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Kosovo Says No to World Bank's Dirty Coal

15 April 2014 - 2:02pm
                    Visar Azemi (center) at KOSID's fourth annual workshop.                     Photo courtesy of KOSID.

Editor’s Note: Visar Azemi is the coordinator for the Kosovo Civil Society Consortium for Sustainable Development (KOSID) and a faculty member at the University of Maryland. Before joining KOSID, Mr. Azemi, a Kosovo native, was an electrical engineer.

Leaders, journalists, and civil society organizations gathered at the World Bank in Washington, D.C. this past weekend for the World Bank’s annual spring meetings. Halfway across the world, the people of Kosovo were and still are speaking out.

The Republic of Kosovo, nestled in the Balkan Peninsula in southeastern Europe, is home to approximately 2 million people facing an energy crisis. If the World Bank gets its way, our young country will be locked-in to a dirty energy future for decades to come.

The proposed Kosovo Power Project (KPP), a 600-megawatt lignite coal power plant, is slated to be built despite the outcry of the public. Lignite coal is widely considered one of the dirtiest forms of coal, and its use in the existing power plants is already taking it’s toll on our people.

In the World Bank’s own estimate, air pollution in Kosovo “is estimated (midpoint) annually to cause 835 premature deaths, 310 new cases of chronic bronchitis, 600 hospital admissions, and 11,600 emergency visits.”  The total economic costs for those health effects are estimated to be as much as 158 million euro annually.

If KPP is constructed, we can expect those numbers to increase.

Additionally, Dr. Ted Downing, president of the international network on displacement and resettlement (INDR), released a report earlier this week that sheds light on the potential involuntary displacement over 7,000 Kosovars will face if KPP is constructed. These thousands of people from the Obiliq municipality would be displaced in favor of an expanded open pit mining operation, called New Mining Field (NMF). Once again, money would come before the people.

The report warns that forced displacement would trigger, “a tsunami of likely outcomes, including joblessness, homelessness, loss of livelihoods and income-earning assets, marginalization, increased food insecurity, loss of common land and resources, increased health risks, social disarticulation, disruption of formal educational activities, loss of sacred sites, threats to cultural identity, disappearance of mutual self-help mechanisms, and the loss of civil and human rights.”

But we aren’t just going to stand by and let the World Bank evict our countrymen and decide the fate of our country.  The Kosovo Civil Society Consortium for Sustainable Development (KOSID) wants to make sure its voice is heard. With 11 organizations on board, KOSID has been working to ensure that Kosovo’s future isn’t left out of the global conversation and our countrymen and women have a chance at a clean energy future.

As KOSID continues to bring awareness to Kosovo’s energy situation, we implore our government to pursue clean energy solutions for our energy crisis. The sequencing of measures the government and the stakeholders involved in the energy sector in Kosovo should take are of the utmost importance. By investing in energy efficiency and solar and wind energy, Kosovars will be healthier, our country will be more independent, and our future will be brighter than ever.

Categories: Sierra Club National

Signs of Life for Key Wind Investments in Congress - Will They Continue?

15 April 2014 - 1:11pm

The facts are speaking for themselves: wind is winning. But is Congress listening?

Deemed the fastest-growing energy source in the world, wind has created 80,000 jobs at over 550 U.S.-based manufacturing facilities, powered over 15 million homes, and added $105 billion in domestic investments over the last 10 years. In the face of severe weather and extreme climate disruption, wind has offered the U.S. and the world the opportunity to invest in a clean solution to meet our energy demand without exacerbating climate disruption.

But without the support of our legislators, the wind industry could--to the detriment of millions of Americans and our environment--slow its progress.

The Production Tax Credit (PTC) was enacted as a temporary provision over two decades ago as a part of the Energy Policy Act. Despite expiring eight times, the PTC has led to continual progress and job-creation in the wind industry.

More than four months ago, however, the PTC expired once again, leaving the wind industry in the lurch. In a positive move last week, the Senate Finance Committee advanced a package of renewable energy tax credits--including the PTC--marking the first step toward future wind progress. The next step in the process is moving the legislation to the Senate floor where it will likely face staunch opposition from Republican climate deniers.

But the facts don’t lie. Wind energy has created thousands of jobs and invested millions in our economy, and failing to renew the PTC would be economically and environmentally irresponsible.

A recent report released by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) reveals that “U.S. wind power deployment through 2020 is sensitive to both the prospective PTC level and market conditions over time.”

The report continues, “a reduction in domestic wind power deployment is likely to have a direct and negative effect on U.S.-based wind turbine manufacturing production and employment. This is notable as the manufacturing sector has been observed to represent a substantial share of wind industry jobs.” If recent history has taught us anything, it is that reductions in demand will rapidly lead to factory closures and job losses.

The report predicts that without a PTC renewal, yearly wind installations will drop to as little as 3-gigawatts a year, though by 2020, experts expect 9.6-gigawatts will be needed per year to help fill the 80 percent energy supply gap left by retiring coal plants. Additionally, the report calls for 38 gigawatts of wind energy to be added each year to completely decarbonize the energy sector by 2030.

Essentially, we won’t be able to meet our clean energy needs without wind and the PTC.

Wind energy has seen development and job creation in over 70 percent of congressional districts. If our members of congress are serious about creating jobs and bolstering our economy, they should support the PTC and invest in a clean energy future for their constituents, our generation, and the generations to come. Click here to take action and tell your member of Congress to extend this critical credit.

--Radha Adhar, Associate Washington Representative

Categories: Sierra Club National

WWF Holds Big Coal Accountable

14 April 2014 - 2:33pm

Wildlife is fighting back against big coal--the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), that is.

Yesterday, WWF filed a complaint against the world’s largest private coal company, Peabody Energy.  The complaint, filed with Belgium’s Jury d’Ethique Publicitaire (JEP), alleges that an advertisement Peabody ran in the European edition of the Financial Times breaks JEP’s code for honest advertising.

While Peabody makes its billions though dirty coal, its advertisement scheme attempts to put the coal titan among the ranks of “clean, modern technology.” With a clean energy revolution thriving, Peabody is desperate to keep coal on top and wind and solar just out of reach for those who need it most.

When the ad appeared, WWF was quick to act.

“As coal loses ground in developed countries to more modern sustainable alternatives, Peabody is marketing its dangerous technologies onto those poorest countries with the least development options,” Tony Long, director of WWF European Policy Office, said in a press release.

“Trying to sell coal to poor people as a path to better and healthier lives is socially irresponsible and morally wrong. We already know that poor countries are most affected by climate change, and are the least equipped to fight its negative impacts.”

Specifically, WWF alleges that in the advertisement, Peabody “fails to disclose that the core of its operations is coal mining and supplying coal-fired power plants; claims that energy poverty is ‘the world’s number one human and environmental crisis’; claims that ‘clean, modern energy’, meaning so-called advanced clean coal technologies, is ‘the solution for better, longer and healthier lives’ misleading readers as to the negative climate, environmental and health impacts of coal pollution; uses absolute and misleading assertions such as ‘clean coal’ that are not substantiated by relevant scientific evidence and commercial application.”

In fact, the International Energy Agency (IEA) released a report that revealed the majority of energy access investments need to be in distributed clean energy in the form of mini-grids and off-grid interventions--not coal--if global energy poverty has a hope of being solved.

Graphic from IEA report page 22

According to the IEA, “modern energy access for all by 2030 would therefore require more than three-times the expected level of investment in the New Policies Scenario, growing from $14 billion per year to $48 billion per year.”

The New Policies Scenario, outlined in the 2011 IEA report, “takes account of broad policy commitments and plans that have been announced by countries, including national pledges to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions and plans to phase out fossil-energy subsidies.”

This includes the “450 Scenario” to limit global temperature increase to 2°C, the “Efficient World Scenario” for energy savings to improve energy efficiency, and the “Energy for All Case” which “estimates the additional investment required to meet[...] the goal of achieving universal modern energy access by 2030 [...].”

With an increase in investments in these New Policies Scenarios, we can expect an increase in investments in clean energy, because when it comes to energy access, distributed clean energy is simply the right tool for the job.

The Sierra Club stands with the World Wildlife Fund’s efforts to hold the coal industry accountable while working toward a clean energy future.

--Justin Guay, Associate Director, Sierra Club International Climate Program

Categories: Sierra Club National

How Japan replaced half its nuclear capacity through energy efficiency

10 April 2014 - 12:48pm

Japan was facing darkness.

Three years after the March 2011 Tohoku earthquake, Japan’s energy capacity was rapidly reaching its peak going in to the high-energy summer months. A tremendous amount of conventional generation capacity--including the entire nuclear fleet--was unavailable, and the country faced the risk of power cuts. But miraculously, or seemingly so, in just a few short weeks, Japan managed to avert the rolling power cuts that many believed inevitable. Even more impressive, Japan has turned these emergency measures into lasting solutions.

So how did a country on the brink of blackout suddenly meet their country’s energy needs without forcing people back to the stone age? Japan overcame this daunting task by tapping the cheapest and most widely available source of energy savings available--energy efficiency.

Much of the electricity savings were initially driven by a popular movement known as “Setsuden.” This movement emerged to encourage people and companies to save electricity and prevent rolling power cuts. Simple measures such as upping the thermostat by a few degrees in homes and offices, 'thinning' lighting by reducing the use of some lightbulbs, cutting back on the use of big screens and exterior lighting, and powering down electric toilet seats--a Japanese peculiarity--enabled Japan to dramatically reduce power demand almost overnight. Dress codes in offices were even eased to ensure employees were more comfortable in light of the changes, and both large and small companies were audited to identify savings potential.

These temporary measures have proven to have long term impact. They've dramatically increased the awareness of energy use and energy efficiency with large companies now running high-profile, long-lasting programs. Japan’s economy and gross domestic product (GDP) grew and power consumption stayed stable thanks to these newly ingrained practices.

More importantly, there is huge potential for technical measures to reduce energy usage even further--a resource Japan has only just begun to tap.

What's even more surprising is how far off the energy pundits were in predicting the impact this would have on Japan. Aside from worrying that the sky would fall, the pundits made dire predictions about the need to replace the nuclear fleet with 'cheap coal'--a myth we previously debunked.

Fortunately, through a combination of common sense energy saving measures, Japan instead turned to permanent efficiency gains. In the process, the Japanese people and its business community proved the pundits wrong.

The key lesson from the Japanese experience--the lesson pundits failed to appreciate--is that coal plant construction is simply too slow to be relevant in the modern world where resiliency is highly valued. To cope with rapid loss of generation capacity, Japan needed fast, nimble and modular 21st century solutions. That means efficiency and clean energy.

Despite major hurdles to deploying these solutions, due to a complete absence of renewable energy policies prior to the Fukushima disaster, solar power surged in 2013 blowing away earlier predictions. In fact, Japan invested the most money in solar power of any country in 2013, and this investment is expected to grow rapidly in the coming years.

In contrast, coal power projects proposed in the wake of Fukushima are still sitting on the drawing board. By the time these coal projects are projected to be online, their output will be rendered obsolete due to the rapidly dropping price of renewable energy. Even worse, these investments lock Japan into a volatile international coal market.

Japan should scrap these coal plans all together. Japan needs to look no further than India's recent imported coal debacle - Tata Mundra - for a warning of what that market can do to energy security. Coal investments there have knocked India into a market relying on volatile, dangerous fossil fuels that Indians can’t rely on.

At the end of the day, a nation can’t achieve energy security by depending on coal. Aligning energy investments with the need to address climate disruption is a critical concern to protect the health of communities and families. Replacing half of the nuclear fleet with efficiency is just one step in the right direction for an advanced country like Japan. As scientists continue to warn of the impending global greenhouse gas emissions peak, Japan must begin reducing its emissions--not increasing them with more fossil fuels. The easiest and most important step it can take is removing the illusion of the need for new coal-burning power plants.

After all, the efficiency gains and promising developments with clean energy show that Japan can be a leader in 21st century energy solutions.

--Justin Guay, Associate Director of Sierra Club's International Climate Program, and Lauri Myllyvirta, Greenpeace

Categories: Sierra Club National

A Parent and Faith Leader's Perspective: Why We Need Strong Smog Standards

10 April 2014 - 12:21pm

As the father of an asthmatic child, and as a person of faith, I'm grateful for the Clean Air Act. That might seem like an odd introduction, but let me explain.

Last fall, Representative Paul Gosar (R-AZ) complained that, in enforcing the standards of the Clean Air Act, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has "overreached" its authority. Overreach - that mental picture might seem scary to some: the hand of big government imposing its way into our lives to tell us what we can and cannot do.

As a Christian, though, the image that comes to my mind when I think of overreach is very different. On the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, against a clear blue sky, God over-reaches space and time. In the touching of two fingers, heaven and earth meet, and Adam "became a living soul" (Genesis 2:7b). According to the second creation story, God took the dust of the earth and gave it human form. But the lump just lays there, inert, lifeless, until God breathed spirit---the Hebrew word is ruach, "breath" - into Adam's lungs.  

That Biblical story takes on real flesh and blood as I'm desperately racing to the emergency room with my son, Aaron, in the seat beside me. It's another bad air quality day where I live, and Aaron is having yet another asthma attack. His face is ashen and his lips are sky blue as he tries to suck in the life giving air that he can't force into his lungs. I reach out my hand across the seat to him---to assure him, to assure myself---but he's too weak to even lift his fingers up to meet mine. There is no breath in him.

I carry him in my arms, limp as a ragdoll, into the emergency room where doctors and nurses who meet us at the door. I watch as their hands reach out to heal. Aaron's breath is restored. Standing next to his bed I can't talk without crying, so I just make an OK sign with my hand, a question in my eyes. He lifts up his hand so his OK meets my OK. Overreach.

It could have been much worse for Aaron. The reason there aren't more bad air quality days like this for Aaron and for millions of others was because, in 1970, Republicans on one side of the aisle and Democrats on the other side of the isle reached their hands across the partisan divide to create the Clean Air Act.

The reason there aren't more bad days like this for Aaron and for millions of others was because a Republican president, reached over, pen in hand, to signed the Clean Air Act into law. As a result, according to the Union of Concerned Scientists, some 400,000 premature deaths have been prevented.

Here in Arizona, the EPA is proposing to reduce harmful nitrogen oxide (NOx) emissions from the Navajo Generating Station (NGS), a coal plant that is one of the largest sources of NOx emissions in the U.S. as well as from the Apache, Coronado, Sundt, and Cholla generating stations. NOx is a key ingredient in both ozone and fine particulate pollution, both very dangerous forms of pollution.

Every year, air pollution from these coal plants contributes to significant health problems including heart attacks, asthma attacks, hospital admissions, emergency room visits, chronic bronchitis, and costing Arizonans hundreds of millions of dollars in health expenses. Certain groups are especially vulnerable to the effects of air pollution, such as: infants, older adults and people with lung diseases like asthma.

Smokestack pollution from NGS also adds to smog haze in 11 national parks and wilderness areas surrounding the plant, including the Grand Canyon, which is less than 20 miles away. Emissions from the Apache, Coronado, and Cholla coal plants add to dirty air at 18 national parks and wilderness areas in four states. The Sundt plant, right in Tucson, affects our public lands and the public health of those in surrounding neighborhoods.

We should not have to wait decades for clean air. We need strong clean air standards that include the most protective pollution control technology to safeguard our health and our environment now, as well as that of future generations. I thank God for the Clean Air Act, and for the people who are willing to stand up in the name of life and healing and common sense. I hope Rep. Gosar can be one of those people who "overreaches" across the aisle to support strong EPA clean air standards.

- Rev. Doug Bland, Director of Arizona Interfaith Power & Light

Categories: Sierra Club National

Securing a Positive Climate Legacy

10 April 2014 - 7:10am

Our world faces an unprecedented environmental, social, and economic challenge-- climate disruption. As the most recent report from the International Panel on Climate Change notes, the impacts of climate change are already being felt around the world as seas rise, extreme weather events increase, areas suffer drought or flood, and plants and animals edge closer to extinction.  Scientists agree that fossil fuels are the main culprit behind climate disruption and as a new Sierra Club report details, it is vitally important that undeveloped dirty fuels remain that way.

Using publicly available data already gathered by federal agencies, the report, Dirty Fuels, Clean Futures (PDF), calculates the potential carbon dioxide emissions from dirty fuel development proposals. Such calculations send a clear message: Actions to effectively reducing climate disruption must include keeping dirty fuels in the ground.

Four major potential sources of carbon pollution have been identified, the Arctic Ocean, the Green River Formation, the Powder River Basin, and the Monterey, San Juan Basin and Marcellus shale plays. If just a fraction of the oil, gas and coal from these major climate disrupters was developed, the resulting carbon pollution would cancel out our country's greatest accomplishments in the fight against climate disruption--efforts like the Obama administrations new fuel economy standards.



Thankfully, President Obama can take pragmatic actions to keep dirty fuels in the ground and speed our country down the path to clean energy future.  Over the remainder of his time in office he has an opportunity to:

  • Fully implement his Executive Order 13514 requiring all resource management agencies to fully consider climate pollution, like they do other types of pollution, prior to leasing or exporting onshore and offshore oil, gas, coal, and unconventional fuels sources such as oil shale and tar sands.  
  • Stop any new leasing of federal oil, gas, and coal until potential environmental, climate, and public health impacts are fully considered, including:
  • Withdrawing plans to allow development of oil shale and tar sands on 800,000 acres of federal public lands in Colorado, Utah, and Wyoming.
  • No issuance of new federal coal leases until reforms that increase royalty rates, set sensitive lands aside, insure public transparency, and fully assess impacts from all aspects of coal production are implemented.
  • Withdrawing plans to offer any new offshore oil leases in the Arctic Ocean.
  • No issuance of any new oil and gas leases on federal lands that use fracking and well stimulation techniques until impacts on water, air, and climate are averted.
  • Close oil, gas, and coal industry exemptions from environmental and public safety laws.
  • Stop the export of coal and liquefied natural gas.

By showing leadership and taking these actions, President Obama can put the world on a path to avert climate catastrophe and create a clean-energy future that generates quality jobs, protects public health, and secures a wild lands legacy for our children’s future.  He can bolster his National Climate Action Plan and secure the progress that his administration has made in reducing domestic carbon emissions.

TAKE ACTION: Tell President Obama to keep dirty fuels in the ground!

-- Dan Chu, Director of the Sierra Club Our Wild America campaign

Categories: Sierra Club National