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Texas Democrats Band Together to Oppose Fast Tracking a Flawed Trade Deal

18 July 2014 - 9:08am

The massive Trans-Pacific Partnership, a proposed trade deal stalled time-and-again by grassroots and Congressional opposition, has a new hurdle to get over -- the Texas Democratic Party.

Congresswoman Eddie Bernice Johnson (TX-30) at the Fair Trade Caucus (left); Hal Suter, Sierra Club Lone Star Chapter (center); and Wendell Helms, United Automobile Workers. Photo courtesy of David Griggs. 

Thanks to the work of the Sierra Club’s Lone Star Chapter and allies, the Texas Democratic Party has taken an important stance on international trade policy by resolution and including a party platform plank that explicitly opposes “fast-track” legislation and demands transparency in the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) negotiations.

President Obama has pushed for fast-track authority, which limits the role of Congress to casting yes-or-no votes on trade pacts, limiting debate, and forbidding amendments. To make matters worse, the TPP has been negotiated in near secrecy for more than four years, without meaningful opportunities for public input.

The Texas Democratic Party’s statement reflects an alliance between labor, environmental, and human rights activists, enjoining U.S. trade policy to “combat child and slave labor, sweatshops, environmental degradation, and other practices that turn global trade into a race to the bottom”--as the platform states.  

Hal Suter, Chair of International Trade and Labor Relations at the Lone Star Chapter of the Sierra Club, co-chaired the inaugural Fair Trade Caucus at the Texas Democratic Convention with representatives of the United Automobile Workers and the Communications Workers of America, a coalition that was integral to the resolution’s passage. David Griggs, Political Chair of the Lone Star Chapter, was selected for the Platform Advisory Committee and led the energy and environment sections of the Texas Democratic Platform. The new caucus attracted two Congressional representatives: Reps. Al Green and Eddie Bernice Johnson.

Organizers expected an audience of 20 to 30 at the caucus as the resolution was being discussed.

“Not only did it go over, they needed to give us a bigger room!” Suter said. 

The Fair Trade Caucus attracted a large crowd, including environmentalists, labor unions, human rights activists, and others. Photo courtesy of David Griggs.

The caucus was filled with nearly 200 people, representing consumer advocacy groups, MoveOn.org, union members, environmentalists, and others. Suter highlighted that collaboration on trade provided a productive common ground between these groups, adding, “This is something that the Sierra Club can do in other states.”

Why are all of these groups so concerned about fast track? Fast track would rush the approval of the TPP and another huge agreement the U.S. is currently negotiating with the European Union -- the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, or TTIP. Sierra Club reports on the TPP and the TTIP have highlighted the risks that these trade agreements pose to our climate and communities.

Particularly in light of the extreme secrecy of these trade negotiations, limiting Congressional oversight over trade negotiations would only further limit the public and our Congressional Representatives from influencing far-reaching trade agreements.

The Texas Democratic Party has taken a critical step by incorporating their stance on fast track into their official platform.

Trade has incredible potential to foster sustainability and productivity internationally. On June 28, Texas Democrats showed solidarity with environmental and labor groups in seeking transparency and an inclusive process to secure free trade agreements that truly benefit people and the environment. The Fair Trade Caucus hopes that Texas Democrats have created a precedent for other states’ Democratic Party Platforms.

You can read the Texas Democratic Party's resolution here.

--Ethan Samet, Intern, Sierra Club’s Responsible Trade Program

Categories: Sierra Club National

Taking a stand against a proposed coal export terminal in Louisiana

17 July 2014 - 12:27pm

Gretna, La., might be a small city, but the residents are banding together to speak out against a proposed coal export terminal and the increased coal trains that would come with it. In the past month they've packed two community meetings to learn more about the proposed RAM Terminal coal export facility.

Back in June, dozens of people attended a Clean Gulf Commerce Coalition public meeting as a way to kick off the Gretna movement against the facility. The facility itself it planned for Plaquemines Parish, but the rail line serving it bisects Gretna.

The meeting followed weeks of canvassing, phonebanking, and media outreach to publicize the meeting, collect petition signatures, and draw attention to the problems of coal trains rumbling through historic districts and along major commuter highways intersections, said Sierra Club organizer Devin Martin.

"It was a joint effort between the Sierra Club, the Gulf Restoration Network, and the Clean Gulf Commerce Coalition," said Martin.

The movement's been making the news as well:

"Gretna has been making a lot of progress, preserving its historic district, renovating its old post office. It seems Gretna is on the upswing,'' said Devin Martin, a Sierra Club organizer who lives just outside Gretna, in neighboring Algiers. "The last thing the city needs is to have that rail line turn into an industrial corridor.''

Then on July 9, Gretna residents packed a Gretna City Council meeting to get the chance to testify their concerns about the possibility of coal trains passing through their neighborhoods, with all the attendant health risks, traffic congestion, emergency response times, and economic and quality of life concerns that would rattle the town.

"They gave some of the best, most heartfelt, moving, and powerful statements I've ever witnessed in my four years with the Club," said Martin.

Martin says the weeks since that first June town meeting included some excellent organizing - from tabling at farmer's markets and cafes, to business outreach, and weekly community meetings.

"Our goal was to introduce our presence and show the council that this is a vital issue that cannot be ignored any longer, and that the Mayor and council must take leadership and elevate and amplify the concerns of their constituents to state and federal decision makers," said Martin.

The coalition is asking the Gretna City Council to pass a resolution that would oppose coal trains, as well requesting that the appropriate state and federal agencies involved in the RAM Terminal permitting conduct a full public health, economic, and environmental impact analysis, which has not been done.

"The Council is definitely feeling the heat, and we intend to come back in August with even more residents, business owners, and health professionals to encourage the Council to pass this resolution," said Martin.

"From there, we will work to engage the entire Parish of Jefferson, the most populous parish in Louisiana, to do the same to stop this new coal export terminal that puts so much at risk for so many in one of the most vulnerable regions of the world for climate change and sea level rise."

Categories: Sierra Club National

New Report: Trade Talks Threaten to Undermine EU Climate Policy and Bring Tar Sands To Europe

17 July 2014 - 11:10am
Photo courtesy of the "Dirty Deals" report.

As 2014 brings in a new wave of global temperature records, countries implementing policies that reduce climate disrupting pollution should be lauded for their efforts.

But a report released today by the Sierra Club, Friends of the Earth Europe, Friends of the Earth U.S., Transport & Environment, Greenpeace, and Council of Canadians presents new evidence that the U.S. government is joining the Canadian government and oil lobbyists in pushing the European Union (EU) to weaken an important climate policy called the Fuel Quality Directive (FQD). Even more troubling, U.S. efforts to include the FQD in negotiations on the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) -- a free trade agreement being negotiated in secret between the U.S. and EU -- could critically undermine the EU’s ability to lower climate emissions.

The EU adopted the FQD in 2009 as means to reduce the carbon intensity of transportation fuels and ultimately lower transportation emissions by six percent by 2020. In 2011, the European Commission drafted proposed guidelines for how fuel suppliers could implement the policy and proposed that different types of fuels be classified by their climate emissions, meaning some fuel sources would be labelled as having higher greenhouse gas intensity values than others.  Such a system would encourage fuel suppliers to switch from dirtier fuels to cleaner types in order to meet the emissions reduction target.

Not surprisingly, oil corporations and their lobbyists on both side of the Atlantic have used every tool at their disposal to undermine the FQD.  They have been joined by the Canadian government --led by the infamously pro-tar sands Prime Minister Stephen Harper-- and argued that the FQD discriminates against Canada’s tar sands. Canada has even threatened the EU with a World Trade Organization challenge. In reality, the EU’s proposed science-based approach would label all carbon intensive sources of oil including liquefied coal, oil shale and tar sands as having high greenhouse gas intensity-- not discriminate against countries.

Sadly, the United States government, at the urging of the oil industry, has joined Canada and its oil industry in raising concerns about the landmark climate policy.  Moreover, the U.S. now has a new playing field in which to weaken the FQD:  negotiations for the proposed U.S.-EU trade pact, also known as the TTIP.

Ideally, a 21st century U.S.-EU trade agreement would allow -- and encourage -- countries to implement policies that would address the growing threat of climate disruption. Instead, today’s report highlights that our own U.S. negotiators seem to be characterizing the FQD as a potential barrier to trade, rather than a necessary policy that should be emulated.

As detailed in the report, despite claims from the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) to Congress that “USTR is not pressing the European Commission for any particular treatment of crude oil under the FQD,” emails uncovered by Friends of the Earth Europe reveal that the U.S. has, in fact, pushed the EU to weaken the FQD proposal. They’ve done so by encouraging the EU to strip out parts of the implementing guidelines that would “single out“ the most polluting sources of oil like tar sands.

This would be akin to removing the nutritional information listed on food products. Rice cakes and doughnuts have distinct nutritional properties, which is something governments have decided that consumers have a right to know. Equally, the proposed FQD would recognize that all fuels are not created equal and that some release more climate-disrupting gases than others.  But representatives of the USTR do not seem to agree, and correspondence indicates that they are pushing for a policy that would hinder the EU’s ability to flag tar sands imports as particularly greenhouse gas disrupting.

Disturbingly, the weakening of an important climate initiative in the TTIP negotiations should come as no surprise. Last week, a leaked trade document uncovered by the Washington Post revealed an EU proposal for the TTIP that would force the U.S. to automatically approve all exports of crude oil and liquefied natural gas to the EU.

The TTIP (which began a new negotiating round this week) is facing massive public opposition to proposed provisions like investor-state dispute settlement, which would empower corporations to sue countries over environmental policies they don’t like before private trade tribunals. Today’s report reveals that even the FQD—an ambitious climate policy that the EU has been pushing for years—could be critically weakened simply in the process of the secretive, non-inclusive negotiations.

Read our report here .

--Courtenay Lewis, Campaign Representative, Sierra Club Responsible Trade Program, and Ilana Solomon, Director, Sierra Club Responsible Trade Program

Categories: Sierra Club National

Sierra Club and Center for American Progress premier solar documentary using Google Glass

17 July 2014 - 9:01am
Photo courtesy of Harnessing the Sun to Keep the Lights on in India

Today, the Sierra Club and Center for American Progress (CAP) debuted a new documentary that highlights the vital role off-grid solar power is playing around the world, particularly in developing areas like Uttar Pradesh, India.

By using Google Glass, Sierra Club and CAP were able to capture the life-transforming power off-grid solar energy has had in Uttar Pradesh. Through the eyes of Google Glass and traditional filming equipment, Justin Guay and Vrinda Manglik of the Sierra Club and Andrew Satter of CAP not only saw solar panels being installed, but they talked to the very people whose lives have been transformed by solar power.

All this week we’ve been releasing behind the scenes footage of our journey in anticipation of the  launch of our documentary. You can check out our videos on Twitter using the hashtag #PutSolarOnIt or by clicking here.

Make sure you check out our documentary, “Harnessing the Sun to Keep the Light on in India” and take action to help alleviate global energy poverty.

--Justin Guay, Associate Director, International Climate Program, and Vrinda Manglik, Associate Campaign Representative, International Clean Energy Access

Categories: Sierra Club National

'Walls & The Tiger' highlights rural activists' challenge

16 July 2014 - 8:19am
Photo courtesy of 'Walls & The Tiger'

In this modern day David vs. Goliath, rural activists of the Kona Forest region in South India are fighting back against a decade of environmental destruction and human rights violations.

Walls & The Tiger, a new documentary set to be released this fall, follows these activists in their campaign to protect and sustain traditional communities and fragile ecosystems from corrupt industrialization.  Propelled by graceful, urgent storytelling and filled with revelations of courage in the

Photo courtesy of 'Walls & The Tiger'

face of adversity, this film adds cathartic force to one of the most crucial political and human rights issues of the 21st century: the decimation of rural people and their environments in the name of development.

“We accept the development. But not at the cost of the environment and not at the cost of the poor mans’ resources,” one of the activists in the documentary explains. “It is our responsibility to provide fresh air and fresh water to our next generations. Without this, development means nothing.”

Unlike many similar communities that crumbled at the will of big industry, these Kona Forest villagers have decided to take on the development that stands to destroy their environment and livelihoods.

By uniting to protect their land and resources, everyday farmers have become savvy activists, actively working to protect their livelihoods and taking to the courts, filing a lawsuit against powerful global forces. Their story will stand as a model for many communities that face similar situations throughout the world. Despite facing arrests and abuse from the authorities, these rural activists have worked to fearlessly protect their established way of life.

In the face of adversity, they have demonstrated that when the “walls” of development encroach upon them, “the tiger” strikes back.

Sushma Kallam, the director of the film, has spent the past 13 years in the United States working as an IT consultant for top global corporations, specializing in supply-chain management. During this time, she began to understand the devastating impacts certain development policies have had on rural life throughout the world.

Photo courtesy of 'Walls & The Tiger'

Her film shows how expedited industrialization and development have, in many ways, resulted in personal wealth for only a few while leaving large communities that were initially self-sustainable subject to environmental and agrarian crisis.  As both a corporate consultant and a descendant of farmers, Kallam has a unique perspective in connecting these two disparate worlds by showing the effects of their interdependency to meet our consumer demands.

Given her intimate access and years spent filming alongside farmers, government officials, and activists, Kallam takes us into the lives and families of those directly facing this struggle and gives viewers a rare opportunity to understand this complex issue.

Walls & The Tiger is set to be released at movie festivals in the U.S., UK, and Europe this fall, and Kallam hopes it will build and strengthen international coalitions as well as leverage public awareness around the issue. Ultimately, Kallam and her team hope that this campaign will affect policy change and measures by ensuring that awareness is built amongst people in India and throughout the world to protect sustainable communities and the environment.

To watch the trailer for Walls & The Tiger, click here.

--Neha Mathew, Executive Coordinator, Beyond Coal Campaign, and Sushma Kallam, Director of Walls & The Tiger

Categories: Sierra Club National

Healing Walk in Photos: Stronger When We Walk Together

15 July 2014 - 11:35am

This weekend, communities from across the northeast San Francisco Bay came together in the fourth of four "connecting the dots" refinery Healing Walks that connected fenceline communities facing refineries and crude by rail oil infrastructure in Contra Costa County.

Led by Indigenous elders, the walks focus on healing and on connecting communities, with prayers offered at each refinery along the way for healing and for a just transition away from fossil fuels.  

Many described the walks as a powerful experience -- walking together, praying together, interacting with community members along the way, and building connections to grow the resistance.  

The communities of Pittsburg, Benicia, Martinez, Rodeo, and Richmond, California, joined together in these walks that spanned 44 miles from the Valero refinery in Pittsburg south through the refinery corridor to end on Saturday at the Chevron refinery in Richmond.

Saturday's walk spanned 13 miles from the Phillips 66 refinery in Rodeo to the Chevron refinery in Richmond -- here are some photos that attempt to capture the experience and the strength and spirit of these communities that are fighting for their health, safety, and survival.

Here's the view looking up the train tracks at the refinery in Rodeo. As participants gathered, a train carrying oil passed on the tracks, shaking the ground where the Healing Walk participants were standing.

Participants gather and sign in for the opening ceremony before the walk begins in Rodeo. Flags and signs, drums and singing were key parts of the walk.

The Healing Walk makes its way into Pinole, Calif. Many of the roads we walked on Saturday did not have sidewalks, spreading the walkers out in single and double file along the side of the road.

The walk stopped at the Kinder Morgan facility to offer prayers right in front of a crude by rail facility. The communities have been banding together to fight proposals to bring more and more explosive Bakken crude by rail into the Bay area. The Healing Walk on Saturday honored the memory of 47 residents of Lac-Mégantic in Canada who were killed this week last year when a train carrying explosive Bakken crude derailed and incinerated the town. Many of the residents of these Bay Area communities live along crude by rail "blast zones" that could face a similar tragedy.

It was particularly moving this weekend to hear Pennie Opal Plant, one of the lead organizers for the walks, pray at the Chevron refinery for the workers' safety and for the workers to continue to have jobs that support their families as we transition away from the fossil fuel economy, as security and workers for the refinery looked on.  

Richmond residents and community groups also talked about their struggle for health and safety with the refinery in their back yard, especially with the recent Chevron refinery explosion that sent many residents to hospitals.

As the walk ended at the waterfront in Richmond, in view of the marine facility where Chevron ships its oil, residents from each of the five communities connected through the walk expressed their commitment to each other and expressed gratitude for these walks bringing them together across 44 miles of the refinery corridor in the northeast San Francisco Bay.

Because we're stronger when we walk together.

-- Text and photos by Rachel Rye Butler, Sierra Club Beyond Oil Campaign

Categories: Sierra Club National

Selling Solar in India Through the Lens of Google Glass

14 July 2014 - 9:25am

 

Solar power is the key to ending energy poverty.

No, this isn’t some out-of-touch Silicon Valley pipe dream. Innovative companies like Simpa Networks and OMC power are pioneering new energy models for rural populations that deliver everything from LED lightbulbs and Skinny Grids to Off-Grid Wi-Fi to pay-as-you-go solar home systems.

To better understand how they empower people, the Sierra Club and Center for American Progress (CAP) teamed up to document their efforts in a hotbed of off-grid solar activity: Uttar Pradesh, India. We brought along a pair of Google Glass to document our travel and give the world a first-hand look at our global distributed energy future.

 

If there’s one thing we learned about their efforts, it’s this: small is big.

All those small-scale solar home systems and mini-grids these companies are building add up to a whopping $12 billion energy market potential. Even more exciting, this market is already booming. From 80,000 solar home systems installed every month in Bangladesh, to a 95-percent compound annual growth rate in Sub-Saharan Africa’s off-grid solar market, it’s easy to see why investment is rapidly growing.

But, despite all this growth, public institutions have still not stepped up to provide the investment these companies require to truly scale their efforts. Perhaps the lone exception to this rule is President Obama’s exciting new “Beyond the Grid” initiative, but even that is not enough. That’s why entrepreneurs are demanding $500 million to catalyze faster growth from leading development institutions like the World Bank.

But lost amidst growth rates and investments is the human story yearning to be told.

From Mathura to Atroli, solar power has helped transform the lives of countless Indians. In Mathura, we met farmers who have saved untold amounts of money by switching from expensive kerosene lamps to inexpensive solar power. We met rural shopkeepers who are now able to stay open later in the evenings, which means more money in their pockets. And we met rural seamstresses who now use cleaner, cheaper solar lighting when they weave India’s famous saris.

 

But perhaps the most poignant moment was when we heard from Vishal Shukla, a local villager who now lives and works in Delhi for a non-profit organization, about the effect solar energy has had on his daughter’s lives. When he was growing up, Vishal didn’t have reliable light to study by in the evenings, and he struggled with his education. Fast forward to 2014, and Vishal’s daughters now enjoy cheaper, cleaner solar LED lighting that helps them study at night. Thanks to solar lamps, his daughters now have a brighter future, both literally and figuratively.

This is a testament to the immediate and transformative effect even small amounts of clean energy can have on people’s lives. By leapfrogging the dirty, ineffective centralized energy grid that has failed these rural populations for decades, companies are building an entirely new system, one which puts power directly in the hands of the people.

To see more of the effect solar is having on the lives of people like Vishal follow #PutSolarOnIt on Twitter as the Sierra Club and CAP release behind-the-scenes footage of our trip all this week. Then on Thursday, join us for the world premiere of our documentary, “Harnessing the Sun to Keep Lights on in India,” and see why solar truly is the key to ending energy poverty.

--Justin Guay, Associate Director, International Climate Program, and Vrinda Manglik, Associate Campaign Representative, International Clean Energy Access

Categories: Sierra Club National

The Resistance is Growing: Take Note, Oil Companies & Corporate Oil Consumers

11 July 2014 - 4:00pm

By Rachel Rye Butler

Tomorrow, Saturday June 12, activists from affected communities in the Bay Area refinery corridor and along crude by rail blast zones will come together for the last of four Refinery Healing Walks, which have traced a path of pollution from oil refinery to oil refinery across the northeast San Francisco Bay.

Saturday's walk will start at the Phillips 66 refinery in Rodeo, California, and proceed 13 miles to the Chevron Refinery in Richmond -- the same refinery that made news not long ago for an explosion that sent more than 15,000 people to local hospitals.

The communities along this corridor have long faced health impacts and pollution from these refineries, and the pollution is only getting worse as the refineries accept and process tar sands crude, which exposes residents to even greater levels of toxic chemicals, particulate matter, sulfur dioxide, lead, carbon dioxide, and other harmful pollutants.

But these communities and many, many more across North America -- including those affected by tar sands refining, pipelines, and rail transportation, and people living at the source of tar sands extraction in Canada -- are standing up and calling for an end to the pipelines, the rail terminals, and the tar sands mining that harms our health, our water, our land, and our climate.

Photo by Peg Hunter

One of the previous Healing Walks toured Martinez, California (pictured above and below), home to two refineries that process oil and tar sands crude -- and also home to a strong resistance among residents who are fighting for the health of their community.

Photo by Peg Hunter

Between the explosive crude being shipped by rail through their communities -- and many others across the country -- and the pollution burden from refineries, residents are saying that enough is enough.

Photo by Peg Hunter

They're saying it through events like the Healing Walks, by pressuring their local decision-makers to protect the communities rather than cow to industry, and by speaking directly to the biggest single consumers of tar sands: corporations like PepsiCo that use tar sands in their massive vehicle fleets.

Tamhas Griffith, a founder of the Martinez Environmental Group, one of the community organizations in the Northeast Bay Area, traveled to the PepsiCo shareholder meeting earlier this year to deliver this message:

"People in our communities have had enough of paying for oil industry record profits with the health of our families. We are organizing to hold oil companies and their corporate consumers accountable for their impact on our lives."

That's Griffith below, with Sierra Club Future Fleet campaign director Gina Coplon-Newfield, at the PepsiCo shareholder meeting.

The Healing Walk on Saturday is another step that communities are taking to fight back against big oil and fight for a clean and just energy future, and it's just one of many events taking place this week across the country. The resistance is growing, and it's not going to stop.

Categories: Sierra Club National

NJ Gov. Chris Christie’s Lose-Lose Move for New Jersey

10 July 2014 - 9:41am

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie (Photo: Bob Jagendorf)

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie is doing whatever he can to prevent his state from supporting clean energy jobs and climate action. On Monday, Christie again took the path of big polluters by pulling New Jersey out of the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) - an innovative and proven program in which northeastern states are working together to reduce carbon pollution while boosting the clean energy economy. And it’s not the first time Christie’s tried to turn back the clock. In March, an earlier RGGI rollback was slapped down when a court found Christie’s administration violated the law in attempting to pull the state out of the regional agreement.

RGGI has already helped create thousands of jobs in New Jersey while curbing carbon pollution from power plants -- and it’d be a key way in which the state could meet the new carbon standards established by President Obama’s Clean Power Plan.

"People of New Jersey demand action on climate change and want our state to reduce air pollution, for our state to be more resilient, and to support growing our economy through new technology and clean energy jobs,” New Jersey Sierra Club Director Jeff Tittel said. “Especially after Hurricane Sandy, the public supports action on climate change. New Jersey needs to reduce greenhouse gases -- and RGGI is one of the ways to do it."

During New Jersey’s participation in the initiative, the state achieved its greenhouse gas reduction goal of 10 percent within the first three years, boosted the economy by $151 million, and created 1,772 jobs throughout the state. So that begs the question -- why would the state pull out in light of its substantial success?

“We believe that the Governor pulled out of RGGI because he cares more about his national political ambition than the environment and people of New Jersey," Tittel said.

As Christie keeps his eyes on a potential Presidential run in 2016, the big polluters and special interests that back Republican candidates are attacking any and all efforts to create clean energy jobs and act on the climate crisis. Front organizations backed by the oil-rich Koch Brothers have pushed legislators to sign a pledge to refuse climate action while polluter front groups are dumping millions into efforts to smear the Clean Power Plan and its supporters. So, Republicans with national ambitions like Christie are positioning themselves now to be on the side of polluters.

This isn’t the first time Christie has put New Jersey’s communities and economy in jeopardy for the sake of his political standing. Since taking office, the Christie administration has gutted about $1 billion from clean energy funding initiatives. With Christie’s support, a New Jersey Clean Energy Fund could have created 5,000 local jobs, billions of dollars in economic activity, and cut air pollution by 100 million tons.

“With RGGI we can protect our environment, reduce carbon pollution, and move our state forward economically. RGGI is a win-win for New Jersey, and Gov. Christie is a lose-lose when it comes to protecting our environment and reducing the impacts of climate change,” said Tittel. “The Governor would rather side with the fossil fuel lobby in Washington than clean energy jobs in New Jersey."

--Tori Ravenel, Sierra Club Media Team

Categories: Sierra Club National

Leaked: European Union Trade Document, Translation: Climate Disaster

8 July 2014 - 8:05am


A leaked European Union trade document, published today by the Washington Post, reveals the dangers
of the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership for communities and our climate.  The document, similar to a previously leaked EU proposal for a chapter on energy which I wrote about here, makes it clear that the EU is looking to use this secretly negotiated trade pact as a back-door channel to get automatic, unfettered access to U.S. fracked gas and oil. If this proposal moves forward, we would see more fracking for oil and gas in the United States, more climate-disrupting pollution globally, and increased dependence on fossil fuels in the EU. So, while oil and gas companies on both sides of the Atlantic rake in profits, everyone else is stuck paying the costs.

To understand the real implications of the proposal, let’s look at some key elements and translate what each means for communities, energy policy, and climate.

1. “The EU proposes to include a legally binding commitment in the TTIP guaranteeing the free export of crude oil and gas resources by transforming any mandatory and non-automatic export licensing procedure into a process by which licenses for exports to the EU are granted automatically and expeditiously. Such a specific commitment would, in the EU’s view, not require that the U.S. amend its existing legislation on oil and gas.”

Translation: The United States should scrap its process for reviewing the impacts of exporting natural gas and crude oil and automatically send the EU our gas and oil.

Here is the background. In the United States, companies must secure a license to export crude oil and natural gas. Exports of crude oil to the European Union are allowed only if the President determines they are consistent with the national interest and they pass an impact assessment. The EU proposal, however, would require the United States to “automatically and expeditiously” approve crude oil export licenses without even considering the national interest. That leaves no room to even examine how more dirty fracking and more dangerous exports will harm communities here at home. Exporting crude oil to the EU would mean windfall profits to Big Oil, more fracking, and more climate-disrupting pollution.

With respect to natural gas, the EU proposal would remove the U.S. Department of Energy’s requirement to review whether exports are in the public interest before approving any exports. The rubber-stamping of exports would lead to increased natural gas production—most of which will come from dangerous fracking. The natural gas would then be transported to export facilities and cooled and liquefied for overseas shipment--an extremely energy-intensive process that creates a dirty climate-disrupting fuel.

2.“EU and U.S. companies would be first beneficiaries.”

Translation: The oil and gas industries will be the first ones to benefit. Not much explaining to do here! Increased fracking for oil and gas and more exports means more profits for corporate polluters. The oil and gas industry may, in fact, be the only beneficiaries. Certainly American communities and our climate would lose out.

3. “Only a dedicated chapter [on energy] will allow for the necessary coherence and the required visibility to fulfill this role. Having energy and raw materials addressed in provisions dispersed throughout different chapters of a TTIP agreement would not result in the kind of integrated disciplines that are required to address the specificities of these products and the way in which they are traded.”

Translation: We can deal with energy trade issues through an energy chapter (the EU position) or by dispersing language throughout the TTIP. This text could indicate that the U.S. wants to do the latter—a sly approach, as it would be less visible to the public but would likely have the same harmful results.

The Sierra Club believes there must not be anything anywhere in trade deals that guarantees “free trade” in fossil fuels or otherwise hinders climate action, so scrapping this energy chapter is one place to start.  

4. “In the future, an energy and raw materials chapter negotiated between the U.S. and the EU could serve as a platform for each party’s negotiations with energy and raw materials relevant partners such as Mexico for instance.”

Translation: Watch out world! This proposal isn’t just for sending unfettered exports of U.S. oil and gas to Europe. An energy chapter is also a dangerous precedent for agreements with other countries, such as Mexico. Every country must be able to manage its own energy sources, natural resources, and climate policies. Trade agreements can’t stand in the way.

5. “In conclusion, a clear signal from the U.S. at this stage that it is accepting the principle of negotiating a specific chapter including provisions on unrestricted access to U.S. natural resources would show our resolve while further encouraging investments in the upstream and downstream energy sectors.”

Translation: The EU wants the green light from the U.S. for an energy chapter in TTIP. Further translation: Let’s get mobilized! Trade agreements negotiated behind closed doors cannot put corporations before people and countries. The first step to ensuring that trade agreements actually protect communities and the public is to stop U.S. “fast-track” legislation that would facilitate the approval of harmful trade pacts without sufficient Congressional or public input. Please take action and tell your Member of Congress to oppose legislation that would limit the ability of Congress to ensure trade pacts protect our air, clean water, and climate.

--Ilana Solomon, Director, Sierra Club’s Responsible Trade Program

Categories: Sierra Club National

Sierra Club calls for Ex-Im bank reform

3 July 2014 - 1:28pm

As the debate in Congress continues around the Export-Import Bank's reauthorization, the way forward is not entirely clear. Some Congressional Republicans believe that the bank should be abolished, while many others on both sides of the aisle believe it needs real reform. The Sierra Club believes that Congress should continue to push the Bank to reform its energy sector lending.

Congress should use the reauthorization process to conduct a rigorous assessment of the Export-Import Bank’s (Ex-Im) deficiencies, and to impose some commonsense reforms to ensure that Ex-Im’s activities do as much as possible to create U.S. jobs, promote competitiveness, and advance our national interests. This necessarily includes paying due regard to evolving global issues, such as the imperative to address the impacts of a changing climate.  

If Congress really wants to explore ways to better enable Ex-Im to promote U.S. competitiveness in the evolving global marketplace, it should focus on reforming Ex-Im’s energy sector portfolio.  

By 2020, clean energy will be one of the world’s biggest industries, totaling as much as $2.3 trillion. The vast majority of this investment is projected to take place outside of the United States, and American companies are in danger of being left behind by companies from countries such as Germany, China and Spain whose governments have done much more to advance their clean technology sectors.

Expanded support for clean energy exports is therefore essential for American competitiveness in this fast-growing, strategically important sector. Yet Ex-Im continues to neglect the clean energy sector in favor of providing massive support for fossil fuel companies. Over the last two years, Ex-Im provided a whopping $14.5 billion in financing to exports related to oil-and-gas  development and refining, even though the carbon pollution that would result from burning existing fossil fuel reserves already far exceeds the amount that can be safely burned under any scientifically defensible scenario.

During the same period it provided only about $500 million dollars for clean energy and other climate friendly technologies--- less than one percent of its total financing. This is despite the fact that Congress has already directed Ex-Im to allocate at least 10 percent of its aggregate financing to clean energy or end-use energy efficiency technologies. Had Ex-Im simply followed this instruction, it would have already provided over $3.5 billion to support clean energy exports.

Ex-Im has taken a small step away from its lavish support for fossil fuels by adopting some limitations on its support for new coal plants. After putting this reform on hold in last year’s appropriations bill, the Republicans at the helm of the most anti-environmental House in history have these lending limits in their crosshairs and are seeking to permanently override them. At minimum, this restriction should be reinstated. And Congress should  restrict Ex-Im’s support for other fossil fuel investments. In addition, Congress should require Ex-Im to come forward with a serious plan for meeting its long-time target of allocating 10 percent of its portfolio to clean energy and end-use efficiency technologies.

Congress has a golden opportunity to use this year’s reauthorization to catalyze support for U.S. clean energy exports. They must seize it. We urge Congress to take their time with this reauthorization to make sure that the Export-Import Bank is supporting jobs and American competitiveness in the energy technologies of the 21st century.

--Steve Herz, Sierra Club International Climate Program

Categories: Sierra Club National

From East to West, Good News for Wilderness and Communities Threatened by Coal Projects

3 July 2014 - 8:40am


The Sunset Trail Roadless Area in Colorado. Photo courtesy of WildEarth Guardians - see more photos here.

In the past week we've received good news on major proposed coal projects that pose a threat to communities and beautiful places, from both the eastern U.S. and the western U.S.
 
First, last Friday a federal court cited climate change as a major reason for rejecting federal agencies' approval of a coal mine expansion plan that would bulldoze roads through the pristine and beautiful Sunset Roadless Area wilderness in Western Colorado.
 
The Bureau of Land Management and the U.S. Forest Service had authorized the leasing of 10.1 million tons of coal under 1,700 acres of the Sunset Roadless Area in order to expand Arch Coal's West Elk Coal Mine. Last year Earthjustice, on behalf of the Sierra Club, High Country Conservation Advocates, and WildEarth Guardians, filed suit to overturn that authorization on the grounds that they had failed to adequately consider the environmental harm the project would cause.
 
"BLM's federal coal leasing program has a massive impact on our climate and public health, affecting the waters we use, the air we breathe, and the wild areas we enjoy," said Roger Singer, Senior Organizing Manager with the Sierra Club in Colorado. "For years, BLM has been telling the public that its individual coal leasing decisions -- even those approving hundreds of millions of tons of coal -- have no impact on our climate. That assumption is out the window."
 
On the other side of the country, mountaintop removal coal mining opponents received good news when the Federal Highway Administration announced that the Virginia Department of Transportation will be required to conduct a full environmental review for a controversial 26-mile section of the Coalfields Expressway that would run through southwest Virginia.


The Coalfields Expressway project, which I described as a "mountaintop removal coal mine in disguise" in a prior post, is a public-private partnership between the Commonwealth of Virginia and coal mining companies, including Alpha Natural Resources. The coal companies would get to strip mine the land and leave it razed for building the highway (which may not ever be completed). In order to make this bad deal work, the coal companies were allowed to re-route the highway's proposed route, moving it away from local business districts and threatening to take thousands of acres of privately-owned land through eminent domain.
 
More than 85,000 citizens sent comments to VDOT and FHWA expressing their concerns about the harm that mountaintop removal coal mining associated with this project would have on drinking water, community health, and quality of life.
 
"VDOT now has the opportunity to take a fresh, honest look at this project," said Marley Green, a Wise County resident and Sierra Club organizer in Virginia. "We have the chance to figure out the best ways to improve transportation access and diversify our struggling mountain economy."
 
Coal projects like these continue to threaten wilderness and communities nationwide, but more and more often, they are being met by robust opposition from local residents whose livelihoods depend on a healthy environment. Americans want clean air and clean water, and they don't want communities and beautiful places devastated by coal mining.

-- Mary Anne Hitt, Beyond Coal Campaign Director

Categories: Sierra Club National

Poll: Voters More Likely to Support Candidates Who Support Climate Action

2 July 2014 - 11:27am

Climate disruption has been a polarizing issue in the political sphere, with many Republicans in Congress staunchly opposing any efforts by President Obama or Congressional Democrats to combat the global crisis. Most recently, Republican elected officials have been the loudest opponents of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s proposed carbon pollution standards.

With the midterm elections just around the corner, the Yale Project on Climate Change Communications and the George Mason University Center for Climate Change Communication released a new national poll examining how voters across the different political parties feel about climate disruption.

This research has implications for political candidates vying for voter support in the coming months. Researchers at Yale University and GMU found that American registered voters are more than two times more likely to vote for a candidate who strongly supports taking action to combat climate disruption. Conservative Republicans are the only political group studied that would be less likely to vote for such a candidate. And, conversely, registered voters are three times more likely to vote against a candidate that opposes climate action.

Researchers at Yale University and GMU also found that many registered voters are willing to get involved politically outside the ballot box. More than one-in-four (26%) indicate they would be willing to join or are currently participating in a campaign to call for elected officials to take climate action.

Researchers also found deep and consistent divides within the bloc of respondents who identified themselves as Republicans or Republican-leaning independents; liberal or moderate Republicans are significantly more convinced that human-caused climate disruption is occurring and more supportive of climate action (and those politicians who call for it) than conservative Republicans are. While Democrats are the most concerned about climate disruption, this study suggests that liberal or moderate Republicans’ views on climate issues are more similar to Democrats than to some of the more-conservative factions of their party.

Two-thirds of the 860 registered voters surveyed say they think “global warming” is happening, including 88% of Democrats, 59% of independents, and a majority (61%) of liberal and moderate Republicans (which the report calls “establishment Republicans”). The same cannot be said of conservative Republicans; just 28% of these registered voters accept that climate disruption is occurring. Majorities of every political segment are concerned, but liberal/moderate Republicans are more than twice as likely to be worried than conservative Republicans are (51% versus 19%, respectively).

Based on the numbers in these polls, political candidates, no matter what their party, who deny the existence of climate disruption or impede government action to combat it may ultimately be working against their political interests. The public support for climate action and political candidates who support it is overwhelming, especially among Democrats. But there is more diversity within the Republican Party on these issues than one might think. Many Republicans appear to now believe in the existence of global climate disruption, and just a small percentage of Republicans oppose mitigation efforts outright. These divisions within the party serve as an encouraging sign that the topic of climate disruption is become less political, and potentially more likely to encourage action in the months and years to come. 

--Christopher Todaro, Sierra Club Polling and Research Intern

Categories: Sierra Club National

Australian Prime Minister Attempts To Undermine U.S. Climate Action

1 July 2014 - 2:43pm
Nemo outside the Export-Import Bank in Washington, D.C.

How are we going to mitigate climate disruption? By planting more trees, according to Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott.

In an effort to undermine the first-ever standards to clean up carbon pollution from power plants proposed this month as a part of the Obama administration’s Clean Power Plan, Abbott is attempting to join forces with the “like-minded” right wing leaders in the UK, New Zealand, and Canada.

Their goal? Stop the global effort to address climate disruption -- at places like the upcoming G20 Summit in Brisbane, Australia -- and completely shutter all efforts to make curbing carbon pollution a global initiative.

Instead of outright denying the facts of climate disruption -- like many Republicans in the U.S. -- these right wing leaders at least recognize that climate disruption is an issue and are looking to energy efficiency as one way to realistically sustain their energy use for the future. But the progress stops there. Instead of taking the definitive action needed to protect our planet and public health, Abbott and his allies would rather protect the interests of big polluters than listen to their own citizens.

In fact, Abbott believes that the best way to mitigate the severe effects of climate disruption -- including the recent unprecedented droughts, floods, and wildfires that have been plaguing Australia -- is “to cultivate better soils, to plant more trees, to take the kind of direct action measures which we certainly intend to take in Australia.”

But by ignoring the harmful effects carbon pollution from coal, oil, and natural gas on both our public health and our planet, Abbott is not only completely failing to take direct action, he is ultimately helping to further the climate disruption that is so drastically affecting Australians.

And this isn’t the first time Prime Minister Abbott has prioritized big business over the fragile and priceless environment in Australia. For years, he has worked to revoke the World Heritage Site status of both the Tasmanian forest and the Great Barrier Reef in an effort to increase logging and dredge for coal exports. It is at the expense of some of the world’s greatest natural treasures that Abbott has tried to leave his legacy.

Unfortunately, Prime Minister Abbott hasn’t been alone in this quest to destroy the Great Barrier Reef. In fact, the U.S. Export-Import Bank has been planning to open massive coal mines in Australia’s Galilee Basin and dredge one of the most fragile ecosystems in the world. If their plan comes to fruition, not only will Abbott make money off the Reef’s destruction, but your American tax dollars will have helped him do it.

Luckily, many people down under are fighting back against Prime Minister Abbott’s extreme views.

Just recently, activists were able to save the Leard State Forest from the needless clear cutting by the Whitehaven Coal company. In this major victory for environmental champions, instead of building a new coal mine in this critical habitat, the coal company has been ordered to stop clearing during the winter when many threatened species are hibernating, thus protecting these species and this important forest.

Even more, these Australian environmental champions come from all backgrounds, including the Australian Labor Party leader Bill Shorten.

In an interview with The Sydney Morning Herald, Mr. Shorten touted climate disruption as an across-the-board issue that will affect not only the environment but also national security and the economy.

That’s why it is so crucial for Prime Minister Abbott and his allies to not only address climate disruption in their home countries but at every major international forum, including the G20 Summit. It is only through global cooperation in the fight against climate disruption that we can protect our futures for generations to come.

--Justin Guay, Associate Director, International Climate Program

Categories: Sierra Club National

An Innovation A Day Keeps the Emissions Away

1 July 2014 - 9:16am

Just about every day, I'm hearing about new innovation in electric vehicle (EV) technology on the market or in the works.

Sustainia, an annual guide to innovative sustainable solutions worldwide, just announced its 100 top picks. Among the companies were at least five in the EV space. One is Proterra, the electric bus company about which we've blogged before, for its EcoRide Fast Charging Electric Buses. Proterra says these buses get the equivalent (in terms of efficiency and emissions) of 20.8 mpg as compared to 5.25 mpg for hybrid, 3.86 mpg for diesel, and 3.27 mpg for CNG. These e-buses are seriously cleaner!

Honeywell & Safran made the Sustainia 100 list for its new electric taxiing system for airplanes, which is expected to equip A320 aircrafts with autonomous taxiing technology from gate to runway to save the CO2 equivalent per plane of planting 835 trees or eliminating 717 automobiles.

ChargePoint was on Sustainia 100 for the company's technology at 17,000+ EV charging stations nationwide. ChargePoint is clearly charging ahead -- with millions more in venture capital support recently secured and a new partnership with French electrical systems giant Schneider Electric.

Finally, there were two battery technology companies on the Sustainia list; Aquion Energy and Ambri are both making strides in renewable energy battery storage. My Sierra Club colleague Reed McManus wrote for the current edition of Sierra Magazine about research underway for EV batteries that will allow electric cars to charge faster and go further.

So is it competition or collaboration that is enabling these kind of advances? Tesla recently surprised many by announcing that it would open up its 172 current patents to any company that works "in good faith" to advance the EV market. When we read that "Nissan wants a three-way with Tesla and BMW" (not my words!) for supercharger technology, we know this kind of collaboration could mean that EV drivers are soon enjoying big benefits from this kind of corporate love-in.

-- Gina Coplon-Newfield is the Sierra Club’s Director of Future Fleet & Electric Vehicles Initiative

Categories: Sierra Club National