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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

Private Banks Ditching Destructive Coal Investments, International Financial Institutions Need To Follow Suit

Fri, 04/10/2015 - 13:43

Earlier this week, Barclays Bank did something amazing -- one of the world’s largest banks announced it would no longer finance coal-mining companies that pursue the destructive practice of mountaintop removal mining (MTR) in Appalachia.

 

As of only twelve months ago, Barclays Bank had been identified by the Rainforest Action Network as number one worldwide in providing financing for MTR producers. But after increasing pressure from environmental advocacy groups, Barclays joined Wells Fargo, Royal Bank of Scotland, UBS, BNP Paribas, Societe Generale, and, most recently, PNC in divesting from the practice of mountaintop removal -- a particularly invasive process that involves blasting off the summit of a mountain in order to expose underground coal and then dumping the debris into adjacent valleys and streams.

 

Barclays’ divestment from mountaintop removal mining is just the most recent step in a shift that companies and citizens are making to move toward a clean energy future that gets the world off dirty fossil fuels.

 

In fact, divestment from more than just MTR -- from fossil fuels entirely -- has been growing, particularly on college campuses. Since, 2011, the Sierra Student Coalition has committed to asking colleges across the country to divest from fossil fuels entirely. The movement has expanded to over 300 campuses -- including heavyweights like Harvard which has the largest endowment in the world -- where clean energy champions are working to push college and university administrations to stop investing billions of dollars of college and university endowment money in the fossil fuel industry and reinvest in environmentally and socially responsible alternatives. In just the past four years, nine colleges and universities have committed to divesting from fossil fuels and the momentum is growing.

 

At the same time, public funding for coal is drying up. President Obama pledged to end U.S. financing of overseas coal when he announced his Climate Action Plan in June 2013. Soon after, the Nordic Countries, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, and most recently France also pledged to end financing for overseas coal plants. Meanwhile, International Financial Institutions (IFIs) that receive public funds -- including the World Bank, the European Investment Bank, and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development -- have put in place new policies to end support for coal except in rare circumstances.

 

This represents a massive shift in global energy financing. Between 2002 and 2012, the United States and France were both in the top five Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) countries to finance coal. We are already seeing the effects of this shift, with the U.S. Export-Import Bank’s (Ex-Im) decision to reject a coal project in Vietnam. However, it is up to us to ensure that entrenched forces within these institutions do not exploit loopholes that could allow them to backslide into supporting dangerous fossil fuel projects.

 

Recent media reports indicate Ex-Im is considering using one such loophole to finance coal giant Adani’s proposed massive coal mine and export terminal Australia, which would release a huge carbon reserve from the country’s Galilee Basin through ports expanded by dredging three million tonnes of seabed from the bottom of the Great Barrier Reef. The Reef is already crumbling under the pressure of warming oceans, and we shouldn’t accelerate its demise by dredging or by increasing carbon emissions from coal. We should instead be working to save it.  

 

More importantly, the Adani project represents everything that is wrong with public financing being used to prop up fossil fuels. Private banks -- including Citibank, Deutsche Bank, Royal Bank of Scotland, HSBC, Barclays, Goldman Sachs, and JPMorgan Chase -- have all stated that they will not support the project due to the environmental risks and mounting evidence that it is not financially viable.

 

Instead of trying to salvage the outdated, dangerous, and economically risky coal sector, we should invest in the booming clean energy sector, where every dollar creates more jobs than that same dollar would in the fossil fuel sector. Barclays’ divestment from mountaintop removal mining, in addition to the nine U.S. college and university campuses that have already divested from fossil fuels in their entirety and the 300 more on their way to fully divesting, are another big step toward a 100 percent clean energy economy.

Now its time for the laggards -- countries, IFIs, and the private sector -- to follow suit.

Nicole Ghio, Lauren Lantry From Compass

What The U.S. Climate Commitment Means For Global Climate Action

Fri, 04/10/2015 - 12:00

Last week, the U.S. joined the ranks of the European Union, Norway, Switzerland, Gabon, and Mexico among others in announcing their Intended Nationally Determined Contribution (INDC), the commitment each country is presenting in an effort to tackle the climate crisis. Each of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change’s (UNFCCC) 195 member countries is putting forth an INDC in the run up to the COP21 climate negotiations in Paris later this year.

 

As promised, the U.S. commitment has followed through on promises the Obama Administration made in the game changing U.S.-China deal last November. Acting as a leader on climate action, the U.S. is committing to a 28 percent reduction in carbon emissions by 2025, which, as the world’s largest emitter, is a significant contribution to the fight to protect the planet for future generations.

 

And it’s clear that the American people are ready for climate action. A recent poll found that 72 percent of American’s support the U.S. signing an international climate agreement.


On top of that, from what we’ve already seen, this commitment is not only doable, but we’re already on our way to meeting this goal.  The U.S. offer, combined with the explosive growth of clean energy, an grassroots driven shift away from coal, and continued climate action at all levels of government, will begin to move us toward a safe pathway that avoids catastrophic climate disruption.

 

Wednesday, Bloomberg Philanthropies committed $30 million to the Sierra Club in order to continue the fight to move beyond coal and transition to the clean energy economy. This major boost to the campaign will help ensure the U.S. can follow through on climate commitments and lead the way on international climate action.

 

And in just the past five years, we’ve seen 187 coal-fired power plants either retired or announced to retire -- accounting for a whopping 77 gigawatts of dirty coal generation. At the same time, clean energy powerhouses like wind and solar have seen exponential growth not only in the U.S. but around the globe. As these trends continue to accelerate, it’s clear that the U.S. will not only be able to meet its commitment for Paris but will ultimately be able to achieve a 100 percent clean energy future.

 

Despite all of this, we know that the U.S. is not the only global carbon emitter, and its commitment alone won’t be able to stave off the worst effects of climate disruption. In order to avoid the most catastrophic consequences of climate disruption, governments will have to continue to accelerate emissions reductions around the globe. But the U.S.’s commitment coupled with the climate commitments from around the world will help keep the door open for a healthier, safer, more resilient future for our planet.

 

And it’s clear from the commitments from ally countries and global climate action in recent months -- from the UK pledging to move toward a low-carbon economy and end the use of unabated coal for power generation to China pledging to peak carbon emissions by 2030 -- the U.S. isn’t alone in the fight.

 

Combined, with the INDCs that have already been submitted, 60 percent of global carbon pollution has already been accounted for within these positive, transparent commitments for climate action. With more than 160 countries left to announce their commitments, it’s clear that meaningful climate action is within the planet’s grasp.

John Coequyt From Compass

The Best City Programs Promoting Electric Cars

Fri, 04/10/2015 - 08:05

This post was co-written by Hayley Hoverter, a Sierra Club intern and Dartmouth College student.

In just the last couple of weeks, there has been good news and bad news about state electric vehicle (EV) programs. Georgia decided to end its $5,000 consumer EV tax credit by this summer (so run out and buy one now if you live in the peach state!), and Illinois quietly cancelled its $4,000 EV rebate program. However, Massachusetts renewed its $1,500-2,500 EV consumer rebate program last week, and it looks like new state EV incentives might be coming down the pike in states like Oregon and Rhode Island.

State programs are important, but what can cities and towns do to accelerate a consumer switch to EVs?

I was recently approached by Marc McGovern, one of my own city councilors, to explore what Cambridge, Mass., can do. A lot, I told him, and he filed a resolution asking the city manager to look into options. His fellow City Councilor Leland Cheung has expressed interest in promoting EVs to Cantabrigians too. I'm looking forward to what they will achieve. Here are some models for them and others to consider:

City Fleets

EVs save communities fueling and maintenance costs in addition to reducing pollution. This is why New York City has integrated more than 600 plug in electric vehicles into its fleet of Fire, Sanitation, and Parks & Recreation Department vehicles. Smaller cities are getting in the game too; Somerville, Mass., is adding 16 EVs to its municipal fleet. In February, Seneca, South Carolina, announced that it logged over 100,000 miles with six electric Proterra buses, the only all-electric transit bus fleet in the country.

Registration and Parking Incentives 

What would prevent EV owners from having to go an extra mile to find parking? Since 2005, New Haven, Connecticut, has provided free metered parking for hybrids and EVs. Cincinnati EV drivers get free parking at any meter in the city and at two city-owned parking garages. Warren, Rhode Island, and Washington, DC, offer their residents with plug-in cars an excise tax exemption and reduced registration.  

Public Charging Stations

In February, Jacksonville, Florida, unveiled Chargewell, a program setting up 30 charging stations throughout the city through a partnership with the N. Florida Transportation Planning Organization and the Jacksonville Electric Authority. Austin, Texas, provides unlimited charging for under $5 a month at over 170 public charging stations. Last summer, Palo Alto, California, passed an ordinance that requires all new apartments, commercial buildings, and hotels to have charging stations.

Public Education

We have yet to see a fantastic EV web site put out by a city or town (please share if you know of a good one). But many mayors have been getting behind EVs by attending and promoting EV awareness events, like at National Drive Electric Week activities last September when Stephanie Rawlings-Blake of Baltimore and Eric Garcetti of Los Angeles were among many mayors who issued 'drive electric' proclamations.  Portland, Oregon's Electric Avenue, the city's program that partnered with Portland State University to provide EV charging stations, raised public awareness by holding a ribbon cutting with the Mayor and staging a flash mob. Their efforts paid off - the program was featured in more than 200 news stories.

The Road Ahead

A new report from the journal Nature shows that a switch to EVs actually helps cool cities down by not producing heat that builds up in traffic jams. That, in turn, reduces the need for air conditioning, a major energy sucker. It's more important now than ever that our mayors, city councilors, and other community leaders aren't just taking a backseat, but are driving the acceleration for EVs.

Tell us: what is happening to promote EVs in your own local community?

Gina Coplon-Newfield From Compass

Doubling Down with Bloomberg Philanthropies to Replace Coal with Clean Energy

Tue, 04/07/2015 - 14:03

Today, I had the honor of standing with Michael Bloomberg and dozens of Sierra Club volunteers, staff, and supporters in Washington, DC, to announce a new round of investment by Bloomberg Philanthropies in the work of the Beyond Coal Campaign. With this new support of $30 million over three years, we plan to double down on our past success and secure replacement of half the nation's coal plants with clean energy by 2017.

It's been four years since I first stood with Michael Bloomberg, Sierra Club executive director Michael Brune, and our staff and volunteers in front of the polluting GenOn coal plant in Alexandria, Virginia, to announce the launch of our game-changing partnership with Bloomberg Philanthropies. The goal of that first round of funding: replace one-third of the nation's coal plants with clean energy by the end of 2015.

That initial investment by Bloomberg Philanthropies has delivered some incredible results, and we're on our way to meeting that goal. The Alexandria coal plant is one of 187 coal plants that have either retired or announced they will retire since 2010, thanks to the work of Sierra Club and over 100 partner organizations, helping to secure clean air and clean water for millions of Americans by supporting the amazing work of activists nationwide. Even better, we're on track to replace that coal with clean, renewable energy like wind, solar, and energy efficiency.
 
We've been able to expand our Beyond Coal campaign from 15 to 45 states, and we've helped build the coalitions that have demanded an end to unchecked pollution in communities all across the nation. Coal has plunged from 52 percent of U.S. electricity generation to under 40 percent.
 
Make no mistake about it -- this energy transition has not been driven by Washington or Wall Street, but by Main Street. It was made possible by regular people fighting in their backyards for the safety of their families and the future of their communities, in places like Chicago, Indianapolis, North Omaha, Milwaukee, Green Bay, Austin, San Antonio, Los Angeles, Minneapolis, Gulfport, and Alexandria. From fighting coal exports, to retiring dirty coal plants in low income neighborhoods, to protecting the Appalachian mountains from mountaintop-removal coal mining, and so much more, these activists of all ages and from all backgrounds are a force to be reckoned with.

These campaigns being led by city council members, pastors, doctors, parents, teachers, and kids are the deciding factor in replacing coal plants with clean energy. These regular Americans are the deciding factor that has turned the tide on climate change. They will be the deciding factor in our success in this next chapter of our partnership with Bloomberg Philanthropies.

And we're not done yet.
 
With a new $30 million of funding over the next three years, Bloomberg Philanthropies is recommitting to the Sierra Club's Beyond Coal strategy.  Acting as a catalyst in the fight against climate disruption, Bloomberg will lead a coalition of funders that aim to match up to $30 million of funding, further boosting the Sierra Club's capacity to move the U.S. toward cleaner energy sources faster. This new support will allow us to:

  • Save lives by cleaning up the air and water. The health benefits of our work to date include preventing 5,000 premature deaths,  avoiding 82,600 asthma attacks, and saving $2.3 billion in health care costs - every year. Retiring even one coal plant can  prevent 29 premature deaths, 47 heart attacks and 146 asthma attacks annually. Peer-reviewed research has also shown families living next to mountaintop-removal coal mines have higher risks of cancer, birth defects, and premature death. Replacing half the nation's coal plants with clean energy will bring real improvements to people's lives.
  • Accelerate the shift to clean energy. From Oklahoma to North Omaha and beyond, community leaders are replacing retiring coal plants with wind and solar power, increasing energy efficiency, and calling on their public officials to make their cities and states leaders in the clean energy economy. This new funding will help us drive that transition even faster.
  • Position the U.S. as a climate leader. Our reduced use of coal and increased use of renewables made it possible for the US to reach a climate agreement with China, and positioned the U.S. as a global leader going into the 2015 United Nations climate change conference in Paris, where nations, businesses, cities, and other actors will convene to make bold commitments on greenhouse gas emission reductions. But the science is clear that we must do more, and the goals announced today by the Sierra Club will put the nation on a path to exceed the U.S. climate targets announced in late March by the Obama Administration.
  • Advance an economic transition. I live in West Virginia, so I understand that the shift away from coal poses big challenges to some parts of the country. It's also something that we have long seen coming -- Senator Robert Byrd warned in 2009 that big changes were facing the coal industry, and told his fellow West Virginians we could "choose to anticipate change and adapt to it, or resist and be overrun by it." That transition is now upon us, and we will continue our work with partners and communities to find pathways and resources for economic transition, so that the whole nation will benefit from the rise of the clean energy economy, especially the places that already have sacrificed so much to power this nation.

It's exciting to imagine what we will accomplish over the next three years of this partnership with Bloomberg Philanthropies. We look forward to continuing this legacy of moving beyond coal to save lives, clean up our air and water, stop climate disruption, and secure the clean energy necessary to power our nation.

Mary Anne Hitt From Compass

EPA Report Shows Automakers are Exceeding Historic Vehicle Standards

Thu, 04/02/2015 - 10:58

Last week the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released its report card on how automakers complied with historic vehicle standards in 2013. These vehicle standards will cut average vehicle emissions to 163 grams of carbon dioxide per mile in 2025, equivalent to 54.5 miles per gallon. The key takeaway from EPA's report - automakers are exceeding standards for the second year in a row.

Every year, each automaker is required to meet a certain standard based on the vehicles they sell. The standards are based on each sold vehicle’s "footprint," with larger vehicles facing less stringent standards than smaller vehicles. In 2013, automakers collectively exceeded the standards by 12 grams of CO2 per mile, equivalent to roughly 1.4 miles per gallon.

These vehicle standards are working, which is good news for consumers and the climate. More efficient vehicles mean spending less on gas and refilling less frequently. According to our colleagues at the Union of Concerned Scientists, 2013 vehicles were roughly nine percent more efficient than vehicles sold in 2010, saving owners around $100 a year at current gas prices.

Automakers are offering more efficient models than ever before, using technologies such as gasoline direct injection, variable valve timing and more efficient transmissions. From 2009 to 2014, the number of available car models averaging more than 30 miles per gallon more than tripled. There are now more models of plug-in electric vehicles to choose from than ever before. Additionally, manufacturers are reducing the global warming impacts of vehicle air conditioning systems, both by switching to less harmful refrigerants and by reducing leaks. The EPA report also details how automakers are taking advantage of flexibilities in the standards by generating, storing and using credits.

Although automakers are on track to meet standards both now and in the future, some have begun to reference low gas prices an excuse to back off these historic standards. Given the volatility of gas prices, now is exactly the time to ensure our cars and trucks continue to be more efficient. It is clear that vehicle standards are working, saving consumers money at the pump and reducing our dependence on oil, which news worth celebrating.

Photo courtesy of Anthony Inswasty, WikiPedia.

Jesse Prentice-Dunn From Compass

New Sierra Club Online Platform Adds Up Activism and The Environment

Thu, 04/02/2015 - 08:35

Today, the Sierra Club launched AddUp, a one-stop shop website for effective environmental activism -- at home or on-the-go, online or in communities across the country. Fueled by the Sierra Club’s robust grassroots campaigns, AddUp offers a diverse suite of local, state and national environmental issues through online petitions and in person events for people to take action on and attend.

 

The average American adult spends 11 hours a day online, whether that be in front of a computer or a smartphone, 11 hours is a significant amount of time. AddUp meets people where they are -- online, making it easy to support environmental causes and campaigns, recruit friends and attend events all with just a click. Being the millennial that I am, this sounded like an incredibly cool tool, and I couldn’t wait to try it out.

The homepage of the site shows petitions to sign, social media actions to take, events to attend and ways to recruit your friends. AddUp has hundreds of environmental campaigns to choose from, and all on a single but still simple website. And AddUp isn’t just engaging for those on the site, by integrating Facebook Connect and Twitter, users can share their support of the environment with not just their social media friends, but with specific friends who share similar interests, who are likely to take action themselves.

 

By providing real-time updates on the campaigns an individual has supported, AddUp makes it easy to see how individual actions together with that of millions across the country are literally “adding up” to create real-world impacts to protect our communities and our planet. Unlike a paper petition, or action taken from an email alert, with AddUp I can see the difference my action makes. After I signed a petition urging the President to reject the Keystone Pipeline, I saw the number of signers rise, and the number of signatures needed fall. I could see the tangible impact I had in protecting our environment.

And AddUp is more than just a petition site--with both online actions and events to attend, AddUp provides me with the tools to protect the environment both online and off. And with social media integration, I can recruit my friends to attend too.

 

But, my favorite part of AddUp is how smart it is. AddUp recognizes what actions you’ve taken and events you’ve attended and recommends new actions to take based on your interests. After signing a petition to urge President Obama to reject the Keystone Pipeline, I’m directed to both recruit my friends through Twitter and Facebook, and to a new petition that needs signing -- in this case, to seize the grid, to transition campuses and communities to 100% clean energy. It’s like Netflix, except instead of suggesting I watch “The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt” after a binge watching session of “Parks and Rec”, it’s helping me create real lasting change to protect our environment.

AddUp knows that many of us, me included, live our lives online glued to our laptops and smartphones, that we spend too much time scrolling through Facebook, Twitter and Buzzfeed posts, and then uses this information to recruit activists -- to help others help the planet. With AddUp my newsfeed will be a little less cute baby animals, and a lot more environmental activism. And while I love pugs, this is something I’m more than ok with.

Lauren Lantry From Compass

Australian Community Organising Fellowship Marks Year Two

Wed, 04/01/2015 - 14:34

Last month, the Sierra Club helped lead the 10 day opening session of the second annual Community Organising Fellowship, an event where we worked to train 23 organizers and campaigners from across Australia on the theory, tools, and practical skills that will strengthen their work to stop destructive coal and gas projects and promote a clean energy future.

These skills included developing personal narratives, recruitment, effective teams, leadership development, and refining strategic campaign plans. The Fellowship is a six month program to train “organisers who can mobilise Australians around shared values, influence the political process and engage the volunteer constituency to win campaigns.”

Perhaps those best able to discuss the impact of the Fellowship are the people who went through the training. Here’s a few testimonials:

  • The Fellowship has increased both my skills in community organising and my confidence in sharing these skills with others. The immersive workshop format has provided precious space for face-to-face learning, sharing ideas with facilitators and other delegates, and building strong relationships with current and future collaborators in the climate movement.  I am confident that our entire cohort will go on to empower others in our communities, and that we’ll continue to support each other in this work. The Fellowship will be instrumental in helping us build a broad, diverse and powerful movement.

  • I’ve met 22 of the most diverse, interesting organisers and campaigners in the country, and been trained by more than a dozen experts on everything from critical pathways, to the history of the environment movement in Australia, to NationBuilder best practice. I can’t recommend this program highly enough.  

  • The fellowship has equipped me with a deeper understanding of what community organising is, and how it can best be applied. Through my learnings I have been challenged to move from tactics-based campaigning to more strategic, long-term campaigning. I understand better where my campaign and my community fit into the incredible tapestry that is the environment and climate movement in Australia.

The Sierra Club’s involvement goes all the way back to 2012 when Australian activist Victoria McKenzie traveled to the U.S. to observe coal fights against mountaintop removal mining in Appalachia and exports in the Pacific Northwest. After witnessing the success of the Sierra Club model and the Beyond Coal Campaign, McKenzie discussed the experience with her colleagues back home. The Club was then invited to come to Australia and share our training with a larger group of coal fighters.

In May 2013, the Sierra Club conducted a three day organizing workshop outside of Newcastle, home to the world’s largest coal export terminal. We were blown away by the creativity and passion of our Australian colleagues. While campaigns like Lock the Gate go door to door to educate people on the dangers of unconventional gas and take votes to stop companies from drilling on their land, a coalition of Traditional Owners, rangers, and environmentalists are leading a blockade of the Maules Creek coal mine in an effort to protect the Leard State Forest. As a result, activists are successfully convincing major banks to reject coal export proposals that endanger the Great Barrier Reef.

The success of this training, followed by the first annual Our Land, Our Water, Our Future conference, helped kick start the launch of the Community Organizing Fellowship by the Change Agency and the Nature Conservation Council of New South Wales. The Sierra Club sent a delegation of seven volunteers and staff to help lead the first session in February 2015. But as the Fellowship trains more and more organizers, the role of outside facilitators diminishes. This year we sent a team of two trainers and as many sessions were led by graduates of the 2014 cohort, who used learnings from their own campaigns in Australia to enrich the curriculum and build the movement.

The Community Organising Fellowship has been intentional from the beginning in its attempt to create a safe space for Aboriginal activists within the movement and explore how the varied parts of Australian society --  from ranchers to urbanites to Traditional Owners to more recent arrivals -- can find shared values. With an emphasis on relational meetings and moving from transactional relationships to genuine partnerships built on shared values, the Fellowship is opening up new opportunities to build an inclusive movement for the future.

The Fellowship is truly building something special and uniquely Australian, and I cannot wait to see what this new group of organizers does next.

Nicole Ghio From Compass

Ten Things We Wish Were April Fools' Jokes

Wed, 04/01/2015 - 07:51

Your day today will most likely involve a few silly April Fools' jokes from your friends or from companies and organizations on social media. We thought instead of coming up with our own joke, there were plenty of real-life events in the energy and political arenas that are so absurd that they should be April Fools’ jokes, but  alas, they are not.

So here are ten ridiculous moments that really happened recently.
 
1: Wait, who? Senator James Inhofe - a noted climate denier - was named the head of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee when the new Congress took over in January. Or as The New Republic put it: “This Climate Denier (is) the Most Powerful Senator on the Environment.”
 
2: Senate Snowball- Once again, Senator James Inhofe makes the list, this time for his stunt in February where he threw a snowball on the Senate floor and claimed the winter weather in Washington, D.C., disproved climate change. You could almost hear everyone face-palming in response.
 
3: BP says the Gulf of Mexico is just fine- Like Leslie Nielsen’s character in "The Naked Gun" standing in front of an exploding fireworks factory saying, “There is nothing to see here!”, earlier this month BP released a report claiming that the Gulf of Mexico is just fine five years after the oil company's deadly and massive oil disaster. Um, no it's not, BP.
 
4: Climate Censor- When news broke that Florida Governor Rick Scott told state agencies to not use the words "climate change" or "sea level rise," we couldn't believe it was true. But it was, prompting us to create a new product:

Rick Scott: verb. To attempt to eliminate a problem by removing access to words that refer to it; to whitewash #scottaway

— Sierra Club (@sierraclub) March 10, 2015


When you don’t want to deal with a serious problem, just ban the words referring to it!

5: No, You're Not- Two climate-denying members of Congress say their rejection of climate science makes them just like Galileo: Senator Roger Wicker of Mississippi and Senator Ted Cruz from Texas. This proves that not only do Senators. Wicker and Cruz not understand science, they also don’t know anything about history.
 
6: Everything Must Go! Alaska Senator Lisa Murkowski wants to sell off public lands and national forests so oil and gas companies can drill the heck out of them, so she got it passed in a (thankfully) non-binding amendment to the budget.

Meanwhile, at the state level, many governments are trying to force the government to give them federal land to sell off for fossil fuel extraction. Big surprise that those moves can be tied to anti-clean energy front group ALEC!

7: This Won’t End Well- Shell will try to drill for oil in the Arctic again this year. You know, because their attempts last year were so successful (see: the grounding of one of their drilling ships, $1 million in pollution fines, and more).

8: Environmental Activists Are a Security Threat- In February, documents revealed that the Royal Canadian Mounted Police called environmentalists “violent anti-petroleum extremists”:

“This is absolutely the criminalization of peaceful protest,” Keith Stewart from Greenpeace Canada, one of the groups named in the document, said.

“The striking thing is that the U.S. has identified climate change as one of the greatest threats to national security, yet here in Stephen Harper's Canada it is the people trying to stop climate change that are identified as the threat.”

9: Cash Money and Politics- In January, a Koch brothers’ front group revealed that the two billionaires would be spending $889 million leading up to the 2016 elections. That’s right, almost a billion dollars to keep denying climate change, promoting fossil fuels, and fighting clean energy.

10: On the Payroll: On March 17, Professor Laurence Tribe, a Constitutional law professor at Harvard University, testified before a U.S. House’s Energy and Commerce subcommittee and attacked the Environmental Protection Agency’s climate-forward “Clean Power Plan.”

House Republicans have long made it known they either don’t believe in climate change or they don’t think we should take any action. So we suppose it should be no surprise that they brought in someone like Professor Tribe -- who counts the American Petroleum Institute, Peabody Energy (the nation’s largest coal company), and scads of other fossil fuel companies and front groups as his clients.

Did we miss anything you wish was an April Fools’ joke? Let us know in the comments.

Heather Moyer From Compass

McConnell's Fave Big Coal Lawyer Tribe Loses in the Court of Public Opinion

Fri, 03/27/2015 - 09:28

Legal Experts, Opinion Leaders Brutally Reject “Absurd” Arguments Against Clean Power Plan

Another day, another round of devastating analyses that rebut and debunk Big Coal’s hired gun, Laurence Tribe. His own colleagues at Harvard Law School (HLS) have dismissed his arguments against the EPA’s Clean Power Plan as “absurd,” “false,” and said they have “no plausible [legal] basis.” Perhaps that’s why, as Tribe’s colleague’s note, the Harvard Law professor had “a quiet, yet unmistakable retreat from his earlier pronouncements” after being called out.

So what’s Tribe’s motivation for embracing such an “absurd” and “disingenuous” legal argument? Well, Tribe swiftly ended an interview with New York Magazine’s Jonathan Chait when he refused to disclose what percentage of his income comes from the coal industry.  Tribe has insisted that his counsel is in good-faith and that he genuinely believes his own arguments. “One hopes he was paid handsomely for the irreparable damage he has done to his reputation as a legal thinker,” EarthJustice’s Abbie Dillen wrote in The Hill. And in the words of Tribe’s HLS colleagues, “Some of the theatricality of Tribe’s language makes more sense when you realize that he’s a paid counsel for one side here.”

“He can cloak it in all the academic legalese he wants, but the fact remains: Larry Tribe is no more than a hired gun for Big Coal—willing to make whatever ‘absurd’ legal arguments they want so long as his check clears. And of course, Tribe’s working for the same dirty energy, Big Polluter interests that spent $721 million to get their agenda enacted in the McConnell Senate—on which McConnell’s been more than happy to oblige. Whether it’s instructing Governors to block the Clean Power Plan in their states, or propping up Big Coal’s lawyer, Mitch McConnell has proven he’ll work hard to do the dirty work of his polluter money backers. If only he’d work this hard for the vast majority of Americans who want to see action on climate change.”

BACKGROUND:

HLS Colleagues: Tribe’s “Theatrical” Statements Make “More Sense When You Realize That He’s a Paid Counsel” For Big Coal.” In an op-ed to Politico Magazine, Tribe’s HLS colleagues wrote, “Some of the theatricality of Tribe’s language makes more sense when you realize that he’s a paid counsel for one side here.  Peabody Coal hired him to zealously represent its interests in federal court, and to argue the coal industry’s case in any other forum that might advance its cause, as he has done in Congress and the media.” [Politico Magazine, 3/23/15]

  • Headline: Larry Tribe and Mitch McConnell’s Flagrant Constitutional Error [Politico Magazine, 3/23/15]

Tribe Abruptly Ended An Interview About The CPP Lawsuit When Questioned About His Finances. In an interview with New York Magazine, Tribe abruptly refused to answer more questions after his compensation from Big Coal was questioned. The journalist wrote, “I followed up by asking Tribe if he would disclose what percentage of his income has come from energy companies. He replied, ‘It’s a very small percentage. And I’m afraid I don’t have any more time to devote to this dialogue today, so I’ll need to beg off on further questions.’” [New York Magazine, 3/25/15]

NYU Legal Expert: Tribe’s Arguments Are “Frivolous” And Challenge A Bipartisan Consensus That The CPP is Constitutional. In an interview with the Washington Post about the lawsuit, NYU legal expert Richard Revesz said “I think their argument is actually frivolous. We’ve been basically administering this system for 45 years. The system under the Clean Power Plan is modeled on that system. The opponents are essentially arguing that the centerpiece provisions of the Clean Air Act — which have had bipartisan support going back to the Nixon administration — are somehow Constitutionally deficient.” [Washington Post, 3/23/15]

Pillars of Tribe’s Argument Doesn’t Withstand Tribe’s Own Interpretation of Constitution. In a lengthy rebuttal of Tribe’s congressional testimony, Grist’s Dave Robert’s notes that Tribe previously made contradictory constitutional interpretations. [Grist, 3/20/15]

Environmental Law Expert: Tribe Has Done “Irreparable Damage […] To His Reputation As A Legal Thinker.” In an op-ed published in The Hill, Earthjustice environmental law expert Abigail Dillen wrote “One hopes he was paid handsomely for the irreparable damage he has done to his reputation as a legal thinker.”  [The Hill, 3/25/15]

NYT Editor’s Blog: McConnell’s Letter to Governor’s “Unusual” And His “Role As The Defended of Big Coal’s Interests” Have Never Been “So Aggressive.” According to an opinion piece for the New York Times’ editor’s blog, Francis Clines wrote, “Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has never been so busy or so aggressive in his role as the defender of Big Coal’s interests as he is now. Earlier this month, the powerful Republican from coal-rich Kentucky made an unusual move in reaching beyond Congress and directly urging state governors not to cooperate with the Obama administration’s pending new regulations to reduce carbon pollution from coal-fired power plants, the nation’s largest source of greenhouse-gas emissions.” [New York Times, 3/25/15]

John Coequyt From Compass

More Than 200 Rally for Clean Energy in Oregon

Thu, 03/26/2015 - 10:52

On Tuesday, more than 200 leaders from the public health, academic, business, and environmental community traveled to Salem, Oregon, to rally and hold lobby meetings with legislators on this session's top environmental bills as part of the Oregon Conservation Network's Clean Green Lobby Machine lobby day.
 
Before the meetings, the crowd marched to the State Capitol and then held a lively rally right there on the steps of the building that included a fun coal vs. clean energy tug of war (of course clean energy always wins!)

The priority bill for the day was the Coal to Clean Energy legislation, Senate Bill 477 and House Bill 2729, which would move Oregon's electric utilities Pacific Power and PGE off of coal by 2025 and onto more local clean, renewable energy. A recent poll showed that 71 percent of Oregon voters support legislation to transition from coal to clean energy. Here are some of Tuesday's participants talking about why it's so important to them.

Oregon's last in-state coal plant is scheduled to retire in 2020. Yet Oregon still gets one-third of its energy from coal, much of that coming from out-of-state coal plants. Some $295 million leaves Oregon every year to pay for out-of-state coal energy!
 
"We all recognize that it's better for our state to create well-paying local solar and wind energy jobs that can support families than it is for us to send our money to out-of-state coal plants," said Amy Hojnowski, Beyond Coal senior campaign representative in Oregon. "By supporting the Coal to Clean legislation, we're supporting climate action and local clean energy jobs."
 
Oregon can be a leader in clean energy, and residents (especially the 200 plus who showed up on Tuesday!) know that. Many reported back that their meetings with state legislators went very well -- including one with State Senator Ginny Burdick and 20 of her constituents, which she said was her largest meeting so far this session.

And the day landed some great media coverage, too -- check out this news hit!

I continue to be inspired by the grassroots activists nationwide who regularly speak out for clean energy. Whether we're talking about Oregon or any other state in the U.S. -- together we can make this happen by making sure our elected officials know that clean energy is the way forward!

Mary Anne Hitt From Compass

Five Ways to Get the Masses Charged Up About Electric Cars

Wed, 03/25/2015 - 13:32

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This column was co-written by Mike Walker, the founder and CEO of AlterAction, whose blog is here.

People already driving electric cars have fallen in love, as shown by of-the-charts customer satisfaction ratings. But for the vast majority of Americans who aren't yet driving electric, how do we get them charged up?

In our last two blogs in this series, we talked about the large number of people we need to switch to EVs if we're to have a shot at averting the worst of climate change. We also discussed the type of public policies -- like cash rebates -- that will incentivize people to drive electric vehicles (EVs).

But we won’t win over the mass market if we aren't educating and exciting the public. Here are five ways to get more Americans interested in buying EVs:

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1)      Find Smokey the Bear

It's probably not a coincidence that the BMW i3, the sporty new electric car, had one of its best-selling months following the release of a hilarious Super Bowl television ad (its stars are pictured at the top of this blog post!), with more than 18 million views on YouTube -- not to mention the millions who saw it during the big game. You also may have seen this Cadillac ELR EV commercial, aimed at the luxury car buyer.  Another ad, which cleverly parodies the Cadillac ad, is about the Ford C-Max Energi Plug-In Hybrid and is seriously funny. But these EV ads are the exceptions to the rule. The vast majority of car commercials we see are for gas-guzzling SUVs and pickup trucks. Come on, automakers.

By contrast, a switch to electric vehicles will lead to cleaner air and lower carbon emissions -- public goods that benefit all Americans.  Government agencies and nonprofits have invested in public service announcement (PSA) campaigns to promote seat belt use (“Click it or Ticket”) and to prevent wildfires (Smokey the Bear), and these campaigns have changed America for the better.  Public utilities fund direct-mail campaigns about energy efficiency, and we've made big improvements on that front too.  Why not PSAs and mailings re EVs?

2)      Bust the Myths

A number of persistent myths surround EVs:  They’re too expensive, not any better for the environment, unsafe, slow, can only drive short distances, are a hassle to charge, etc.  Chris Paine -- the documentary filmmaker behind Who Killed the Electric Car? and Revenge of the Electric Car -- busts several of these myths in this entertaining Washington Post article, and the Sierra Club does it here. We need to do more to set the record straight. 

3)      Events -- Get Butts in Seats

One of the many counterintuitive findings of social science research is that people’s attitudes tend to flow from their actions. Most EV drivers will tell you they didn't really understand what all the fuss was about until they actually rode in an electric car and experienced for themselves how fun, cool, and fast these cars are. We need to give people more opportunities to test drive EVs. During last year's National Drive Electric Week, upwards of 90,000 people attended events in 150 cities, and thousands of people took test drives. The fifth annual National Drive Electric Week will be September 12-20 this year, and organizers (Sierra Club, Plug In America, Electric Auto Association, and local partners) are already gearing up to make it bigger than ever.

Workplace test-drive events are another great opportunity to get people talking to their friends and co-workers about EVs -- and to take them for a spin during their lunch break.  Consider organizing one yourself.

4)      Recruit High-Profile Spokespersons

It's terrific that actor/activist Ed Begley, Jr. talks up his electric car, and we're heartened to know that celebs like George Clooney and Cameron Diaz drive electric too. But we need more high-profile celebrities, politicians, and business leaders driving EVs, and actively promoting them in traditional and social media. Readers of People magazine, The Hill, BuzzFeed, and The Wall Street Journal may have varying role models -- and most of them buy or lease cars.

5)      Understand and Appeal to New People

EVs can excite a wide range of people with all sorts of interests. The new documentary film The Burden, to be screened in the coming days at a film festival in D.C., makes the argument that EVs are appealing to veterans and national security hawks who want to slash our dependence on foreign oil.  Last week, thousands of car-racing enthusiasts took to the streets of Miami to watch Formula E, where professional racecar drivers show off their talents in blindingly fast EVs. Those of us looking to accelerate the EV market need to seek out and understand all sorts of audiences.

The Center for Sustainable Energy conducted a survey showing that California EV drivers prioritize issues -- such as carpool lane access, fuel cost savings, and emissions reductions -- and fit certain demographics.  But we need much more information about what messages, which media outlets, and which spokespersons will excite people.  If your organization is researching this information, don't be greedy!  Share it with other EV advocates, utility companies, government officials, and car companies looking to accelerate the EV market.  Working smartly together, we can electrify the masses.

Gina Coplon-Newfield From Compass

Polluters Again Challenge Commonsense Public Health Protections at the Supreme Court

Wed, 03/25/2015 - 10:07

Today, the Supreme Court will hear polluter arguments against the Environmental Protection Agency's vital Mercury and Air Toxics Standards (MATS), a long-overdue protection finalized in 2012 that will help guard our families, air, water, and wildlife from dangerous toxic pollution that comes from coal plants. These protections are critically important to public health, and the polluters challenging them are putting lives at risk.
 
The mercury, arsenic, and other poisonous metal and acid gas pollution that these protections are meant to control pose serious dangers to pregnant women and young children. EPA scientists have estimated that as many as one in 10 women have mercury levels in their blood high enough to cause damage to a developing baby. I know I worried about this when I was pregnant with my daughter five years ago, and I still worry about it now as she grows up.

That's why thousands of Sierra Club supporters worked with our partner organizations for years to push for these standards. I'll never forget appearing on Good Morning America in 2010, when I was a sleep-deprived new mom, to reveal the results of a mercury hair test taken by the program's weatherman, Sam Champion. It turned out that his mercury levels were two times higher than what the EPA recommends as safe -- much to his shock and surprise. How did his mercury levels get so high?
 
As the nation's largest source of mercury emissions, coal plants are responsible for 48 tons of this toxin being released every year. It falls from the smokestacks into our rivers, lakes, and oceans, making its way into the aquatic food chain, and perhaps to the seafood counter at your local grocery store. While eating seafood is part of a healthy diet, a few species of fish are known to be high in mercury -- which is why pregnant women are warned to avoid eating them by their doctors. 

In fact, all 50 states currently issue mercury advisories warning anglers to limit or avoid eating the fish they catch, due to high mercury levels in some fish. As of 2010, almost 18 million lake acres and approximately 1.4 million river miles were covered by some type of fish consumption advisory.
 
That is why the EPA's mercury protections are so important. Designed to be enacted over time, these safeguards will prevent up to 11,000 premature deaths, more than 100,000 asthma and heart attacks, and more than 5,000 emergency room and hospital visits each year once fully implemented. The EPA estimates that these life-saving protections will also save taxpayers up to $90 billion in healthcare costs annually -- a savings of as much as $9 for every dollar invested in cleaning up dirty coal plant pollution. 
 
So who in their right mind would attack these mercury protections? No surprise, but once again it's several polluting industries and their political allies who put profits before people and public health. For more on the legal arguments before the Supreme Court  today, Sierra Club managing attorney and MATS expert Sanjay Narayan has written a column that I highly recommend.
 
In this latest legal challenge, polluters asked the Supreme Court to ignore the public health benefits these new protections will bring and focus only on the companies' balance sheets. This, in spite of the fact that the vast majority of coal plants across the country have already installed, or are planning to install, the needed equipment to comply with the mercury protections. These plants that have already cleaned up have shown that protecting our communities from this pollution isn't just possible, it's already happening, and it's the right thing to do.
 
The most stubborn polluters, however, are still challenging the EPA on whether the agency adequately considered their costs before finalizing the mercury protections. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to see that this is in part a delaying tactic, since the protections will be mostly implemented by the time the Supreme Court even reaches a decision.

Additionally, it's clear that the EPA's analysis fully met the requirements of the law. The agency carefully studied the public-health harms caused by power plants, and determined that those harms were, indeed, enormously grave. It then set commonsense standards, based on the pollution reductions achieved by already operating plants, which is exactly what Congress told the EPA to do. The agency’s assessment of the protections shows them to be a real bargain for the American public, with benefits outweighing costs by as much as nine to one.
 
It's important to remember that in the 40 years since Americans demanded the creation of the EPA, the agency has saved millions of lives by developing and enforcing clean air and water standards. More than 1.7 million asthma attacks and $110 billion in health costs were avoided in 2010 alone thanks to the agency's efforts to clean up air and water pollution. These mercury protections, which were finalized by the EPA and upheld by the D.C. Circuit Court, are an essential next step in fulfilling the agency's mandate to safeguard the health and safety of the American people.
 
The Sierra Club and many other environmental and public health organizations agree: Turning back the clock on that progress makes no sense, and would deal a huge blow to our most vulnerable neighbors and family members. Even the New York Times' editorial board blasted the legal attacks in a scathing piece this week.

The Supreme Court must stand up for public health. But no matter the outcome of this Supreme Court decision, we will continue fighting to clean up this dangerous pollution once and for all.

Mary Anne Hitt From Compass

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

Thu, 03/19/2015 - 12:49

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



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

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


One of those volunteers put it this way:

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

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

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


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

Mary Anne Hitt From Compass

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