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Updated: 6 hours 55 min ago

Are Japan And The World Bank Supporting A Coal Plant With Human Rights Violations In Indonesia?

Wed, 05/06/2015 - 09:43

 

Until last week, farmers near the proposed 2,000 megawatt Batang coal fired-power plant in Central Java appeared to have done the impossible – halted a $4 billion industrial project linked to the Indonesian government, Japan, and the World Bank. Facing down developers from the Indonesian PT Adaro Energy company and Japanese companies J-Power and Itochu Corporation, as well as promised support from the Japanese government through the Japan Bank for International Cooperation (JBIC), local residents endured harassment and arrests as the project’s proponents attempted to quash dissent. However, by refusing to sell their land, they have delayed the project by three years and sent a clear signal to the world that local communities must have a voice in decisions about their land, water, economy, and heritage.

But things began to change last few weeks when the Indonesian military moved in.

Farmers tell us that the military brought an excavator and began to dig up the land, and owners were blocked from accessing their rice paddies. All of this happened immediately preceding a planned visit by Indonesian President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo, who has made the project a key part of his energy plan, despite over 22 protests against the Batang coal plant, some involving thousands of people.

Activists immediately sprung to action when the military arrived, organising meetings with the National Commission on Human Rights and key government ministers. Meanwhile, former Mexican President and chair of the Global Commission on the Economy and Climate, Felipe Calderón, pushed back against the idea that coal is cheap at the Tropical Landscapes Summit in Jakarta, saying that, “It is not true that fossil fuels, either oil or coal, will be cheap forever. Indonesia has an incredible capacity and the natural resources to go all the way to renewables.”

As communities in Batang continued to protest, President Widodo cancelled his planned visit, opting instead to attend the opening of the National Development Planning Meeting in Jakarta. The military has also backed down, and landowners are being allowed to return to some of their fields. But the situation remains tense, and people fear they will be forced to leave soon.

Now all eyes turn to Japan and the World Bank. Both have clear policies meant to safeguard human rights, but both also have a history of overlookingviolations in favor of support for large projects. The World Bank’s involvement, through a $33.9 million guarantee for Batang from the Indonesia Infrastructure Guarantee Fund it helped establish, is particularly galling. The Bank has instituted new restrictions on support for coal, which should prevent funds going towards dangerous projects like this one in Central Java.

With Batang, JBIC and the World Bank have an opportunity to change course and use their influence to ensure that the rights of local communities are respected. It all comes down to Japanese Prime Minister Shinzō Abe and World Bank President Dr. Jim Yong Kim. Will they stand up for the people of Batang, or will they continue to silently support human rights violations?

You can sign the petition here to help support the people of Batang.

Nicole Ghio From Compass

The State of the Air is...Depressing

Tue, 05/05/2015 - 13:01

 

American Lung Association 2015 State of the Air Report - Key Findings

  • Nearly 138.5 million people—almost 44 percent of the nation—STILL live where pollution levels too often make the air too dangerous to breathe, but thanks to stronger standards for pollutants, the United States has seen continued reduction in ozone and particle pollution as well as other pollutants for decades.


  • Overall, the best progress came in the continued reduction of year-round particle pollution in the Eastern half of the nation, thanks to cleaner diesel fleets and cleaner fuels used in power plants.


  • Continued progress cleaning up pollution makes a difference, but a changing climate is making it harder to protect human health. The impact of climate change is particularly apparent in the West where the heat and drought create situations ripe for episodes of high particle days.


  • Many cities continued a decade of progress reducing ozone, but many others had more unhealthy air days. Communities will need more help to reduce ozone pollution in the warmer temperatures expected from the changing climate.

I’d tell you to take a deep breath before reading this, but after going through the American Lung Association’s (ALA) 2015 State of the Air Report, that may not be such a good an idea. Roughly 138.5 million Americans live in counties with dirty, polluted air that can be linked to a host of health issues like stroke, low birth weight, asthma and heart attacks, and even premature death.

 

ALA’s annual report is considered the gold standard in data procurement and analysis by seasoned doctors and medical experts, so its findings generally serve as a barometer on how well America is doing in cleaning up its air pollution. This year, as in other years, ALA found that our overall air quality is still pretty bad -- but we are seeing improvement in some areas of the country. For example, areas in the Eastern half of the country are shown to have done a pretty good job in cleaning up their act focusing on cleaner power plants and diesel fleets. Places like Washington, D.C., Baltimore, and Pittsburgh are now a healthy distance from the report’s top 10 most smog-polluted cities.

 

Because of efforts in those communities, air pollution in the United States has been on a downward trend over the past 4 decades -- but a lot more work is required if we are serious about combating the ailments triggered by dirty air and holding polluters accountable for spewing their emissions into nearby communities. The report takes pains, after all, to highlight that 40.7 percent of the U.S. population still lives in counties that received the grade of “F” for their smog levels. In fact, the actual number of people breathing dirty air is likely much higher since many counties adjacent to urban areas sometimes do not have their own air monitors.

 

Air pollution can be sporadically swept up by the wind and transported to the unsuspecting counties located near our sprawling cities. When this happens, these neighboring counties are exposed to the same harmful air that causes red alert days in metropolitan areas, but without the same level of access to the tools and information that warn urban residents to avoid breathing the air outside. This puts large populations of people at unnecessary risk.

 

The report showed that metropolitan areas themselves suffered fewer severe smog pollution days when measured against last years report, but just as many of the most polluted cities suffered more of these days. 13 of the 25 most smog polluted cities had fewer high ozone days on average in 2011-2013 (the date range for this year’s report) when compared with 2010-2012 (the range for last year’s report). On the other hand, 12 cities fared worse, suffering more high ozone days on average while only one remained the same.

 

This mixed bag, however, shouldn’t inspire a malaise, but a rush to action to guard against what will happen if things stay the same. Remember, climate disruption is quickly making the places most prone to smog pollution, like Southern California, dryer and warmer. Mix these conditions with the emissions that come from burning fossil fuels (like coal plants and tailpipes) and you’ve created a frighteningly perfect context for record-breaking smog pollution in massive cities like Los Angeles, Houston, and Las Vegas. As climate disruption accelerates, air pollution in places like these will become more frequent and pronounced, and time is running out to actually do something about it before things get even more out of hand.

 

Luckily, the EPA is preparing to finalize stronger smog pollution protections in October, which has galvanized medical scientists and doctors from major public health organizations - including the American Lung Association, the American Thoracic Society, the American Heart Association, the American Public Health Association and the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America - to redouble their efforts in calling for protections to be set at 60 parts per billion (ppb), the most protective standard possible.

 

We applaud their efforts and are keeping our own drum beat going by relaunching our text alert product that will warn mobile phone users if dangerous air pollution is anywhere in a 50 mile radius, as well as participating in events for World Asthma Day and Asthma and Allergy Awareness Month to draw attention to prevention strategies. Exposure prevention, however, can only go so far. We agree with medical scientists that there must be a concrete mechanism that can stop the creation of dangerous levels of smog in the first place, and the EPA’s power to implement strong smog protections created under the Clean Air Act would be perfect for that.

A decision from the Administration to set EPA smog protections at 60 ppb would empower states to set strong limits on air pollution and better inform the public on what doctors and medical experts believe to be harmful levels of exposure. Its the Administration that has a real chance to make ALA’s future reports a cause for celebration, instead of depressing blog posts. Join me, and send EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy and the White House a personalized message at sc.org/smog, to heed the warning of this year’s State of the Air report and set smog protections at 60 ppb this coming fall.

Brian Willis From Compass

#SaveTheReef Campaign

Tue, 05/05/2015 - 11:22

 

It’s not Chicago, or Hong Kong, or even Tokyo; surprisingly, the largest structure made by any living organism, humans included, is the Great Barrier Reef. Almost every part of the reef is alive -- from the rainbow array of coral, to the sharks cruising lazily through the current, to the clown fish trying to get their son Nemo back home. Over 11,000 species have come to call this intricate underwater masterpiece and the islands surrounding it home. And that’s just species. We couldn’t even begin to count the individual amount of living organisms that live within the boundaries of the Great Barrier Reef, but it would be somewhere in the millions. It’s one of the most well recognized, treasured, and beautiful places on earth. Spanning over 1,600 miles, it’s even visible from space.

And right now it’s under attack.

A coal conglomerate, Adani, has proposed to develop the Carmichael Coal Mine in Queensland, Australia. In addition to the climate impacts, the railway and port infrastructure would be devastating to the Great Barrier Reef, ripping up 3 million tonnes of seabed.

If the Carmichael Coal Mine is to be built, we would lose some of the most exoctic, diverse, and truly incredible ecosystems and organisms on the entire planet, and with it the $6 billion tourism industry that many Queenslanders depend on. No one wants to go scuba diving to see where the Reef used to flourish. The tradeoff is horribly skewed.

Worse still, Adani has asked for the U.S. Export-Import Bank (Ex-Im) to help with the project, meaning that if it were approved, the destruction of the Great Barrier Reef could be financed by U.S. taxpayer dollars.  And while Ex-Im considers supporting Carmichael, private banks like Citigroup, HSBC, Goldman Sachs and others have publicly stated they will not back the project, recognizing that this plan is not only destructive to the environment, but doesn’t even make any financial sense.

But we are not sitting idly by and waiting for a decision from Ex-Im. Community members, celebrities, and environmental activists are voicing their opposition to the Carmichael Coal Mine through the #SaveTheReef Campaign. Celebrities, like Jason Mraz and Jack Johnson have joined with the Sierra Club and other organizations in advocacy for the protection of our oceans. Coalitions from around the world have written letters stating the environmental and economic repercussions of such a project.

 

Together, we refuse to be ignored. Through the #SaveTheReef Campaign, we hope to not only bring attention to the beauty of this place, but also the dire consequences that could lead to its destruction. Our goal is to gather 40,000 petitions -- 40,000 voices clamoring as one to save unique and wholly irreplaceable natural wonder that is the Great Barrier Reef.  

Kate McCormick From Compass

Florida International University Students Promote Renewable Energy, and Explore what Earth Day is About

Fri, 05/01/2015 - 10:10

 

On Earth Day 2015, G.L.A.D.E.S., an environmental club at Florida International University, held a photo petition, collecting visions for a better future. We asked people to write their vision on a post-it and took pictures. We emphasized visions for a transition to renewable energy, but allowed people to write anything they wanted.

 

G.L.A.D.E.S. is one of the student organizations forming the Coalition for Renewable Energy at FIU. Our mission is to increase the renewable energy use at FIU’s campuses, as part of Sierra Student Coalition’s Seize the Grid campaign.

 

Many people that we talked to as we collected photo petitions on Earth Day supported renewable energy, and some gave ideas on how to create a renewable energy transition. Several people were optimistic about solar power, one person suggested turning waste to energy, particularly in developing countries, and another person suggested harvesting energy from biomass (particularly collecting methane from manure). We also met someone collecting petition signatures for the Solar Choice ballot initiative for Florida.

 

One individual, a mechanical engineering student, said he supported clean energy, but that there was more money in a career in the fossil fuel industry. Many engineering students feel that when they graduate, they have a choice between what will make them the most money and what is better for society. Renewable energy is rapidly becoming the more profitable industry, but during the career of a current graduate, it may be true that the fossil fuel industry holds some more immediately profitable careers. One of my visions is inviting mechanical engineering students at FIU to join our campaign so together we can bring more renewable energy to FIU. I was grateful to meet others who emphasized renewable energy research and support of green jobs.

 

Two other individuals I met while collecting photo petitions demonstrated that Earth Day is about all social issues. One woman was taking care of three kids and wrote a vision for ending police brutality. One of the kids wrote he wanted to “Save animals!!!!” Another woman used her post-it to write out an extensive list. It turned out that she was allergic to dust; so she suggested people vacuum more and install humidifiers to capture dust in the air.

 

Different people go through various struggles every day. Some are social issues that deal with basic human rights and inequalities; like racial discrimination and police brutality. Environmental issues are also social issues. It’s not worth choosing what is most important; everything needs its own time and resources.

 

When it comes to environmental issues, acting on climate change is a very crucial struggle today, because climate change impacts human rights and all life on Earth.

 

How do we act on climate change?

 

Among the most important solutions is reducing our greenhouse gas emissions through a transition to renewable energy. We are morally required as a society to harness renewable energy sources due to many other factors, including pollution affecting health in communities where fossil fuels are produced and extracted, and dwindling sources of finite fossil fuels.

 

While we learn the lay of the land of renewable energy access in Florida, our student coalition’s renewable energy campaign goal for FIU stands at 15% renewable energy by 2020 and 50% renewable energy by 2030. But as we learn more, and have an impact on state-wide access to renewable energy, we know we can improve our goal.


The photo petition activity got people thinking and talking about renewable energy. It certainly led me to have new perspectives. You can see our photos on twitter at @RenewableFIU. Support energy conservation, energy efficiency, and renewable energy as solutions to slow climate change, one of the biggest environmental and social issues of our time.

 

Bianca Polini From Compass

TONIGHT: Conference Call on How to Be An Ally for Racial Justice

Thu, 04/30/2015 - 13:23

Tonight, April 30 at 5pm PT / 8pm ET, our friends at Showing Up for Racial Justice are holding a national conference call to learn more about the uprising in Baltimore over the death of Freddie Gray and continued police brutality, and specifically how white people can be allies in the fight for racial justice. You can RSVP for the call here.

The Sierra Club supports the #BlackLivesMatter movement because we believe that the issues of a healthy planet and equal protection under the law are not separate. Indeed, we believe that working toward a just, equitable, and transparent society is not only morally necessary but also exactly what we need to confront the unprecedented environmental challenges we face.

Injustices in our political system  -- often manifested in unfair policing tactics -- and in our culture empower the status quo -- including big corporate polluters --  leading to the destruction of our most cherished places and most cherished values. Those same injustices often breed hatred, sow division among us, and threaten our health and safety. The Sierra Club's mission is to "enlist humanity" to explore, enjoy, and protect the planet. That mission, which applies to everyone, cannot be achieved when people's rights are being violated and their safety and dignity are being threatened on a routine basis. This must stop.

We strongly encourage you to join tonight's conference call with SURJ to learn more about actions for racial justice in  Baltimore and in your own community.

Photo of the April 29 Baltimore high school and college student protest march, courtesy of Kim Le.

From Compass

NYC Goes TPP-Free

Thu, 04/30/2015 - 13:22

 

On April 28, New York City joined a growing chorus of American cities voicing opposition to the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) by passing a City Council resolution declaring the city a “TPP-Free Zone,” and urging Congress to oppose recently introduced fast-track” legislation that would allow the deal to be rammed through Congress without amendments or adequate floor debate.

 

The resolution comes just days after New York Mayor Bill de Blasio called the TPP a “raw deal” in an interview with the New York Daily News. He went on to say that, as a result of the TPP, “we would lose jobs for American workers, [and] that corporations would gain power at the expense of local governments,” while the “stronger labor and environmental standards would be very hard to enforce.”

 

New York City is just the latest in a long list of American cities that have expressed their opposition to fast-tracking the TPP. The previous week, on April 21, the Pittsburgh City Council passed a similar resolution, opposing fast track and urging the President and Congress to conduct “a fully transparent and inclusive legislative process for consideration of the TPP.” Anti-TPP or anti-fast-track resolutions have also been passed in San Francisco, Calif.; Los Angeles, Calif.; Seattle, Wash.; St. Paul, Minn.; Madison, Wisc.; Berkeley, Calif.; Tompkins County, New York; Fort Bragg, Calif.; Mahoning County, Ohio; Bellingham, Wash., Richmond, Calif.; Hollywood, Calif.; Oak Park Township, Illinois; Dane County, Wisc.; Guadalupe, Ariz.; and Columbus, Ohio.

 

The Trans-Pacific Partnership could have disastrous effects on the environment, including increased fracking, increased dependence on dirty fossil fuels, and the empowerment of corporations to challenge climate and clean energy policies in private trade courts. In addition, it has been negotiated in secret – as Senators Elizabeth Warren and Sherrod Brown noted in a recent letter to President Obama. Fast-track legislation recently introduced in the U.S. House and Senate would limit Congressional oversight over trade deals, letting the executive branch send already-signed deals to Congress for limited floor debate, no amendments, and a simple up-or-down vote. Just this week, more than 2,000 organizations in the United States sent a letter to Congress expressing strong opposition to the new bill.

 

Rather than secrecy and corporate giveaways, a new, 21st-century model of trade requires full transparency and accountability to ensure that trade deals protect the environment and deliver benefits for the majority of Americans, not just multinational corporations.

Park MacDougald From Compass

The 10 Greatest Things in “The Great Transition”

Thu, 04/30/2015 - 12:00

Everyone knows fossil fuels are bad. They cause dangerous carbon pollution, adding to climate change, and poison our air and water making us sick. But there’s good news: The Great Transition is happening.  The new book by Lester Brown makes it clear that clean energy is on its way in and dirty coal and gas are on the way out.The United States (and the world!) is switching to renewable energy faster than ever. Check out these great examples to see how we are well on our way to a cleaner, greener, safer future.

  1. We’re moving beyond coal. The Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal Campaign has worked to retire 188 coal plants. And we’re not stopping there. By 2030, we’re hoping to transition half of the coal-fired fleet to clean energy.
  2. Beyond our borders the coal boom is going bust -- for every one new coal plant built world wide, two have been shelved or canceled since 2010.
  3. We’ve even moved entire cities and states beyond coal to clean energy. Los Angeles will be completely coal free by 2025 and the entire state of Oregon will be coal free by 2020.
  4. College campuses and universities are joining the fight. The Sierra Student Coalition is working to both retire on campus coal plants and divest entire campuses from fossil fuels. Even campuses in the heart of coal country are moving beyond coal, the University of Louisville in Kentucky, the University of Tennessee and Western Kentucky University have all pledged to end coal use on campus.
  5. But we’re going farther than shutting down coal plants. We’re replacing dirty energy with clean renewable energy. In early 2014, global wind generating capacity totalled 318,000 megawatts, enough to power more than 80 million U.S. homes. That’s wind generation stat: by early 2014, global wind generating capacity totalled 318,000 megawatts, enough to power more than 80 million U.S. homes. To put that in perspective, the United States has just under 120 million households.

  6. Texas, a state that used to lead the U.S in oil production now leads the nation in wind development, with 12,400 megawatts of capacity at the start of 2014.

  7. Wind isn’t the only renewable energy source that’s soaring. Between 2008 and 2013, solar panel installation worldwide skyrocketed from 16,000 to 139,000 megawatts -- enough to power every home in Germany, a country with 83 million people.
  8. Stateside, solar use is growing too. By late 2014 there were nearly 600,000 individual solar photovoltaic systems in the United States, almost twice as many as in 2012. And this number is expected to grow, by 2016 we may see the number of individual solar systems pass 1 million.

  9. Corporations and billionaires are even switching to renewables. Even Google, a search engine so powerful it’s now a verb is going renewable. Recently they built an 82-megawatt solar PV array in southern California. But what’s even better than the sheer size of it, is that it’s being built on  an abandoned oil and gas field. The old fossil fuel haven has transitioned to a beacon of clean energy.
  10. There’s good reason were transitioning from fossil fuels to clean energy, it’s what the public wants to do. A 2013 gallup poll shows that coal is America's least favored energy source. And a 2015 Navigant Research national poll showed that 79% of Americans want more emphasis on producing solar energy and 70% want more emphasis on producing wind energy.

Not too long from now coal plant smokestacks that dirty the air and harm our climate will be replaced buy solar panels on our rooftops and wind turbines on our hillsides. This transition is well underway but we still need your help. Visit addup.org to join the fight. Sign petitions and get involved with campaigns to move the United States to a clean energy future.

Lauren Lantry From Compass

New Congressional Scouting Report Reveals Who's Hitting Homeruns, Striking Out for Clean Energy, Clean Air

Thu, 04/30/2015 - 09:47

Spring time means baseball season for so many - a nice evening out at the ballpark with a hot dog, peanuts, and a cold beverage. We all love a homerun, except when it's against our team, of course. So we here at the Sierra Club decided to mix baseball and politics [link to release] to make it clear just who's playing on the polluters' team and who's on the side of clean air and clean water protections.
 
In "Scouting the 114th Congress: Polluters Are Out Of Their League,"  we scout the best in Congress. We've even made individual baseball cards [PDF] for the Senators featured in the report, to make it clear which team they’re playing for. The season in Washington is young, but we've already seen way too many attacks on our clean air and clean water, as big polluter-backed politicians are throwing beanballs at critically important public health safeguards meant to protect our families and our communities.
 
After all, poll after poll show that Americans from both red and blue states didn't vote for dirty air, dirty water, or dirty energy last November. Unfortunately, since then Members of Congress have cast lots of votes that could threaten our air, water, and climate - so we're breaking down the box scores with this new report.
 
From the report:

Half the fun of baseball is getting to spend time outdoors (you can guess that we're not big fans of domed stadiums), but what’s the point when the air is too dangerous to breathe or the water in the dugout is contaminated? Fossil fuel companies and their political allies aren't good sports, and they’re pushing an agenda that lets them pollute with impunity. If they had their way, asthma inhalers might end up being part of the uniform for Little Leaguers across the country.
 
Here's what a win for American families would be: communities that are safe, healthy places where we can live and raise our children, with clean air and clean water, and free from the dangers of toxic pollution -- but the pro-polluter agenda of the new Republican-led Congress is blocking the plate.

Senators were divided into teams: The Fossil Fools, sponsored big by big polluters and going to bat for dirty fuels, dirty air, and dirty water every game; the Clean Air Aces, who are lining up with the American public to score the clean energy, clean air, and climate action that our families and communities deserve; and finally, those players that are on the radar, who we’re watching because they aren't firmly in either team's dugout just yet.
 
Check out our special scouting report for the 114th Congress, see how your Senator's playing and who has been sponsoring their work in the big leagues, and find out what YOU can do to help win the game for healthy families and a healthy planet.
 
Play ball!

Mary Anne Hitt From Compass

Raised Richmond: Kiana Ward's Story of Growing Up Near Chevron Refinery in Richmond, CA

Mon, 04/27/2015 - 14:20

 

Richmond, California is a small city about 30 minutes outside of San Francisco, with a Chevron Oil Refinery within its borders.  Not many people had heard of it before 2012, but on a fateful day in August, a large fire exploded through the Chevron facility, which resulted in the almost complete destruction of two of the refinery’s towers, and the city became the focus of national news.  The community was rocked to its core, and over the course of the next few weeks, over 15,000 people sought medical treatment at area hospitals as a direct consequence of the blast and the toxic smoke billowing from the factory.  But the national attention did not end there.  More positively, in 2014, the impossible happened; members of the community defeated Chevron-backed candidates in the local election, winning despite Chevron’s $3 million election campaign and beginning the work to take back their community. It’s an inspiring story, and one that can serve as a beacon of hope to communities across the country fighting dirty fuels and dirty industry money in politics. We had the chance to get the story of one citizen of Richmond, Kiana Ward, to get some insight into what it was like living in this city for the past 3 years.

 

Kiana Ward grew up in Richmond, just a few short miles from the Chevron Oil Refinery.  Throughout her childhood and into her adulthood, she remembers hearing the blast of alarms coming from the facility every two months or so.  It was mostly for testing the alarm system, and making the residents feel as though they would be notified quickly and efficiently if something went wrong.  “It’s always a little disconcerting though,” she recalls. “As a resident, I always felt like I was living in a city where testing is necessary, which can be kind of scary to think about.”

 

The testing was just a part of everyday life for Kiana though.  “Growing up in Richmond, Chevron was sort of always on my radar to some degree, but they didn’t really feel like an evil corporation.  I didn’t really recognize Chevron as something I should be worried about until I went to college,” she states.  Kiana began at Brown University in Rhode Island, traveling 3,000 miles across the country to start her freshman year in 2009, and graduate in 2013.  Growing up, she spent a lot of time outdoors, rock climbing and hiking on the picturesque California terrain.  So it seemed logical that while at the Ivy League Institution, she majored in Environmental Studies with a focus on environmental law and policy.  She even got a scholarship from Chevron to help with her tuition fees.  

 

While taking a class on environmental justice and injustice however, things began to change.  “They used Richmond as a perfect example of environmental injustice.  Here I am, 3,000 miles away, and they’re talking about my home town.  I don’t know how it hadn’t occurred to me before,” she admits.  

 

Her interest in the refinery near her house continued long after the course ended.  She even based her senior year thesis off of the environmental injustices happening right outside her door.  During the process, she had the opportunity to interview a third-party contractor that worked with Chevron, and was even there during the day of the 2012 fire.  His job was to double check the amount of oil being put onto cargo ships.  He told her that on the day of the fire, he was taken to a bunker where he had to stay for about 12 hours.  They told him while he was in there that the shelter could withstand an atomic bomb.  She remembers talking to him and thinking at the time, she was at her house and “this guy was put in a bomb shelter.  At that moment, I was like wow, I’m living next to something that’s close to an atomic bomb,” she says.

 

Other people in her city began to get that impression too after the fire, which served as a “tipping point,” Kiana thinks.  “Residents were finally starting to realize that Chevron wasn’t the best thing for the community.”  So when council elections rolled around a couple years later in 2014, Richmond responded.  “With the most recent election, there were Chevron billboards and flyers everywhere, and city residents just kind of got fed up,” she recalls.  “It was just too much.  We were angry and we felt unsafe.”  So Kiana and hundreds of others in her community rallied together to try to change that.  Kiana joined a very strong progressive force of citizens.  Together they went out every day, knocking on doors, and trying to raise awareness for the Richmond Progressive Alliance that was working to support local candidates against those funded by Chevron.  “The idea that Chevron could win a city council election through money is scary, and we wanted to prove that they couldn’t buy the election.”  

 

And they were successful.  Not one single Chevron candidate was elected to City Council in 2014.  “Maybe it’s because when you have something you’re fighting against, kind of like a bad guy, it brings people together around the common cause,” Kiana explains when asked about the successes of her town.  “Our slogan is ‘The City of Pride and Purpose’.  Growing up, I thought that was kind of silly, but seeing what we have done as a community, now I think that people really do have Richmond pride.  Maybe it’s because of Chevron that Richmond is able to be so progressive.  Richmond doesn't have to be a refinery town, it can be something much more than that.”

 

Moving forward, that’s the dream Kiana has for her city -- that it’s not defined purely as a refinery town, because it has so much more potential.  “Richmond is definitely going in the right direction, and I’d like to see it stay on the same path it’s on right now, or maybe even ramp it up.  We’ve shown that we don’t have to accept Chevron’s money or be beholden to them,” Kiana says.  She’s realistic in her hopes for the future though -- “the Refinery is unfortunately still an integral part of the city, but I think we can move on and not involve them as much in city matters and our daily lives.  I don’t see us getting rid of Chevron entirely, at least not yet, but I want to turn it into something that we don’t have to be afraid of anymore, something that can finally and truly be positive for our community.”

 

Kate McCormick From Compass

First U.S. Offshore Wind Project Breaks Ground

Mon, 04/27/2015 - 13:09

Today, the US took another big step in the transition beyond coal to a clean energy, as the nation's first offshore wind project broke ground.

Block Island calls itself the "Last Great Place," but this small island 12 miles off the coast of Rhode Island is first in the hearts of environmentalists and clean energy advocates across the nation today. Big things are happening just off the shore of that little island. That's where Deepwater Wind has started construction on America's first-ever offshore wind project. (The photo at the top of this post is of Deepwater Wind workers assembling parts for the offshore wind farm.)

This project will provide 30 megawatts (MW) of power-- enough to provide clean energy to every Block Island resident -- while cutting electric bills by 40 percent. Thanks to this new wind farm, the current polluting diesel generators that power the island, which burn 1,000,000 gallons of diesel annually, will be coming offline, the equivalent of removing 150,000 cars worth of carbon emissions from the roads. Switching from dirty fuels to clean energy means cleaner air and water for Rhode Island families. Even better, excess power will flow back onto the grid in the Northeast via an undersea cable that Deepwater is installing.

In 2013, Sierra Club stood side by side with labor and environmental groups including LiUNA, Audubon, and the National Wildlife Federation to turn folks out to a number of hearings in support of the project. Today, we can congratulate our allies and Deepwater Wind on making that hard work a real clean energy success story.

 

(L to R: Sierra Club Massachusetts volunteer David Zeek, Sierra Club Beyond Coal representative Drew Grande, Senator Sheldon Whitehouse [D-RI], former Sierra Club Rhode Island director Abel Collins, and Sierra Club Massachusetts director Emily Norton at today's Deepwater Wind announcement celebration in Rhode Island.)

The Block Island Wind Farm project is just the beginning of a burgeoning offshore wind industry in the United States. The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management has designated a wind management area off the coast of Rhode Island and Massachusetts that has the potential to generate as much as 9,000 MW of clean wind power. If we are able to harness that wind it means power for 700,000 homes and 43,000 offshore wind-related jobs on the east coast by 2030.

That means that 700,000 families could get their electricity from homegrown New England power. And New England isn't alone; up and down the Atlantic coast, from New Jersey and New York to Delaware and Virginia, the clean energy industry is making plans to develop offshore wind power. Investing in clean, safe, renewable offshore wind will power our region and allow us to reap the economic benefits for years to come while providing good paying jobs that stay right here in our communities.

(A Diving Speciality Services employee hard at work on the Deepwater Wind offshore wind farm's structures.)

Today's groundbreaking in Rhode Island is the next in a long line of clean energy successes that underscore a real truth about America's energy future -- renewable energy ready to go and here to stay. The change in America’s energy outlook over the last five years has been dramatic -- coal power is on the decline, now less than 40 percent of our energy mix, and continuing to fall. Over the last five years, 188 coal fired power plants have retired or announced that they will retire. At the same time, clean energy sources like wind and solar are have been on the rise, and are now cheaper than fossil fuels in many places. Wind energy now powers 18 million American homes while solar power keeps the lights on in 3.5 million more.

Moving beyond coal means more than just phasing out coal fired power, it means investing in America's true clean energy promise. Today, on Block Island, we again prove that America can be a leader in creating a clean energy reality that ensures every person has the right to breathe clean air, enjoy clean water and live in a world free from the threat of climate disruption.

Mary Anne Hitt From Compass

Bringing Together a Movement to #KeepItInTheGround

Mon, 04/27/2015 - 09:03

Last week, I had the honor of joining an incredible group of indigenous and frontline leaders and activists from across the Americas for the "Climate Equity Summit: Keeping Fossil Fuels in the Ground." The event, organized by Amazon Watch and the Sierra Club, was envisioned as a space to connect the heroic efforts of people fighting coal, oil and gas developments from the Arctic to the Amazon, and create an opportunity for each of these powerful movements to come together into one broader movement to Keep It in the Ground. 

The summit, hosted at the Sierra Club's San Francisco office,  brought together leaders of the Kichwa people of Sarayaku, Ecuador, the Zapara people of Peru and Ecuador, members of the Inupiaq and Pit River/Wintu and Neets’aii Gwich’in Athabascan tribes of Alaska, the Ponca Nation of Oklahoma, the Navaho (Dine) Nation, the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation of Northern Alberta, Canada, the Dakota of Minnesota and Mdewakanton Dakota nations, along with activist leaders from the U.S., Mexico, Ecuador, and Canada. 

Over the span of two days, we sparked lasting connections and bonded over our shared goals of protecting communities and staving off climate catastrophe by keeping fossil fuels in the ground. We coalesced around the growing consensus that we must leave at least two thirds of proven fossil fuel reserves un-burned if we hope to avoid throwing our planet into a state of unrecognizable peril. 

We also agreed that our fledgling movement must articulate and elevate what we're for, not just what we're against. We discussed that while we’re against new fossil fuel projects that will drive development and unlock the carbon reserves that will push our planet far past the two degrees C* of warming scientists say our planet can handle, we're for the distributed, democratized clean energy that is rapidly taking hold around the world. While we're against government-backed perpetuation of the fossil fuel economy through subsidies and leasing of our public lands, we're for a just transition to a future that protects communities from toxic pollution and fosters an equitable, inclusive and sustainable world for us all.

Those are just a few of the commitments the group hopes to formally announce in a declaration unveiled on World Environment Day, June 5th, a draft of which was adopted unanimously on the last day of the summit.  Many of the groups' participants will be attending the United Nations' climate talks in Paris and may even present the declaration there, as an affirmation of the rights of indigenous peoples and the need to keep fossil fuels in the ground.

Throughout the course of the two day agenda, we heard from activists fighting fracking across the US, from those fighting tar sands developments in Canada and the pipelines that would carry them through the US, from others working to protect the Amazon rainforest from the destruction caused by oil drilling and deforestation, and to block efforts to drill for oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and in the Arctic and Atlantic oceans.

We heard from artists using their craft to engage community members and demonstrate the value of protecting land from fossil fuel developments, and from women working to empower other women to speak up about the urgency of action on climate change. We heard from indigenous leaders fighting to convince their own tribal governments that energy sources other than coal are a viable option and from community members that had formed their own organizations to fight coal export terminals in the Pacific Northwest. The work we learned about was varied and broad, but a single theme connected it all -- we are disparate actors of a single movement to keep it in the ground.

As we neared the end of the summit, we discussed next steps and assessed interest in continued collaboration -- and the desire to keep this moving and take it to the next step was overwhelming. I've never been part of a conference or coalition meeting that elicited more enthusiasm. Clearly, we've touched on something big here -- our movement may be small yet, but it will grow. We hope you'll join us to #KeepItInTheGround.

The event was made possible through the generous support of the Hillary Institute. Particular thanks are due to Mark Prain, Executive Director of the Hillary Institute, who joined us all the way from New Zealand to be part of the inception of our movement. Thank you, Mark and the Hillary Institute for your generous support and visionary leadership!

Lena Moffitt From Compass

Why Small Businesses Are Installing Electric Vehicle Charging Stations

Mon, 04/27/2015 - 08:25

Increasingly, small businesses are installing electric vehicle charging stations as a way to attract new and loyal customers.

The Carlisle House Bed & Breakfast in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, added an electric vehicle (EV) charging station for its guests to use during their stay. Owner Alan Duxbury said he's conscious of his environmental footprint and wants to do what he can to reduce it. He hears from customers that the charging station makes the B&B more competitive with big chain hotels nearby that aren't providing this special perk.

Redhook Brewery in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, recently installed an EV charging station thanks to a $3,000 rebate from PSNH, the largest utility in the granite state. Leaders in Door County, Wisconsin, installed two electric vehicle charging stations in their visitor center lot and have recruited three businesses -the Bay Breeze Resort, the High Point Inn, and the Village of Egg Harbor- to add charging stations to theirs too. "There are times when we, as tourism catalysts, are called upon to be leaders and visionaries and develop new and exciting opportunities in tourism development," said Jack Moneypenney, the president and CEO of the Door County Visitor Bureau.

Big companies, such as Walgreen's, Walmart, Kohl's, and Simon Malls, have begun installing EV charging stations and see the business case. Rocky Mountain Institute compiled a guide for the costs of EV charger installation for individuals and businesses and found that the total cost per charger for a dual curb-side station is between $5,000 and $6,000. Is it financially worth it for small businesses?

The Center for Climate and Energy Solutions recently did an analysis of EV charging infrastructure financing and identified promising ways to get the private sector to fund more of that infrastructure. Said study author Nick Nigro, "Just selling electricity as a transportation service won't bring in enough revenue to pay for owning and operating the charging equipment." He argues that this is why charging business models must capture some of the indirect revenue that flows to other businesses, like automakers, retailers, and electric utilities.

Nigo said that business owners need to take into account how much additional business these charging stations can bring in by attracting new and loyal customers eager to patronize businesses that are supporting the transition to electric mobility. According the EV charging infrastructure company ChargePoint, the installation of an EV charging stations increases customer "dwell-time" significantly -by an average of 50 minutes per customer according to one business customer.  This means more time for customers to spend money.

At Nauna's Bella Casa restaurant in Montclair, NJ, owner Tom Moloughney has two ChargePoint stations for his diners and one ClipperCreek charging station out back for his own EV to charge. Moloughney said he initially installed the stations as a public service to help foster the adoption of electric vehicles, but soon realized there are benefits for his bottom line too.

"Many of the people that come to plug in and eat tell me they only came to Nauna's because of the chargers in the parking lot, and that they didn't know of the restaurant before finding it on their EV charging app," said Moloughney who has been driving electric since 2009. "I'm averaging about five or six electric vehicles per week now, and the number is definitely on the rise."

Drivers can find EV charging stations and potentially new places to visit and do business by using apps such as PlugShare.

If you're a business owner thinking about installing EV charging stations, reporter Brad Berman has helpfully devised a step-by-step tutorial. If you're a business owner with experience in this arena, share your story. Maybe you'll acquire some new customers or find some new places to shop and fuel up.

Kathleen McBride and Christina Rohrbacher, Sierra Club interns, contributed to this article. Photo courtesy of Tom Moloughney.

Gina Coplon-Newfield From Compass

BP Oil Spill Disaster: 5 Years Later

Thu, 04/23/2015 - 14:00

 

On the night of April 20, 2010 at 9:30 p.m., BP executives that had flown in on a helicopter were celebrating the successes of the oil-drilling rig called Deepwater Horizon, standing on the rig’s main deck with some of the more senior-ranking workers. Ironically, they were also toasting to that fact that it had been over seven years since the last injury on the Horizon. Those that were not granted the few premium invites to the party were going about their normal routine: showering, sleeping, getting ready for bed, relaxing from a hard days’ work. In the next 30 minutes, the unthinkable happened -- by 10 p.m., the entire rig was engulfed in flames, and by April 22, it had completely disappeared under the sea.

This week marks the five-year anniversary of that horrific event. Eleven people lost their lives, and a handful more were severely injured. Over the course of the next few days, the oil that the rig was carrying was released into the surrounding ocean, and crude oil continued to leak from the underwater well. It’s estimated that more than 210,000 gallons of oil seeped into the environment every 24 hours, and just eight days later, the resulting oil slick covered 5,000 square miles. Over the course of the next few months, oil continued to leak from the pipes, and overall, the government estimated that around 5 million barrels of crude oil were spilled.

 

The results of the oil spill were devastating to the surrounding area. Birds were covered in the slick liquid, and as a result were unable to retain their buoyancy and regulate their body temperature. Other animals in the area, such as dolphins, fish, and sea turtles, were likely to ingest the oil, causing internal bleeding and painful ulcers. Reefs in the area were completely destroyed, causing the ecosystem that depended on them to completely collapse. It’s estimated that more than 400 species of mammals, fish, and coral were affected by the spill.

Billions of dollars were invested in the cleanup, which involved several attempts to plug the hole releasing the gas, in addition to trying to get rid of the oil that had already escaped and was damaging the surrounding area. And five years later, we’re still dealing with the consequences, and we’re not even done uncovering the full extent of the damage. Realistically, it will take generations for the effects of the spill to be completely eradicated. Balls of tar still surface on the beach, driving down tourism and resulting in decreasing economy for many of the states along the Gulf. The land itself is even beginning to disappear – oil has continued to cover the roots of mangrove trees in the area, which keep many of the islands that dot the coastlines together, killing the trees and causing the land to disintegrate into the ocean.

In 2015, ecosystems and the wildlife that depend on them continue to suffer as a result of the Deepwater Horizon disaster. Many communities and people that depended on these animals and ecosystems, such as the oyster farmers and fishermen, are still reeling as a result. Dead dolphins continue to wash up on the beach, showing signs of poisoning; fish in the region are found belly-up, with oil coating their gills; mollusks and oysters die off as the reefs they live on disappear. It’s a chain reaction that unfortunately shows no sign of stopping.

 

When remembering the horrific event that happened five years ago this week, it’s important to also note that what happened in 2010 is not completely in the past. We’re still dealing with the devastating effects, and the wildlife in the area continues to suffer. And believe it or not, there are new drilling plans in the works, like those being pushed by Shell Oil right now in the Arctic. These plans come with a high risk of an oil disaster -- a 75-percent chance in the Arctic -- not to mention the 100-percent chance of worsening our climate crisis.

The risks are well documented. We've seen time and again that drilling equals spilling, and spills leave lasting effects on communities along our coasts. It’s time to stop dangerous drilling and invest more in clean energy alternatives like wind and solar.


Kate McCormick From Compass

Take Your Kids to Work...And Speak Up for Their Health

Thu, 04/23/2015 - 10:04

Thousands of parents across the U.S. today are taking part in the annual "Take Your Child to Work Day." It's a great chance to show our sons and daughters just what we're up to every day while they're at school (or while they're home, if you work evenings), and maybe even to inspire them to start thinking about careers of their own.
 
I normally work from a small office, so keeping my four-year-old daughter Hazel with me all day as I work on my laptop might bore her to tears -- but she's come with me to other events many times in her short life. She's helped me testify at public hearings, stood with me at rallies, and even joined a conference or two.
 
I do so much of my work with the Beyond Coal campaign for my daughter's future -- and for the future of all kids. I imagine many of my colleagues who are parents feel the same. We work together to phase out coal plants so families can enjoy cleaner air and water. We demand clean energy investments to help fight climate change so our kids and grandkids will have a safer, healthy planet when they grow up.
 
Our kids deserve every opportunity for a safe and prosperous future. Keeping our children happy and healthy is the top concern for every parent, and for our communities as a whole.
 
But, when your kids have asthma, it becomes harder and harder to do just that. All your concerns are multiplied by the time, effort, and anxiety you face when trying to balance their care with the demands of making ends meet.
 
Take Your Child to Work Day shouldn't end in the emergency room. But, for the parents of the seven million American kids that suffer from asthma, sudden trips to the hospital are an all too common occurrence. 
 
One of the major triggers of asthma attacks is smog pollution - the dirty air created after fossil fuel emissions mix with heat and sunlight. The doctors and scientists at the American Lung Association say young children breathing in smog pollution is like getting sunburn on their lungs. It wreaks havoc on their respiratory systems and can cause permanent lung damage, and in some cases, premature death. 
 
Children are at the greatest health risk from smog pollution because they are more likely to be active outdoors and their lungs are still developing. Asthma strikes nearly one out of every 10 school children in the United States and is the number one health issue that causes kids to miss school. On "bad-air days" or "air alert days," particularly during the warmer months, kids with asthma are forced to stay indoors to avoid aggravating their condition.
 
Smog pollution is even worse in communities of color, since African and Latino American kids are more likely to live in counties with serious smog problems. In fact, African American kids have nearly two times the rates of current asthma as white children, and are four times as likely to die from it.
 
We can help change this reality for kids and parents by speaking up for stronger smog standards. Our voices are needed to counter the misinformation from big polluters who consistently choose their bottom line over public health. EPA is due to update our smog protections in October, and we need to push for a standard strong enough to protect the health of all children.
 
This Take Your Child to Work Day, tell the Environmental Protection Agency to side with working parents and their children, not polluters, by strengthening the smog pollution standard and giving us all a better quality of life. You can do just that by going to sc.org/smog.

Mary Anne Hitt From Compass

First Seize the Grid Campaign Event at University of Montevallo! Earth Fest 2015

Tue, 04/21/2015 - 01:00

Over the weekend I realized how dire the situation is for clean energy in Alabama. And realized why it is so important that the citizens of Alabama take the initiative to change our state energy system. So on the day before Earth Day, students took action. Seize the Grid at the University of Montevallo held its very first event at the Earth Fest Celebration.

This past weekend I attended the Samford Energy Forum where people associated with Energy in Alabama came together to discuss energy. At this event, one of our state legislatures discussed how renewable energy is just not geographically feasible for Alabama, and that it would be a very long time before we stopped the use of fossil fuels.

The agenda consisted of topics like: The Status of Oil & Gas Development in Alabama, Development of Gas and Oil Resources: Recent Regulatory Innovations in the US, The Energy-Water Nexus, Alabama Legislative Energy Update, Status of CO2-Enhanced Oil Recovery in the United States, Geological Assessment of Alabama’s Oil Sands Resources, The Future of Unconventional Oil and Gas in Alabama, and Hydraulic Fracturing Current Best Practices.

And I realized state legislatures and leaders in Alabama are not keeping renewable energy in the picture.  Although the Energy Forum was disappointing, students at UM would like to transfer this negative energy into positive energy by changing where our energy comes from to power UM’s campus.

Our goal for Seize the Grid at UM is to get administration to commit to creating an energy plan that will allow UM to be powered by 100% renewable energy by 2030. So at Earth Fest on Tuesday April 21st, UM Seize the Grid urged students to participate in a photo petition. Students wrote their vision for the future of renewable energy at UM on a post it note and took a photo to submit to our Administration.

During our photo petition, many students shared their visions of a campus powered by solar and wind which excites me for Seize the Grid at UM  - - our campus is composed of students that are passionate for renewable energy.

UM has the responsibility to be powered by 100% renewable energy because the coal, gas and oil that Alabama and UM are relying on are polluting our air, water, and lives. We want our Administration and students to lead in the movement for renewable energy because people’s lives are impacted by climate change, pollution, and other consequences of the use of using fossil fuels for energy.

As of now, our vision for 2015 will be working with administration to start the conversation about where our energy at UM comes from, and how renewable energy can be brought into the picture.

----

This Earth Week, JOIN the Sierra Student Coalition at the University of Montavello, by taking your own selfie for clean energy!

1) Snap a photo, telling us: 

  • What is your vision for a clean energy future by 2025?
  • What actions are you taking to build that clean energy future?

2) Tag the photo with:

  • Hashtags: #SeizeTheGrid and #CleanEnergyU
  • Handles: @SierraStudent and @seizethegridum

3) Post to Instagram, Facebook or Twitter!

Happy #EarthDay2015!

 

Morgan Pennington From Compass

New Report Once Again Shows Danger of MDB Financing for Large Fossil Fuel Projects

Mon, 04/20/2015 - 13:37

Following decades of detrimental overseas coal project financing by Multilateral Development Banks (MDB), there has been meaningful progress made to secure new policies at MDBs to limit this type of financing -- specifically for coal projects, which are prone to devastating environmental and human rights violations. This includes clear restrictions at some of the world’s largest financiers, including the World Bank, European Investment Bank (EIB), and European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD). But despite this progress, there are some entrenched interests that refuse to get with the times.

Recently yet another damning report was released on the 4,000 megawatt Tata Mundra coal-fired power station in Gujarat, India, which received $450 million in financing from both the World Bank Group's International Finance Corporation (IFC) and the Asian Development Bank (ADB).

This time around, it is the Compliance Review Panel of the ADB that is raising the alarm. In their report, the panel found that impacted communities were not adequately consulted prior to construction of the coal project, and now they are facing drastically reduced fish catch, physical barriers between their homes and fishing grounds, dangerous coal dust and fly ash pollution, and unacceptable air pollution. The report says the damage will continue unless the project is brought into compliance with ADB policies.

For local fishing communities, the devastation wrought by Tata Mundra is almost unimaginable.

Tata switched to an open cycle cooling system despite being permitted for a closed cycle system. The result was a rise in water temperature and the alleged release of pollution into the ocean. The dramatic loss in fish catch means that families are having difficulty sustaining themselves. Moreover, ash from the coal plant is contaminating the drying fish, which the communities need to sell in order to survive. And if that wasn’t enough, fences and barriers enclosing the project mean locals must now travel kilometers out of their way to reach traditional fishing grounds. A proper consultation process would have anticipated the loss of livelihoods and health impacts in advance, but several fishing communities were excluded from the assessment process entirely.

The Compliance Review Panel report follows two similar reports from the Compliance Advisor Ombudsman (CAO), the independent investigative branch of the IFC, which also upheld community complaints against Tata Mundra. But the IFC doesn’t appear to care.

In 2013, the CAO issued a report condemning the human rights and environmental violations at Tata Mundra. But rather than withdrawing from the project or seeking to address the problem, the IFC dismissed the findings in a response that World Bank President Dr. Jim Yong Kim signed off on. This led to an uproar amongst Indian civil society groups, with over 100 organizations signing a letter rebuking the IFC.

One year later, the CAO issued another report examining the progress made to address the project violations, but it found that there was in fact no progress. The utter lack of accountability at the IFC appears shocking, but unfortunately it is the standard operating procedure at the institution.

In a similar case, the IFC did nothing when the CAO criticized it for supporting Corporation Dinant, a Honduran palm oil company that has faced public allegations of violence and intimidation -- including allegedly supporting a coup to overthrow president Manuel Zelayam, links to the murder of 40 leaders from rural farming communities, and forcibly evicting families in a campaign of terror against farmers. It was only after international outcry that the IFC was forced to reverse course and take action to address its failings in Honduras.

But the Gujarati fishermen don’t need another report to tell them their rights are being violated. They have cooperated with every investigation and continued to advocate for their rights despite increasing hardships and with no end in sight. They need action now.

The ADB has an opportunity to do what the IFC failed to do -- use its influence to force the Tata Corporation to take action and start to repair the damage done to local communities. To do less calls into question the legitimacy of the institution and its accountability mechanisms. It is also time for the ADB to join the growing list of institutions and countries -- including the United States, the Nordic Countries, the  United Kingdom, the Netherlands, France, the World Bank, EIB and EBRD -- and end support for dangerous coal projects like Tata Mundra.

Nicole Ghio From Compass

#SeizeTheGrid: How young people will lead the nation to 100% clean energy

Mon, 04/20/2015 - 00:05

As a junior in college, I helped write the Sierra Student Coalition’s Campuses Beyond Coal Campaign to retire the 60 remaining on-campus coal plants on universities nationwide.

 

Students and campuses had the opportunity to lead the nation in moving beyond coal. Today the grassroots power of thousands of students has successfully secured retirement dates for 34 of the 60 on campus coal plants in the nation.

 

I tell this story because today students nationwide are embracing another incredible opportunity to #SeizetheGrid: a campaign to leverage their campus’ energy purchasing power to transform the energy market for clean energy.

 

My vision for clean energy by 2025 is that we move to a locally-owned, decentralized electricity grid entirely powered by renewable energy; one in which campuses nationwide are leading communities and the nation in making the transition to 100% clean energy.

Although incredible organizing has been done to retire on campus coal plants, many of the 4,000 colleges and universities in the United States still rely on outdated, polluting fossil fuels to power their campuses. And that’s mostly due to the fact that utility companies are still consistently providing dirty energy and actively refusing or standing in the way of progress to a more localized, clean energy grid.

To get to a clean and just energy future it is imperative that we start to shift ownership of our energy out of the hands of investor-owned and self-interested utility companies and into the hands of communities.

Students can take action now by calling on their campus administrators to lead in the transition to 100% clean energy through demanding 100% clean energy from their energy providers and by directly pursuing clean energy projects to power campus.

When a major energy user like a college or university, or even a school district, commits to 100% renewable energy and pursues that goal, the demand for clean wind and solar power increases.

 

Through the Sierra Student Coalition’s #SeizeTheGrid Campaign, young people across the country are creating the demand for local clean energy opportunities that work for their campuses, their communities, and their states.

 

This Earth Week I invite students to post pictures to Twitter from Earth Day events, tag #CleanEnergyU and #SeizeTheGrid to be part of a national dialogueand engage your administration by tagging your campus (ie. #MSU or @MSU).  

 

On a piece of paper or in your own creative way, your photo should answer one or both of these questions:

  • What is your vision for a clean energy future by 2025?

  • What actions are you taking to build that clean energy future?

 

Anastasia Schemkes From Compass

Spartans Move Beyond Coal

Fri, 04/17/2015 - 11:40

On the heels of last week's fantastic Bloomberg Philanthropies and Beyond Coal announcement came some news from Michigan demonstrating once again how powerful our activists are.
 
Michigan State University announced that it will retire the largest on-campus coal plant in the U.S. by 2016 -- making it the 188th coal plant announced for retirement since the Beyond Coal campaign started in 2010. Indeed it is the tireless, years-long work by student activists with the MSU Sierra Student Coalition and Greenpeace who helped make this happen.
 
Current MSU students and alumni alike cheered the news, as did people across the U.S., as it is yet another example of how young people are driving the transition from coal to clean energy.
 
"To see MSU finally commit to retiring the use of coal on campus is huge," said Talya Tavor, an MSU alum who led the campus Beyond Coal work during her time on campus from 2009 to 2012. "It says so many things all wrapped up in one neat little announcement.”
 
But Tavor and current MSU students know this is just one small step, since the coal plant's retirement isn't being met with a clean energy commitment.
 
"When I heard the coal stacks would switch from burning fossil fuels to natural gas, I was disappointed," said Courtney Bourgoin, an MSU sophomore and clean energy activist. "Natural gas risks methane leaks as well as increased demand for a dangerous fracking process, which especially hits home when thinking about the risk associated with degrading the health of Michigan's Great Lakes."
 
MSU student activists say their proposed Seize The Grid campaign, to begin in Fall 2015, will push for administrative plans that promise 100 percent renewable energy by 2030. In addition, the campaign will strive to increase student education and activism across campus, emphasizing in-person discussions with the administration about energy-source diversity and its benefits. The group intends to persuade the administration to stand up to the Consumer's Energy utility company, requesting that their power stems from both sustainable and clean sources.
 
"Clean energy is our future -- and not in some romanticized sort of way," said Bourgoin. "Clean energy has so many positive effects. It limits pollution, it increases business, and, of course, it helps our strained planet."
 
Tavor, who is now the interim director of Environment Maryland, agrees. "We created this campaign in order to power our campus with 100 percent renewable energy, and while MSU has taken a step in the right direction, they cannot stop after the first hurdle, they must finish the race."
 
Both, however, say this victory should be an inspiration to young people everywhere that you can and should go out and make a difference.
 
"The change may be gradual and the process at times frustrating," Bourgoin said. "Even if you don't achieve your goals, you are inspiring others to get motivated about something extremely important."
 
To Tavor, even when that victory comes years later, it's still pretty sweet. "Personally, to see the hard work of the dozens of volunteers who spent countless hours dedicated towards a vision for a better future is the most satisfying feeling. We poured our hearts and souls into this campaign, and to see its success now, well, it's a feeling hard to describe."

Mary Anne Hitt From Compass

A Toxic Trade Bill Just Dropped In Congress

Thu, 04/16/2015 - 12:51

BREAKING: Today, Senate Finance Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), Ranking Member Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) and House Ways and Means Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) introduced “TPA-2015,” which is legislation that would grant “fast track” authority for trade deals including the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). And unfortunately, it’s just as bad as we expected. If approved, fast track legislation would allow the President to send the TPP and similar trade deals through Congress for limited debate, no amendments, and a simple “yes-or-no” vote. This means that there would be no opportunities for meaningful input from the elected officials we voted into office to represent our voice.

 

Take a look at Sierra Club executive director Michael Brune’s blog post, “A Fast Track to Disaster” to see what’s at stake with this legislation:

 

The United States is at the tail end of negotiating the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) -- a massive trade deal with Mexico, Canada, Japan, Vietnam, and seven other countries. The negotiations have been conducted in secret. Now Congress will soon decide whether to grant the Obama administration "fast track" authority to have the "final" pact approved as is -- meaning strict limits on congressional debate and no amendments. That's a terrible idea for lots of reasons -- not least of which is that the TPP could sabotage the ability of the U.S. (and other nations) to respond to the climate crisis.

Senator Elizabeth Warren put her finger on the problem in an op-ed for the Washington Post:"Who will benefit from the TPP? American workers? Consumers? Small businesses? Taxpayers? Or the biggest multinational corporations in the world?" Here's a hint: The answer is definitely not "all of the above." Multinational corporations -- including some of the planet's biggest polluters -- could use the TPP to sue governments, in private trade tribunals, over laws and policies that they claimed would reduce their profits. The implications of this are profound: Corporate profits are more important than protections for clean air, clean water, climate stability, workers' rights, and more.

This isn't a hypothetical threat. Similar rules in other free trade deals have allowed corporations including ExxonMobil, Chevron, and Occidental Petroleum to bring approximately 600 cases against nearly 100 governments. Increasingly, corporations are using these perverse rules to challenge energy and climate policies, including a moratorium on fracking in Quebec; a nuclear energy phase out and coal-fired power plant standards in Germany; and a pollution cleanup in Peru. TransCanada has even intimated that it would use similar rules in the North American Free Trade Agreement to challenge a U.S. decision to reject the Keystone XL pipeline.

Remember how scientists and experts have warned that at least three-quarters of known fossil fuel reserves must stay in the ground in order to stabilize our climate?A new studypublished in the journal Nature even spells out in detail which reserves must stay untapped, including almost all of Canada's tar sands, all of the oil and gas in the Arctic, nearly half of global natural gas reserves, and 82 percent of global coal reserves. But do trade pacts like the TPP take that into account?

Not a chance. In fact, as a result of the TPP, the United States Department of Energy would actually be required to approve more fossil fuel exports. The deal would greenlight fracked gas exports to countries in the pact -- including Japan, which is the world's biggest importer of natural gas. A consequence would be more fracking; more pipelines, more export terminals, and more climate pollution.

It has never been more urgent for countries to tackle the climate crisis. Now is the time to ensure that the rules of the global economy support climate action. Now is not the time to be rubber-stamping trade deals that could undermine our prospects for a better future and safer climate. Congress has a responsibility to do its job and ensure that trade pacts protect workers, communities, and our climate.

A fast track bill could be introduced any day -- so it's time to speak out now. Please, join me andwrite to your representative and senators and ask them to oppose fast track legislationfor trade deals like the Trans-Pacific Partnership.  We can win this fight for a fair economy and a safe climate, but we need all of your help.

Michael said it in March, and it’s even more relevant today: the time to speak is now. You can take action today to defeat fast track and help build a new model of trade that’s fair, responsible, and sustainable.

Ilana Solomon From Compass

Tilting at Windmills: The Coal Industry’s Vain Attempt to Stop Carbon Pollution Safeguards

Wed, 04/15/2015 - 12:16

 

If you are looking for the latest sign that the coal industry is desperate, look no further than the three lawsuits coal companies and their defenders are bringing before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit on Thursday. Big Coal -- led by the infamous Bob Murray and Murray Energy -- and a handful of allied Attorneys General are trying a long shot legal strategy to stop the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) from implementing the Clean Power Plan, the agency’s first-ever program to cut climate-disrupting carbon pollution from fossil fuel-fired power plants. The Sierra Club will be fighting back in court on Thursday, and here is why.

 

These power plants account for about a third of the climate pollution emitted in our country - including 30 percent of greenhouse gas emissions and 37 percent of carbon emissions. The Obama administration has recognized that a dramatic cut in emissions from these sources is essential if we have any hope of tackling the climate crisis. In response, the EPA has proposed two programs that serve as the marquee pieces of President Obama’s Climate Action Plan: first, carbon pollution standards for new and modified fossil fuel-fired power plants; and second, the Clean Power Plan, which establishes carbon pollution standards for the existing fleet of plants. These proposed standards represent the agency’s first effort to limit climate-disrupting pollution from these sources. And, thanks to the Clean Air Act -- passed by Congress in 1963 and strengthened in 1970, 1977, and 1990 -- the agency is well within its legal authority to do just that.

 

Setting aside for a moment the many compelling reasons for reducing this dangerous pollution, the U.S. Supreme Court has already ruled in three separate cases that the EPA can legally regulate climate-disrupting greenhouse gases under the Clean Air Act. In particular, the Court has expressly affirmed EPA’s authority under the law to curb carbon pollution from existing power plants. But, the coal industry and its defenders have never let the facts or the law stand in the way of their bogus claims.

 

Big coal and Bob Murray have rolled out a series of illusory legal theories in the hopes that federal courts will stop EPA in its tracks. In Thursday’s hearing, Murray Energy and a group of Attorneys General led by West Virginia are jumping the gun and challenging EPA’s proposed carbon pollution safeguards. These lawsuits are not only meritless but premature.

 

It is a fundamental principle of law that an agency’s action must be final before it can be challenged in federal court. As such, federal courts -- including the D.C. Circuit -- have made clear time and again that they simply have has no jurisdiction over challenges to proposed rules. The coal industry is fully aware of this finality rule but has decided to waste the court’s time and taxpayer resources by bringing this suit anyway. Big coal and its allies are trying to derail a train while it’s still in the station, ignoring the barriers that courts have set up to prevent this sort of action.

 

The finality rule is not only a binding, long-time precedent, but it also safeguards the public’s right to participate in the rulemaking process. It enables federal agencies to make decisions based on an open process and to fully consider all public comments on its proposed actions. Nowhere is this more clear than with the Clean Power Plan: EPA is currently considering upwards of 8 million public comments in support of cutting carbon pollution as well as detailed technical comments from stakeholders. The finality rule is also essential to provide the judges reviewing those decisions with a fully developed record and the benefit of the agency’s expert analysis.

 

You would have thought the coal industry would have learned its lesson by now, but these lawsuits follow two earlier premature challenges to EPA’s proposed standards for new power plants which the courts promptly dismissed based on the finality rule.

 

It’s not just that the timing is wrong for these challenges; the industry’s legal arguments are wholly meritless, too. Murray Energy and its allies insist that because EPA has already curbed one set of dangerous air pollutants (namely, airborne toxics such as mercury) from power plants, it must now give those plants a free pass to emit an unlimited amount of an entirely different set of dangerous pollutants (greenhouse gases such as carbon). In other words, the coal industry would have the public pick its poison, rather than letting EPA do its job as laid out by Congress and the Supreme Court to protect our families and our communities.

 

Even more nonsensically, Murray Energy’s distorted interpretation of the law wouldn’t even prevent EPA from curbing carbon pollution in the long run, which is the coal industry’s stated goal. Instead, it would allow the agency to set standards for both carbon pollution and airborne toxics, but only if it issued carbon standards first. In this case, the coal industry is essentially claiming that since carbon standards came second, they aren’t valid, an absurd outcome that Congress never intended. It’s an argument that, if successful, would needlessly delay protections for our communities that are threatened by the coal industry’s dirty and dangerous practices. Incredibly, the industry bases its claims on the 1990 Clear Air Act Amendments, which comprehensively strengthened the law’s protections and were hailed by supporters as the most important piece of environmental legislation in decades.

 

The fossil fuel industry and its defenders will do whatever it takes to attack these widely-popular, critically-needed steps to curb carbon pollution, tackle the climate crisis, and protect the health of our families and our communities. They’ll bring on hired guns like Laurence Tribe to launch false legal attacks. They’ll use the Koch network and a PR flack known as “Dr. Evil” to launch a smear campaign against EPA and climate action. They’ll even follow the lead of Bob Murray and Murray Energy -- the fossil fuel industry’s poster children for neglecting the safety of its workers, the health of American communities, and the sanctity of our clean air and water in an endless race for profits.

 

It shouldn’t work. Congress passed the Clean Air Act and its subsequent amendments with huge bipartisan majorities in both houses, the Supreme Court affirmed that the law permits—indeed, requires—EPA to curb carbon pollution from power plants, and the President is now implementing rules to carry out that mandate. It’s a textbook example of how government should operate: all three branches coming together on a critical matter of law and policy. The success of this process is exactly the reason the coal industry is now fighting so hard to stop it. But, as we have shown, their attacks have neither merit under the law nor a proper forum in court. The legal basis for rejecting their lawsuits is strong, and we are confident the D.C. Circuit will do so.

 

That’s important because the momentum for climate action is rolling ahead quickly. The transition from coal to a clean energy economy is moving forward at a pace few expected even a few years ago as grassroots action across the country is helping lead the way. The U.S. is steering the course on global climate action, securing a historic deal with China to reduce emissions while nations like the U.K. have followed suit and pledged to effectively go coal-free. The Clean Power Plan is a key element that makes these commitments possible, creating the opportunity to reduce emissions and grow the clean energy economy that we need to secure a significant deal in Paris at the COP 21 climate negotiations later this year.

 

Still, no matter what happens with these desperate challenges, the Clean Power Plan is just the start of our ambition for clean energy and climate action. The clean energy market and citizens around the world aren’t waiting around for the coal industry and their desperate arguments to get out of the way. Instead, we’re going around them -- locally, nationally, and globally -- in the months and years to come.

Joanne Spalding From Compass

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