire the campus’ aging coal-fired boiler. This fight has garnered local and national attention and is still a premier campaign at UGA, largely due to Ian's focus on mentoring younger leaders involved in the campaign. Ian is majoring in economics, with an emphasis in public policy and finance. He wants to continue a career in energy policy and grassroots advocacy.
A former intern of the Sierra Club, Sara has contributed to the UGA Beyond Coal campaign as a leading volunteer and has served on the Logistics and Fundraising Committees for the Sierra Student Coalition. Sara is currently running UGA's "Real Food" campaign, which aims to get the Food Services department to shift 20% of the university's food purchases towards sustainable and ethical food, creating a market for a just food economy. Sara is double majoring in Anthropology and Ecology and has a strong desire to continue to be a part of the environmental movement. Whether she becomes a campaign strategist, an academic working on environmental justice issues, a local organizer, a small organic farmer, or an employee for the Sierra Club, Sara will do what she loves and excel at it.
Sara and Ian not only strive to make change on campus - but also work together as a dynamic set of co-leaders for GA YES (Youth for Environmental Solutions), a network of over 75 student environmental leaders on over a dozen campuses in Georgia. As co-leads they helped to launch new clean energy campaigns at three campuses, provided training resources, and hosted events for student environmental leaders throughout the state.
All of us here at the Sierra Club congratulate Ian and Sara on their well-deserved achievement. Their commitment to pursuing careers in the environmental movement will create a cleaner and safer planet for future generations to explore, enjoy, and protect.
-- Anastasia Schemkes, Associate Campaign Representative, Sierra Student Coalition
Today, the Obama administration is expected to release new cleaner tailpipe standards that will reduce smog-forming pollution, save lives and improve public health.
These new safeguards will require that oil refineries reduce the sulfur content of gasoline and that automakers use advanced technology to slash tailpipe emissions of health-threatening air pollution.
Today, more than one in three American children live where air is dangerous to breathe because of smog, particulate matter, and other hazardous pollutants, much of which come from the tailpipes of our cars and trucks.
By lowering the sulfur content of gasoline, the "Tier 3" cleaner tailpipe standards have the potential to cut major contributors to smog-forming ozone and pollution - nitrogen oxides and volatile organic compounds. In 2017, when these standards take effect, they will reduce emissions of nitrogen oxide (a smog creating pollutant) by 260,000 tons per year, the equivalent of taking 33 million cars off the road.
This change has the potential to prevent more than 400 premature deaths and 52,000 lost workdays each year. The annual savings in health costs of these standards will be over $5 billion in 2020 and $10 billion in 2030.
In addition to these health benefits, these standards will create 24,500 construction jobs over three years and over 5,000 long-term plant operation jobs. Overall, the cleaner tailpipe standards will add $6.1 billion to the U.S. GDP over the three-year investment period.
These standards are being released the same week as a new European study reporting that breathing in car exhaust is as harmful to children as breathing second-hand smoke, highlighting the even more urgent need for cleaner tailpipes here in the U.S. The "Tier 3" cleaner tailpipe standards will have immediate, far-reaching impacts on reducing emissions from cars and drastically improving the air we breathe.
Automakers, public health groups, the United Auto Workers, and environmental groups have all come together in support of cleaner tailpipe standards. These standards will save lives, clean up our air, and create jobs.
-- Jessica Eckdish, Beyond Oil Campaign
Did you know that between 2010 and 2011, the number of bicyclists dying on U.S. roads increased by nine percent and pedestrian deaths increased by three percent? Meanwhile, there's been a decrease in vehicle driver and passenger deaths in that same time. Cyclists and pedestrians account for 16 percent of roadway fatalities nationwide!
This tremendous risk to bicyclists and pedestrians on our roads brought together 68 House representatives in a letter asking Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood to set separate safety standards for those who bike on and walk along our roads. Read the letter here (PDF).
Under the transportation bill, the Department of Transportation must set national performance measures, which serve as the basis for state performance measures and plans. Creating separate safety standards for cyclists and pedestrians is worth supporting because it requires state departments of transportation to focus on making biking and walking safer.
Biking and walking are great ways to get around town for errands and for commuting to work, but many can't travel this way due to unsafe road conditions or a lack of bike lanes and crosswalks.
And if more businesses start paying people to live closer to the office (we can always hope... but here's one cool example of that), we'll definitely need better infrastructure to keep the public safe.
Plus, everyone's learning to enjoy biking these days -- even tennis star Serena Williams biked to (and won!) her latest match in Florida. Although she had to bike due to horrendous traffic.
Which brings us all back to creating an overall better, more sustainable transportation infrastructure nationwide. Shouldn't we be helping people not have to suffer through megacommutes? Just look at how long some people spend getting to the office each day!
-- Heather Moyer, Sierra Club
- Eric Garcetti Elected to Continue the Clean Energy Legacy in Los Angeles
- Big New Investments in Wind Energy Across the Country and Around the World
- Our Land, Our Water, Our Future: The Australia Beyond Coal & Gas Conference
- Fighting Coal Down Under
- How Electric Vehicles That Feed the Grid Will Pay Off
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