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Four Lessons Pakistan’s Off-Grid Solar Market Can Teach the World

16 June 2014 - 1:41pm
Photo courtesy of EcoEnergy

When it comes to the off-grid solar market, the South Asian countries you normally hear about are India and Bangladesh. One is home to the largest potential market in the world, the other is home to the world’s most successful and booming market to date.

But the elephant in the room, the potential off-grid solar leader you never hear about, is Pakistan. We’ve heard rumblings of off-grid solar companies eyeing this market for some time, so we sat down to talk with Jeremy Higgs of EcoEnergy to find out the latest on this pivotal country’s off-grid solar prospects.

Before we delve into the market, it’s important to understand the context in which these companies operate. That energy situation can be summed up in one word: crisis.

As Carl Pope pointed out, Pakistan really has two energy problems: 1) most of the rural population still has no access to the grid, and 2) the population that does have access to the grid is struggling with power cuts and supply shortages caused by climate disruption-induced drought. This ultimately affects the use of hydropower while the skyrocketing prices of oil further reduce affordability of the existing supply.

In fact, 36 percent of Pakistan’s electricity comes from oil, an outdated and incredibly costly form of electricity production. This means that throughout Pakistan, nearly 40 percent of the population -- an estimated 65 million people -- lack access to electricity, which is an enormous potential market for off-grid solar services.  

The problem, of course, is that the Pakistani government’s response to their energy crisis has been painfully familiar, with a focus on large scale supply and grid extension.

And while grid supply and grid shortages need to be addressed, what makes no sense is for Pakistan to start building new coal-burning power plants to supply their energy.  Any new plants that are built will be designed to be powered with imported coal, which Pakistan can't afford. In fact, the government of Pakistan just released a new tariff schedule for coal-burning electricity -- which is evidently the ‘most expensive coal tariff in the world.’ That’s why some experts predict that a coal bubble is brewing.

It’s in the midst of this energy crisis, and confused response by the Pakistani government, that EcoEnergy is seeking a different path.  They’re trying a progressive new approach - putting solar power directly in the hands of the people. And the lessons they’ve learned have implications far beyond Pakistan’s borders.

Lesson #1: Giving away solar leads to market spoilage

EcoEnergy is one of only a handful of off-grid energy companies in a market dominated by large non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and foundations. They started operations in response to the Sindh Province floods of 2010. Like many other organizations, EcoEnergy initially began as an NGO, giving away solar lanterns for free. And like many before them, they received a lot of negative feedback about the quality of their product and concerns over long term sustainability. In response, EcoEnergy quickly pivoted into a hybrid social enterprise by aiming to use a market approach - which is a reflection of the general transition this market has seen over the past decade.  

The products that EcoEnergy sells now are not the same low-quality products that were given away for free.  Today, EcoEnergy sells high-quality portable solar powered lights -- like those from d.light -- and they are continuing to experiment with different business models to find the best organizational structure.    

Lesson #2: Pay as you go finance is the future

After trying free distribution, EcoEnergy started selling products through retailers, but they quickly realized that their products were too expensive and that they would need to restructure payments to match customer cash flow and expenditure on lighting products. This naturally led to the extension of consumer financing, which unlocked affordability for their target market.  

Customers now pay a monthly fee to EcoEnergy in order to pay off their lantern over time. This essentially acts a “manual” version of popular pay-as-you-go solutions in which similar solar devices with circuitry enable customers to make discrete payments.  In addition to their “manual” approach, EcoEnergy is also starting to experiment with similar payment-enabled devices through support from the GSM Association MECS Fund.

Lesson #3: Word of mouth marketing is key

Then came the real game changer: instead of just focusing on retailers, EcoEnergy started using their own existing customers as brand ambassadors to spread the word about their product.  As the graph below shows, this led to skyrocketing sales. The sharp drop after the peak is a result of several factors, including the fact that farming communities in Pakistan tend to have less disposable income at certain times of the year -- February, March, and April -- and the fact that EcoEnergy faced challenges with payment collection in one district. They have since recuperated by focusing on payment collection, not sales, in that particular district, which has lowered the overall sales rates.

Graph courtesy of EcoEnergy

 Lesson #4: Market information is scarce  

Despite these initial successes, challenges still exist. The customers EcoEnergy works with tend to have unpredictable, seasonal income and are not always able to reliably make payment deadlines.  Field staff have to balance sales and payment collection, and they aren’t always able to effectively do so.  

To continue addressing these challenges, EcoEnergy is gathering information about marketing, effective sales tactics, demographic information, and statistics on kerosene, torch, and solar use. Additionally, EcoEnergy is looking at a range of products, including Greenlight Planet lights with Angaza-designed technology and BBOX systems with their new “SMART” technology as well as working to partner with microfinance institutions for alternative means of financing.

In sum, EcoEnergy reflects a number of hard-learned lessons for this nascent market -- lessons that are no doubt being learned by companies and organizations the world over. But if EcoEnergy is able to build and grow a company in such a challenging setting, it says a lot about the robust future off-grid solar companies have in in store.

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

Categories: Sierra Club National

It's Time to #PutSolarOnIt Nationwide

16 June 2014 - 8:00am

As a renter in Oakland, California, I'm more than a little bummed that I can't put solar on my rooftop, but thankfully that doesn't mean I can't take part in the exponential growth that's happening in the solar industry across the U.S.

This is why I'm thrilled that the Sierra Club is a partner in the #PutSolarOnIt day of action on June 21 -- the longest day of the year. I love seeing all the churches, synagogues, homes, businesses, apartment complexes and more putting solar on their roofs -- these are concrete solutions to climate disruption.

The Sierra Club is proud to be part of the coalition of groups coming together on this national day of action to show support for switching to clean energy, fighting climate change, and the power of bringing solar power to communities all across the country.

It doesn't have to just be people who own property who get to benefit from solar energy, which can cut energy costs down to zero and give us the freedom to use clean, nonpolluting electricity. The Sierra Club and other solar advocates around the country are trying to get programs and rules in place that would allow for shared renewable energy or "community solar."

At least 10 states have recognized the benefits of shared renewables by encouraging their growth through policy and programs, and there are at least 52 shared renewables projects in 17 different states throughout the U.S.

Still others are taking part in solar crowd-funding -- where you can "buy" a share of solar to help get solar on a rooftop somewhere else. I did this myself through a platform called Mosaic when I invested in solar on an affordable housing complex near where I grew up in Corte Madera, California.

Solar is changing lives and producing some serious benefits. Colorado's public charter school "The Pinnacle" has one of the largest rooftop solar installations in the entire state.  It will provide 43 percent of the school's electrical needs and "In its 30-year expected lifespan, the array is expected to prevent 54,034,418 pounds of CO2 from entering our atmosphere!"

Farmers in the Midwest are seeing the bright side of solar, too: One Illinois farmer installed solar and "cut the electricity bill by about 40 percent."

The solar array at Stonehill College in Massachusetts "is expected to save the school $185,000 per year in energy costs, and about $3.2 million over 15 years."

The Sisters of St. Francis of the Holy Cross have a solar array at their convent that will "save them $19,000 a year on their utility bill."

Yet there are still millions of un-covered roofs in the country - schools, churches, warehouses, community centers, even landfills!  -- that could be generating solar energy for their communities, saving money, and reducing pollution.

Join us in this push to #PutSolarOnIt! What do you want to put solar on? Imagine all the places solar could be. Share your ideas by commenting or adding your own photos on our Facebook page, and let us #PutSolarOnIt. We'll post the winning entry this Saturday, June 21st. Bonus points if it's funny and feasible!


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Post by The Sierra Club.

Beyond June 21, connect with your local Sierra Club chapter to see how you can help get a program in your community and/or educate your neighbors about existing opportunities to get a share in community solar.

Or you can check out NREL's Guide to Community Shared Solar to organize your own solar share.

Be part of the solar revolution sweeping the country!

-- Jodie Van Horn, Sierra Club

Categories: Sierra Club National

Government Report Shows that Nuclear Uranium Deal Was Illegal

13 June 2014 - 7:39am

This week the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) confirmed a major secret that the Sierra Club's anti-nuclear activists have been shouting about for two years now:

The Energy Department, in an effort to prop up a troubled uranium enrichment company, arranged for uranium transfers that failed to comply with laws about fair pricing, national security determinations and limits to prevent the department from flooding the domestic uranium market.

This illegal hustle stars the Department of Energy (DOE), USEC (a now bankrupt uranium enrichment company in Paducah, Kentucky), the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) and features these victims: Energy Northwest (a consortium of 27 Northwest Public Utilities formerly known as WPPS) and the American people.

In 2012, through some elaborate dealings, USEC sold enough nuclear fuel to last for 30 years to Columbia Generating Station (CGS), the lone nuclear reactor in the Pacific Northwest. At the time, Bonneville Power was quoted in a public announcement saying that the deal would generate $80 million for ratepayers.

They celebrated in Richland, Wash., where the nuclear reactor is located, and in Paducah, Ky., where jobs were saved for one year.  Almost immediately after the fuel deal was announced, the license for CGS was renewed for 20 years without any regard to public sentiment concerning the stability of the plant.

Sierra Club volunteers working in the Northwest and Midwest recognized these moves as a plan to keep the dirtiest uranium enrichment plant running.  

According to the GAO, the whole transaction was illegal. DOE did not have the authority to transfer the uranium for the fuel in the first place, Energy NW paid more than the market for the fuel, TVA got a bargain, and the DOE kept a source for tritium for weapons.  

Another point of dismay for activists was that USEC is the largest emitter of Freon in the U.S. You may have thought Freon was banned. It was...except that USEC, in the name of "national security," was allowed to stockpile it.

And yet another problem with USEC is that it requires eight coal plants located at Shawnee to run full time to keep this plant operating. The Sierra Club Beyond Coal Campaign has been actively working to retire these coal plants because of their massive pollution.

Long before this GAO report, environmental and social justice groups in the Northwest questioned whether it was really an economic boon to buy this fuel. We asked Robert McCullough, a well-known economist to look at the long term financial aspects of operating CGS. As part of the report, he evaluated the fuel deal. In an interview with the Willamette Weekly, McCullough said we could replace the plant with cheaper power and save ratepayers $1.7 billion over the next two decades. (If you want more detail about his conclusions, his report is over 400 pages and available here.)

We are thankful for the GAO's report issued June 9 that breaks this whole hustle apart. McCullough's conclusions are supported by the GAO report.

Obviously there's no happy ending to this story. The USEC plant is in bankruptcy.  DOE is accused of acting outside of their authority. The celebrating is over. All parties, including TVA, will be scrutinized when the President agrees to the outside investigation recommended by the GAO.  

We ask that the investigation be done with public scrutiny and that the Hustlers be held accountable. In the meantime, Energy NW needs to regain the faith of its rate payers and separate itself from this "dirty little secret."

-- Leslie March, Sierra Club

Categories: Sierra Club National

‘Pay-As-You-Go’ Solar Companies Win National Geographic Terra Watt Prize

12 June 2014 - 10:52am

Just as solar leasing from the likes of SolarCity unlocked the solar market in the U.S., pay as you go solar providers are unlocking solar power for the masses worldwide.

That’s a big reason the off-grid solar market is booming, with over $45 million flowing into the market since November 2013 and a smorgasbord of start-up companies popping up for investors to choose from. Yesterday, the National Geographic’s Terra Watt Prize validated this market trend by awarding two ‘pay-as-you-go’ off-grid solar companies its top honors.

Focused on rural village electrification, the Terra Watt Prize was created to provide entrepreneurs with access to investment and the opportunity to be reviewed by credible experts which in turn provides valuable business exposure.  

This year’s winners -- who were evaluated on feasibility, impact, sustainability, and scalability of their products -- are India-based  Mera Gao Power and Tanzania-based EGG-energy.  Each company will receive $125,000, plus the prestige of being honored by National Geographic through a rigorous process designed to add to the due diligence process.          

Mera Gao Power produces and operates micro grids in rural Uttar Pradesh, one of India’s poorest states but also a hotbed of distributed solar activity. The company describes itself as a ‘lighting utility’ and lights its customers lives with highly efficient LED bulbs. Mera Gao Power collects weekly payments, and if those payments aren’t received, the micro grid systems shut themselves off via self-resetting fuses. This unique model has allowed the young company to expand power to more than 100,000 people.

EGG-energy has been working toward their mission of scaling up the solar home system (SHS) distribution in Tanzania and East Africa.  EGG-energy started in 2009 as an on-grid battery business (the “Netflix of batteries”), then expanded their battery business to include off-grid areas, and eventually added SHS to their portfolio. Today, EGG-energy is focused on expanding their ‘rent to own’ 80 and 200-watt SHS across Tanzania and East Africa by using mobile money platforms that allow them to remotely monitor their systems.

As we’ve pointed out before, mobile phone penetration and off-grid solar are converging to create clean technology’s next big market. It is one of the most innovative and exciting opportunities the international community has seen in a long time.  But for too long it has gone unnoticed as a silent revolution in rural parts of the developing world. Perhaps the National Geographic competition will be the wake-up call the world needs to recognize just how fast the revolution is proceeding and how profound the implications of this revolution will be.

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

Categories: Sierra Club National

Why Are Some in Congress Content to Let Wind Industry Jobs Blow Away?

12 June 2014 - 9:10am

Believe it or not, there was a day when the Production Tax Credit for clean, renewable energy was not a partisan issue. When it cleared the House Ways and Means Committee in 1992, it was with a strong bipartisan majority. Then, clean energy was not perceived in Congress an us-versus-them issue. There was broad agreement on both sides of the aisle that developing new, cleaner energy industries would begin to level the playing field among energy sources and create more choices for consumers. It was described as good for the environment, the economy, and the nation as a whole. Members of both parties jockeyed to get projects and factories in their districts.

Alas, those days are gone, even if the benefits are not. Now there is a crusading right-wing that is happy to take fossil fuel money hand over fist and be the spear tip for that industry's efforts to sabotage its growing clean energy competition. Most Republican members of Congress are now under great pressure from the big polluters who are their big money campaign donors to actively oppose clean energy industries that have been an agent of economic growth in the nation generally and in rural Republican districts specifically.

Renewable energy is growing fast, fast enough to make some utilities, coal companies, oil and gas barons, (and some particular Koch brothers) pretty nervous about the future viability of their product.

But to be realistic, the profits raked in by many of these billion-dollar companies have never been higher. Yet, the Kochs are using their so-called Americans for Prosperity front group and its dozens of affiliates to attack federal and state laws that have brought wind and solar energy forward from infancy to create tens of thousands of jobs and power millions of homes and businesses. Whether their target is state renewable portfolios standards, energy efficiency standards, net metering laws, or incentives like the PTC, the bottomless pockets of the Koch brothers are working overtime to obliterate clean energy.

Even in 2012, the PTC benefited from a strong nucleus of support from House Republicans. But still, the credit expired again this past December 31. Today, because of the shade thrown on the wind industry by the fossil giants, more and more Republicans appear to be afraid to voice their support for the incentive even when there are serious megawatts or wind energy jobs in their very own district. Why face a reprimand from the Koch enforcers when you can just lay low, keep your head down, and weather the storm? What's the demise of a few small businesses and jobs in the district?

Well, it's a lot. Clean energy means jobs. It means safer air and water. And it means less climate-disrupting carbon pollution pumped into our air. That's why the Sierra Club is kicking off its campaign to shine a light on a number of Representatives that have a wind industry presence in their districts and states, but apparently remain content to put those jobs and assets at risk with their silence on whether or not they support the renewal of the PTC. In some places, it's a handful of jobs in supply chain parts manufacturers, small but important cogs in a manufacturing industry that supports tens of thousands of jobs nationwide. In other areas, the economic footprint is enormous.

Here's one of the ads - a TV commercial targeting Congressman Tim Walberg (MI-07):


Another example: Rep. Randy Neugebauer of Texas has more than 4300 megawatts of wind in his district with thousands of supply chain jobs and tax base that funds schools and community infrastructure. Yet those constituents don’t seem to merit his support.

Most of the members in question have not even weighed in on the Ways and Means tax reform proposal released by outgoing Chairman Dave Camp that would actually take money back from projects that have not yet run the course of eligibility for the credit. It's one thing to say that one is willing to kill the growth of one of the few manufacturing industries in the U.S. that has grown quickly since 2007, it’s another to remain silent while the government yanks back resources that were promised in good faith to American companies and communities. Would the oil and gas industry allow that silence if the tables were turned?

There has been plenty of opportunity to support the PTC since it expired on New Year's Eve. Conservative Rep. Steve King, with whom the Sierra Club disagrees more often than the alternative, circulated a letter with fellow Iowan Rep. Dave Loebsack arguing for a straight extension of the PTC through 2015. Every member of the House had the opportunity to sign that letter. But that's the least they should have done. If Congressional inaction threatens your district you can hold press conferences, make floor speeches, organize your colleagues - make a stink.  But the silence has been deafening.

Clean energy enjoys strong, broad, bipartisan support. It's time to make more citizens aware of what their elected representatives are actually doing - or not doing - to support it.

If these members believe that the survival of wind jobs in their districts and states is not important enough to merit their support, what other industries and jobs do they think are expendable?

-- Dave Hamilton, director of Clean Energy for the Sierra Club's Beyond Coal Campaign

Categories: Sierra Club National

Time to Act on Trucks: We can reduce new truck fuel consumption 40% by 2025

12 June 2014 - 8:20am

Today medium and heavy-duty vehicles - everything from delivery trucks to tractor trailers - represent one of the fastest growing sources of oil use in the transportation sector. Though our passenger cars have grown more efficient in recent years, the average tractor-trailer gets around six miles per gallon on the road, the same as it has for decades.

The Obama administration has an opportunity to propose strong efficiency standards for medium and heavy duty vehicles that can reduce new truck fuel consumption 40 percent by 2025. These standards will cut carbon pollution, reduce oil use, and save drivers money at the pump.

According to  a new factsheet released today by the Union of Concerned Scientists, the Sierra Club, the Natural Resources Defense Council, Environmental Defense Fund, and the American Council for and Energy-Efficient Economy, we have the technology to cost-effectively reduce new truck fuel consumption 40 percent by 2025.

Tractor-trailers, responsible for two-thirds of medium and heavy-duty vehicle fuel use, can reduce fuel use 46 percent, with fuel savings paying for new technology in just over one year. Increasing the average fuel efficiency of a tractor-trailer from nearly six miles per gallon to nearly 11 miles per gallon would significantly reduce oil use in the transportation sector. Similarly, vocational vehicles, such as delivery trucks, and heavy-duty pickup trucks have opportunities to reduce fuel use 32 percent and 28 percent, respectively.

Strong standards will reduce oil consumption. In 2012, trucks on the road consumed roughly 2.7 million barrels of fuel each day, resulting in 530 million metric tons of carbon pollution. Setting strong standards that build on existing standards could cut fuel use by 1.4 million barrels per day - roughly equivalent to our oil imports from Venezuela and Iraq in 2011 combined.

Thanks to innovation by countries in the United States and around the world, we have the technology to increase fuel efficiency and reduce carbon pollution. From aerodynamics to automated manual transmissions and turbocharged engines, a wide range of technologies can be employed in the coming years. These technologies will save drivers money at the pump, including an estimated $30,000 in fuel savings per year for average tractor-trailer owners.

The Environmental Protection Agency and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration are currently developing proposed standards for medium and heavy-duty vehicles, which they are expected to release in March of 2015. We know that one effective way to reduce oil use and cut carbon pollution is to set strong standards for medium and heavy-duty vehicles. Now it’s time for the Obama administration to act on trucks.

-- Jesse Prentice-Dunn, Sierra Club

Categories: Sierra Club National

Mass. Activists Cheer Coal Plant Retirement, Call for Transition Plan

11 June 2014 - 8:16am

Residents of Holyoke, Massachusetts, are cheering the retirement of the local Mt. Tom coal plant, knowing that its significant air pollution will soon end. Last week the plant's owners, GDF Suez, announced that the plant will cease operations in October 2014.

This is a major victory for the many local clean air advocates, including Coal Free Massachusetts, of which Sierra Club Massachusetts is a founding member, and which represents more than 100 public health, environmental justice, faith, student, and business organizations including Neighbor to Neighbor and Action for a Healthy Holyoke (AHH!). For years members of these groups have been writing letters, holding rallies, protesting, speaking at public hearings, and more to urge the retirement of the plant because of its public health and environmental effects.

"The asthma rate in Holyoke is twice the state average and my wife suffers from terrible asthma herself," said Carlos Rodriguez a community leader in AHH! and Neighbor to Neighbor, "so, while we are very glad to know our air will be cleaner, responsible retirement also means working with our community and the workers for clean up and transition."

James McCaffrey of the Sierra Club Beyond Coal campaign in Massachusetts says that GDF Suez has committed to honoring the duration of the plant's union contract which expires in October.

"This is a great start, but we still need to do more," McCaffrey said. "The state has committed $100,000 through Coal Free Massachusetts supported legislation that passed last year for reuse and planning for the host community of Holyoke, and we hope the legislature and Governor Patrick will take steps now to provide meaningful support for municipal revenues and the workers."

Community members are not only concerned about the plant's workers and the economic effect on the community, but also about making sure the Mt. Tom site is fully cleaned up.

"I am nervous about the contamination in the ground," said Carmelo Diaz, also of Neighbor to Neighbor and Action for a Healthy Holyoke, "back in Puerto Rico I’ve seen a coal plant that closed without cleaning up its mess."

GDF Suez is considering repurposing the Mt. Tom site as a solar farm, and McCaffrey says Coal-Free Massachusetts and the coalition are working with the administration, legislature, and GDF to assure that all regulatory and legislative components are in place to help clean up the site and possibly repurpose it for renewable energy.

McCaffrey credits the powerful group of local activists with the success over the filthy Mt. Tom coal plant. "We've pressured both the state and the Environmental Protection Agency for stronger air and water permits, engaged with grassroots and community leaders, and worked directly with the company."

They know the work isn't done yet, but the Mt. Tom retirement announcement is a great boost for lovers of clean air and clean water in western Massachusetts.

-- Heather Moyer, Sierra Club

Categories: Sierra Club National

Governors Applaud New EPA Carbon Pollution Safeguards

10 June 2014 - 1:59pm

Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick (Photo: Office of Governor Patrick)


From New Hampshire to California to Hawai’i to Montana, Governors across the country are applauding the Environmental Protection Agency’s first-ever standards to clean up climate disruption carbon pollution. While standards exist to curb mercury, soot and smog, never before has the United States taken a stand to limit the amount of carbon pollution that power plants pump into our clean air, despite the risks. Carbon emissions are linked to respiratory illnesses like childhood asthma, and climate disruption fuels extreme weather events such as super-storms, floods, wildfires, and extreme drought.

Power plants currently account for 40% of climate changing emissions in the United States. The EPA’s national goal is to cut carbon emissions 30% by 2030, and is part of Obama’s broader climate action strategy announced a year ago.

One of the real strengths of the proposal to curb carbon pollution is that it puts states in the driver’s seat for meeting emissions reduction goals. Each state is unique, and that’s why the EPA has created individualized plans for every state’s special needs. And that’s why it’s so critically important that so many governors are standing up to say they are ready and able to implement the EPA’s Clean Power Plan in their states right away:

  • California Governor Jerry Brown: “While others delay and deny, the Obama Administration is confronting climate change head-on with these new standards. Clean energy policies are already working in California, generating billions of dollars in energy savings and more than a million jobs. Bold, sustained action will be required at every level and this is a major step forward."

  • Connecticut Governor Dan Malloy: “It is long past time that we as a nation seriously and systemically confront the danger that carbon pollution poses to the health and well-being of our citizens. It is our solemn duty to leave the world a better place for us having lived in it. To not act would be to abandon our children and our children’s children to a planet that is unsustainably sick.”

  • Delaware Governor Jack Markell: “The impact of climate change is clear, from rising sea levels to more powerful and frequent extreme weather events that put Delaware families and businesses at risk. We have an obligation to address the root cause of these changes and that means limiting carbon pollution from our power plants.”

  • Hawaii Governor Neil Abercrombie: “Hawaii is at the forefront of responding to climate change through our Hawaii Clean Energy Initiative, which serves as a substantial economic driver while reducing our dependence on imported oil. By building such flexibility into the rules, President Obama is encouraging the rest of the country to follow Hawaii’s lead in pursuing clean energy.”

  • Illinois Governor Pat Quinn: “I commend President Obama for confronting this critical issue. Illinois has seen the devastating impacts of severe weather first-hand with 11 natural disasters over the past five years. Moving toward a cleaner, more reliable and resilient energy system will bring significant benefits to our communities and our state.”

  • Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley: “Climate change is transforming the world in profound ways that continue to evolve. We still have time to become great ancestors, and we have a moral obligation to our children and our grandchildren to act now while we can make a difference.”

  • Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick: “I applaud EPA’s new carbon rules, which will unleash clean energy innovation and reduce energy costs while protecting our environment and public health. This is a critical step in moving the nation toward a clean energy future, one that we’ve already embraced in Massachusetts with great results. The Obama Administration is showing leadership in clean energy for American citizens today, and in the future.”

  • Montana Governor Steve Bullock: “By the time (the rules) are finalized — a year from now — we will have the flexibility to create a made-in-Montana solution.”

  • New Hampshire Governor Maggie Hassan: “I am encouraged that the new proposed regulations provide for state-specific solutions. Programs such as the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative have brought numerous benefits to the Granite State, leading to new innovations while generating jobs and saving energy costs. We look forward to continuing to work with our regional partners to ensure that we reduce the harmful emissions that lead to climate change, while also helping to reduce energy costs, create jobs and encourage innovation in the state’s clean-energy economy.”

  • Oregon Governor John Kitzhaber:  “President Obama and EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy are to be congratulated for accelerating a national response to the costs and risks of climate change. Oregon is already experiencing the impacts of climate change, from ocean acidification and dead zones offshore to rampant wildfires last summer that cost more than $120 million. This bold step will protect the health of citizens across the country while supporting the growing energy efficiency and renewable energy economy on the West Coast."

  • Rhode Island Governor Lincoln Chafee (I): "Thank you to the President and the EPA for taking this step forward to reduce pollution from power plants, which nationally is a large source of carbon emissions. Through this leadership initiative, our Government has committed to reducing the risks associated with climate change, and has worked to ensure clean and reliable energy."

  • Washington Governor Jay Inslee: “I applaud President Barack Obama and EPA Administrator Gina
    McCarthy for taking this critical step in setting the first-ever national limits on carbon pollution from existing power plants. Today’s announcement is a vital component of the President’s Climate Action Plan, and represents bold federal action needed immediately to address this challenge. Washington state and the Pacific Coast are moving forward on climate action, and our work will be much more effective with committed federal allies.”

  • Joint West Coast Leaders: The leaders of California, Oregon, Washington and British Columbia today applauded the Obama Administration’s newly released proposal for reducing carbon pollution as a welcome sign that the federal government is stepping up as a partner in the fight against climate change.


A flood of supportive statements from all corners of the country serve an encouraging sign that states are dedicated to making these safeguards work for a clean power future.

That’s progress worth bragging about.


--Liz Perera, Senior Washington Representative, Sierra Club


Categories: Sierra Club National

C'mon Chamber! - 5 Utilities That Rejected Attacks on Carbon Pollution Safeguards

9 June 2014 - 10:04am

The much-anticipated safeguards to clean up carbon pollution from existing power plants have finally been announced, and just as expected, both support and opposition for the protections is all over the airwaves.

The Sierra Club has joined other environmental groups, health experts, and elected allies to applaud the announcement. But when it comes to opposition, the usual suspects are fractured.

Even before the Clean Power Plan was proposed, the conservative Chamber of Commerce came out punching with debunked, inaccurate attacks about the plan, claiming we’d see rate hikes and job losses while ignoring the massive economic and public health benefits.

This rhetoric shouldn’t come as a shock, especially since the Chamber, which purports to represent the interests of businesses, has long been funded by some of the country’s biggest and dirtiest polluters and attacked any effort to implement clean air and water safeguards for about as long. Not surprisingly, the coal industry was right alongside the Chamber, quick to push out false claims. In advertisements, the National Mining Association claimed that electric bills would nearly double because of the proposed plan -- a claim found by the Washington Post’s fact checker to be “bogus.”

As for the actual utilities affected by the rule, many aren’t singing the Chamber’s tune and are instead beating back false attacks and welcoming this cornerstone initiative of the President’s Climate Action Plan. Take a look at a sampling of the comments that stand in direct opposition to the Chamber’s doom and gloom:

  • At a Denver Business Journal event, David Eves, CEO of Minneapolis-based utility company Xcel, debunked the Mining Association’s false claims, rejecting the idea that these first-ever carbon standards would increase electric bills upwards of 80 percent.

  • Similarly, the Los Angeles Times reported that Robert Flexon, CEO of Houston-based Dynegy viewed the carbon standards as an opportunity — not a threat.

  • Calpine, another Houston-based utility, came out in full support of the Clean Power Plan on Monday, saying the company serving customers in 20 states and Canada was “ready to meet this challenge head on.”

  • According to the New York Times, FirstEnergy, an electric utility with power plants in Ohio, West Virginia, Pennsylvania, Maryland and New Jersey, also welcomed the news. Anthony Alexander, president and CEO of FirstEnergy, said the utility will be better off.

  • The Edison Electric Institute - a trade group representing investor owned utilities - said it was already on their way to making carbon pollution reductions. Senior Vice President Brian Wolff explained "We're already voluntarily reducing carbon emissions 14% based on 2005 baseline, so optimistically you could say we're headed in the right direction."

In other words, don’t believe the hype.

Of course, this isn’t the first time that utilities have diverged from the Chamber’s outlandish attacks. In 2009, utilities Exelon and PG&E actually left the Chamber of Commerce over its opposition to the American Clean Energy and Security Act, a bill aimed to generate millions of jobs, increase clean energy production, and reduce carbon pollution.

These utilities have it right -- it’s time to clean up and modernize the way we power our homes and businesses. These protections are the first to limit carbon pollution from existing power plants, and they’ll be one of the most significant steps ever taken by any administration to address climate disruption. The Sierra Club will work to ensure these standards are strong, so that everyone -- from utility companies to the communities they serve -- can thrive in a clean energy economy.


Categories: Sierra Club National

3 Things You Can Do Right Now To Help Support International Climate Action

6 June 2014 - 8:33am

For years, the Sierra Student Coalition along with many other youth environmental activist groups have been engaged with Power Shift, an online community of young people working across the U.S. to empower one another to act on climate. And next month, Power Shift is going global. The Ghana Youth Environmental Movement and the Ghana Youth Climate Coalition will initiate Power Shift Ghana.

The three-day summit will be the largest gathering of youth coming together to call for clean energy in Ghana’s history. Young people will gather to learn how to run clean energy campaigns and implement environmental policy. The event also seeks to give voice to those who have been affected by climate disruption. Agbobloshie, a neighborhood in Accra, Ghana, has been named one of the 10 Most Polluted Places in the world, highlighting the urgent need to shift from coal plants, illegal mining, and dangerous oil exploration to clean energy.

Photo: EnergyActionCoalition

Power Shift Ghana seeks to pressure the Ghanaian government to make necessary change, but emphasizes that Ghana does not face these issues alone. A keynote address by a UN Special Envoy on Climate Change as well as Q&A Sessions from the Environmental Protection Agency, the Ministry of Environment, Science, Technology, & Innovation, the Ministry of Energy & Petroleum, and the Ministry of Land & Natural Resources will give Power Shift Ghana major momentum towards their goals. But there is still much left to do.

Here’s how you can support Power Shift Ghana:

  1. Spread the word about their project and goals by e-mailing 10 friends.

  2. Tweet and share this blog post on social media.

  3. Visit Power Shift Ghana’s IndieGogo fundraising site and donate. If the groups are not able to raise their target funding, they will have to cut down on the number of participants for Power Shift.

President Obama just set the first-ever limits on climate disrupting carbon pollution from all U.S. power plants. Now we must continue this incredible momentum by working toward international climate action.

Sample tweets:

Power Shift #Ghana is ready to #ActOnClimate. Here's how you can help:

Agbobloshie, Ghana is in 10 top most polluted places in the world. Power Shift #Ghana can change that: #ActOnClimate

Power Shift #Ghana will be the largest gathering of youth to #ActOnClimate in Ghana's history. Here's how you can help:

--Victoria Keller, Sierra Student Coalition and Online Organizing Intern


Categories: Sierra Club National

Taking Back the Vote from Big Money and Billionaires

5 June 2014 - 2:41pm

On Tuesday, the Senate Judiciary Committee held a hearing to consider Senator Tom Udall’s proposed constitutional amendment to finally exclude big money from politics and return power in our democracy to the people. Udall’s amendment would overturn disastrous Supreme Court decisions that have opened the floodgates to big campaign money, like Citizens United v. FEC and, more recently, McCutcheon v. FEC.

Sierra Club Democracy Program Director Courtney Hight addresses the crowd at a rally following the McCutcheon decision.

Since Citizens United, big money donors have been free to pour enormous amounts of money into campaigns. Between 2008 and 2012, outside spending from big polluters increased 11,761%. And their lobbying expenditures earned a staggering $59 back from every $1 invested. McCutcheon made a terrible situation much worse.

Udall’s Amendment seeks to turn the tide, slam those floodgates shut, and keep big money from drowning out the voice of the American people.

The hearing brought out some of the Senate’s most powerful members, spurring a heated debate between Senator Mitch McConnell (R-KY), Senator Harry Reid (D-NV), and others, who disagreed vehemently on the issue.

"American families cannot compete with billionaires," Reid said at the opening of the hearing. "Our involvement in government should not be dependent on our bank account balances."

Reid and others referenced big money campaign donors like the Koch brothers, a pair of oil barons with famously deep pockets that spend hundreds of millions of dollars on political campaigns and front groups to push their agenda nationwide.

"I defy anyone to determine what the Koch brothers are spending money on today politically," Reid declared. "They must have fifteen phony organizations that they use to pump money into the system to hide who they really are: the two wealthiest men in America, interested in their bottom line."

McConnell, who himself received $58,550 from Koch Industries in 2012 alone, unsurprisingly spoke in opposition to the amendment, calling references to the Kochs a distraction from what he characterized as "how incredibly bad this proposed amendment is."

But there was mounting evidence that Udall’s legislation is needed now more than ever. Testifying before the committee, North Carolina State Senator Floyd McKissick spoke about his state’s recent experience in the post-Citizens United political landscape. Awash in outside spending pouring in from a handful of big money donors like the Kochs and North Carolina businessman Art Pope, the state’s legislature passed one of the nation’s most restrictive voter laws, gutting provisions that expand ballot access for everyone from low-income votes to African-American votes to elderly voters to disabled voters to young people, even removing an early voting period and eliminating same-day voter registration.

"It got harder for ordinary people to vote," McKissick said.

And, of course, this legislation received backing by the Kochs, Pope, and those politicians who came into power thanks to their financial support.

It’s one of the most egregious examples of a national trend that’s found big money campaign donors not just trying to drown out the voices of everyone else with their millions, but actively seeking to keep those who disagree with them from the ballot box.

Senator Richard Durbin of Illinois backed him up and went on to cite staggering figures that proved just how difficult it can be for an ordinary citizen to have a voice. In 2012, just 159 Americans accounted for 60% of super PAC donations. In 2010, one third of outside spending in North Carolina alone came from Art Pope, who subsequently received an appointment to Republican governor Pat McCrory’s administration.

"This is going to discourage mere mortals from participating in the political process," McKissick said. "Today it seems that big money and big donors pull the strings while ordinary citizens find it harder and harder to make their voices heard."

That’s exactly why the Sierra Club and so many others, like Public Citizen, People for the American Way, the Communications Workers of America and Common Cause, are backing Senator Udall’s amendment. It’s this kind of legislation that keeps citizens involved in our government and eliminates the ability of a handful of wealthy billionaires to steamroll the priorities of everyone else.

--Tori Ravenel, Sierra Club Media Team

Categories: Sierra Club National

President Obama and Private Investors Move $1 Billion Beyond The Grid

5 June 2014 - 1:49pm

For a while it seemed as though the Power Africa Initiative was more about powering oil and gas profits than delivering energy access to those that need it most. However, thanks to recent bipartisan leadership in the House of Representatives, this threat has passed, and the future for this initiative has become much brighter.

And while we welcome this shift in energy focus, it’s what U.S. Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz announced just this week that has us really excited -- the first real leadership on clean energy access from the Obama Administration by way of  the Beyond the Grid initiative.

This new dedicated off-grid clean energy access program includes 27 new investors who, over the next five years, will have committed a combined $1 billion exclusively for off-grid and small scale energy access solutions to African energy poverty. This increased energy access will reach homes, businesses, schools, and public places and will ultimately benefit the more than 240 million Africans currently living without electricity.

It’s hard to understate just how big a shift this is for Power Africa. When it was first announced last year, less than two percent of the $7 billion in energy investment was earmarked for off-grid solutions. At the same time, large corporations like General Electric (GE) were eyeing it as an opportunity to increase their investments in dirty fossil fuels and not expand energy access. Many in civil society were openly skeptical about Power Africa’s motives.

Beyond the Grid changes all that. It begins to align the Power Africa Initiative with what the International Energy Agency (IEA) has made clear is necessary to achieve universal electrification - diverting over 60 percent of all new energy access finance to off-grid and mini-grid solutions. Now, thanks to Beyond the Grid, not only are those investment flows looking more balanced but the international community also has its first major political leadership recognizing the cheapest, fastest, and most effective tool for the energy access job -- off-grid clean energy solutions.

That’s critical because while the off-grid clean energy sector has posted eye popping growth rates (an estimated 95 percent compound annual growth rate in sub-Saharan Africa according to Lighting Africa) and rapidly growing private investment, it’s had very little help in the way of policy support. Instead, policymakers have continued to dump billions of dollars into centralized power plants and grid extensions that have done little to alleviate energy poverty in sub-Saharan Africa. As a result, off-grid clean energy entrepreneurs have been seemingly banging their heads against a brick wall of institutional inertia and are demanding $500 million for their sector.  

Now, this rapidly expanding energy sector finally has political momentum and a legacy-defining initiative behind it. If nothing else, Beyond the Grid will be a success for casting a spotlight on a booming market that has been under the radar for far too long.

But that’s not nearly enough given how important this is to the president’s legacy. While this is an important first step, it’s time the Obama Administration put some skin in the game and announce a new loan guarantee program to back up Beyond the Grid. That will potentially unlock billions of dollars in private sector investments that will enable these entrepreneurs to finally deliver where the centralized grid has failed.

And at the end of the day, this isn't just about climate, it's about 21st century technological progress.  Remember, mobile phones have leapfrogged centralized landline networks in Africa. That’s why nearly every household in sub-Saharan Africa has access to a mobile phone and no one is proposing land lines for all to solve communications needs. The same can be true for the hundreds of millions of people that lack access to a centralized energy extension.

Beyond the Grid is the very first initiative to recognize that it’s time to make a break with the status quo and finally light the lives of hundreds of millions of people. Here’s to moving beyond failure, and here’s to moving beyond the grid.  

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

Categories: Sierra Club National

Tastes Like Tar Sands: Crashing the Corporate Beach Party

5 June 2014 - 12:56pm

By Rachel Rye Butler, Sierra Club Beyond Oil Campaign Organizer

"No Tar Sands!" That's the message the activist light brigade delivered to attendees of the Sustainable Brands conference in San Diego this week when they crashed the corporate beach party -- via kayak flotilla. You read that right: light brigade via kayak flotilla.

The activists weren't invited to the corporate beach party at the conference, but they came anyway because the message is so important.

America’s biggest corporations are also America’s biggest consumers of oil -- meaning that unless they institute policies to avoid the dirtiest sources of oil, they’re also the largest consumers of fuel derived from tar sands.

Mining, refining, and transportation of tar sands -- one of the dirtiest and most destructive sources of oil on the planet -- is an environmental and human catastrophe. But some companies, it seems, have not yet gotten the memo.

Coca-Cola and PepsiCo, as owner/operators of some of the largest private carrier vehicle fleets in North America -- with more than 100,000 cars and trucks combined -- haven't yet made the commitment to do the right thing and say no to tar sands. 

So, activists came together in a 20+ kayak flotilla -- along with a giant neon banner reading, "Coca-Cola and Pepsi, stop driving tar sands destruction!" -- to show the thousands of representatives from major U.S. corporations who are attending this year's conference that it's time to make the commitment to get off tar sands.

Of course, we crashed their party after having already shown up uninvited at lunchtime to unveil Coke and Pepsi tar sands can designs, taken to the tweets through messages on the conference's hashtag, and slipped "Tastes Like Tar Sands" materials under conference participants' hotel room doors earlier in the week

We know that the message has been getting across, and many conference participants conveyed their support for the campaign or expressed interest in learning more about tar sands. On the ground and online, more and more people are asking these companies to take responsibility for their actions.

So, Coca-Cola and PepsiCo, it's your move. Until then, the pressure's on.

Categories: Sierra Club National

Children’s Health on the Line as EPA Updates Smog Pollution Levels

5 June 2014 - 11:33am

This week, the committee of experts that advises the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency on air quality standards gave its recommendation on an acceptable range for protecting public health from smog pollution. The good news is the announcement means we’re one step closer to stronger protections from this dangerous air pollution. Unfortunately, the recommended range includes levels at the high end that are known to be unhealthy. For those of us fighting for clean air for all children, this means we’ll have to double-down on our efforts to ensure EPA adopts a standard that will protect all kids.

As a mom, I can only imagine what it feels like to watch your child struggle for breath. Summer has begun, and while many families are looking forward to vacations and spending time outdoors, hundreds of thousands of parents are also dreading the dangerous, sometimes deadly air pollution that can trigger asthma attacks in kids on hot days. That’s why the Sierra Club has created a new tool that will send you a text message every time there is an air pollution alert in your area - sign up here.

Ground-level ozone (also known as smog) robs hundreds of thousands of Americans with asthma and other respiratory ailments of quality of life. It sends thousands of children to emergency rooms each year and costs us billions in healthcare costs, lost productivity, and premature deaths.

The seven-member Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee is charged with advising the EPA when the agency updates air quality standards every five years, as required under the Clean Air Act. The committee's new recommended range for smog is between 60 and 70 parts per billion. This may sound like a narrow range, but when it comes to the health effects of smog pollution -- especially on children whose lungs are still developing -- in the gap between 60 and 70 parts per billion, there are many children’s lives at stake.

Americans deserve to know if our air is clean or not, and we count on these EPA experts to recommend standards that will truly protect our families. This process is not only about requiring polluters to clean up, but also about updating the standard so families know when the air is unsafe for their kids.

Thousands of lives are on the line. Modeling of smog pollution health effects looking at 12 cities across the country showed that lowering the acceptable level of smog to 60 parts per billion would save 4 to 5 times as many lives as 70 parts per billion.   

Numerous medical associations and public health organizations have endorsed 60 parts per billion as the standard for ground-level ozone that is consistent with protecting public health. Even the experts on the Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee acknowledged that a standard below 70 parts per billion would better protect the health of our families.

Activists nationwide -- including parents, healthcare workers, business owners, members of the faith community, and even one 11-year-old girl -- are fighting to clean up the ozone-forming pollution from nearby coal plants that, right now, is threatening the very health of their communities.

Even President Obama, in his visit to Children’s National Medical Center this week, acknowledged our need as a nation to address air pollution and reduce childhood asthma.

If EPA follows the advice of those medical and public health experts and chooses to set the acceptable level of smog at 60 parts per billion, this new standard will go a long way to clean up the air we breathe. But with such a wide range on the table, we are going to have to work hard to push EPA to adopt a strong standard. The EPA will create its draft proposal by December and should finalize new smog protections by the end of 2015. EPA needs to get this right -- literally, children's lives hang in the balance.

Over the coming months, all of us will have an opportunity to weigh in and speak out to ensure that the final proposal from EPA creates strong protections for children from dangerous smog pollution. Tens of thousands have already called on EPA to create the strongest possible safeguards -- add your voice now!

-- Mary Anne Hitt, Beyond Coal Campaign Director

Categories: Sierra Club National

An Off-Grid Solar Angels List?

4 June 2014 - 2:19pm

 Finance, finance, finance. That’s the number one obstacle between where our energy market is today

and where we need it to be: clean energy services for all 1.2 billion people currently without energy access around the world.

But to deploy this finance, we need to marry supply and demand. While the industry continues to beat the drum for a new $500 million dollar fund to solve the former, the latter is just as important -a pipeline of companies capable of deploying it. With $45 million flowing into off grid solar in just the past four months, a pipeline clearly exists. But Embark Energy is taking a stab at a longer term - upstream and downstream - solution for deepening that pipeline with a potentially important innovation - an off-grid Angels Investor list.

Embark has a pretty simple mission: empower “thousands of clean energy entrepreneurs to sell and service clean energy products around the world.” They uniquely achieve this mission by offering trainings, one-on-one coaching, and  links to seed funding for their entrepreneurs through an incubator program.  By using this incubation program, companies are able to graduate into more mature investments from partner institutions thereby creating a pipeline of viable companies in this rapidly growing market. It’s the last step of this process that is particularly interesting.

The match-making role Embark would like to play is particularly important for this sector. If you talk to any entrepreneur in this market, they’ll bemoan the lack of transparency and information that ultimately make raising money an incredibly time intensive task. No one knows where the money exists, let alone how to tap into it. So it’s easy to see how this kind of clearinghouse that Embark Energy has proposed would be enormously beneficial for startup companies.   

But it’s not just their creative approach to this problem that makes Embark Energy an important  company to know. It’s also their history.

Embark Energy emerged as a successor to E+Co (founded by Philip LaRocco), a nonprofit financial institution which financed over 250 small enterprises during its nearly two decades of existence.  For those who know, the market E+Co worked in for many years was sowing the seeds for the distributed off-grid solar revolution we are currently watching unfold.

Embark is now leveraging that history and expertise in finance, energy, and development to fill a pipeline gap by “connecting the dots” from seed to incubation to long term investment.

Once the expectations of investors align with the different stages of market growth, a more robust version of the Angels list will emerge.  From their perspective, if you want to pick cherries later, you first need to invest in a portfolio of seedlings now and understand that some of the resulting cherry trees will grow and succeed and some will remain small and grow more slowly.

Of course that’s not the only value Embark plans to provide. They also offer a web-based, highly-interactive training curriculum for entrepreneurs called MyBusinessPlan which helps in the creation and scaling-up of clean energy businesses.  This training incorporates strategic examples from around the world drawn from the experience of the four founders. This unique program also offers one-on-one coaching and provides seed capital matchmaking in addition to access to products and technologies.  

But at the end of the day, with so many cash-starved startups already in existence, Embark Energy filling this matchmaking and clearinghouse role could be incredibly valuable. With Embark drawing on its history of connections to impact investors and foundations who care about the space, we might just see an off-grid version of an Angels Investor list emerging soon.

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

Categories: Sierra Club National

New Climate Protection Standards and Walmart Moms on Strike: Coincidence or Timely Convergence?

4 June 2014 - 10:01am

Funny how the universe works sometimes. Like the long overdue carbon pollution standards coming out the same week moms go on strike against Walmart in dozens of cities across the country. Two totally unrelated phenomena, you say? Not so fast.
In the words of Communications Workers of America President Larry Cohen, "this action by the Obama administration is a starting point in a much-needed effort to address both climate change and the need to keep and create good jobs in our communities."
We have to do both things. Neither is optional. We have to reduce the carbon pollution that is threatening the viability of human civilization by disrupting our climate, and we have to create and keep good jobs as we do it.  
If we follow the path of the Walmarts of the world, we will fail on both counts. A devastating report last year laid out how Walmart's business model is making global climate disruption worse:

  • The world's largest retailer is failing to cut its carbon pollution. Walmart's own accounting shows that its carbon pollution has risen by 14 percent since the 2005 launch of its sustainability PR campaign, when it promised to lower its emissions across the board.
  • Walmart's failure to cut its carbon pollution is even more devastating because the company excludes shipping across its global supply chain, new store construction, and sprawl from its calculations.
  • Walmart is failing on clean energy. Only four percent of the power Walmart uses to power its stores comes from renewable sources.
  • On transportation, the company's reliance on extreme fuel sources like oil from tar sands ties it to the world's dirtiest sources of energy.
  • Worst of all is Walmart's generous financial support for climate science denial and extreme anti-environmental politicians.

This same business model has made Walmart one of the world's worst violators of the human rights of working people, especially disabled people and women. As AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka points out,

Retailers like Walmart are the root cause of income inequality. Walmart keeps the wages of its employees low while it rewards its owners - the Waltons, a family whose wealth is equal to the combined wealth of 42 percent of Americans. . . [T]he moms going on strike this week . . .know, even if the Waltons don't, that this is not how one of the largest companies in the world is supposed to act. A company shouldn't illegally retaliate against those who want to improve their working conditions! And a company should not allow about two-thirds of its employees to make less than $25,000 a year and schedule irregular hours so most of its workers cannot earn enough to support their families.

Together with our allies in the labor movement, the Sierra Club is committed to building a clean energy economy that works for working families. The new carbon pollution standards will protect the health of working families and communities by reducing asthma and helping calm the extreme weather which is one of the most immediate visible effects of climate disruption. We are proud of the Obama Administration's decision to ask Jason Walsh to help us make sure those standards build a clean energy economy that protects working families' economic health as well.
The clean energy economy will be an engine of job creation, resulting in millions of new jobs. These jobs tend to pay a lot better than jobs in the dirty energy economy. But the market alone will not drive a just transition for America's working families. It's up to us to make sure clean energy jobs are family-sustaining careers, not Walmart-style jobs where workers have to turn to public assistance and food drives around the holidays while the owners become obscenely rich. To make sure they are good jobs, we need protections that assure it, including living wages, project labor agreements, trade and manufacturing policies that protect workers and the environment and encourage domestic job-creation, and labor law reform that truly protects people's right to organize.
To get those kinds of changes, we have to fight together to reform a political system that allows well-funded opponents of democracy to suppress the votes of working people, communities of color, the elderly, the disabled, and immigrants -- the same people who are the most economically insecure, who are exposed to the most pollution, and who are hit first and hardest by climate disruption.
That's why the Sierra Club has joined allies like the AFL-CIO in the Democracy Initiative, which seeks to restore the core principle of political equality. Whether it's coming from families like the Waltons or the Kochs, the corrupting influence of pro-polluter, anti-worker money in politics needs to be stopped.

And stop them we will. We may be outgunned financially, but we have a few factors in our favor. Beginning with the moms of Wal-Mart. Their vocal advocacy already has made a big difference for Walmart employees. Recently, Walmart improved its pregnancy policy after mothers, and OUR Walmart members submitted a resolution to the company about its discriminatory pregnancy policy. And, after OUR Walmart called on the retailer to improve workers' hours, Walmart introduced a new system that allows workers to sign up online for available shifts in its stores.
These are big victories but there's a long way to go. Let's travel together on the journey.
To support the Walmart moms, go to and post a picture of what the #WalmartEconomy means to you. Or sign up to donate your Twitter and/or Facebook account for one tweet/post, so Walmart workers can instantly respond to the company.

-- Dean Hubbard, director of the Sierra Club Labor Program

Categories: Sierra Club National

Dropping Knowledge on (Un)sustainable Brands

4 June 2014 - 8:32am

This week, some of the biggest companies in the world are coming together for the Sustainable Brands Conference in San Diego, where companies like Coca-Cola and PepsiCo want to showcase a shining environmental image.
On the ground at the conference and online, activists are making sure that these companies can't hide from the fact that by using tar sands fuel to power their tens of thousands of delivery trucks, Coca-Cola and PepsiCo are worsening climate destruction.
The first night of the conference, a team of activists made sure that conference participants got the message - literally - by slipping it under their doors. The message reads,
"Coke and Pepsi say they're doing something to affect climate change. In fact, they're making it worse."
The good news is that the message is getting across -  the Coca-Cola representatives at the conference definitely saw it.  We know because at the conference this week, one of our activists had a conversation with a couple of Coca-Cola executives, including a featured conference speaker.
When one of the execs was asked about the flyer under the door and the company's use of tar sands fuel in its delivery vehicles -  his response was:

"I don't even want to go there."

The second Coca-Cola exec had gotten the flyer under his door (see a pic of it here), and in talking with an activist, seemed concerned and even shocked to learn about the impacts of tar sands extraction on the climate, water resources (PDF) and on First Nations whose ancestral home is being ransacked by industrial development.
This is exactly why we are pushing Coca-Cola and PepsiCo, as owners of some of the largest vehicle fleets in the country, to take responsibly for their actions and stop using fuel from tar sands. A recent Sierra Club report even outlines for companies how they can step up and do the right thing.
So, it's time to keep the pressure on. This won't be the last that Coca-Cola and PepsiCo are hearing about tar sands - and you can help make sure that's the case by taking action here!

-- Rachel Rye Butler, Sierra Club Beyond Oil Campaign

Categories: Sierra Club National

Obama Administration's Carbon Rules May Unlock Major Emissions Move by China

3 June 2014 - 2:27pm

Just one day after the Obama administration and Environmental Protection Agency proposed ambitious new standards for carbon emissions from power plants, signals from China indicate that it may be preparing to follow suit with a similar game-changing announcement.  

He Jiankun, chairman of China's Advisory Committee on Climate Change, declared that China, the world's largest greenhouse gas emitter, is planning to adopt an absolute cap on its carbon emissions by 2016 as part of its next five-year plan. While Professor He is not an official government spokesperson, these top-level comments are significant in their own right.

This announcement falls in line with the recent revelation that the Chinese demand for coal is dropping and the overall Chinese coal boom is finally over. If China is able to successfully cap its emissions completely, it will represent a huge step forward for public health and the environment not only in China but all around the world.

It is important to note that we're hearing about this significant energy move by China after the first-ever carbon pollution standards in the U.S. were announced. By taking action to combat climate disruption, the U.S. has demonstrated the power of President Obama's leadership on climate in the world's largest economy -- and it clearly shows that when America takes the initiative, other major carbon emitters will act as well.

Historically, U.S. climate inaction has been a major impediment to global climate progress. Many other major emitters have been unwilling to take action until the U.S. takes the lead. They've even used U.S. inactivity as an excuse not to act on climate in their own countries. It's an excuse that's even been picked up by opponents of action on the climate crisis in the U.S., as they've argued that the U.S. shouldn't act if China and India do not. But with the release of the new carbon standards, pressure is increasing on these countries to announce bold actions of their own -- and it sounds like China is listening.

Now it's time for other major emitters like India to follow suit. The Obama administration's actions will better enable the U.S. to exert diplomatic leverage on countries that remain reluctant to do their part.  As we've known for many years, it will take a global effort to fully curb carbon emissions and protect our environment for the generations to come. This is just the first step.

-- Steve Herz, Senior International Climate Policy Advisor/Attorney

Categories: Sierra Club National

Eight State EV Action Plan Raises Hope, Questions

3 June 2014 - 1:19pm

In recent days, eight states came together to release a 'Zero Emission Vehicle Action Plan;' it fleshes out their governors' commitment last fall to slash greenhouse gas emissions and get 3.3 million plug-in electric vehicles (EVs) on the road by 2025.

Making up 28 percent of the U.S. vehicle market, California, Oregon, New York, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, Vermont, and Maryland will "drive economies of scale, lowering prices and creating more options for consumers," said Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune in response to the action plan. He continued, "When it comes to fighting climate disruption, EVs are where the rubber hits the road."

The action plan, promoted by a number of government, environmental, and public health groups in the news and social media, reads like a celebration of EV programs already making a difference on the ground. For example:

  • In Rhode Island all new state vehicle purchases will be electrics or hybrids wherever possible.
  • California Governor Jerry Brown met with 40 Fortune 500 executives to announce corporate commitments to PEV workplace charging.
  • The West Coast Electric Highway has developed a network of charging stations that will provide charging from Canada to Mexico.
  • The Maryland Public Service Commission has created a ‘time of use’ utility pilot program designed to incentivize off-peak charging.
  • Massachusetts has announced a new EV rebate program, to start this summer, that will slice $1,500-2,500 off the purchase or lease of any plug-in vehicle.

The plan lays out 11 types of actions that it recommends for state government –in conjunction with other partners. These include everything from consumer incentives to government fleets, from workplace charging to EV marketing and availability. I encourage you to check out the plan. It's chock full of great examples and recommendations. It also has some compelling factoids, like a study showing that EV drivers are more satisfied with their vehicles than conventional vehicle owners. Additionally, the document shows, the five-year cost of ownership of a typical EV is actually thousands of dollars less than that of a conventional vehicle.

But I think this action plan begs some important questions. If we can't put our all into each and every one of the dozens of action items and recommendations, what are the most effective types of programs and strategies that will most rapidly escalate EV sales in the years to come? What are the pieces of low and medium-hanging fruit, and how does that vary by location? What are the most important studies that show what strategies are working best?

The Sierra Club will be evaluating questions like these in the coming months so we can determine how to best scale up our electric vehicles advocacy and outreach work around the country - and in turn work with these eight states and others to successfully implement this exciting ZEV action plan. In the meantime, we’d love to hear from you: What have you found to be the most successful EV programs in your area? What do you think is most needed? What studies do you think best point to important lessons learned in the plug-in electric vehicles market thus far?

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

Categories: Sierra Club National

Modi’s Solar Lining

3 June 2014 - 11:23am

Narendra Modi has secured India’s prime minister position with a sweeping mandate.

What that mandate will bring is an open question. Many have serious concerns about Modi’s human rights record in Gujarat, while environmentalists worry about his administration’s desire to speed environmental clearances for dirty fossil fuel projects. How Modi uses his mandate leaves the fate of India’s future energy mix precariously perched between 19th century fossil fuels and modern clean energy technology.

Modi’s energy policy is still heavily reliant on dirty fuel sources, with a special emphasis on increasing coal expansion. However, there is a silver lining - he’s all in on solar . With a freshly minted pledge to bring solar power to all 400 million Indians living in the dark, Modi has elevated solar to the prime time - and made an important break with the fossil fuel status quo that the international community will do well to watch.

However, the first and most important thing to realize about Modi’s pledge to bring power for all is that it’s nothing new. Prime minister after prime minister have promised complete energy access since India’s independence in 1947, and all have failed miserably. That’s why there are roughly 80 million households still without power. Yet, Modi’s pledge is different in one important way - the type of energy he has chosen for the job.

Rather than relying on ineffective, expensive, and slow centralized grid extension, Modi has chosen the most appropriate power source for this job - distributed solar. Of course, breaking with the past failure of fossil fuels by no means ensures future success. But what Modi is promising is the first of its kind anywhere in the world. So, just how ambitious is this promise, and can Modi really deliver? To answer those questions, we need look no further than neighboring Bangladesh - a hot bed for off-grid solar installations.

Bangladesh is home to a whopping 2.8 million off-grid solar home systems, and every single month, the country pumps out 80,000 new installations. That’s thanks to the wildly successful Infrastructure Development Company Limited (IDCOL) program, a model India would be wise to replicate. IDCOL has led to surging 60.86 percent compound annual growth rates (CAGR) over the past decade, increasing the number of solar home systems installed from 25,000 in 2003 to 2.9 million in 2013.  That’s a CAGR investors here in the U.S. would drool over.  

Let’s compare that growth to what Modi needs in order to deliver on his pledge. According to the 2011 Indian census, there were approximately one million households using solar. In order to increase from that small base of one million to total access for 80 million people in five years, Modi needs to increase the solar sector at a 71.07 percent CAGR. While that seems like a steep demand, judging by Bangladesh’s success, it is eminently doable. Especially if you compare it to the 95 percent growth rates the World Bank’s Lighting Africa program has clocked for sub-Saharan Africa.

In sum, Modi’s goal is not only achievable, it’s already working in both Bangladesh and Africa. If he is able to stay on track, every Indian household may be seeing a brighter solar future very soon.

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

Categories: Sierra Club National