Sierra Club Compass Blog
Ever since President Obama invited the American public to a national climate conversation, thousands of Americans have taken him up on that offer by participating in town hall meetings held by the Sierra Club and our allies.
I'd like to highlight one of these events I found particularly powerful and worthy of more attention.
North Omaha, Nebraska, is home to one of the dirtiest coal plants in the nation, the North Omaha coal plant operated by Omaha Public Power District. The NAACP ranked it the 16th worst environmental justice offender in the nation (although with recent coal plant closures and retirements, it's now in the top ten).
This coal plant is poisoning the air in the neighborhood. According to Graham Jordison, a Beyond Coal organizer in North Omaha, "North Omaha is largely an African American population with an average household income of $17,000. The asthma rate in this community is 20%."
To that end, the Sierra Club has been working with allies such as Black Men United and The Malcolm X Foundation to move beyond coal and secure more clean energy for Omaha and the entire state. The fight for clean air in Omaha has even started new partnerships in the city: the NAACP's Omaha branch spoke out at a recent Omaha Public Power District board meeting, voicing concerns about the North Omaha coal plant and air pollution.
Another reason moving beyond coal in Nebraska is so exciting? The state's enormous clean energy potential.
"Nebraska is the state with the nation's fourth greatest potential for wind energy and is ranked ninth for solar power potential," said Graham.
Graham said the local partners have organized many community meetings to educate and organize residents. They've held energy efficiency forums and more - but in the past few weeks came two events that show the power of North Omaha's families.
"First, a record number of people showed up to Omaha Public Power Districts board meeting to deliver comments on retiring the North Omaha coal plant," said Graham. "They got an immediate response from the board and a promise from the CEO, Gary Gates, to meet in the following weeks.
"Then on March 23 we had an environmental justice forum at the Malcolm X Foundation (birth site of Malcolm X) that turned out a record number of people and spurred some deep discussion on the coal plant and environmental racism."
North Omaha's residents - and Americans nationwide - know that coal poisons our air and water. They're tired of the asthma attacks, the ER visits, the code red air quality days where kids can't play outside.
I'm inspired by the people of North Omaha and the amazing community partnerships forming locally. There are faith groups, the NAACP, the Sierra Club, and so many others who are committed clean air and local clean energy development. They know the future is brighter without coal, that clean energy and energy efficiency create jobs and won't cause asthma attacks.
Graham says it best: "We are building a powerful movement here in Omaha! We are rich with passion and we are winning!"
Find more great clean energy events and climate town halls on our StandWithThePlanet.com website.
-- Mary Anne Hitt, Beyond Coal Director
By Kathryn Phillips, Director,Sierra Club California
Sometimes fact is so much stranger than anything even the best novelist could write.
Take California, which sits atop a 1,700-square-mile oil shale deposit that is threatened to be accessed by hydraulic fracturing, or fracking. Fracking is an ugly, largely unregulated process that forces massive amounts of water, sand, and an unknown cocktail of chemicals into the ground, the end result of which is to release more dirty fossil-fuel pollution into our environment.
As news of fracking's destructive impacts from states like Pennsylvania and Wyoming spreads across the country, it is no wonder Californians have grown worried about what might happen in our own backyard, and are demanding a moratorium to stop any new fracking from taking place.
The state already has two of the most polluted air basins in the nation—the San Joaquin Valley and the Los Angeles region—where air pollution is responsible for more than 3,800 premature deaths and costs local economies more than $28 billion annually, according to a 2008 study by California State University, Fullerton. At least 680 communities also currently rely on polluted water due to groundwater contamination. Add fracking to that mix, and you have a disaster waiting to happen. It promises more water contamination, more air pollution, more land destruction, and will only hasten climate catastrophe.
On the the national level, fracking for oil and gas is still largely exempt from common-sense environmental laws—seven to be exact—like the Clean Air and Clean Water acts. With these loopholes in place, the industry essentially has a free ticket to frack U.S. public land without fearing any repercussions.
Up to now, protecting air and water quality has only been possible at the state and local levels, and often even that has proven to be difficult. In California, by the industry's own estimate, more than 600 oil wells have been fracked in the last decade, with virtually no oversight or monitoring by the state agency that provides well permits.
Last year in California, legislators tried to rein in the industry's irresponsible fracking practices by introducing bills that called for greater public notice and regulatory oversight. These proposals were quickly shot down by oil lobbyists, who represent one of the most powerful interest groups working in the State Capitol.
Then just two months ago, the New York Times published an article highlighting how the Monterey Shale formation-which stretches from the northern San Joaquin Valley into Los Angeles County, and west to the coast-could turn California into the nation's top oil-producing region, literally changing the Golden State's landscape overnight. The story put a national spotlight on how oil and gas companies are quickly buying up leases on federal land so they can expand oil fracking in California, just as they are doing for natural gas in Pennsylvania.
Responding to increased public concerns, California legislators sprang into action in March to establish public protections. They introduced ten bills to address the environmental and public health effects of fracking. Three of those bills call for a moratorium on any new fracking projects until it can be proven that our air, water, public health, and environment will not be harmed.
While these bills move through the legislative process, Sierra Club California and our 150,000 activist members will work to ensure that our policymakers are making decisions based on people, not profits. Protecting our public health and the environment is essential, especially since we don't know the potential health risks associated with fracking.
Californians are among the most environmentally conscious citizens in the nation. We want clean water, clean air, and solid decreases in greenhouse gas emissions now. We want a moratorium to stop any new fracking and we want our legislature to do the right thing to protect our environment and our health.
A war is shaping up that pits an entrenched, aging, and uncompetitive fossil fuel industry against a young, innovative and increasingly competitive set of renewable energy technologies. The former relies on their entrenched status chock full of obscenely high subsidies to fight of a set of disruptive innovations that could send them the way of whale oil.
While renewables are doing an impressive job they continue to play on the home team's turf. It just so happens that a new front – a guerilla insurgency – has opened where their opponents are weak that could help tip the balances - off-grid energy markets that serve the world's poor.
This front is critical to the broader war because technological disruption, and more importantly economic activity, doesn't happen in a vacuum. It occurs in a world of imperfect information that is exacerbated by power politics -- politics shaped by political maneuvering that would make Sun Tzu blush. That is why a value-destroying and increasingly expensive industry (read: coal) is able to maintain itself in spite of the clear advantages of its competitors.For disruptive innovations to succeed in this environment they must be fueled by reaching customers the incumbents aren't. In other words, attacking them where they are weak. For coal that is off-grid markets where 1.3 billion customers are waiting to upend the dominant narrative of coal's ability to cost effectively feed the world’s ever expanding appetite for energy.
This Achilles heel was confirmed by the International Energy Agency (IEA) in a series of reports that conclusively show that in order to deliver universal energy access over half of all energy services flowing to the un-electrified must be provided by off-grid decentralized clean energy. The reports also show that an over reliance on the opposite (large-scale centralized power - often dirty coal plants) will still leave one billion of the world's poor without energy access by 2030. That means regardless of climate concerns, the right tool for the energy access job is decentralized off-grid clean energy.
It just so happens that a vast amount of entrepreneurial energy is laying the foundation for decentralized clean energy to succeed by piggy-backing on the most successful leapfrog technology to date - mobile phones. Currently 411 million people have access to a mobile phone network but lack access to energy. That's because over the past decade there has been a rapid increase in mobile phone users in rural parts of the developing world. India for instance is home to almost 300 million people without electricity access, but has nearly universal mobile phone coverage.
This leapfrog technology has induced demand for power from rural users who want to keep their cell phones charged - and from mobile phone providers who want those cell phones charged to increase revenues. This has touched off a race amongst mobile phone companies climbing all over one another to provide off-grid customers with cheap small-scale distributed clean energy. In 2010 the GSMA estimated providing clean energy to this market was worth nearly $3.3 billion in increased revenues for mobile phone companieshttp://bit.ly/L35DoQ.
On top of this scramble the mobile phone companies must now construct 639,000 off-grid "base stations" - radio towers that convert electricity into radio waves - by 2012. In India alone there are an estimated 240,000 towers projected to grow to more than 350,000 by 2012. Currently these towers are powered by costly and insecure diesel supplies whose economics simply don't work in a world of ever increasing oil prices. In fact some countries like India have mandated that diesel be replaced with cheaper and cleaner decentralized clean energy – solar, biomass, and wind. Current estimates peg the Indian cell phone tower conversion market alone (diesel to solar) at 2 GW.
But that's just the tip of the iceberg. Building excess capacity into these systems builds the bridge into the real market - the 1.3 billion people currently lacking access to electricity. This excess capacity can be sold to local communities via mini-grids, transportable batteries, or by directly charging applications on site expanding this market opportunity through distributed community power. The cell phone operators provide anchor demand and a stable revenue stream, third-party entrepreneurs (the Husk Power), Frontier Markets, Simpa Systems, SELCO-India, GreenLightPlanet, and OMCs of the world own/operate these renewable energy plants, and local communities receive electricity and provide revenue for the entrepreneur.
But the opportunity doesn't end there. These social entrepreneurs are also busily pioneering 'pay as you go' solar systems that leverage mobile money and M2M technology to create flexible payment systems for the world's poor. This can break down traditional barriers of cost and cash flow that have halted efforts to shift away from dirty energy to the world's most sophisticated technologies. In essence innovations like these open the financial door to the 1.3 billion person strong market ready to fund our insurgency.
There is no reason to believe the scale and speed of this transition will be anything less than revolutionary. Remember in the U.S. the shift to cars from horses or from steam to diesel electric locomotives took less than 12 years. Or more recently the shift from landlines to mobile phones has largely happened in just 10 years. Already off-grid solar has grown leaps and bounds with countries like Bangladesh installing 30,000 to 40,000 solar home systems every month with a total of one million systems installed to date.
As the shift from centralized and dirty to distributed and clean speeds up it will remove the rhetorical justification fossil fuels rely on. But more importantly it will dry up the cash reserves that would have helped maintain political influence. That means that how we power the world's poor is just as important, and perhaps even more, than how we power the rest.
-- Justin Guay, Sierra Club International
Riding on momentum from Los Angeles' huge announcement that it will be coal-free in 12 years, 150 clean-energy supporters, utility representatives, and entrepreneurs recently gathered for Huntington Park's first ever "Energy Fair" in Los Angeles County that aims to build community leadership on clean-energy issues.
Led by the Sierra Club and Communities for a Better Environment (CBE), the event focused on ways clean-energy leaders can reach residents and families and motivate communities to jump on the clean-energy trend, save on energy bills, and support energy that also benefits community health. Informing residents on local services available to them and ways to utilize all the benefits of local clean energy is a top priority.
"Community members in Southeast Los Angeles have defeated two power plants in less than eight years," said CBE Community Organizer Robert Cabrales. "Put together by mostly community members, the Energy Fair sent a message to decision makers that Southeast L.A. residents want real solutions to energy production. Fossil fuel power plants are so last century, and we demand truly clean energy production."The fair showcased a strong coalition of companies and organizations: the Sierra Club's L.A. Beyond Coal Campaign and CBE were joined the My Generation Campaign, California Environmental Justice Alliance, Mexican American Opportunity Foundation, Southeast Community Development Corporation, WIC, Grid Alternatives, Real Goods Solar, Southern California Edison, and more.
At the end of the Energy Fair, the My Generation Movement Academy held a graduation ceremony for 41 participants, who were each awarded a "Certificate of Achievement" for their commitment.
“The Energy Fair was a success,” said Michael Sarmiento, a Sierra Club clean-energy campaign organizer. “One of the best comments I got was from a representative from Real Good Solar, who told me this event was the first for him that really focused on reaching communities like Huntington Park, which is mostly a low-income community of color.”
Organizers collected nearly 40 petitions for a Clean Energy Bill of Rights (pdf) -- a demand for universal access to clean energy and the right to be paid for on-site solar generation -- which will eventually land on Governor Jerry Brown's desk.
A panel at the fair discussed the various obstacles that are still in the way of California’s quest to move beyond dirty fuels.
"We need to do more to educate people about the opportunities available, especially in low-income communities," said Sarmiento. "There is some pushback from utility companies to help develop local clean-energy projects, which is why we need to focus on communities to support clean energy and all the benefits it brings."
Over the last several years, California has made huge progress in expanding access to local clean energy. Last year, roughly two-thirds of all rooftop solar installations went up in middle class communities. Huntington Park’s Energy Fair was one important step toward ensuring low-income communities enjoy the same benefits of clean energy.
Photo from a coal export public hearing.
This week, the Sierra Club, several Waterkeepers, and other allies in the Northwest filed legal action that put companies on notice for coal pollution coming off of trains and polluting the region. The Pacific Northwest is home to some of the most spectacular, legendary waterways on the planet, such as the Columbia River Gorge and Puget Sound. Residents grow, eat, and export foods that are economic mainstays for the region and are prized around the world -- from vegetables to wine to salmon.
Yet the health and safety of the residents and this economy are threatened by proposed massive increases in coal exports through the region. Thousands of railcars loaded with coal are already traveling through communities, and coal rocks and dust are falling and blowing off the cars alongside, and into, the waterways. Coal companies have grand plans to vastly increase those coal shipments through the Northwest and export the coal to Asia -- plans that local communities and tens of thousands of residents are battling fiercely and effectively.
"We have people living in areas currently affected by coal trains, who are facing the threat of more coal traffic from proposed coal export projects, and they are already finding coal chunks and dust discharged in public waterways," said Cesia Kearns, a Beyond Coal campaign representative and acting director of the Power Past Coal coalition in the Pacific Northwest.
That's why the Sierra Club joined Puget Soundkeeper, Columbia Riverkeeper, Re-Sources for Sustainable Communities, and Friends of the Columbia Gorge on Tuesday to send a 60-day notice of intent to sue to Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway (BNSF) and several coal companies for violations of the federal Clean Water Act.
Even BNSF admits that its four daily coal trains moving through Washington lose a staggering 120 tons of coal dust daily. Residents are worried this number would only increase if the five proposed coal export terminals planned for the region are built. Those new terminals would add an additional 60 trains through Washington every day -- a staggering increase!
These trains (and the ones already moving through the region) carry coal mined in Wyoming and Montana's Powder River Basin. This coal contains mercury, arsenic, uranium, and hundreds of other toxins harmful to human health and to fish and other aquatic life. The Clean Water Act exists to protect our health and well-being -- and, under the Clean Water Act, anyone dumping pollutants or fill into U.S. waters must first obtain what is known as a National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permit or a Section 404 dredge-and-fill permit.
"Discovering the impacts of coal transportation by rail right now illustrates how much more problematic pollution from increased coal exports could become for local communities, and for our food,water, families, and economies," said Cesia.
A huge crowd at a recent coal export public hearing in the Pacific Northwest.
For years communities have been asked to bear the financial, health, and quality of life costs of mining, transporting, and burning coal. These costs should be covered by the companies, not American families. Meanwhile, this legal action should also underscore for the Army Corps of Engineers how critical it is to complete a full, cumulative impacts analysis of all the proposed coal export projects through an area-wide environmental impact statement.
The Sierra Club and our amazing coalition partners will hold polluters accountable for violating the law and call attention to the many dangers of much more coal coming through Pacific Northwest communities.
With such vast wind and solar power resources, the Pacific Northwest should be a leader in clean energy, not a thoroughfare for massive, polluting coal exports. Just last week, the governors of Washington and Oregon sent a letter to the White House calling on them to fully evaluate the climate and air pollution impacts of the proposed coal export terminals. It was yet another sign of how controversial these projects are in the Northwest, and a reminder that these ill-advised coal export plans will ultimately affect us all, and the fate of our planet.
-- Mary Anne Hitt, Beyond Coal Director
A while back I wrote about the need for social bankability based on the casual observation that our financial and energy systems are broken. Social bankability, simply put, is the decision, by fiat, to use public funds to fill in gaps where private banking has failed, but where the evidence shows the investments are entirely credit-worthy and socially desirable.
This is what Franklin Roosevelt did in 1933 when he decided that American farmers setting up electricity co-ops were credit worthy, even though banks didn't trust them. Muhammad Yunus did the same thing for enterprise loans to the poor with micro-credit. Now a new class of entrepreneurs are demanding the World Bank step up and do the same for off-grid clean energy access.
While innovations like crowd-funding are needed to disrupt the system, we can't let the system off the hook when it's our money being used. That's why it's exciting to see 22 of the world's leading off-grid clean energy entrepreneurs, as well as the Global Off Grid Lighting Association (GOGLA), demanding social bankability from the World Bank Group in the form of $500 million in risk adjusted investment. Because as countries around the world struggle with the ever increasing burden of austerity, the idea that scarce taxpayer money from donor countries would be used to make risky investments to subsidize a broken system is, simply put, infuriating.Let's start with the why. In order to make good on the pledge to deliver universal energy access, the International Energy Agency (IEA) has found that half of all energy services flowing to the unelectrified must be provided by off-grid clean energy. The IEA has also shown that an overreliance on the opposite (large scale centralized power -- often dirty coal plants) will still leave 1 billion of the world's poor without energy access by 2030. That means regardless of climate concerns the right tool for the energy access job is decentralized off-grid clean energy.
The problem is that today's investments in energy access are heavily skewed toward the problem, not the solution. That happens because the financial system is not designed to finance small nimble decentralized investments (the kind that serve the poor). Worse, the system views all things new (including clean energy) with skepticism. That means in practice large-scale investments for centralized generation receive the lion's share of finance despite the fact that they do little to solve the problem (but a lot to cause climate change). And this practice continues even when, as with the proposed Kosovo coal project, the underlying economics are wildly unfavorable to the investment. This is just bad banking.
In the absence of dedicated credit mechanisms, the poor themselves have had to finance off-grid clean energy often through cash purchases (You and I don't do that with our share of the grid -- the middle class gets to pay as they go). The poor are able to do that thanks to a combination of highly innovative business and financial models, and the plummeting cost of renewable energy, which has made it affordable to early adopters. Adopters who know that it is energy's presence, not price, that changes lives.
This has laid the foundation for a revolution that demonstrates that small can be big in places like Bangladesh, where 1 million solar home systems have been installed (including 30,000 to 40,000 solar home systems every month. Now "pay-as-you go" systems, mobile banking payments, and community power that extends clean energy from off-grid cell phone towers to surrounding communities promises to build an entirely new bottom-up decentralized clean energy powered "grid." It's not leap-frogging; it's catapulting past the heavily polluting centralized grid that dominates the western world.
But to go from here to there means crossing the vaunted "valley of death,"' which requires dedicated credit sources. Given the maturity and returns of the sector today, that means deeming such investments, by fiat, socially bankable, even if commercial banks say, in a Catch 22, "We can't make these loans because these are not the kind of loans we make."
Which is exactly why the off-grid sector has made clear it wants the World Bank to step in. The problem is the Bank, even under Dr. Kim’s leadership, continues to do the opposite. Instead of funding the off-grid sector, it continues to support new coal plants like the one in Kosovo. In fact, nearly 60 NGOs from around the world sent a letter the same day demanding the institution stop funding fossil fuels or not receive future funding from donor governments.
Which takes us back to where we began. Public money is increasingly hard to come by, and the World Bank keeps using it to follow the lending practices of the past, rather than fulfilling its mission, which is to forge a credit pathway to the systems of the future. There are literally 1 billion reasons to change course. So Dr. Kim, what will it be?
-- Justin Guay, Sierra Club International
Big Coal's overreach turned into a huge win for healthy air and clean water supporters in Kentucky when a proposed permit for a coal ash pit recently went up in smoke.
Louisville Gas & Electric (LG&E) and Kentucky Utilities Energy had targeted a Trimble County natural cave to dispose of about one million tons of coal ash waste each year. The state Division of Solid Waste Management denied the permit, siding with grassroots organizers and volunteers who worked two years to defeat it. The decision followed a unanimous state House of Representatives resolution that urged LG&E to consider an alternative.
"This is tremendous news for Trimble County families," said Sonia McElroy (pictured), a farmer who lives near the proposed site and led local residents in opposing the plan.LG&E’s permit request also demonstrated Big Coal's complete disregard for history and sensitivity, pushing for the proposal even after evidence surfaced that the targeted cave was part of the Underground Railroad of the 1800s, when slaves sought freedom north of the Ohio River. As if that weren't enough: It is "unlawful to remove, kill, harm or otherwise disturb any naturally occurring organism" in Kentucky caves.
"This is one of those rare cases where a group of concerned citizens, in a rural area, take on a major company and win. There's still more work to be done, but this speaks to the tremendous efforts of the dedicated families in Trimble County," said Lauren McGrath, a Sierra Club organizer in Kentucky.
This latest victory is another example of grassroots support continuing to build across the state. On Valentine’s Day, 1,500 Kentuckians marched and rallied at the state capitol to celebrate I Love Mountains Day. The rally was led by a coalition of groups demanding an end to mountaintop-removal mining.
The Beyond Coal movement is also resonating with young people on college campuses. Western Kentucky University has committed to moving beyond coal, and University of Kentucky students are rallying to kick coal money off campus.
That being said, there will be more battles in the months to come.
"LG&E will probably come back with a new permit, and our residents are concerned about what the end game might look like," said Sierra Club National Organizing Director Bob Bingaman. "But for now we will enjoy this great victory for the people of Kentucky."
-- Brian Foley
The U.S. Government took an important step to protect local communities from deadly coal pollution by abstaining from a vote on a $900 million funding package for Rio Tinto's Oyu Tolgoi mine in Mongolia. The U.S. Government decision amounts to a vote of no confidence in the International Financial Corporation (IFC) financed project. More importantly it sets an important precedent for coal projects seeking support from the United States -- a welcome sign given its continued support for the Kosovo coal project.
While the U.S. government's support for Kosovo continues to be controversial, Treasury's decision on the Mongolian project was the right one to make, and the Sierra Club commends them for it. Included in the project is a 450-750 MW coal fired-power station that is in clear violation of the Bank's own coal guidance, but which the IFC failed to consider by labeling it an associated facility. When explaining the decision, Treasury officials stated, "The ESIA does not provide a sufficiently detailed analysis of associated facilities and cumulative impacts, notably concerning a coal-fired power plant that will likely be needed to provide reliable power for the project."
The Oyu Tolgoi project has been a boondoggle from the start with, not one, but two open investigations by the IFC Compliance Advisor/Ombudsman (CAO) into impacts on local herders who rely on the region's scarce water resources to survive. While the U.S. vote was not enough to sway the full IFC Board of Directors, which approved the project on February 28, the concerns raised in the U.S. position paper send a strong signal that it is time for the World Bank and IFC to live up to the promise of the Bank's "Turn Down the Heat" report and stop rubberstamping funding for dangerous coal projects.
Today the Sierra Club applauds the U.S. Treasury and hopes that other agencies, including the U.S. Export-Import Bank (Exim), will follow Treasury's leadership and reject financing for Oyu Tolgoi and other dangerous fossil fuel projects.
-- Nicole Ghio, Sierra Club Campaign Liaison
University of Georgia (UGA) students Ian Karra and Sara Black each found their environmental activist callings after attending the Sierra Student Coalition's nationally-recognized Summer Leadership Training Program (SPROG). Meeting through the Sierra Club's UGA Beyond Coal Campaign, they immediately became best friends and took their campus by storm, dedicating most of their time to running two of the campus' most active environmental campaigns and organizations. Now Ian and Sara have won the great distinction of being nationally recognized as 2013 Udall Scholars.
The Udall Foundation was established by Congress in 1992 to provide federally-funded scholarships for college students like Ian and Sara, who intend to pursue careers related to the environment, as well as to American Indian students pursuing tribal public policy or health care careers. It recognizes students who exhibit future leadership potential, academic achievement, and a record of public service.
Ian was one of the original founders of the UGA Beyond Coal campaign nearly three years ago. Along with a small group of other students, he designed the original strategy to pressure UGA’s President and administrators to retire the campus’ aging coal-fired boiler. This fight has garnered local and national attention and is still a premier campaign at UGA, largely due to Ian's focus on mentoring younger leaders involved in the campaign. Ian is majoring in economics, with an emphasis in public policy and finance. He wants to continue a career in energy policy and grassroots advocacy.
A former intern of the Sierra Club, Sara has contributed to the UGA Beyond Coal campaign as a leading volunteer and has served on the Logistics and Fundraising Committees for the Sierra Student Coalition. Sara is currently running UGA's "Real Food" campaign, which aims to get the Food Services department to shift 20% of the university's food purchases towards sustainable and ethical food, creating a market for a just food economy. Sara is double majoring in Anthropology and Ecology and has a strong desire to continue to be a part of the environmental movement. Whether she becomes a campaign strategist, an academic working on environmental justice issues, a local organizer, a small organic farmer, or an employee for the Sierra Club, Sara will do what she loves and excel at it.
Sara and Ian not only strive to make change on campus - but also work together as a dynamic set of co-leaders for GA YES (Youth for Environmental Solutions), a network of over 75 student environmental leaders on over a dozen campuses in Georgia. As co-leads they helped to launch new clean energy campaigns at three campuses, provided training resources, and hosted events for student environmental leaders throughout the state.
All of us here at the Sierra Club congratulate Ian and Sara on their well-deserved achievement. Their commitment to pursuing careers in the environmental movement will create a cleaner and safer planet for future generations to explore, enjoy, and protect.
-- Anastasia Schemkes, Associate Campaign Representative, Sierra Student Coalition
Today, the Obama administration is expected to release new cleaner tailpipe standards that will reduce smog-forming pollution, save lives and improve public health.
These new safeguards will require that oil refineries reduce the sulfur content of gasoline and that automakers use advanced technology to slash tailpipe emissions of health-threatening air pollution.
Today, more than one in three American children live where air is dangerous to breathe because of smog, particulate matter, and other hazardous pollutants, much of which come from the tailpipes of our cars and trucks.
By lowering the sulfur content of gasoline, the "Tier 3" cleaner tailpipe standards have the potential to cut major contributors to smog-forming ozone and pollution - nitrogen oxides and volatile organic compounds. In 2017, when these standards take effect, they will reduce emissions of nitrogen oxide (a smog creating pollutant) by 260,000 tons per year, the equivalent of taking 33 million cars off the road.
This change has the potential to prevent more than 400 premature deaths and 52,000 lost workdays each year. The annual savings in health costs of these standards will be over $5 billion in 2020 and $10 billion in 2030.
In addition to these health benefits, these standards will create 24,500 construction jobs over three years and over 5,000 long-term plant operation jobs. Overall, the cleaner tailpipe standards will add $6.1 billion to the U.S. GDP over the three-year investment period.
These standards are being released the same week as a new European study reporting that breathing in car exhaust is as harmful to children as breathing second-hand smoke, highlighting the even more urgent need for cleaner tailpipes here in the U.S. The "Tier 3" cleaner tailpipe standards will have immediate, far-reaching impacts on reducing emissions from cars and drastically improving the air we breathe.
Automakers, public health groups, the United Auto Workers, and environmental groups have all come together in support of cleaner tailpipe standards. These standards will save lives, clean up our air, and create jobs.
-- Jessica Eckdish, Beyond Oil Campaign
Did you know that between 2010 and 2011, the number of bicyclists dying on U.S. roads increased by nine percent and pedestrian deaths increased by three percent? Meanwhile, there's been a decrease in vehicle driver and passenger deaths in that same time. Cyclists and pedestrians account for 16 percent of roadway fatalities nationwide!
This tremendous risk to bicyclists and pedestrians on our roads brought together 68 House representatives in a letter asking Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood to set separate safety standards for those who bike on and walk along our roads. Read the letter here (PDF).
Under the transportation bill, the Department of Transportation must set national performance measures, which serve as the basis for state performance measures and plans. Creating separate safety standards for cyclists and pedestrians is worth supporting because it requires state departments of transportation to focus on making biking and walking safer.
Biking and walking are great ways to get around town for errands and for commuting to work, but many can't travel this way due to unsafe road conditions or a lack of bike lanes and crosswalks.
And if more businesses start paying people to live closer to the office (we can always hope... but here's one cool example of that), we'll definitely need better infrastructure to keep the public safe.
Plus, everyone's learning to enjoy biking these days -- even tennis star Serena Williams biked to (and won!) her latest match in Florida. Although she had to bike due to horrendous traffic.
Which brings us all back to creating an overall better, more sustainable transportation infrastructure nationwide. Shouldn't we be helping people not have to suffer through megacommutes? Just look at how long some people spend getting to the office each day!
-- Heather Moyer, Sierra Club
As we close in on the final three weeks of the last State Department public comment period on TransCanada's proposed Keystone XL tar sands pipeline (send your comment today!), the State Department continues its mess of an approval process.
Their latest misstep is the announcement that none of the public comments on Keystone XL will, in fact, be made public. The only way to see any of them? From Inside Climate News:
This is just the latest problem in a series of inappropriate moves the State Department has made recently during the Keystone XL review process. For the latest Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement of Keystone XL, the State Department used a contractor that employs former TransCanada workers to write it. Then they redacted that information.
For such a massive, polluting project that would have tremendous damaging effects on people, our air, our water, and our climate - shouldn't this process be as open and transparent as possible? We already know we can't trust TransCanada, we should be able to trust the State Department.
But in the end, the most important move here would be to reject Keystone XL all together. Send your comment today.
-- Michael Marx, Beyond Oil Director
Here's a pretty shocking fact: While many of us know that coal-fired power plants create significant air pollution, it turns out they're one of our biggest water polluters, too. In fact, as we've developed technologies that take more toxins like mercury out of coal plant smokestacks, that pollution isn't just disappearing. Much of it is ending up in the water, instead, and those pollution levels are on the rise. Fortunately, our Environmental Protection Agency can do something about it.
That's right -- the same power plants that are causing asthma and heart attacks with their soot and wrecking our climate with their carbon are also dumping tons of toxins into our waters. And without federal standards to safeguard our water, those plants will keep on sending toxic sludge into rivers and streams, where it threatens swimmers and boaters and anglers, poisons wildlife, wrecks ecosystems, and could even contaminate drinking water. The fouled waters pouring from coal plants are laced with arsenic, mercury, and selenium: Toxins that build up in ecosystems and that are dangerous even in very small amounts.
If you're a parent like me who loves to watch your child play in the local stream or lake, this information is infuriating and scary. The same goes if you're a wildlife lover, or someone who just enjoys the outdoors and believes our waterways should remain pristine.
Believe it or not, power plants dump more toxins into our rivers and streams than any other industry in the United States, including the chemical, plastic, and paint-manufacturing industries. Your drinking water should be safe, because our cities and towns do a good job of filtering and cleaning it, but those in rural areas who rely on wells don't have as much protection. Plus, our waterways, wildlife and ecosystems aren't so lucky. Coal plants have caused nasty fish kills and their poison builds up in fishing lakes and reservoirs.
The problem's only getting worse as coal plants get older. The Environmental Protection Agency estimates that the amount of toxic wastewater from these plants is going to increase 28% over the next 15 years. That means more heavy metals and more toxic sludge in more streams and rivers. More contaminated rivers, more unhealthy streams, more poisoned wildlife.
Thankfully the EPA and President Obama can protect our waterways from this toxic wastewater. The rules governing coal plant water pollution -- known as effluent limitation guidelines -- are more than 30-years old and don't deal with most of the toxins these plants dump into our water. The good news is that the EPA is now on track to propose a vitally needed update to those standards. The new safeguards are due out in mid-April -- but the coal industry is already trying to block them. We need to tell the EPA and President Obama right now -- before it's too late -- to give us safeguards against toxic wastewater.
Clean water is too precious to wait another day.
Enough is enough. We need these safeguards, and we ultimately need to move beyond coal. Every step we take toward clean air and water helps keep our communities and our environment healthy.
It also takes us one step closer to powering the U.S. with clean energy, as our nation realizes that coal's real cost -- in climate destruction, toxic water, and unhealthy air -- is simply too high.
TAKE ACTION: Join me in calling on the EPA and President Obama for strong clean water standards.
-- Mary Anne Hitt, Beyond Coal Director
Last Friday, Senator Bill Nelson (D-FL) sided with Big Oil and voted to support the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline.
I was sorely disappointed by this vote, particularly because Nelson has been a true ally and strong champion on so many of the issues near and dear to the Sierra Club's heart.
Even during last Friday's so-called "vote-a-rama" on the 100-plus amendments to the Senate budget resolution, Senator Nelson stuck with us on some key votes! He voted the right way on an amendment that would've undermined the Environmental Protection Agency's authority to issues climate pollution standards, he voted the right way on an amendment that would've undermined EPA's recent mercury and air toxics standard for power plants, and he even voted in support of a carbon tax!
Senator Nelson has been our top leader in the Senate against expanded oil drilling in the Gulf of Mexico, and he has joined Sierra Club in demanding that BP fully pay the cost of restoring the Gulf and its coastal communities following the Deepwater Horizon disaster. We also know Senator Nelson's heart is in the right place, and that he actually wants to take action to address climate change -- which is why it's so shocking he decided to join with some of Big Oil's best friends in the Senate and vote to support Keystone XL.
If approved, Keystone XL would carry 830,000 barrels a day of the world's dirtiest fuel over the Canadian border, across thousands of U.S. rivers and streams, so that it could eventually be delivered to refineries on the Gulf Coast. Most of that product would then be exported to other countries.
You may have heard some argue that it's no big deal; tar sands will be developed anyway. Well, that's not the case. So far, Canadians have put their foot down to these thousand-mile-plus pipelines to carry this toxic sludge to their coasts, so the industry is intent on gaining access to our coasts. And right now, Keystone XL is the best shot it has. Keystone XL is intended to get the tar sands industry's dirty oil onto the international market, allowing it to greatly expand its polluting industry.
As a climate champion, Senator Nelson should know better than to side with Big Oil on an amendment like this. Although President Obama is still the ultimate decision-maker on Keystone XL, he needs the support of senators like Nelson.
Will you call Senator Nelson today at 202-224-5274 to ask him to change his stance and oppose the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline?
-- Frank Jackalone, Sierra Club Florida
Today, after a three-year campaign by tens of thousands across the city, Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa joined our L.A. Beyond Coal activists to publicly announce this blockbuster news: L.A. will stop using coal by 2025.
"The era of coal is over," said Mayor Villaraigosa, when he first broke the news earlier this week. Villaraigosa was joined by Al Gore, Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune, California businessman Tom Steyer, and allies from across the city on March 22 to make the announcement.
This is a groundbreaking decision, a historic victory that catapults L.A. and Villaraigosa to the front of the pack when it comes to clean energy and American innovation. By going coal-free, the city is showing the rest of the nation that it's possible to power a thriving, growing, major American city without relying on coal that threatens our the health of our families, and the future of our planet.
I can't emphasize enough how big a victory this is. By abandoning coal, the L.A. Department of Water and Power will slash its climate-disrupting carbon emissions 60 percent below 1990 levels by 2025, while L.A.'s carbon emissions will drop by 40 percent -- an achievement unmatched in the nation.
If you do one thing today, I hope you'll watch this video that tells the story of this campaign, and the years of hard work by tens of thousands of local residents, allies and partners that made this victory possible. You'll understand why I'm so optimistic that we can clean up our air and water, turn the corner on climate change, and create jobs and prosperity in the process!
Listen to Mayor Villaraigosa talk about the decision:
L.A. currently gets nearly 40 percent of its power from two aging out-of-state coal plants -- the Navajo Generating Station (NGS) in Arizona and the Intermountain Power Project (IPP) in Utah. These plants have become a financial liability for Angelenos as a result of the necessary and required retrofits at both power facilities, which are decades old.
I'm proud to say that our L.A. Beyond Coal campaign activists and supporters, along with countless other organizations, have been at the forefront of this transition from coal to renewable energy. Critical allies in this complex campaign included the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), who helped greatly in pushing coal out of L.A. The Los Angeles Business Council was a leader in putting together the rooftop solar program. Two organizations, the Los Angeles Alliance for a New Economy (LAANE) and Strategic Concepts in Organizing and Policy Education (SCOPE), were leaders on the energy efficiency components of this effort.
"By leading on a transition away from coal, Los Angeles is showing how we can transform our economy to create jobs, clean our air and water, and improve the health of our environment," says Evan Gillespie of L.A. Beyond Coal.
Evan says that when Mayor Villaraigosa took office in 2005, the city got nearly half its power from coal and a measly three percent from clean energy. But the mayor and a great, diverse coalition of groups pushed for more clean energy to bring jobs to the city and to help clean up the air.
Los Angeles was the first city in California to be powered by 20 percent clean energy. "In the past year alone, L.A. has locked in enough clean-energy commitments to power 330,000 homes with solar -- that's basically the equivalent of Cleveland or Minneapolis," Evan says.
L.A. is home to a new rooftop solar program -- the largest in the nation -- and the city has an energy-efficiency program that's been creating jobs while saving residents money and energy. By moving beyond coal, Los Angeles will reduce its dependence on fossil fuels, grow its local economy with new clean-energy jobs, and shrink its carbon footprint.
We applaud Mayor Villaraigosa and the city of Los Angeles for providing visionary leadership, for taking the lead in moving beyond coal, and for bringing clean air and clean energy jobs to one of America's most celebrated cities.Beyond Coal Campaign Director
Oregon is known for its natural beauty. Oregonians want to keep it that way.
Last week, after 450 people gathered at the Oregon state capitol to protest the prospect of countless tons of coal being shipped by train through their communities, the state Department of State Lands announced a five-month delay in deciding on a dredging project to construct a coal export terminal that would send nearly 9 millions of tons of coal each year from Montana, through eastern Oregon, and along the Columbia River for export.
The rally, which filled the front steps of the capitol building, was impossible for state decision-makers to ignore. Emceed by Mayor Jeremy Ferguson, the gathering featured speakers ranging from anglers to students to faith leaders to clean-energy business entrepreneurs.
Medical professionals in attendance wore white coats and scrubs. Health experts say emissions from transporting so much coal could sicken as many as 82,000 people who live within 500 meters of the tracks that would be used.
"We had 110 people holding signs to symbolize 110 cars in a typical train and 48 barges to symbolize the number of coal barges that would travel down the Columbia River every week," said Sierra Club Organizer Laura Stevens.The day after the rally, Ambre, the energy company behind the proposal, agreed with the state government to table the decision from April 1 to September 1, admitting that the state was "inclined to deny our permit." It's the second delay since the permit was first submitted over a year ago.
The huge turnout came with the help of the Power Past Coal coalition, which includes Friends of the Gorge, Columbia Riverkeeper, Physicians for Social Responsibility, National Wildlife Federation, Climate Solutions, and Greenpeace. It's part of a massive grassroots movement across the entire Pacific Northwest region against Big Coal's aggressive scheme to send tens of millions of tons of coal by rail through communities to ships bound for East Asia. Before the postponement, the Ambre decision would've been the first for a coal export proposal in the Pacific Northwest. But like other Big Coal proposals in the area, it has not been able to outlast the enormous response from families and communities.
"Volunteers and leaders from the SW Washington Beyond Coal Task Force, Portland Beyond Coal Task Force, and Salem Beyond Coal Task Force worked hours on the phone recruiting attendees, recruiting speakers, and making the fun, interactive signs," Stevens said.
"No matter how hard Big Coal pushes, they will find that the people care more about the health of their families and economy than the profits of dirty energy," she added.
(Photos: Greg Sotir)
-- Brian Foley
When Congress passed the Budget Control Act of 2011 in the midst of the debt-ceiling crisis and crushing gridlock, it was a small compromise, delaying economic catastrophe by kicking the can down the road and stopping the bleeding. The legislation effectively moved major decisions off months into the future by establishing a deadline for Congress to take more significant action. The bill set up a series of dramatically harsh spending cuts in the far-off year of 2013 with the idea that the pain those cuts would inflict on our economy and our families would be too great for Congress to fail to act.
Sadly, it seems Members of Congress underestimated the extent to which gridlock has crippled their own institution.
Congress again stalled, letting these massive spending cuts go into effect on March 1. While the real effect is not expected to be fully felt for several months, the costs on our air, our water, and the health of our planet and our families are already mounting. Just take a look at what sequestration is already doing or will do in the months ahead:
- The National Park Service (NPS) has announced early closures and fewer visiting days for many of the its 398 national beloved parks and historic sites across the U.S.
- The superintendent of Yellowstone National Park explained that the Sequester will stop 50,000 people from visiting the park this year, because there will be fewer park employees to protect and guide visitors and maintain park grounds, forcing some areas to close.
- National Park Services has delayed hiring and suspended overtime and training for park employees. And for many parks opening at the start of the spring season, budget cuts force park snow plows to delay work, keeping some park roads buried in snow and closed for recreation.
- Some of the largest and most popular sites with similar difficulties in hiring, maintenance and reduced park hours include: National Mall and Memorial Park (Washington, D.C.), Yosemite National Park (California), Gateway National Recreation Area (New York and New Jersey), Grand Canyon National Park (Arizona); Everglades National Park (Florida); Mount Rushmore National Memorial (South Dakota).
Clean Air and Water
- Budget cuts will take the people who are charged with keeping toxins out of our air and water off the job, as the Environmental Protection Agency announced it will be forced to furlough 18,000 of its 18,655 employees, for at least 13 days without pay.
- States will see big cuts in the funds they receive to protect clean air and water, prevent pollution from pesticides and waste, and protect fish and wildlife.
- Air quality data systems like AIRNow will either be significantly reduced or eliminated. Many caretakers rely on this critical service to monitor air quality threats to their patients and loved ones with breathing and heart problems.
- The cuts would hamper the ability of the EPA to make sure vehicle manufacturers comply with emissions standards, meaning car manufacturers might be unable to sell their products if the EPA can’t confirm that the cars meet current standards.
Clean Energy and Efficiency
- The EPA will not be able to maintain up-to-date product specifications for Energy Star labels, which allow consumers and companies to identify which products are more energy- and cost-efficient. The EPA will also have to reduce the number of industrial sectors it works with to develop energy efficiency guidance.
- Funding for clean energy research and energy efficiency will be targeted for big cuts, forced to operate with nearly $150 million less than before – nearly a tenth of the amount cut from the entire Department of Energy budget.
- Major funding for training veterans seeking jobs in the solar industry will lose significant funding.
- Federal investments in American clean energy manufacturing will be cut by nearly 9 percent.
Now, Congress is considering two proposals for our fiscal
future. On the Senate side, Washington Democrat Patty Murray has introduced a
budget that reverses many of these harmful cuts and invests in clean energy,
clean air, and clean water while putting climate cops back on the beat. On the
House side, former Vice Presidential Candidate Paul Ryan has put together a
budget scheme that would only make our climate crisis worse by gutting the
EPA’s funding even further, selling off our pristine public lands to oil and
gas companies, and doubling down on dirty fuels.
The choice for anyone who cares about the health of our families and the security of our planet should be clear, but we know it’ll be a hard fight. It’s more important than ever that we stand up to ensure the things that protect our future aren’t the first on the chopping block – and that’s why we’re calling on Congress to pass Senator Murray’s budget as is, with no poison pills from big polluters and no devastating cuts to our priorities. You can join that call by demanding your Senator take action now.
--Kristen Elmore, Sierra Club Media Team Intern
Jobs that benefit the environment and conserve natural resources are growing faster than any other industry in the U.S. --– four times as fast.
According to a new study by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the number of green jobs in America has grown four times faster than every other job sector combined, up nearly 5 percent in 2011 from the previous year.
Green jobs include any career that benefits the environment, regardless of industry: clean energy manufacturing, recycling, conservation, pollution reduction, and others. Currently, more than 3.4 million Americans are working in green jobs in sectors ranging from manufacturing to education to transportation and trade. The construction industry experienced the most growth in green goods and services, with a total of 101,932 new green construction jobs added between 2010 and 2011. Second to the construction sector, the professional, scientific and technical services sector added 26,595 jobs in in 2011.
This trend is a very important signal on America's path toward a fully functioning clean energy economy. We already knew that clean energy investments created three times as many American jobs as investments in dirty fuels. Now, we know these jobs get created even faster.
We are also seeing the fulfillment of what a majority of Americans have spoken in favor of: more research into and support for renewable energy. With $48 billion of public and private sector investments in green jobs and clean energy, the United States beat both China and Germany, two world leaders in the industry.
It's important that we continue this trend toward more green jobs and investment for a thriving clean energy industry. It's clear we don't have to choose between good jobs and a healthy planet. We shouldn't let anything keep us from achieving an economic recovery that will not only benefit American families but also the future our children will inherit.
--Kristen Elmore, Sierra Club Media Team Intern
The winds of change brought some great progress to Maryland this week when the Maryland Offshore Wind Energy Act of 2013 passed through both houses of the legislature. The offshore wind bill has been championed from the start by Governor Martin O'Malley, who stands ready to sign the bill into law.
This is a huge victory that is nationally significant for two reasons. First, it could well be the tipping point that allows us to finally tap the massive offshore wind potential off the East Coast. Second, it will ensure that historically underrepresented minority groups and small businesses will benefit from the jobs and investment dollars that offshore wind projects generate.
The bill will help develop a 200-megawatt wind project off the coast of Ocean City by requiring electricity suppliers to buy offshore renewable energy credits.
This victory comes after three years of hard work by thousands of activists who know that Maryland can be a national clean energy leader.
"We started this campaign with our allies in 2010 with a town hall meeting in Ocean City, out of which the Maryland Offshore Wind Coalition formed," said Sierra Club Maryland Conservation Organizer Christine Hill.
What makes this offshore wind bill even more monumental is that it will bring more jobs to historically underrepresented groups. It includes a $10 million development fund targeted to small and minority businesses to assist them in preparing to participate in the offshore wind supply chain and sets up a task force to study the feasibility of incorporating degree programs into Maryland's Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs).
The legislation was championed by various organizations because of this focus on providing key provisions for minority groups. The Legislative Black Caucus of Maryland was a major champion of the task force. We held a rally where over 100 students came out to rally their legislators to incorporate offshore wind degree programs at HBCUs. The NAACP's Maryland Conference also named offshore wind as one of its top priorities this year.
As Christine put it, "It's so great to see our state committed to replacing dirty, outdated fossil fuels that contribute to climate disruption with clean, renewable offshore energy that will create more jobs and safeguard our children's future."
This new clean energy can't come soon enough, as dirty and outdated coal plants are harming Marylanders' health. For example, the Charles P. Crane and Herbert A. Wagner plants in Baltimore and Anne Arundel counties threaten the region with dangerous sulfur dioxide pollution at levels more than four times what the Environmental Protection Agency has deemed safe.
Sulfur dioxide is known to cause respiratory problems, including breathing difficulty, asthma attacks, and diminished lung function. It can be especially dangerous for kids, the elderly, and those suffering from respiratory disease.
Offshore wind is a solid economic choice for the state. Based on a report from the U.S. Department of Energy's National Renewable Energy Laboratory, a major 200-megawatt offshore wind project would create almost 850 manufacturing and construction jobs for five years and an additional 160 ongoing supply and operations and maintenance jobs thereafter.
We hope this will inspire many other Atlantic coast states to move forward with offshore wind as well. Clean energy boosts the economy, creates jobs, and doesn't harm public health. Congratulations to everyone in Maryland who worked so tirelessly on this bill.
-- Mary Anne Hitt, Beyond Coal Campaign Director
On Monday, President Obama made a bold and encouraging move
by nominating Thomas E. Perez to be his next labor secretary.
Perez, the former head of the Civil Rights Division at the Justice Department, has a strong record as a leader in the progressive world. He has come out in powerful support to secure voting rights, make positive immigration reform, and end discrimination against Hispanics. His rich history of working with minority communities will be integral to the greater progressive movement –- which includes a strong bond between labor, environmentalists, human rights activists, and other powerful coalitions.
Mr. Perez himself is an example of the huge success that comes from hard work. The son of immigrants from the Dominican Republic, Perez helped pay for college and law school by working as a garbage collector and in a warehouse. As a nominee for labor secretary, Perez could hold the key to organizing people for the greater good. The Sierra Club finds its own strength in hard work and organization. It's made strong by its 2.1 million members and activists engaged in grassroots organizing. With Perez in charge of the federal labor department, the Sierra Club and other environmental organizations would be able to stand up for good, green jobs that help build the clean energy economy our climate so desperately needs.
The United States needs to be a leader in the global fight against climate disruption. The American people strongly believe we should make clean, renewable energy a priority. The U.S. wind energy industry supports 75,000 jobs across the country, and both wind and solar are on the rise. These are clean, renewable energy sources that don't pollute our air and water and will help save us from climate chaos. With a steadfast leader like Mr. Perez at the forefront of the labor department, the U.S. can put its best foot forward and make real progress as a clean energy trailblazer.
We believe that Perez can stand up for hard-working Americans when so many others in politics are merely pawns to wealthy industries like Big Oil and Big Gas. Under his leadership, Perez will make sure that workers are treated fairly and that those willing to give back to their communities have the opportunity to do so. Resilient economies are built by hard workers and led by courageous leaders like Mr. Perez.
-- Cathy Duvall, Director of Strategic Partnerships