Sierra Club Compass Blog
By Michael Marx, Senior Campaign Director, Beyond Oil
It sounds like the set-up for a bad joke: "A bright-eyed college student from upstate New York, a soft-spoken Unitarian from Santa Barbara, California, an environmental justice advocate from the Texas Gulf Coast, and a retired elementary school teacher and grandmother from Nebraska all get on the same bus…"
But it's real—an amazing grassroots movement demanding solutions to the climate crisis, gaining momentum from coast to coast in preparation for the Forward on Climate rally on February 17. The Sierra Club and 350.org, along with more than 120 partner organizations, are expecting tens of thousands of Americans to gather in front of the White House the Sunday of President's Day weekend, making Forward on Climate the largest climate-related rally in U.S. history.
Over the past few weeks, I've had the privilege of talking with activists who are organizing carpools, buses, and van rides, participating in phonebanks, building Facebook events, drumming up press coverage, and working around-the-clock to organize their communities for the Washington, D.C., rally.
The goal of the rally is to demand that President Obama move America forward on climate in 2013 with decisive action to reduce dangerous carbon pollution, phase out carbon-intensive fossil fuels, and lead the way in promoting energy efficiency and clean-energy sources. The first steps he must take are to finalize strong carbon-pollution standards for power plants and reject the proposed Keystone XL tar sands pipeline.
John Bolenbaugh, a Navy veteran from Battle Creek, Michigan, will be participating in the rally. "I'm a different man than I used to be," John says. "I used to be just a normal union worker. I never thought I'd become an activist. But that all changed when I saw what these Big Oil companies were doing to my community."
In July 2010, a tar sands pipeline burst near Battle Creek, spilling more than a million gallons of oil into the Kalamazoo River. John worked for a Michigan-based company that was contracted by Enbridge, a Canadian tar sands oil company and the owner of the pipeline, to clean up the spill.
But after a few weeks on the job, John realized "they weren't cleaning up properly. Oil was being buried instead of cleaned up. And all that oil that was being buried could drip down into the groundwater. All these chemicals could make us sick."
John lodged complaints with the EPA, Enbridge, and his local employer about seeing the oil being buried. "No one would do anything about it," he says. "One night, I came to Enbridge and said, 'I live here, and I don't want to see this happen. Kids are swimming in the river.' The next day my boss let me go. It was a good job, and the economy is bad in Michigan. But I couldn't sleep at night, seeing all this happen."
Since losing his job, John has become an outspoken opponent of the Keystone pipeline, which would stretch 1,700 miles across American six states, carrying up to 830,000 barrels per day of toxic tar sands crude. And he is among the tens of thousands of people demanding that President Obama reject TransCanada's permits for the pipeline. Tar sands crude is the dirtiest oil on earth, with more heavy metals and cancer-causing toxins than conventional oil, and a production process that creates up to three times more climate-disrupting pollution. Tar sands pipelines are dangerous—an earlier TransCanada pipeline suffered 14 spills in its first 12 months of operation.
John says he's traveling to Washington, D.C., to tell President Obama: "I've seen the damage from a tar sands oil spill. It's killed people and poisoned our water and land. If you allow this pipeline to be built, Mr. President, it will happen again. There will be a spill along the pipeline route, and it could be above the aquifer that gives us 30 percent of our water in the Midwest. We can't let this happen."
John's voice—along with those of the New York college student, the Santa Barbara churchgoer, the Texan environmental justice activist, and the Nebraska grandmother—is going to ring out loud and clear on February 17. President Obama must lead our nation in the transition to a clean-energy economy that will create jobs, clean our air and water, protect our wild places, and improve our health. It's time to move America Forward on Climate.
My daughter Hazel is no stranger to rallies and public hearings. I've taken her to all sorts of events, because it's her future that’s at stake...and sometimes because no babysitters are available. But one event I am very excited to bring her to is the upcoming Forward on Climate rally in Washington, D.C., on Sunday, February 17.
The chance to rally with tens of thousands of other Americans of all ages -- all who want serious action on climate disruption from President Obama -- well, that's something that no one should miss, no matter how young or old you are. It’s shaping up to be the largest climate rally in US history, and Hazel and I hope to see you there.
I frequently mention Hazel in my columns because she's the main inspiration for the work I do to protect this planet for her, and for future generations. I know that someday she will ask me what I did to help stop climate change, and I want to be able to answer her, with honesty and pride, about the amazing work the Sierra Club and so many others have done.
One example of that amazing and important work is our Obama Climate and Clean Energy Legacy campaign, which features 100 days of action from coast to coast, including the Feb. 17 climate rally. Last month I helped unveil the campaign, which lays out a clear roadmap for President Obama to take action on climate disruption and clean energy.
Many of the actions Obama can take are specifically related to coal and clean energy. They include:
- Hold fossil fuel corporations accountable for their pollution: Adopt and enforce coal pollution protections for carbon, soot, smog, sulfur, water toxics and coal ash, and set water pollution standards that will end mountaintop removal mining.
- Double down on clean energy: Open innovative financing and investment avenues for energy efficiency and renewable energy. Facilitate environmentally responsible leasing and deployment of clean energy generation and technologies on public lands and waters and within federal agencies.
- Reject proposals to import dirty fuels and stop the rush of fossil fuel exports: Halt expansion of fossil fuel exports, such as new coal export terminals. Increase U.S.-backed international finance of renewable energy and energy efficiency, and phase out fossil fuel lending.
- Protect America's lands, air, water and wildlife from fossil fuel development: Stop the rush to expand coal mining on our public lands.
The next four years will be pivotal in the fight to address climate disruption and move America toward clean energy. We urge President Obama to take these actions on coal and clean energy to help stop climate disruption, and to leave a legacy of clean air and water, and a healthy planet, for Hazel and all children. Over the next 100 days and the next four years, the Sierra Club will be working hard to push and support the President in taking these actions to ensure a safe and prosperous future for our families.
I hope you will join me, Hazel, and thousands of others in Washington on February 17 to call for bold climate action -- and leadership -- from President Obama.
-- Mary Anne Hitt, Beyond Coal Campaign Director.
The National Council of La Raza (NCLR) today released a report taking a close look at the bright future the clean energy economy offers to Latino workers and underlining five "bright green" metropolitan areas where these workers are specially benefiting from the growth of green jobs.
"The growth of the Latino workforce and the push toward environmental sustainability will define the future of the American economy," said Catherine Singley, Senior Policy Analyst for the Economic and Employment Policy Project at NCLR and author of the report. "The challenge is how to align the fastest-growing segment of the labor force with the fastest-growing sectors of the economy. Investing in education and training for Latino workers should be part of any strategy to advance the green economy."
The study -- titled "Bright Green: Five Metropolitan Areas Where the Latino Workforce and the Clean Economy Overlap" -- focuses on previous research by the Brookings Institution suggesting that the parts of the country that have made a strongest emphasis on green jobs development have fared better during the economic hardships of the Great Recession.
This is particularly relevant to Latino workers, whose level of education is much lower than other national communities, with 81 percent of them having less than a bachelor's degree.
The five "bright green" metro areas described in this report are: Knoxville, Tennessee; McAllen-Edinburg-Mission, Texas; Little Rock-North Little Rock-Conway, Arkansas; Albuquerque, New Mexico; and Los Angeles-Long Beach-Santa Ana, California.
Even though the report is optimistic about the future of Latino workers in the clean energy economy, it also underlines several obstacles and difficulties that are keeping them from taking full advantage of this fast-growing sector of the economy.
"Latinos in particular are more likely than other workers to face barriers to employment, including limited access to affordable transportation, education, training, relevant social networks, and opportunities to improve their English proficiency," says the report.
The NCLR study, however, is upbeat in its projections for the future, underlying that "bright green metro areas offer tremendous opportunities for those Latino workers who are already employed in relevant occupations or possess the education requirements to qualify for jobs in the clean economy."
But to get there, it urges policy-makers, elected officials and business leaders to take several crucial steps, including the following:
- A concerted effort by companies and public, private, and nonprofit training providers to recruit and train incumbent Latino workers to transition from their current occupations into green jobs that are functionally similar.
- A comprehensive commitment by all levels of government and business to invest in adult education and training that helps more Latinos attain postsecondary education, either as an associate’s degree or equivalent college credentials.
- Moving more Latinos into adult education and training programs that prepare them for the interim level of required education.
- Pairing policies to advance environmental quality, energy efficiency, and related green initiatives with investments that are well targeted toward Latino workers.
-- Javier Sierra
Here are two headlines from the past week that blew me away (no pun intended):
#1- Wind was the top new energy source to come online in 2012.
#2- "Renewable-energy capacity in the U.S. almost doubled from 2009 to 2012, helping reduce the nation's carbon-dioxide emissions last year to the lowest since 1994..."
With every passing month, more polluting coal plants are being retired -- like these plants in Minnesota, just announced last week -- and more clean energy continues to come online to replace it.
The statistics from the American Wind Energy Association are phenomenal. There more than 60,000 megawatts of wind power online now, which is enough to "power the equivalent of almost 15 million homes, or the number in Colorado, Iowa, Maryland, Michigan, Nevada, and Ohio combined." AWEA announced the 50,000MW of wind milestone in August -- and only months later we've already hit 60,000MW.
This is great news for our economy, for our health, and for job creation.
In the past week, offshore wind supporters in Maryland helped Governor Martin O'Malley once again begin to push for more supportive legislation through the State House.
Meanwhile, last month, crowds of North Carolinians turned up at two public hearings on offshore wind development to show just how many Americans support responsibly-sited offshore wind to power their homes and businesses.
Numerous studies show the enormous potential for offshore wind along the eastern seaboard: In September, Stanford University unveiled research showing that East Coast offshore wind could power one-third of the entire U.S.
Offshore wind development off the Atlantic coast could create between 133,000 and 212,000 jobs annually in the U.S. -- that's more than three times as many jobs as new offshore oil and natural gas drilling. According to the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, if Atlantic states developed just 54 gigawatts of the more than 1,283 gigawatts of Atlantic Ocean offshore wind potential, they would create $200 billion in new economic activity and more than 43,000 permanent, high-paying jobs. Offshore wind is already up and running – and growing fast – off the shores of the UK, Ireland, Scotland, and other European countries, generating lots of power and economic activity.
Our friends at Oceana have also done some impressive research on which East Coast states have the most offshore potential. Their work shows that Delaware, Massachusetts, and North Carolina have enough offshore wind potential to provide more than 100% of those state's energy needs. New Jersey, Virginia, and South Carolina could meet well over half their state’s energy needs with offshore wind.
So what's the hold-up? Why aren't offshore wind facilities springing up all along the eastern seaboard?
That’s an issue our chapters and hard-working activists are focused on right now, collaborating with state and federal officials on legislation and policies for appropriate siting and fending off attacks from polluting industries that are clinging to the dirty status quo of fossil fuels.
In Maryland our offshore wind activists are part of a huge coalition of more than 400 diverse organizations working to pass the recent offshore wind legislation. The coalition reports that more than 1,000 Maryland businesses are in industries that could participate in the supply chain for offshore wind -- creating jobs and an economic boost for the state.
In New York, beyond getting residents to flood the BOEM docket and the Governor's office with supportive comments for offshore wind, our activists are working to pressure the Long Island Power Authority and New York Power Authority to approve offshore wind projects near Montauk and the Rockways. This push has succeeded in getting LIPA to agree in the short-term to secure more clean energy in 2013.
In New Jersey, where activists already helped pass legislation to support offshore wind, they're now pushing Governor Chris Christie to actually move it forward and protect critical financing for several job-creating projects off their shores.
We know how critical our oceans are, which is why clean energy lovers along the East Coast are working with the BOEM on wind farm siting concerns. Our priority is thinking through species impacts, as well effects on the fishing and maritime industries.
The East Coast is ready for offshore wind, and millions of Americans want their power to come from clean, renewable sources.
-- Mary Anne Hitt, Beyond Coal Campaign Director. Photo is of an offshore wind site near Scotland, courtesy of Elite Ayrshire Business Circle.
Big Coal got a rude awakening recently after angry customers and clean-air advocates in Indiana filled a public hearing after Indianapolis Power & Light (IPL) released a proposal to increase rates. The utility's at least $510 million plan toward pollution controls at two old, dirty coal plants excluded any hope for investing that money into forward-thinking clean energy.
"If we're going to have a rate increase, it would be better to invest in a plant that isn't going to poison our air and contaminate our soil with mercury," said City Councilman Zach Adamson in the Indianapolis Star.
Beyond Coal Organizer Megan Anderson said her team had less than two weeks to mobilize activists and turn out for the recent Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission hearing. About 150 people showed up with 33 testifying, some waiting as long as three hours to give the commission their two cents.
"The team went all-in for this critical event," said Anderson. "We held multiple phone banks, did one-on-one outreach, and leveraged our grassroots and grasstops networks. Our leaders spent hours inviting petition signers and we saw huge success as a result."IPL's power generation is nearly 99 percent coal and a major source of climate-changing pollution and health ailments in Indiana. IPL has done nothing to modernize its business model despite raising monthly rates on customers by as much as 44 percent over the past decade, an increase driven by the costly coal industry. The half-billion dollars the utility seeks from its customers would be in addition to more than $600 million it already got in 2011 for its dirty coal plants, according to Citizens Action Coalition, a coalition partner.
A decision by the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission is expected in a few months. Activists are poised to keep the pressure on.
"We had a great turnout with over 150 people, accompanied with several thousand comments to the commission from people saying they oppose IPL's dirty proposal," said Megan. "People spoke about how coal damages their health and environment, the benefits of clean-energy investments, and their vision for a coal-free Indy.
"The people are sending a clear message to the utility and the regulatory commission: Customers don't want their money spent on dirty, outdated coal plants. Indy is ready to move beyond coal."
Electric Vehicle Technology on Display at the Washington Auto Show (Photo: Kristen Elmore)
During his first term as President, Barack Obama took historic steps to mitigate the climate crisis our planet is facing. One significant action came last fall, when the President finalized new standards that will double the average efficiency of new vehicles to an average of 54.5 miles per gallon and cut vehicle carbon emissions in half by 2025. That means half the fill-ups for consumers and half the climate-disrupting pollution in our atmosphere.
Last week, at this year’s National Journal policy summit on affordable mobility and the coinciding Washington Auto Show, panelists dove deep into the ways motorists will save dollars on transportation, and why that makes a difference for both consumers and the American auto industry.
Despite some intransigence in Washington, Tom Stricker of Toyota Motor North America believes improving fuel economy is a bipartisan issue.
“There is a broad national consensus across parties, generations, certainly in the industry to move forward; and making progress on fuel economy is vitally important,” said Stricker.
Automakers noted that broad support for fuel economy allows them to focus on improvements that will go beyond helping the environment by helping them be more competitive.
“Regulations have spurred innovation,” said Robert Bienenfeld, senior environment and energy strategy manager of the American Honda Motor Corporation, referring to the industry-wide embrace of carbon-reducing standards to meet the challenge of higher fuel efficiency and matching consumer demand for more efficient vehicles. Fuel economy is already rated as the most important factor for consumers shopping for a new car. That demand is integral to studies noting that President Obama’s fuel efficiency standards will help create more than 500,000 new jobs by 2030.
Beyond increasing fuel economy, panels of experts and automakers alike agreed that President Obama must adopt a new set of clean fuel and vehicle standards, known as “Tier 3.” These Tier 3 standards require refiners to reduce the amount of sulfur in gasoline and automakers to use technologies that reduce smog-forming pollution. According to the EPA, removing sulfur will “immediately enhance the performance of emission reduction technologies in the existing passenger fleet.” That's not to mention the health benefits -- Tier 3 standards will significantly reduce tailpipe emissions from passenger vehicles, which contribute to asthma, cancer, heart attacks, and premature death.
Still, the recently finalized fuel efficiency standards are on track to reduce carbon pollution by 6 billion metric tons and cut our country's oil consumption by 12 billion barrels, according to panelist and Assistant Administrator at the EPA Office of Air and Radiation Gina McCarthy. Thanks to hybrid electric and electric-powered vehicles, we could see even greater reductions in emissions and oil use.
Beyond that, consumers are driving an organic change in transportation behavior by simply driving less. The Information Handling Services lowered the forecast for automobile purchases for 2014 as the growing popularity of car sharing programs, well-planned communities, and public transportation systems means fewer cars are on the road - and less carbon pollution is in the air.
--Kristen Elmore, Sierra Club Media Team Intern
Their fight is premised on a simple but devastating truth: coal plants kill. In Kosovo, they kill 835 people every year according to the World Bank's own statistics. Those stats, are found in a report (PDF) released in September 2012. The same report includes a bevy of alarming data about the impact of pollution on the health of Kosovo residents:
- 835 early deaths;
- 310 new cases of chronic bronchitis;
- 22,900 new cases of respiratory diseases among children (most often asthma);
- 11,600 emergency visits to country’s hospitals;
Over 100 million euro in direct costs connected to this problem, all of which were paid from the pockets of already impoverished Kosovo citizens.Kosovars didn't take this news lightly. They used it as a basis for a series of ads airing on national television. The ads drive home the implications of the choice before this young nation -- a dirty coal fired future, or one powered by clean, renewable energy.
As the ads make clear, one option is deadly. But they also show that another path is possible. That's because 40% of the electricity generated in the country is lost in the electricity grid. If the country's authorities and the World Bank tackled this problem, increased energy efficiency (weatherizing buildings for example), and deployed modest amounts of renewable energy (the country has a number of wind projects lined up) then Kosovo would simply not need a new coal plant.
That means no one has to die. Not today, and not 40 years from now when the new coal plant continues to belch toxic pollution every single day into Kosovo's largest city Pristina. Pollution that will cut short the lives of the country's children.
Dr. Kim has been a vocal critic of just this sort of short sighted view: "the imperatives of growth at any cost increasingly determine economic and social policy and the behavior of global corporations, more people join the ranks of the poor and greater numbers suffer and die."
Now is his opportunity to walk the walk. The growth his institution is supporting has real cost, the lives and health of the people of Kosovo. He alone can put an end to this project. He alone can ensure a safe, healthy future for the citizens of Kosovo.
-- This piece was co-authored by Justin Guay of the Sierra Club and Nezir Sinani of KOSID
While much of the news recently has been about how President Obama can create his own legacy of action on climate change and clean energy, many Sierra Club chapters continue to help teach communities about the steps that can be taken locally.
Recently the Sierra Club's My Generation Campaign in California teamed up with the Inland Empire chapter of the U.S. Green Building Council to hold a forum on energy efficiency and solar installations. The forum was the first in a series in 2013 as a part of the USGBC and Sierra Club's Green Home Series. The forum ended up being a very popular event, as more than 65 people came together to hear about solar energy in their communities and energy efficiency tips for their homes.
Hernandez spoke at the event, as did a local school board official, a Redlands city council member, and a member of the local USGBC chapter.
Leticia Garcia of Fontana Unified School District explained the need for the district's school buildings to become more energy efficient and adopt reneawable energy sources such as solar power. She also touched on the importance of every California school district taken similar measures to both fight climate pollution and save money.
Redlands City Council Member Jon Harrison said the city has taken numerous steps toward expanding use of solar and energy efficiency so far - from replacing all the traffic lights with LED bulbs, to increasing solar panel installations from 63 to 400 over four years. He added that Redlands now ranks in the top 20% of the greenest cities in California, and he'd like to continue climbing the ranks by helping residents retrofit their homes to decrease energy use.
Allen Hernandez made sure the crowd knew all about the phenomenal Sierra Club My Generation campaign, which focuses on raising awareness and advocating for renewable energy and energy efficiency, particularly in low-income neighborhoods.
Along those lines, Michael Peel of the local USGBC, spoke about how the USGBC and the Uncommon Good, a non-profit organization in the Inland Empire, were also working on educating and acting on energy efficiency in low-income neighborhoods in the Inland Empire. He also provided examples of where energy efficiency upgrades could be done in one's home, such as replacing windows, doors, light bulbs, and showerheards, and insulating walls and attics.
The crowd got to view photo profiles of 12 local homes that had been retrofitted in the past year while learning about the jobs those projects had created, the positive impact it had on the environment, and the estimated saving the homeowners were going to experience.
The Sierra Club's My Generation Campaign seeks to make clean renewable energy easier to access for California families, businesses, and workers to create local jobs, spur local investments, bring energy savings, and protect the health of our communities. Visit: www.facebook.com/mygenerationsc
-- Heather Moyer, Sierra Club
Clean energy and clean air lovers hooted and hollered yesterday when the American Wind Energy Association announced some outstanding 2012 wind power statistics - namely this one:
Wind was the top new energy source to come online in 2012.
The U.S. wind energy industry installed a record 13,124 megawatts (MW) of electric generating capacity in 2012, which brings the total wind power in the U.S. to 60,007 MW. AWEA says that's enough to "power the equivalent of almost 15 million homes, or the number in Colorado, Iowa, Maryland, Michigan, Nevada, and Ohio combined."
See more of the awesome stats and numbers in their 2012 report.
But there's other good clean energy news that came out this week, so I thought I'd highlight a few good ones. The Bloomberg New Energy Finance Report revealed this week that "(r)enewable-energy capacity in the U.S. almost doubled from 2009 to 2012, helping reduce the nation's carbon-dioxide emissions last year to the lowest since 1994..."
Meanwhile, our friends at the Center for American Progress took a great look at the potential for offshore wind along the Eastern Seaboard of the U.S. and what needs to be done to get those turbines spinning.
In solar power news, one New Orleans school is showing off its new solar panels just ahead of the Super Bowl. The Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Charter School for Science and Technology in the Lower 9th Ward will unveil its solar installion project today, followed by a panel discussion with installer NRG, an economist, and Saints' QB Drew Brees. NRG is working with the San Francisco 49ers to install solar panels on their stadium and hopes to get solar power on every football stadium in the U.S.
And if football isn't your type of entertainment, how about comedy? Comedian Sarah Silverman is standing up for solar power by helping her solar-power-entreprenear-brother-in-law (need more hyphens?) with his indiegogo project. If you support his plan to get solar power installed on a tiny island, you could end up Skyping with Silverman. Details:
San Cristobal, the easternmost island in the Galapagos archipelago, currently derives almost all of its power from diesel fuel, which is both expensive and potentially harmful to the delicate environment. To deal with the problem, Yosef Abramowitz's company Energiya Global plans to build a 300-kilowatt solar field to mitigate the island's dependence on the polluting fossil fuel. But given the small-scale of the project, reaching out to investors isn't an option. Enter indiegogo crowd sourcing. You could get signed photos of Silverman, but the one person who donates five grand will get to Skype with her. Not bad!
In non-celebrity solar news, Hawaii solar power advocates are greeting with open arms the state's huge rush for rooftop solar. Just look at how much the state loves it: "In 2012, as many permits for new solar units were issued on the island of Oahu alone as in the entire state over the last decade."
A new partnership is allowing homeowners and utilities to move even faster in getting panels on roofs and that solar power onto the state's grid.
If I missed any great clean energy news, do share in the comments!
-- Heather Moyer, Sierra Club
- Eric Garcetti Elected to Continue the Clean Energy Legacy in Los Angeles
- Big New Investments in Wind Energy Across the Country and Around the World
- Our Land, Our Water, Our Future: The Australia Beyond Coal & Gas Conference
- Fighting Coal Down Under
- How Electric Vehicles That Feed the Grid Will Pay Off
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