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Sierra Club National
After a two-year campaign by 50 organizations in the Power Indy Forward Coalition, Indianapolis Power & Light (IPL) has announced its intention to stop burning coal at its downtown Harding Street power plant in 2016 and close the unlined coal ash lagoons at the plant, located on the city's south side.
"Harding Street is the largest single source of industrial pollution, sulfur dioxide, soot, and carbon in our city," says Megan Anderson, an Indianapolis-based organizer with the Sierra Club's Beyond Coal campaign. (That's Anderson at center, below, delivering petitions to IPL headquarters in 2012.) "This retirement marks the 500th coal boiler to be retired since the launch of the Club's Beyond Coal campaign in 2010, so we're dubbing this victory the Indy 500."
[Note: Coal plants are made up of one or more boilers, or "units" -- Harding Street has three. With the Aug. 21 announcement that TVA's Allen plant in Memphis will be retired, the Beyond Coal campaign has helped retire 178 coal plants and 503 boilers since the campaign launched in 2010.]
A long-standing tradition at the Indianapolis 500 car race is for the victor to drink a bottle of milk immediately after the race. Below, local volunteers toast the Harding Street victory in downtown Indy.
IPL's August 15 announcement came as the Indianapolis City-County Council was preparing to vote on a resolution urging IPL to stop burning coal at Harding Street by 2020. Resolution 241, which also urged IPL to invest in greater amounts of clean, renewable energy, had 11 co-sponsors, and a majority of council members had pledged to vote yes.
Photo by Alicia Tucker, courtesy of A.L.T.ERNATIVE PHOTOGRAPHY
The measure passed the Community Affairs Committee 4-1 last month, with supporters of the resolution vastly outnumbering opponents at the hearing. Hours earlier, the Sierra Club released a poll showing that nearly 7 in 10 Indianapolis voters supported IPL phasing out coal entirely in Marion County, and for the utility to increase its energy efficiency and use of renewable energy like wind and solar.
Among those who testified at the July hearing was Amber Sparks, below in tan jacket, who lives about three miles from the Harding Street plant. She told the City-County Council how asthma-related illnesses have regularly kept her children home from school, led to about 20 emergency room visits and half a dozen intensive care stays, and thousands of dollars in medical bills.
"Asthma has changed our lives," she said. "We continue to adjust and eliminate as many triggers as possible … but there are some triggers I can't control. On bad air days, the children must stay indoors, limit physical activities, and have round-the-clock breathing treatments. Their quality of life is affected, and it breaks my heart each time they look at me and ask why they have asthma."
Below, clean-air activists at the hearing.
According to the EPA, Harding Street was responsible for 88 percent of the toxic industrial pollution released in 2012 in Marion County. It is also the largest source of dangerous soot and sulfur dioxide pollution in the county, contributing to central Indiana's failing grades for air quality announced earlier this year by the American Lung Association.
Photo courtesy of NUVO News
Over 55 churches, neighborhood associations, student groups, and other organizations comprising the Power Indy Forward Coalition passed resolutions urging IPL to power our city with clean energy and put an end to toxic pollution in Indianapolis. Hoosier Chapter volunteers knocked on doors, talked to people at festivals and on the street, made phone calls, and spoke out at rallies and public hearings about the public health impacts of burning coal.
Above and below, clean-energy activists celebrate IPL's August 15 announcement.
"For the past two years, thousands of Indianapolis residents have demanded clean air for our community," says Jodi Perras, Indiana representative for Beyond Coal. "They've signed petitions and postcards, rallied on the steps of Monument Circle (above) and at the Indiana State Museum, and urged their City-County Councilors to call on IPL to stop burning coal at Harding Street. Today, those calls have been answered."
Photo by Alicia Tucker, courtesy of A.L.T.ERNATIVE PHOTOGRAPHY
Perras gives a shout-out to coalition partners Hoosier Interfaith Power & Light, Citizens Action Coalition, Indiana NAACP, Organizing for Action, Concerned Clergy, and students and faculty at Purdue University Indianapolis and Butler University.
There may be a light at the end of the long dark tunnel: It appears China’s coal boom is over.
While positive signs have been emerging from China for well over a year, it appears the ‘war on pollution’ is not just talk. According to analysis produced by Lauri Myllyvirta and Greenpeace International in the first half of this year, China’s coal use dropped for the first time this century - while the country’s gross domestic product (GDP) actually grew.
You read that right: coal and GDP growth have decoupled in China.
At the same time, the growth of imports -- the seemingly endless source of optimism for the moribund U.S. coal industry -- ground almost to a halt, with only 0.9 percent growth so far this year, as opposed to more than 15 percent yearly figures we have seen since China first became a net importer. Topping off the trifecta of good news is that domestic production dropped by 1.8 percent [article is in Chinese]. While uncertainty over the changes in coal stockpiles still exists, we’re confident that the unbelievable may be at hand: peak coal consumption in China.
It’s hard to understate just how historic this shift is. Analysts have been arguing over if, and when, Chinese coal consumption would peak. Some were forecasting a peak before 2020 while others -- including Wood Mackenzie -- have been loudly claiming Chinese coal demand may not ever peak but would instead double by 2030. This new data exposes the wide gulf between reality and hype that those predictions rely on.
In a sign of just how dramatically the tables have turned on the previously skyrocketing projections for the coal industry in China, consider this: the China National Coal Association is now calling for a 10 percent reduction in second half domestic coal output in many of the main coal-producing provinces. That about face comes as quite a shock considering as recently as December, the Association was busy advocating for a billion tonnes of coal to be added to the Chinese coal market by 2020. My what a difference a year makes.
But, it’s important to understand how the many who still believe in the myth that Chinese coal demand can grow endlessly will respond to the news. Two easy to believe short-term explanations have already been offered for the slowing coal demand.
The first is that China’s economic growth is slowing and skyrocketing coal consumption will resume when the economy rebounds. The problem with this explanation is that while the first five years of the century saw coal use and GDP grow almost hand in hand, the second half saw them decouple. More importantly, the Chinese economy registered a year-on-year growth rate of 7.4 percent, which indicates that the fundamental growth pattern of the Chinese economy has changed.A widening gap between economic growth and coal consumption increases. Sources: Compiled from China National Bureau of Statistics and China National Coal Association statistical releases.
The second explanation was offered by Bloomberg: a surge in hydropower generation offset coal use. China did indeed add a lot of hydropower capacity in the first half of 2014; however, the 9.7 percent year-on-year increase in hydropower generation was business-as-usual. In fact, the average for the past five years was 9.3 percent. This increase in hydropower was only capable of changing the coal consumption growth rate by less than one percentage point, which hardly changes the big picture.
So, what’s really going on? The times they are a changing, and the Chinese economy is changing with them. We’re finally starting to see movement away from the energy-intensive fossil fuel industries and investments that fueled China’s rise.Basic energy-intensive industry products are no more the engine of growth in China. Source: Compiled from China National Bureau of Statistics yearbooks and press releases.
It has been long acknowledged that, in China, investments and a heavy reliance on industry cannot sustain growth while the services sector and household consumption remain suppressed. This adjustment seems to be slowly progressing, with growth in services (excluding real estate) and private consumption only recently outpacing the manufacturing industry. While still nascent, if this restructuring gains pace, along with the promising growth in clean energy, there is much reason for optimism.
But there is still a long way to go from a peak in coal consumption to the necessary reductions needed to move toward a clean energy future. Fortunately, this change does not have to be linear, and interestingly, it seems Chinese investors were ahead of the curve as many have been busy shifting their money from coal to clean energy over the past few years.
It looks like the smart money in China has long realized what the data is now showing: bullish predictions on future coal growth are unfounded, and clean energy is the future.
-- Justin Guay, Associate Director, International Climate Program, and Lauri Myllyvirta, Greenpeace International
The BMW i3 made its debut in U.S. markets in May. The best way to describe the car is that it's radically different. It really looks like a concept car; its design is futuristic and colorful, with the added bonus that you can actually buy it today. The i3, though dead silent, has impressed with a 22kwh battery that has a range of 81+ miles between electric charges and can take you from 0-60 in under 7 seconds.
"It takes off like a rocket!" says i3 owner Charlie Rabie, a Tufts University professor and former business leader, who took delivery of the first i3 in the U.S. [Check out the Sierra Club's electric vehicle guide.]
So what's all the fuss about?
We met with Rabie, pictured below at right, to discuss the car. He explained why he found himself drawn to it. "[The car] is flawless… it drives like a BMW…I don't have to deal with gas stations. The car had been built from the ground up to be electric, and it shows."
Rabie went on to show us some of the innovative functionality that is available to smartphone users through the i3's own app. You can remotely view charge levels, check historical efficiency stats, lock and unlock your doors, start and stop charging, precondition the battery's temperature for optimal efficiency, and even see how many pounds of CO2 you've avoided releasing into the atmosphere.
Additionally, BMW seems to have come up with a solution to the range anxiety issue experienced by some. My dad, who also happens to be an i3 owner, decided to go for the Range Extended (REX) model. The REX version comes with a small gasoline engine that effectively doubles the car's range, kicking in only when the battery is about to drop below 5 percent.
The fact of the matter is that the range extender is a foolproof safety net; it doesn't just double your mileage range; it gives you total freedom to drive i3 to its full electric range every time you charge it. Most times, you'll drive in only electric mode. But if you happen to run out of electric charge, you can rely on gasoline and even fuel up at a gas station if you don't have access to or time for EV charging. However, all the i3 drivers I've spoken to, including my dad, say that the vast majority of the miles they're driving are electric.
"I've driven 6,000 miles, 95 percent of that was on electricity, and I've never gotten stuck " said my dad, Jack Mark. "For a city, it's the ideal size. And it's so quiet, my wife and I can sit and chat as if we are in our living room."
[That's Joe and Jack Mark with the i3, below.]
The Sierra Club's New Hampshire chapter chair Jerry Curran is another i3 driver. He also adores his new wheels and recently gushed:
"The i3 is the most advanced electric car in America in terms of sustainability. To reduce energy consumption, it was built with light weight carbon fiber and aluminum... The carbon fiber was produced in Washington with Bonneville hydro power. The assembly plant in Germany is powered by three wind turbines. Recycled materials comprise half of the interior. It's a blast to drive, handles like a BMW, and will drop any other BMW muscle car off the line from 0 to 45."
- Joe Mark, an incoming senior at Tufts University, is an intern with the Sierra Club's Electric Vehicle Initiative.
If you’re one of the 29 million Americans that can’t wait to tune in to this week’s Shark Week spectacular, you’re probably familiar with the incredible power, grace, and agility of the world’s 460-plus species of sharks.
For the past 27 years, audiences have been captivated by the annual week-long tribute to the world’s majestic aquatic predators. But what you might not realize is that sharks are in serious danger.
In fact, tens of millions of sharks are mercilessly killed each year. More than 160 species of sharks are categorized as at risk of extinction, ranging from near threatened to critically endangered. But what’s the biggest threat to these crucial and magnificent creatures? Shark finning.
Shark finning is the increasingly rampant and highly profitable process of stripping sharks of their fins and throwing the sharks back into the ocean, very much alive but unable to swim. This leaves the helpless sharks at risk of bleeding to death or becoming prey for another predator. Shark fins -- the most profitable part of a shark -- are then traded in a billion-dollar annual market. For centuries, shark fins have been mainly used in the wildly expensive shark fin soup, a delicacy in some countries.
Importantly, some countries are beginning to take action to stop shark finning. The U.S., for example, has already banned shark finning, and eight U.S. states and three U.S. territories have passed bans outlawing the possession, sale, trade, and consumption of shark fins. And, thanks to the recent campaign by former basketball star Yao Ming, shark fin soup has been on the decline in China. In fact, shark fin trading has dropped by as much as 82 percent in some parts of the country and continues to decline.
While this is a step in the right direction to protect sharks, it’s not enough. We need strong action and common-sense policies to stop shark finning and associated trade around the world. Unfortunately, a massive trade agreement currently under negotiation between the United States and 11 other Pacific Rim countries seems to leave shark fins on the chopping block.
In fact, many of the 12 Pacific Rim countries negotiating the secretive trade pact -- Malaysia, Vietnam, and Singapore, to name a few -- have a long and bloody history in the shark fin trade. That’s why it is particularly worrying that a previously leaked chapter of the TPP includes only very vague references to shark finning -- not the full ban on shark finning and associated trade that we need. Other parts of the TPP would allow corporations to sue governments over environmental safeguards—like protections for sharks—that might decrease their profits. This could mean a huge step backward in the fight to protect sharks.
Luckily, there’s a way to protect the sharks -- and you can help. Some Members of Congress want to “fast track” the TPP by simply voting yes or no to pass the deal -- without taking the time to debate or amend it. We must tell our Members of Congress to oppose fast track in order to prevent a harmful TPP that threatens communities, our environment, and sharks. So while you’re watching prime time shark action this week, take action to tell your Member of Congress that the U.S. can’t be a part of any trade deal that puts our sharks at risk.
We know we need to protect our oceans’ top predator. It’s time the U.S. led the way.
--Ilana Solomon, Director, Sierra Club’s Responsible Trade Program
Last summer, President Obama delivered a major climate speech in which he laid out his plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 17 percent by 2020. He also committed to deciding the fate of the Keystone XL pipeline based on its climate impacts, stating unequivocally: "The net effects of the pipeline’s impact on our climate will be absolutely critical to determining whether this project is allowed to go forward."
While the evidence (PDF) shows that Keystone XL would result in significant greenhouse gas emissions and should be denied in its own right, it is only one of many proposed tar sands pipelines on the Obama administration’s desk. The State Department is currently preparing an environmental impact statement (EIS) for an expansion of Enbridge's Alberta Clipper pipeline, which would increase its capacity to over 800,000 barrels per day (bpd) - roughly the same size as Keystone XL. An expansion of Enbridge's Line 3 would transport up to 760,000 bpd of tar sands crude through the Great Lakes region; and a reversal of the Portland-Montreal Pipeline could bring up to 600,000 bpd through New England.
Because the tar sands deposits are landlocked in Alberta, the oil industry needs these pipelines to carry tar sands crude to U.S. refineries and overseas markets. Each one is a key part of the industry's plan to triple tar sands development to around six million bpd by 2030. Without these pipelines, much of the high-carbon tar sands would stay in the ground.
Last week, the Sierra Club and allies urged (PDF) the State Department to evaluate the cumulative climate impacts of these pipelines as part of its Alberta Clipper EIS. The National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) requires an analysis of the cumulative environmental impacts of a proposed project combined with other past, present, and reasonably foreseeable projects. Federal courts recognize that "the impact of greenhouse gas emissions on climate change is precisely the kind of cumulative impacts analysis that NEPA requires."
In a recent decision, a court rejected federal agencies' attempts to downplay the climate impacts of permitting a coal mine based on the reasoning that other coal would be mined and burned regardless of their decision.
The State Department now has two major tar sands pipelines pending before it -- Alberta Clipper and Keystone XL -- and several more on the horizon. Yet so far, it has narrowly analyzed each pipeline in isolation without looking at their cumulative effect on tar sands expansion and the corresponding greenhouse gas emissions. For example, the State Department’s EIS for Keystone XL claimed that the approval of any one pipeline project is unlikely to have significant climate impacts because other tar sands pipelines are sure to be built in the future, allowing unchecked tar sands expansion in any scenario. State relied on this same flawed logic to approve the original Alberta Clipper tar sands pipeline and the first Keystone pipeline.
The State Department cannot keep claiming that tar sands pipelines are inevitable when it has the authority to approve or reject each pipeline. Looking at each project in isolation ignores the bigger picture—the State Department’s series of decisions on individual pipelines will cumulatively have massive climate implications.
The Sierra Club and its allies are not alone in calling for a broader look at expanded tar sands infrastructure. Last month, a coalition of leading scientists published an article in the journal Nature that called for a moratorium on tar sands pipelines and an end to the "tyranny of incremental decisions" that has already allowed tar sands production to double in the last decade. As the scientists explained, the "current public debate about oil-sands development focuses on individual pipeline decisions... When judged in isolation, the costs, benefits and consequences of a particular oil-sands proposal may be deemed acceptable…[b]ut impacts mount with multiple projects...." A narrow view of each individual project "creates the misguided idea that oil-sands expansion is inevitable." Instead, the scientists thus urged leaders to pause, and craft a broader energy strategy under which “decisions on infrastructure projects…are made in the context of an overarching commitment to limit carbon emissions."
In preparing its EIS for the Alberta Clipper expansion, the State Department has an obligation to analyze the project's cumulative climate impacts in the context of Keystone XL and other past and future tar sands pipelines. As the scientists caution: "Anything less demonstrates flawed policies and failed leadership. With such high stakes, our nations and the world cannot afford a series of ad hoc, fragmented decisions."
-- Doug Hayes, Sierra Club Staff Attorney
But that’s exactly what Dr. Jim Yong Kim, president of the World Bank, did this week during the U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit. Dr. Kim disparaged clean energy as incapable of powering development and even worse, suggested coal needed to remain on the table for the World Bank to be “taken seriously.”
The truth is clean energy is the future of energy access efforts with a $12 billion pot of gold awaiting those innovative enough to catalyze it. Even more exciting is that much like cell phones, distributed clean energy is poised to leapfrog the ineffective centralized grid and put power in the hands of the people living beyond the grid today - not decades from now. But that’s only if leaders of important development institutions -- like the World Bank -- finance the clean energy technology of the future, rather than prop up the dirty industries of the past.
Dr. Kim’s statements are even more troubling because they come at a time when we are making great strides to do just that. President Obama’s Power Africa Initiative presented a historic Beyond the Grid program set to catalyze new technologies -- like off-grid distributed solar -- which will end energy poverty.
But rather than moving investment into these exciting and innovative clean energy markets, Dr. Kim is insisting that one of the world’s largest international financial institutions, the World Bank, can’t be taken seriously unless it continues to fund dirty and dangerous coal projects. And, he wants to use public money -- your money -- to do it.
Tell Dr. Kim and the World Bank to join us in the 21st century and put money into catalyzing beyond the grid solar, not dirty coal. It’s time that those who lead development institutions realize the only way to be taken seriously is to move beyond 19th century energy sources to our modern energy future.
--Justin Guay, Associate Director, Sierra Club's International Climate Program
This week marks the six-month anniversary of the Dan River coal ash spill in North Carolina. In February 2014, a broken pipe released up to 82,000 gallons of toxic coal ash and wastewater into the Dan River. The cleanup still continues today as Duke Energy drags its feet.
But if you think that sort of coal ash water contamination happens only once in a blue moon, you'd be wrong. Coal ash contains arsenic, lead, mercury, and selenium, as well as aluminum, barium, boron, and chlorine. Coal ash waste is stored in more than 1,400 sites in 45 states -- and just this week coal ash waste was found buried beneath a softball field at a middle school in Brunswick County, North Carolina.
From the article:
"It wasn't documented, because back then it wasn't deemed hazardous waste," said Stephen Miley, Brunswick County Schools' director of operations.
Well guess what - coal ash still isn't deemed hazardous waste despite its toxic contents. For that matter, it isn't subject to any national protections at all! There simply aren't any federal standards to govern how to safely dispose of coal ash, to keep it out of our streams, rivers, lakes, and drinking water. That's right – no Environmental Protection Agency safeguards for toxic coal ash. And yet, according to the EPA, coal ash has already contaminated waters at 200 sites in 37 states across the country.
Every year, the nation's coal plants produce 140 million tons of coal ash pollution, the second biggest waste stream in the country, after household garbage.
All that ash has to go somewhere, and because we don't have any federal standards to guide safe disposal, much of it is dumped in the backyards of power plants across the nation, into open-air pits and flimsy surface waste ponds -- and sometimes it ends up stashed under softball fields where kids play, or used in the construction of golf courses, or dumped into an old quarry. Monitoring these sites is left up to the states, and in the absence of federal standards, most states lack either the resources or the will to do the job.
Coal ash doesn't just pose a threat to water – it pollutes our air, too. Our friends at EarthJustice just released this new report entitled "Ash in Lungs: How Breathing Coal Ash is Hazardous to Your Health." Here is one shocking quote from the report release:
How long will we let this happen? The EPA must finalize strong coal ash standards this year to protect our health and ensure that we have clean air and water. It shouldn't take a massive spill, water contamination, or billowing dark clouds of coal ash dust to convince the agency to make this happen, despite opposition from the coal industry. Let the Dan River spill be our last coal ash spill – we don't need any more wakeup calls to tell us that now is the time for EPA coal ash safeguards that will protect our health.
What will it take? It will take all of us working together, raising our voices, and keeping the pressure on, until strong, long overdue national coal ash protections are in place.
TAKE ACTION: Tell the EPA to finalize strong coal ash standards. And while you're at it, tell your state legislators to demand action from the EPA as well.
-- Mary Anne Hitt, director of the Sierra Club Beyond Coal campaign
Hundreds of concerned residents from port communities along the Gulf Coast packed an Environmental Protection Agency hearing in Houston this week to call for stronger pollution controls near oil refineries.
"In Louisiana and Texas, communities around refineries have for too long lived with exposure without knowing what was in the air," said Darryl Malek-Wiley, a Sierra Club environmental justice organizer in Louisiana.
The EPA is proposing additional pollution control requirements for storage tanks, flares, and coking units at petroleum refineries. The EPA is also proposing to require monitoring of air concentrations at the fenceline of refinery facilities to ensure proposed standards are being met and that neighboring communities are not being exposed to unintended emissions.
Exposure to toxic air pollutants can cause respiratory problems and other serious health issues, and can increase the risk of developing cancer.
The Sierra Club, EarthJustice and coalition partners helped bus in residents from neighborhoods near refineries in Louisiana to speak at the Houston hearing. Affected residents from around the U.S. were also at the hearing to testity. From the AP story:
"The fenceline monitoring will help us determine what is coming out of those stacks," she said.
Adan Vazquez said that in winter, "snow flurries look like ash" because of a refinery near the Houston Ship Channel less than a mile from his Pasadena, Texas, home.
Leslie Fields, director of the Environmental Justice and Community Partnerships program for the Sierra Club, testified at the hearing as well, calling on EPA to create the strongest standard possible and enforce it. This EPA standard at refineries would reduce toxic emissions, improving air quality and protecting public health in communities surrounding these facilities.
"We support the proposed standard -- it's long overdue for these affected communities," said Fields. "We also are advocating for real time fenceline monitoring and more hearings in the Midwest and along the East Coast on this standard," said Fields. "The EPA also needs to create an environmental justice analysis for this rule."
But Fields and Malek-Wiley also think the standard could go even farther.
"The EPA needs to look at more chemicals from these refineries, require more monitoring, and we also want to make sure that all that information is easily accessible to communities," said Malek-Wiley.
"Also, some have said it's too expensive for industry. Well, for one example, I looked at the first quarter of 2014, and Marathon Oil made $540 million. If they don't have enough money now, when will they ever have enough money to do comprehensive real-time monitoring of their pollution?"
(L to R) Mary Willams of the Deep South Center for Environmental Justice, Jane Williams of Sierra Club California, Monique Harden of Advocates for Environmental Human Rights, Jesse Marquez of the Coalition for Safe Environment, Lisa Garcia of Earthjustice, Hilton Kelley, Leslie Fields, Margie Richard, Dr. Robert Bullard.
Also testifying at this week's hearing in Houston were 2011 Goldman Environmental Prize winner and long-time Port Arthur environmental justice activist Hilton Kelley and Dr. Robert Bullard, the winner of the 2013 Sierra Club John Muir Award and known as the father of environmental justice. Dr. Bullard is the dean of the Barbara Jordan-Mickey Leland Public Policy School at Texas Southern University.
Powerful testimony also came from Dr. Beverly Wright, director Deep South Center for Environmental Justice at Dillard University in New Orleans, Willy Fontenot, the conservation chair of the Delta Chapter Sierra Club in Baton Rouge, Neil Carman, Clean Air Director of the Lone Star chapter, Jane Williams, chair of the Sierra Club Toxics Committee, 2004 Goldman Environmental Prize winner Margie Richard, and Dorothy Felix of Mossville Environmental Action Now in Louisiana.
TAKE ACTION: Tell the EPA you want strong pollution standards and enforcement for oil refineries!
California leads the nation in solar energy generation. But while most of California continues moving the clean energy transition forward, the Port of Long Beach has taken a huge step backwards, promoting the interests and protecting the wallets of the toxic fossil fuel industry.
In a controversial agreement that ignited community outcry, the Port of Long Beach recently approved a new lease to raise the amount of guaranteed coal exports, as well as to continue the Port’s petroleum coke exports (or petcoke, a byproduct of oil refining). The plan, which will have devastating consequences for local and overseas communities, secures dirty fossil fuel exports for the next 15 years.
The Port's agreement violates key provisions of the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) that require proper environmental impact analysis and disclosure for projects. Under this state law, the Port is required to gather public insight and provide vital information to decision-makers before approving projects or agreements with detrimental consequences.
Additionally, CEQA mandates that all assessed impacts are met with measures to mitigate harmful impacts. The Port did not conduct any environmental review at all in this case and it claimed that its decision to approve the lease agreements was exempt from CEQA. This claim is especially problematic because the leases deal with increasing the exports of two of the most polluting fossil fuels--coal and petcoke--both of which have air, water, and climate change impacts.
The Port's failure to meet these statewide environmental safeguards prompted the Sierra Club to take action and join with Communities for a Better Environment, Natural Resources Defense Council, and Earthjustice to file an appeal to contest the Port's new approvals. The appeal, submitted to the Long Beach City Council on June 23, was filed to enforce state law requiring an adequate environmental analysis under CEQA.
The agreements approved by the Port include a partnership with Oxbow Company, a corporation that falls under the Koch brothers' big-polluting empire. The plan will bring coal shipments from mines in Utah and Colorado and potentially the Powder River Basin in Wyoming and Montana to the California coast on trains passing through several communities.
The Port's regressive action quickly garnered backlash from local community members, who voiced concerns about community health and environmental impacts from coal dust blowing from the exposed rail cars at a Port of Long Beach Board of Harbor Commissioners' meeting in June.
Californians aren't just worried about the local impacts of this destructive new agreement from the Port of Long Beach -- they have also raised concerns about the ramifications for global climate disruption. The Port's agreement to export fossil fuels will serve Long Beach's temporary economic interests at the extreme expense of overseas communities that are importing the American coal but are without emission controls.
"The Port's neighbors in Long Beach are moving towards clean energy, and Los Angeles plans to be coal-free by 2025 -- yet the Port still wants to embrace the past and ship carbon-intensive coal and petcoke in the middle of our clean energy transition," said Sierra Club attorney Jessica Yarnall Loarie. "Long Beach should put the health and safety of its communities first: we don't want to burn coal here, and we don't want to ship our dirty fossil fuels somewhere else."
The Port's move and long-term agreement contradicts both the U.S.' and the state of California's commitments to move away from dirty fuels such as coal. From mine to rail and port to plant, communities across the West Coast are standing up against fossil fuel exports.
It's time for the Port of Long Beach to listen to the voices of local residents. And with action like the Environmental Protection Agency's new Clean Power Plan and the Oakland City Council's resolution opposing the transportation of dangerous fossil fuels by rail in California, clean energy future is clearly on the national and statewide agenda; the Port of Long Beach is taking a step into the past.
Not only does the Port agreement violate the law, but it also violates our commitment to cleaner air, healthier communities, and a global effort to combat climate disruption. Help protect the communities impacted by this dangerous agreement by signing this petition here to tell the Port of Long Beach to put families first and reconsider their decision.
-- Stephanie Steinbrecher, Sierra Club. Photos by Al Sattler.
I've been struck by Pepsi’s "Live for Now" advertising theme. "Now" is good, but I keep wondering: what about tomorrow? PepsiCo, which owns Pepsi, Gatorade, Quaker Oats, Frito-Lay, and dozens of other brands, is one of the largest companies in the world and has a tremendous impact on people and the planet. For example, the company uses toxic tar sands fuel in its massive fleet of delivery trucks. By "living for now," is the company saying it could care less about tomorrow?
I know we can expect more from PepsiCo. Why? I've met the CEO, Indra Nooyi.
I had the opportunity to meet Nooyi at the PepsiCo shareholder meeting in June when I was there to speak on behalf of the tens of thousands of people who had signed a petition urging the company to stop using fuel made from tar sands in its trucks. Before the meeting started, Nooyi and I connected over the fact that both of us are mothers to two daughters. As mothers, both of us want the best for our kids.
During the meeting, when Nooyi responded to my remarks in front of the shareholders and board of directors, she emphasized that because she has two daughters, and I have two daughters, we share the same values and commitment to the future.
Recently, dozens of major organizations signed a letter to companies like PepsiCo urging them to avoid tar sands fuel because it's "among the most environmentally-destructive sources of oil on the planet in terms of climate and water pollution, forest destruction, public health impacts, and the destruction of ancestral First Nations lands."
In a letter in PepsiCo's 2012 Sustainability Report, Nooyi says: "Business does not operate in a vacuum -- it operates under a license from society. We recognized…when we transform our business to deliver for our consumers [and] protect our environment...we achieve sustained value."
Companies like Walgreens, Trader Joe's, and many others have committed to working with their fuel and transportation providers to avoid tar sands fuel. Why hasn't PepsiCo made this commitment?
Given that we connected over our children and the future we're leaving them, I'm making this appeal directly to Indra Nooyi:
For our daughters, for all of today's and tomorrow's children, please commit your company to clean up its delivery trucks, which make up one of the largest private carrier fleets in North America with tens of thousands of vehicles driving millions of miles each year. You can make a major difference by having PepsiCo avoid tar sands fuel, an extreme source of oil that is destroying forests, poisoning water, and hastening climate change.
Oil makes up about 40 percent of U.S. carbon emissions, so reducing oil consumption is essential if we're going to have any possibility of avoiding the worst effects of climate change. Please also ensure that PepsiCo invests in more than just a few hundred electric vehicles, so that it can take a serious swipe at its oil use.
Today, Sierra Club is asking people (like you, dear readers!) to show Indra Nooyi and PepsiCo's other executives who we’re living for -- now and for tomorrow: children who deserve a safe planet with clean air and water and no extreme and dangerous fuels.
Do you have children, grandchildren, nieces, nephews, or other kids in your life? Upload their photos here like I just did (those are my daughters on the first day of school last fall). We're hoping each picture is worth a thousand words, and that the full collage shows Indra Nooyi that we're rooting for her to commit PepsiCo to tomorrow.
-- Gina Coplon-Newfield is director of the Sierra Club's Future Fleet & Electric Vehicles Initiative
All eyes will be on the U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit in Washington next week with one question in mind -- will those gathered take steps to move investment beyond the grid?
Just this week, Politico reported that former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and former President Clinton are set to attend. With a long list of U.S. Government dignitaries also expected, the event will send an important signal for the future of President Obama’s Power Africa Initiative. Now’s the time for that signal to be loud and clear - Power Africa is doubling down on investment in solar markets beyond the grid.
Earlier this summer, Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz announced at an event in Addis Ababa Ethiopia, a groundbreaking new $1 billion initiative as a part of Power Africa dubbed “Beyond the Grid.” The initiative builds on more than 25 small-scale energy projects already in the Power Africa pipeline to catalyze a distributed clean energy deployment. To build the initiative and drum up investment, the Administration pulled together 27 founding partners – including impact investors, venture philanthropists, clean-energy enterprises, and practitioners – who have committed to invest over $1 billion over the next five years to seed and scale distributed energy solutions for millions of African homes, businesses, schools, and other public facilities.
That announcement was a big deal. By shifting policy focus and investment towards the cheapest, fastest, most effective energy access solutions - distributed off-grid solar - the Obama administration is poised to unlock between a $12 billion and $50 billion clean energy opportunity.
Underneath those numbers lies an even more exciting idea -- that energy access can develop just like communications have. All across the developing world -- but especially in Africa -- mobile phone technology has leapfrogged land line telephones entirely. In fact, three out of every four new mobile phone subscribers are now in the developing world. The same cannot be said of energy access.
Research from Group Speciale Mobile Association (GSMA) shows how both energy and water access lag far behind the penetration of cell phones in Africa. In total, 411 million people worldwide, the vast majority in sub-Saharan Africa, have a mobile phone but no way to charge it. It’s this convergence of un-electrified populations and mobile phones that is creating a tremendous new opportunity for solar power.
All across Africa, solar entrepreneurs are working with communities who live beyond the grid to put power directly into their hands. Thanks to the explosion of cell phones, these communities are now able to take advantage of mobile money platforms like M-Pesa in Kenya to pay for solar energy from companies like M-Kopa. This is unlocking a solar revolution for energy poverty that could fundamentally alter the evolution of energy infrastructure across the continent.
But while this market is growing rapidly -- 77 percent in 2014 according to the Global Off Grid Lighting Association -- it’s cash-starved and needs support. That’s why the industry has been demanding a new $500 million fund from the World Bank (join them and sign our petition). Here are a few steps the summit can take to further back this vital industry:
1) Announce a goal to phase out kerosene based lighting by replacing it with clean solar power;
2) Leverage investments in solar that help achieve that goal by using loan guarantee authority at USAID or OPIC;
3) Work to reduce and eliminate harmful VAT taxes on solar products for the off-grid rural populations; and
4) Set a baseline and measure progress in increasing public investment in beyond the grid solar markets.
The President’s new Power Africa Initiative and the Energize Africa Act in Congress both touch on these important goals. That’s why they now represent historic opportunities to shift resources and investment beyond a failing business-as-usual approach towards 21st century solutions. As the world’s biggest leaders come to town for the U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit, the innovative companies and investors building a future we all want to see will be waiting to hear one message: It’s time to move investment Beyond the Grid.
-- Justin Guay, Associate Director Sierra Club’s International Climate Program
When it comes to energy access, we’re fond of saying small is big.
That’s because all those small scale solar lanterns, solar home systems, and solar mini-grids add up to a very big market. But the size of that market, and its social impact, could well be dwarfed by an even larger opportunity the solar revolution is engendering. With the explosion of mobile money platforms, and the pay-as-you-go (PAYG) solar financing options they enable, companies working Beyond the Grid are collecting reams and reams of data that could provide rural communities with perhaps the most transformative intervention yet -- financial inclusion.
It’s important to first take a step back and understand just how profoundly important financial inclusion is for these off-grid rural communities. For many populations living beyond the grid, they are also living beyond the reach of the formal economy and the financial system. That means they can’t take out loans for productive uses (say a sewing machine to make clothes and generate extra income) that could improve their lives, which in turn restricts their ability to move up the economic ladder and reinforces the poverty trap.
But it doesn’t have to be this way. Rural communities already pay tremendous amounts for heavily polluting sources of energy -- nearly $40 billion for kerosene lighting. Solar entreprenuers are redirecting those cash flows to cheaper, cleaner sources of energy saving them money and improving their quality of life. But more importantly, by paying off these products, they are demonstrating the people’s ability to pay, and therefore their creditworthiness.
Photo courtesy of Angaza
But there is a wide gulf between being creditworthy in principle and creditworthy in practice. That’s because the financial institutions that would be granting loans to these people need historical data on which to judge risk (this is the same dilemma that faces solar providers in the U.S. as they try to securitize loans). That is where we reach a classic Catch-22: without credit history you can’t get credit, and if you can’t get credit, you can’t build credit history.
Enter mobile money, PAYG finance, and distributed solar. Companies are now leveraging machine to machine (M2M) technology -- where mobile phones ‘talk’ to solar panels -- to allow customers to pay for solar power when they need it and, more importantly, when they can afford it. This allows the software providers to capture the first-ever multi year credit data for these populations and ultimately make billions of people visible to the formal economy for the very first time.
Photo courtesy of Angaza
To understand what this looks like in practice, take Angaza Design, a company working beyond the grid specializing in PAYG platforms, at the bleeding edge of this opportunity.
Angaza was incorporated back in 2010 and began its operations, as nearly all solar companies do, by selling solar lanterns. Founder Lesley Marincola quickly realized that, while their products were great, Angaza was just one amongst literally hundreds of solar lantern start ups. They simply weren’t going to move the needle on this problem by just adding another product to an already crowded field. So, like all good entrepreneurs, Lesley pivoted and found a niche; Angaza is now all about data.
Currently, Angaza manages a cloud-based PAYG software platform called the Energy Hub, which integrates directly with mobile money platforms (like M-Pesa) and provides a suite of online services to help distributors manage and streamline PAYG financing of solar energy systems. They also work directly with manufacturers to develop custom PAYG hardware solutions that are optimized for the features of their existing product line. These products then become “PAYG-ready”, which allows them to communicate with the Energy Hub and activate/deactivate depending on the customer’s payment status. This complete PAYG ecosystem enables Angaza to provide holistic support of PAYG financing -- and collect lots and lots of data.
How they use this data is, of course, the most powerful component.
For example, let’s say that one of Angaza’s clients needs a microfinance company to lend them money for a sewing machine so they can make clothes from home and earn some extra income. The client can turn to Angaza and ask the company to release their solar repayment information, which can then help the client secure a loan they otherwise wouldn’t be able to procure.
Having this data available allows a previously unbanked customer with no known payment streams to get a record, not to mention a proof of address, which can both unlock other financial services. Similarly, Cignifi is doing the same type of work by using big data credit analytics to score unbanked people by using each client’s prepaid phone records.
Even more interesting is the direction Angaza is headed -- down the economic pyramid. While most companies are rightly focused on moving populations up the energy ladder, Angaza is working to go even deeper into the economic strata by using finance to unlock solar for those most in need. That means focusing on making even entry level solar lanterns available by using extremely low cost PAYG solutions.
In so doing, Angaza is literally building credit profiles from the bottom up with an eye towards moving those customers up the energy ladder from lanterns to solar home systems and beyond.
While this is only the beginning, Angaza’s business model holds profound implications for transforming the lives of billions of people with individual hopes, dreams, and desires. This data can help break down the anonymity and exclusion poor populations face while painting a vibrant picture of the aspirations these people hold.
But like any tool, it is dependent on how we use it. By leveraging its power, companies like Angaza are using it to eliminate energy poverty and financial exclusion once and for all. A mission we should all support.
--Justin Guay, Associate Director, Sierra Club International Climate Program
Last September, thousands of Bangladeshis joined the five day “Long March” from the capital city, Dhaka, to the city of Rampal to protest a proposed new coal-fired power plant. Now you can join the walk in a new documentary, “Long Live Sundarban,” available on YouTube.
The proposed coal project threatens the Sundarbans -- a UNESCO World Heritage Site which translates to “beautiful forest” in Bengali -- home to the largest reserve for endangered Bengal Tigers. It is also the world’s largest mangrove forest and plays an important role in the local economy and agriculture. More importantly though, the Sundarbans are a critical natural defense against cyclones, and it is estimated that every time one of these powerful storms hits Bangladesh, the forest saves hundreds of thousands of lives.
And the danger from these cyclones will only increase. At less than 20 feet above sea level, Bangladesh is one of the most vulnerable nations to the effects of climate disruption. As sea levels rise and storms worsen, the country will need the Sundarbans more than ever.
But this could all change if the proposal from India’s state owned National Thermal Power Corporation (NTPC) and Bangladesh’s Power Development Board (PDB) to build this proposed 1,320-megawatt coal-fired power plant moves forward. This coal project will not only contribute to the climate disruption threatening Bangladesh, it will also endanger their main protection against it.
But local activists are working hard to make sure this doesn’t happen.
“This proposed power plant at Rampal is hazardous in terms of economy, in terms of national equity, in terms of protection and utilization of national resource and in terms of public health,” Pinaki Bhattacharya, a teacher of environmental toxicology at AIUB, said in the documentary.
“If this consciousness develops, if people realize that this coal-fired power plant will bring disaster, they will definitely be active and government must be forced to abstain from this,” Shahed Kayes, a poet and social activist, added in his commentary in the documentary.
The massive turnout for the Long March shows that these efforts to win over the public are paying off.
Bangladesh is already demonstrating that there is a way forward without coal. There are over 80,000 new solar system installations each month in Bangladesh, and this growing clean energy industry offers an innovative solution to energy poverty while protecting the resources the people of Bangladesh rely on.
It’s time for NTPC and PDB to support this clean energy revolution and stop putting Bangladesh at risk from the ever-increasing effects of climate disruption. Until then, the thousands of activists who joined the Long March and countless others across the country will work to protect the Sundarbans.
As Shyamoly Shill, an assistant professor of sociology at Jagannath University, explains in the documentary, “Sundarbans is the integral part of the whole nature and ecosystem of Bangladesh. We have no way but to fight for conservation of Sundarbans.”
--Nicole Ghio, Sierra Club International Climate Program
As thousands rally this week in support of the EPA’s proposed Clean Power Plan, one thing is clear – people across the country are united in their demand for cleaner air to breathe. It’s fitting then that the final hearing starts in Pittsburgh on Thursday, an area that suffers from some of the worse air quality in the nation.
Every summer more than 53,000 children in the Pittsburgh region suffering from asthma are told to stay inside on bad air days because playing outside is a risk to their health. Summer is especially difficult for these kids and other vulnerable people -- including seniors and people with respiratory disease -- because the hotter temperatures lead to more smog, one of the most dangerous forms of air pollution.
Climate disruption is making this problem even worse with more hot days, longer heat waves and higher temperatures. That means even more smog.
The Sierra Club made this connection in the radio ad posted above that was launched this week in the Pittsburgh region, declaring that it’s time we did something to clean up our air. And that something is support the Clean Power Plan.
Coal-fired power plants, like those that dot Southwest Pennsylvania, are one of the primary sources of both smog-causing nitrogen oxides, soot and the carbon pollution that’s fueling climate disruption. In fact, while most of these plants could cut their pollution right now, they simply choose not to, putting our kids at greater risk.
But when the coal industry heard our ad, they did what they do best -- deny and smear. An industry group called the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity issued a press release claiming carbon pollution has nothing to do with public health, thereby again putting polluters soundly on the opposite side of science and reality.
If big polluters are denying reality and abdicating responsibility for wreaking havoc on our public health, it must be a day that ends with a “y”. Check a scientific study, big coal: carbon pollution from burning coal worsens smog which triggers asthma attacks. That's part of why the Clean Power Plan's curbs on carbon are expected to prevent 150,000 asthma attacks in children.
But Americans shouldn't expect big polluters, the same companies that have been dumping toxins into our air and water for years, to care about public health. That's why we are doing our best to cut through their smears with these latest ads.
--Kim Teplitzky, Sierra Club Media Team, Pittsburgh, PA
As the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) holds public hearings across the country on the proposed Clean Power Plan, national polling continues to show strong support for climate action. And a new survey released by Green For All and conducted by the firm Brilliant Corners suggests that the desire for government action to combat climate disruption is especially high among minority communities. In fact, three quarters of voters of color surveyed said that they have become more interested in climate issues over the past several years and are paying closer attention to new information.
The survey, which was conducted in nine battleground states and surveyed registered voters of color including African Americans, Latinos, and Asian Americans, found that many voters of color feel climate disruption is a prominent issue that cannot and will not wait for action in the distant future. Almost seven in ten voters said they feel it is an issue "we need to be worried about right now, not something we can put off into the future," with another 62 percent saying that the country is not devoting enough to combating climate disruption. When asked to rank the importance of climate disruption on a scale from zero to 10, the average response was 7.9.
"People of color care deeply about the environment and the impacts of climate change. We understand the urgency of addressing these threats because we experience the effects every single day," Nikki Silvestri, executive director of Green For All, said in a statement. "We have an obligation to one another to make sure that everybody enjoys a healthy planet."
Looking ahead to November, this survey suggests that political candidates who advocate for climate action will have an advantage among voters of color. An overwhelming 70 percent of voters surveyed said they would be more likely to support political candidates who are willing to expand resources to tackle climate disruption and grow new industries over a candidate who argues that climate action will cost jobs and hurt the economy. After all, many voters of color think that climate action is a moral imperative. When asked what the most important reason to support the EPA's proposed carbon pollution standards, the most common reason was that the rule would be fulfilling a moral duty to our children in the future.
-- Christopher Todaro, Sierra Club Polling and Research Intern
Hundreds and hundreds of people gathered in Washington, D.C., Denver, and Atlanta Tuesday for the first day of public hearings on the Environmental Protection Agency's Clean Power Plan. The EPA proposed these first-ever limits on carbon pollution from existing power plants just last month.
In Washington, D.C., crowds gathered to speak out in favor of the carbon pollution standard, packing the hearing all day. Supporters also gathered at a rally outside the hearing (see above photo) to hear from a variety of great speakers, including Senator Ed Markey, Delaware Governor Jack Markell, Latino Victory Project president Cristobal Alex, Green Latino president Mark Magaña, Hip Hop Caucus president Rev. Lennox Yearwood and others.
Kids were out and about in force as well, thanks to coalition partner Moms Clean Air Force.
In Atlanta, hundreds marched through the city streets after a powerful rally (the first photo in this blog post is of the Atlanta rally). There supporters also outnumbered opposition to EPA's standard by large number. Business owners, farmers, parents, clergy, and many more spoke in favor of EPA's Clean Power Plan.
Even a former NFL player got in on the action, writing a supportive op-ed in the Atlanta Journal Constitution.
In Denver, activists kicked off the day with a press conference with local clean energy business leaders highlighting clean energy jobs in Colorado and the opportunities that the Clean Power Plan presents for the growing clean energy industry.
Later in the morning there was clean air rally with Mom's Clean Air Force, Colorado Mom's Know Best, Climate Parents, and other groups.
At the hearing, one leader estimated the hearing speakers in favor of EPA's carbon pollution standard outnumbered the opposition by around 50 to 1. Retired military, kids, local clean energy business owners and more testified in support of limiting carbon pollution.
All in all - day 1 of the hearings was a huge success. The hearings continue today in all three cities and later this week in Pittsburgh.
If you can't make it to a hearing, please send in your comments to the EPA right here!
Enjoy more photos from DC, Atlanta, and Denver below. We also encourage you to check out the twitter hashtags #ActOnClimate, #DCEPA, and #AtlEPA to see more great photos and quotes from yesterday and to follow the rest of the week's hearings!
Biking the message around in DC!
Green Latino president Mark Magaña speaks at the DC rally. (Photo by Javier Sierra)
The Rev. Gerald Durley rallies the Atlanta crowd. (Photo by Jenna Garland)
Some sign-making kids at the Denver rally. (Photo courtesy of Conservation Colorado)
More of the crowd from the DC rally. (Photo by Javier Sierra)
Oil companies seem to think they have the most to gain by denying climate disruption. Just look at the lengths that the oil-rich Koch brothers have gone to in order to suppress climate action, spending and saying anything to derail any policy tackling the climate crisis.
Why? Well, carbon pollution caused by burning fossil fuels is a key cause of the climate crisis -- and without action, they’ll be free to drill, extract, frack, refine, transport, and burn oil as much as they want. Apparently, it’s easy for them to ignore the cascade of problems their polluting behavior creates when they’ve got profits to be made. But, as it happens, such irresponsible, deeply flawed logic eventually comes full circle.
In Delaware, severe storms are eroding the shoreline and affecting homes and businesses up and down the coast - including the business of an oil refinery. The functioning of the Delaware City Refining Company property just south of New Castle, a division of PBF Energy, is threatened by increasing extreme weather. In other words, climate disruption is hitting the doorstep of its source.
The refinery has tried to get help, submitting an application with the Coastal Zone Management Act seeking shoreline protections due to “tidal encroachment” -- which is one way of saying sea level rise.
“The extent of the shoreline erosion has reached a point where facility infrastructure is at risk,” says the permit application from the company.
You read that right -- an oil company feels jeopardized by sea level rise. And they’re asking for assistance. That’’s like a cigarette company asking for help paying for ventilators for it’s executives after they’ve pedalled tobacco for decades.
Of course it took an immediate threat to its business for the Delaware City Refining Company to confront the problem. Nevertheless, this is yet another example of climate coming home -- in this case to an oil company exposed to the very threat it poses to others.
And this is not just any oil company. The Delaware City Refinery is one of the first refineries to shift its crude oil supply to rail and is refining tar sands -- one of the most carbon-intensive fuels known to man.
To add insult to injury, the sea level rise preparations the Delaware City Refining Company is proposing could negatively affect the community by directing more storm surge toward the town of Delaware City, the small coastal community near where the refinery is located. But who could be surprised by an oil company with such a poor sense of irony acting with no regard for the people around it?
The Delaware City Refining Company is now in a wait period, after it issued a draft proposal in May 2014 that considers different solutions to address its new climate-induced problem. The Sierra Club’s Delaware chapter submitted comments on the plan, but there’s more to be done.
Our solution? Stop helping create climate-induced problems in the first place. Climate disruption has proven to be indiscriminate in the destruction it causes -- as this refinery and millions and millions around the globe are learning first hand. Denying climate disruption only exacerbates the problem -- we need to start working to move beyond dirty fuels.
Amy Roe, conservation chair of the Sierra Club's Delaware chapter.
Photo credit: SolarAid
What difference can a value added tax make to the lives of those living in energy poverty? A big one.
Currently, many countries in sub-Saharan Africa apply a value added tax (VAT) to clean energy products like solar lanterns and solar home systems. While it is critical for all countries -- particularly developing countries -- to develop a strong and diverse tax base to pay for public services like healthcare and education, VATs are usually regressive, meaning that they hit the impoverished the hardest.
As the anti-poverty organization Christian Aid explains in its Tax Justice Advocacy Toolkit, “unless a comprehensive set of exemptions is applied to the basic goods and services consumed by poor people, they will spend a much higher percentage of their minimal incomes on the goods and services that carry this tax than those with large disposable incomes.”
Tragically, VAT is holding up a key development and climate objective: increasing clean energy access for all, both on and off the grid.
According to Lighting Africa, solar components and products in many geographic areas continue to be hit with duties, VATs, and surcharges which can lead to price increase on solar products of upwards of 30 percent. That means, in practice, the VAT is an unnecessary barrier to sourcing affordable solar products for off-grid and rural populations.
Even worse, thanks to high subsidies for kerosene, VAT exacerbates an already unequal energy playing field. The end result is that those desperately seeking energy access turn to heavily polluting and ultimately more expensive forms of fuel-based lighting - like kerosene.
As such, many governments have begun to update their tax code to include VAT waivers and exemptions that support, not hinder, solar energy deployment. This includes leaders from Burkina Faso, Nigeria, Mali, and most recently Kenya. The result? The off-grid solar industry is thriving in these countries, and solar energy is affordable for low-income people who most need access to energy.
But many more countries must implement these kinds of exemptions to expand solar power for everyone.
Zambia currently exempts off-grid solar products -- like solar lanterns -- from a VAT that is typically applied to imported goods. They do this because 42.3 percent of the population lives in extreme poverty and only 22 percent are connected to electricity. Affordability of solar products is therefore critical for those living beyond the grid. The existing VAT exemption has allowed solar products to remain within the budget of low-income individuals and families.
The Zambian government will soon be setting its budget for 2015, a process which will decide the fate of this exemption. Solar energy access providers like SolarAid are strongly encouraging the government to keep the VAT and tariff exemption in place. Zambian solar lighting customers who buy $10 solar lights save an average of $75 a year, with savings spent on food, school fees, and building small businesses.
But more solar products are needed in Zambia and across sub-Saharan Africa. While no panacea, reducing and eliminating solar VAT supports the ability of entrepreneurs and NGOs -- like SolarAid -- to get these services into the hands of those who need them most. In this specific case, solar VAT does nothing but harm those who need clean, reliable energy access the most.
A VAT exemption on off-grid solar products is the obvious choice, and we support SolarAid’s push to ensure it remains in place.
--Justin Guay, Associate Director, International Climate Program, and Vrinda Manglik, Associate Campaign Representative, International Clean Energy Access
Last month, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) proposed its Clean Power Plan, the first-ever limits on carbon pollution from existing power plants. Besides re-establishing the United States as a leader in the drive to reduce the carbon pollution that is disrupting our planet's climate and threatening civilization itself, the Clean Power Plan will spur the growth of cleaner energy sources and energy efficiency, maintain and create family-sustaining jobs, and ensure America's infrastructure is prepared for the impacts of climate change.
Next week, the EPA is holding four hearings around the country; in Pittsburgh, Atlanta, Denver, and Washington DC. Some people will be arguing for protecting the environment. Some people will be arguing for good jobs. What we all need to keep in mind is that these two things are not in conflict -- the Clean Power Plan lets us do both.
From a union perspective, the Clean Power Plan presents a tremendous organizing opportunity in every state of the nation. That's because the EPA has structured the plan to give each state, or groups of states, enough time to comply in a way best suited for their local economies, meaning they can create their own plans to protect existing jobs and spur the creation of new ones all while reducing pollution. In fact, states have until 2015 to put a plan in place, until between 2020 and 2029 to meet reduction goals, and until 2030 to meet final targets, meaning they have time to make any needed adjustments to accommodate local needs.
We should use the next two years to come together, talk through our differences, and find common ground to get this done in the best way possible. That's because both the Clean Power Plan and the transition to a clean economy are NOT about "jobs versus the environment" --- they are about creating good jobs in healthy communities on a living planet.
The tools states can use include making existing plants more efficient and effective, increasing renewable energy sources, and increasing energy efficiency. And all of these can help create jobs. As Rep. John Tierney (D-Mass.) said about the Clean Power Plan,"It seems pretty clear that you're giving an incentive for states to put in more solar panels, erect more wind turbines, weatherize more homes, install more energy-efficient appliances and machinery. This is the direction we're heading -- these are jobs that pay well, they can't be exported, they're here to stay.”
That's one of the reasons the BlueGreen Alliance (a coalition of 15 unions and environmental organizations representing nearly 16 million people) is supporting the Plan. BlueGreen Alliance leaders have also been urging the EPA - and the administration broadly - to consider how working families have been affected by America's energy transition, and how they will be affected. The President responded by appointing Jason Walsh (formerly of the BlueGreen Alliance) to head an interagency effort to help ensure the Clean Power Plan does just that, by protecting workers affected by the transition away from fossil fuels to good-paying clean energy jobs.
The good news is that renewable energy and energy efficiency investments create far more jobs per dollar spent than fossil fuels -- including natural gas. Specifically, a clean-energy investment agenda generates more than three times the number of jobs within the United States as does spending the same amount of money in the fossil fuel sectors. And, the clean energy sector is growing at a rate nearly double the growth rate of the overall economy. In fact, according to 2010 analysis from the Brookings Institution and Battelle, the clean energy economy already directly employs 300,000 more people than the fossil fuel industry. These numbers will only increase as the clean energy economy grows.
If done properly, retooling our economy for clean energy - which the Clean Power Plan would help do -- will lead to a massive expansion of good jobs, providing one of the biggest opportunities for growth of the labor movement over the next generation.
However, the market alone will not create a fair and just clean energy economy. For that to happen, we must reverse the destructive policies of at least the past 35 years, that have seen workers' rights eroded as manufacturing moves offshore, union density at historic lows while the middle class is endangered, and a widening chasm between the wealthiest one percent and everyone else that has disproportionately hurt people of color, undocumented immigrants, and women.
That's why the Sierra Club and our allies are determined to work to ensure the implementation of the Clean Power Plan is strong AND JUST. That means:
- Ensuring that workers and communities affected by the phasing out of fossil fuels are treated fairly and justly;
- The jobs the Plan creates are family-sustaining union jobs;
- Disadvantaged communities receive equitable access to clean energy-related economic opportunities.
The Sierra Club has been involved for many years in discussions with our partners in the labor movement about how to make a fair and just transition that protects workers and communities that have depended on fossil fuels. Now is the time for all of us to turn those discussions into action.
In developing and advocating a strong and just Clean Power Plan, we should be guided by working with representatives of the affected communities, like the Utility Workers Union of America (UWUA) and the United Mine Workers of America (UMWA). We need to build momentum for a major funding stream to help workers and communities in Appalachia and other hard-pressed regions to heal their land and water and have real family-supporting jobs,.
Most of all, we need to continue working together, and refuse to be divided by our common enemies. Beyond some unions that legitimately fear harmful effects on their members, the attacks on the Clean Power Plan are coming from the same anti-union corporate polluters that have sought to destroy the labor movement and fought any attempt to address global climate disruption for decades.
Anytime there’s a proposal to protect workers or clean up air or water pollution, you can count on the Chamber of Commerce and their ilk will come out with a forecast of economic disaster. You can also count on them to be dead wrong. The Washington Post Fact Checker gave the Chamber's dire prediction that the Clean Power Plan would cost hundreds of thousands of jobs and billions of dollars Four Pinocchios, the rating received for only the most egregious whoppers. Its history repeating itself, as the Chamber has made false claims about economic costs on everything from acid rain protections in 1990, to smog reduction measures of 1997, to mercury standards of 2011.
Having endured recent years where climate disruption contributed to damaging floods, widespread wildfires, record drought, and Superstorm Sandy, which together cost Americans hundreds of lives and hundreds of billions of dollars, we can't afford to wait any longer to act. For the health and welfare of Americans, for the nation's economy, and for the stability of the planet, now is the time for the labor and environmental movements to come together for a Plan that dramatically reduces pollution from America's power plants, increases the energy efficiency of our economy, and reduces the threat of climate disruption.
-- Dean Hubbard, director of the Sierra Club's Labor Program
Today, leading environmental groups and corporate campaigning organizations released an open letter to major corporations -- the biggest consumers of tar sands, the dirtiest oil on the planet -- calling on the corporations to take responsibility for the disastrous effect that lax to non-existent corporate purchasing policies are having on the climate. Check out the letter here.
Unless a company has a specific policy in place not to purchase tar sands oil, the company is in practice supporting the destructive tar sands mining industry that is polluting our water, air, communities, and climate. The letter puts companies on notice that it's time to do the right thing.
Over the past year, corporations have come under increasing public pressure to stop using tar sands oil. PepsiCo and Coca-Cola were the first among them, due to the amount of tar sands oil used to fuel the companies' massive vehicle fleets. Just Monday, people began asking the question across social media: "How much water is poisoned to produce one barrel of tar sands? Just ask Pepsi."
"Tar sands crude is the dirtiest oil on the planet. Nineteen major companies have already adopted policies not to purchase oil from tar sands, so it's high time that the rest of America's corporations follow suit," said Michael Bosse of the Sierra Club's Beyond Oil campaign. "This letter puts the biggest corporate consumers of oil on notice that there's no excuse not to invest in cleaner, more efficient fleets, and that it's simply wrong to source oil from the tar sands, which is fouling the land and water in communities across the country, from Maine to Kalamazoo to Utah."
Amanda Starbuck, the Climate Program Director at Rainforest Action Network, put it this way: "Many big corporations that sell commodities far removed from oil extraction are nonetheless enabling the nightmarish expansion of the tar sands by refusing to purge tar sands oil from their fuel supply chains. Huge companies with massive operating budgets have ample resources to ensure they are not contributing to the worst environmental disaster on Earth, and until they do so, we will consider them complicit."
With this letter, it should be clearer than ever to America's corporations that they need to take note, take a look at how PepsiCo has been dragged into the spotlight over its use of tar sands, and take action. It's time for America's corporations to step up to the plate, say no to tar sands, and move beyond oil.
-- Rachel Rye Butler, Sierra Club Beyond Oil Campaign
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