Sierra Club National

Four things the U.S.-Africa leaders summit can do for beyond the grid solar

Sierra Club Compass Blog - 13 hours 37 min ago

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

Categories: Sierra Club National

The Next Frontier For Beyond the Grid Solar Markets: Big Data

Sierra Club Compass Blog - 31 July 2014 - 2:18pm

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

Categories: Sierra Club National

Bangladesh ‘Long March’ to save Sundarbans featured in a new documentary

Sierra Club Compass Blog - 31 July 2014 - 8:24am

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

Categories: Sierra Club National

Big Coal Doesn't Get It

Sierra Club Compass Blog - 30 July 2014 - 11:57am

 

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

Categories: Sierra Club National

Poll: Communities of color overwhelmingly support climate action

Sierra Club Compass Blog - 30 July 2014 - 8:49am

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

Categories: Sierra Club National

First Day of EPA Carbon Pollution Standard Hearings a Success!

Sierra Club Compass Blog - 30 July 2014 - 7:54am

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)

Categories: Sierra Club National

Irony Alert: A Delaware Oil Company Feels Threatened by Sea Level Rise

Sierra Club Compass Blog - 28 July 2014 - 8:40am

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.

Click the image to download the full application.

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.

Categories: Sierra Club National

Why VATs on Solar Energy Hinder Progress on Energy Poverty

Sierra Club Compass Blog - 24 July 2014 - 1:05pm

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

Categories: Sierra Club National

The EPA's Clean Power Plan: A Chance to Get it Right for Workers, Communities, and our Climate

Sierra Club Compass Blog - 24 July 2014 - 11:41am

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

Categories: Sierra Club National

Organizations Call on Major U.S. Corporations to Ditch Tar Sands

Sierra Club Compass Blog - 24 July 2014 - 6:00am

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

Categories: Sierra Club National

Rallies Next Week! Your Voice is Needed to Support Climate Action

Sierra Club Compass Blog - 23 July 2014 - 2:32pm

Last month, the Environmental Protection Agency proposed the first-ever national standard to clean up carbon pollution from power plants. Now the EPA is holding public hearings on the proposed standard in four cities. If you live near DC, Pittsburgh, Denver, or Atlanta, we hope to see you next week!

Join Sierra Club and our allies as we march and rally outside these hearings. We've all got to do our part to show strong support for the EPA to take bold action on climate disruption! Polluters are gearing up to try and stop this standard in its tracks, so it's especially important that everyone concerned about our climate shows up, raises their voice, and gets involved.

Here are the dates and locations of the hearings and rallies - click on each to learn more and to RSVP:
 
Washington, D.C (July 29 and 30)

Denver, Colorado (July 29 and 30)

Atlanta, Georgia (July 29 and 30)

Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania (July 31 and August 1)
 
As I've said before, this carbon pollution standard gives all kids a fighting chance at a safe and promising future. The Clean Power Plan will save lives and money.
 
We applaud the EPA's Clean Power Plan and will work to make it even stronger. It creates a framework that, once in place, could mean significant reductions in carbon pollution. States will make plans to reduce power plant emissions, and boost renewable energy and energy efficiency; states could also pledge retirements of dirty, outdated power plants.

The Clean Power Plan also sends an important signal to the world that the United States is serious about addressing climate disruption, and it could help clear the way for international climate action.
 
I’ll be in Atlanta for the events there, and I can't wait to see the huge crowds gathered to support the Clean Power Plan. I hope you'll join us -- either in Atlanta, Washington, DC, Denver, or Pittsburgh as we rally, march, testify and make our voices heard!
 
If you can't make it, please submit your supportive comments here!

-- Mary Anne Hitt, Beyond Coal Campaign director. Photo courtesy of Josh Lopez.

Categories: Sierra Club National

Coal Exports: "You Don't Know Longview"

Sierra Club Compass Blog - 23 July 2014 - 10:10am

Last week we highlighted the amazing work of the Longview, Washington, community in standing up against coal exports and speaking out for a strong clean-up of a toxic port site in their town. Residents packed a hearing to say as much.

We want to share the powerful testimony from one of those Longview residents, Mary Lyons:

Tonight, July 16, 2014, is an important anniversary for me, in that 27 years ago this evening I was in Intensive Care at Swedish Medical Center in Seattle after surviving a Sudden Cardiac Arrest while playing softball with friends. I was on life support and comatose and based only upon the statistics, the neurologist told my friends and family that I would probably be a vegetable if I ever regained consciousness.

But my friends and family kept telling her;
"Doctor...you don't know Mary."

As you can see, the doctor's dismissal of my role in that prognosis was a crucial misstep. She didn't make an effort to learn about my personal strengths and skill set. She didn't consider that "optimistic energy and stubbornness" could have a major impact on "outcome." That lack of insight caused her name to later be used in our family as a derisive slur for "short-sighted pessimism."

And tonight, I have one phrase to leave the Department of Ecology with as you consider the elements of this Clean Up, and that is:

YOU DON'T KNOW LONGVIEW.

The level of Clean Up the DOE chooses to enforce could have the ability to not only clean up this site, but also this region AND this country as we lead in holding polluting industries responsible for ALL the damage they do. Level 6 is the only level which returns this site to the competitive playing field it occupied when Reynolds Aluminum moved in. And if you think this is a community which will slip back into the shadows and be satisfied with sub-par repairs for damages done

YOU DON'T KNOW LONGVIEW.

The commercial value of this deep-water port so close to the mouth of the Columbia River AND Portland could LEAD the West Coast in its efforts to turn this country into a more economically-powerful and cleaner nation. Lowering the bar to Level 4 models the defeatism of a dying vision and a cynical world steeped in denial of the fast approaching train ahead.

Don't get me wrong: this city will survive, no matter what level you choose for the Clean Up. But here's a tip: Supporting this community as we DETERMINEDLY rise from the ashes of the last fifty years is an investment which will pay off in spades.

And if you don't believe me,

YOU DON'T KNOW LONGVIEW.

Thank you.

Mary Lyons

Categories: Sierra Club National

‘Pay-as-you-go’ solar financing hits new milestone

Sierra Club Compass Blog - 22 July 2014 - 8:38am

We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again: pay-as-you-go solar is the future for those working beyond the grid.

From Pakistan to Kenya, anecdotal reports have trickled in that pay-as-you-go solar finance -- the off-grid solar market’s version of a “solar lease” --  is driving record sales. Now, we have one more data point to add to the mounting evidence. Solar market leading d.light, a manufacturer and distributor of solar light and power products that just closed a $11 million series C investment, announced it sold a record 500,000 solar systems. Those systems will serve a record 2.5 million people. This is all thanks to pay-as-you-go financing.

This announcement is a confirmation of what many in the off-grid solar market have been saying for quite some time: it’s all about unlocking finance. That’s why the solar industry continues to demand $500 million from the World Bank in order to catalyze growth. (You can support their call by signing our petition here). Of course with millions flowing into the solar market from a variety of sources, they’re not exactly waiting for international financial institutions to make a move.

But enterprise financing is just one piece of the puzzle. Access to financing for everyday consumers is just as critical to unlock solar for the masses. That’s because the upfront costs of solar technology can often times leave these clean off-grid energy products out of reach for many.

That’s why d.light is doubling down on its success by announcing a new initiative that will focus on integrating advanced product technology and service offerings for a full range of payment systems, including microloans, self-help groups, top-up cards, and mobile money. Making solar financing as easy as possible for customers is the best way to get solar power into their hands.

 

Photo courtesy of d.light

The new initiative, dubbed ‘Energy Access Accelerator’, will be led by d.light’s President, Ned Tozun, and Managing Director of Global Consumer Finance, Sateesh Kumar. Mr. Kumar is a former Executive Vice President of SKS Microfinance, one of the largest public microfinance institutions in the world.

And by unlocking consumer finance, that means unlocking this $12 billion solar market.

According to Donn Tice, Chairman and CEO of d.light, the  “Energy Access Accelerator will be focused on scaling distributed energy solutions. Scale requires a consistent user experience, reliable energy and flexible payment options.”

With over six million solar products currently being used around the world -- serving an estimated 36 million people -- d.light knows a little something about scale. But until now, pay-as-you-go finance, currently 20 percent of d.light’s sales, was a relatively minor arrow in the companies quiver.

With this announcement, that’s set to change, and it’s a potent signal of the emergence of consumer finance in the beyond the grid marketplace.

--Justin Guay, Associate Director, International Climate Program

Categories: Sierra Club National

How much water is poisoned to produce a barrel of tar sands? Just ask Pepsi.

Sierra Club Compass Blog - 21 July 2014 - 8:00am

Over the last year, activists have been pushing PepsiCo and other companies using tar sands in their massive corporate vehicle fleets to do the right thing and stop using this dirty source of fuel that's poisoning our water, our climate, and our communities.

You might remember when activists unveiled a Pepsi can re-design in the hottest spots of San Francisco and New York City to highlight the company's use of tar sands.

You might remember when a no tar sands protest showed up outside the door of an environmental conference for the food and beverage industry that PepsiCo sponsored.

You might remember when we showed up at PepsiCo's annual shareholder meeting to speak in front of the board and share firsthand the impacts of tar sands on refinery communities.

You might remember when a team of activists pulled a nighttime operation to make sure that attendees at the corporate Sustainable Brands conference knew that Pepsi and Coke are making climate change worse by using tar sands.

You might remember all of these actions - and many others - because you helped make them happen.  Over the last year, tens of thousands of activists have called on the PepsiCo CEO Indra Nooyi and on the company to stop using tar sands and slash oil use in their vehicle fleets.

While all this was happening, we've been working hard behind the scenes with the company to help them step up and do the right thing -- and it's the hard work of activists that has brought PepsiCo to the negotiating table.

Sadly, though, despite tens of thousands of people speaking up and taking action, despite the commitments that 19 other big companies have made around tar sands, PepsiCo hasn't made enough progress towards making the commitment to say no to this dirty fuel source. Conversations have been happening, but we know that conversations aren't enough. We know that using tar sands is not acceptable for the climate, for our communities, or for our water.

So, it's time to step up the game.  

Over the next month, activists will be bringing the heat and getting serious with Pepsi, asking questions like this one: "How much water is poisoned to produce one barrel of tar sands? Just ask Pepsi." You can help out by sharing the graphic featured in this blog post on your social media pages and by posting it to Pepsi's Facebook wall.

We've been asking nicely. Earlier this year, we released a report and sent it right to the PepsiCo Board of Directors highlighting the effects of tar sands on water, an issue that PepsiCo publically says it cares a lot about. But now's the time to ask the hard questions.

We're ready to step up, Pepsi. Are you?

-- Rachel Rye Butler, Sierra Club Beyond Oil Campaign

Categories: Sierra Club National

Washington supports highest cleanup standard at toxic port -- and no coal exports

Sierra Club Compass Blog - 18 July 2014 - 11:21am

On Wednesday night, more than 100 community members turned out in force at the Washington state Department of Ecology's hearing on proposed cleanup options for the old Reynolds aluminum smelter site in Longview, Washington.

Currently contaminated by cyanide, fluoride, PCBs and other known carcinogens, the site must undergo cleanup funded by Alcoa and Millennium Bulk Terminals, the latter of which wants to use the polluted port as a controversial coal export facility.

The community is staunchly against the coal export plan, and of the six options being presented as "solutions" to the toxic site, residents overwhelmingly support the highest cleanup option -- level six.

"We have one chance to clean up the site's toxic legacy for good and make this industrial river property a job creator with high-value manufacturing potential," said Diane Dick, vice president of Longview residents' group Landowners and Citizens for a Safe Community (LCSC).

Every speaker during the hearing voiced their support for option six and spoke up for creating clean and safe economic opportunity for the area.

"This region needs jobs," said Gayle Kiser, LCSC president. "But we shouldn't have to compromise on the health of our families and natural resources, especially when the Department of Ecology has identified options that can address all three."

The local Sierra Club is working closely with the LCSC to demand a proper cleanup of the site that includes  good jobs for the community. Longview residents say it's time for a positive change at the site.

"We've been mistreated time and again by companies at this site. And it's important to remember: Millennium is a coal company, not a cleanup company," said the Rev. Kathleen Patton, Episcopal priest in the Diocese of Olympia, and a Longview resident. "Longview families live just across the tracks from this site. They deserve a full cleanup that protects community health and a port that attracts a wide array of economically stable industries and family-wage jobs."

Categories: Sierra Club National

Texas Democrats Band Together to Oppose Fast Tracking a Flawed Trade Deal

Sierra Club Compass Blog - 18 July 2014 - 9:08am

The massive Trans-Pacific Partnership, a proposed trade deal stalled time-and-again by grassroots and Congressional opposition, has a new hurdle to get over -- the Texas Democratic Party.

Congresswoman Eddie Bernice Johnson (TX-30) at the Fair Trade Caucus (left); Hal Suter, Sierra Club Lone Star Chapter (center); and Wendell Helms, United Automobile Workers. Photo courtesy of David Griggs. 

Thanks to the work of the Sierra Club’s Lone Star Chapter and allies, the Texas Democratic Party has taken an important stance on international trade policy by resolution and including a party platform plank that explicitly opposes “fast-track” legislation and demands transparency in the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) negotiations.

President Obama has pushed for fast-track authority, which limits the role of Congress to casting yes-or-no votes on trade pacts, limiting debate, and forbidding amendments. To make matters worse, the TPP has been negotiated in near secrecy for more than four years, without meaningful opportunities for public input.

The Texas Democratic Party’s statement reflects an alliance between labor, environmental, and human rights activists, enjoining U.S. trade policy to “combat child and slave labor, sweatshops, environmental degradation, and other practices that turn global trade into a race to the bottom”--as the platform states.  

Hal Suter, Chair of International Trade and Labor Relations at the Lone Star Chapter of the Sierra Club, co-chaired the inaugural Fair Trade Caucus at the Texas Democratic Convention with representatives of the United Automobile Workers and the Communications Workers of America, a coalition that was integral to the resolution’s passage. David Griggs, Political Chair of the Lone Star Chapter, was selected for the Platform Advisory Committee and led the energy and environment sections of the Texas Democratic Platform. The new caucus attracted two Congressional representatives: Reps. Al Green and Eddie Bernice Johnson.

Organizers expected an audience of 20 to 30 at the caucus as the resolution was being discussed.

“Not only did it go over, they needed to give us a bigger room!” Suter said. 

The Fair Trade Caucus attracted a large crowd, including environmentalists, labor unions, human rights activists, and others. Photo courtesy of David Griggs.

The caucus was filled with nearly 200 people, representing consumer advocacy groups, MoveOn.org, union members, environmentalists, and others. Suter highlighted that collaboration on trade provided a productive common ground between these groups, adding, “This is something that the Sierra Club can do in other states.”

Why are all of these groups so concerned about fast track? Fast track would rush the approval of the TPP and another huge agreement the U.S. is currently negotiating with the European Union -- the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, or TTIP. Sierra Club reports on the TPP and the TTIP have highlighted the risks that these trade agreements pose to our climate and communities.

Particularly in light of the extreme secrecy of these trade negotiations, limiting Congressional oversight over trade negotiations would only further limit the public and our Congressional Representatives from influencing far-reaching trade agreements.

The Texas Democratic Party has taken a critical step by incorporating their stance on fast track into their official platform.

Trade has incredible potential to foster sustainability and productivity internationally. On June 28, Texas Democrats showed solidarity with environmental and labor groups in seeking transparency and an inclusive process to secure free trade agreements that truly benefit people and the environment. The Fair Trade Caucus hopes that Texas Democrats have created a precedent for other states’ Democratic Party Platforms.

You can read the Texas Democratic Party's resolution here.

--Ethan Samet, Intern, Sierra Club’s Responsible Trade Program

Categories: Sierra Club National

Taking a stand against a proposed coal export terminal in Louisiana

Sierra Club Compass Blog - 17 July 2014 - 12:27pm

Gretna, La., might be a small city, but the residents are banding together to speak out against a proposed coal export terminal and the increased coal trains that would come with it. In the past month they've packed two community meetings to learn more about the proposed RAM Terminal coal export facility.

Back in June, dozens of people attended a Clean Gulf Commerce Coalition public meeting as a way to kick off the Gretna movement against the facility. The facility itself it planned for Plaquemines Parish, but the rail line serving it bisects Gretna.

The meeting followed weeks of canvassing, phonebanking, and media outreach to publicize the meeting, collect petition signatures, and draw attention to the problems of coal trains rumbling through historic districts and along major commuter highways intersections, said Sierra Club organizer Devin Martin.

"It was a joint effort between the Sierra Club, the Gulf Restoration Network, and the Clean Gulf Commerce Coalition," said Martin.

The movement's been making the news as well:

"Gretna has been making a lot of progress, preserving its historic district, renovating its old post office. It seems Gretna is on the upswing,'' said Devin Martin, a Sierra Club organizer who lives just outside Gretna, in neighboring Algiers. "The last thing the city needs is to have that rail line turn into an industrial corridor.''

Then on July 9, Gretna residents packed a Gretna City Council meeting to get the chance to testify their concerns about the possibility of coal trains passing through their neighborhoods, with all the attendant health risks, traffic congestion, emergency response times, and economic and quality of life concerns that would rattle the town.

"They gave some of the best, most heartfelt, moving, and powerful statements I've ever witnessed in my four years with the Club," said Martin.

Martin says the weeks since that first June town meeting included some excellent organizing - from tabling at farmer's markets and cafes, to business outreach, and weekly community meetings.

"Our goal was to introduce our presence and show the council that this is a vital issue that cannot be ignored any longer, and that the Mayor and council must take leadership and elevate and amplify the concerns of their constituents to state and federal decision makers," said Martin.

The coalition is asking the Gretna City Council to pass a resolution that would oppose coal trains, as well requesting that the appropriate state and federal agencies involved in the RAM Terminal permitting conduct a full public health, economic, and environmental impact analysis, which has not been done.

"The Council is definitely feeling the heat, and we intend to come back in August with even more residents, business owners, and health professionals to encourage the Council to pass this resolution," said Martin.

"From there, we will work to engage the entire Parish of Jefferson, the most populous parish in Louisiana, to do the same to stop this new coal export terminal that puts so much at risk for so many in one of the most vulnerable regions of the world for climate change and sea level rise."

Categories: Sierra Club National

New Report: Trade Talks Threaten to Undermine EU Climate Policy and Bring Tar Sands To Europe

Sierra Club Compass Blog - 17 July 2014 - 11:10am
Photo courtesy of the "Dirty Deals" report.

As 2014 brings in a new wave of global temperature records, countries implementing policies that reduce climate disrupting pollution should be lauded for their efforts.

But a report released today by the Sierra Club, Friends of the Earth Europe, Friends of the Earth U.S., Transport & Environment, Greenpeace, and Council of Canadians presents new evidence that the U.S. government is joining the Canadian government and oil lobbyists in pushing the European Union (EU) to weaken an important climate policy called the Fuel Quality Directive (FQD). Even more troubling, U.S. efforts to include the FQD in negotiations on the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) -- a free trade agreement being negotiated in secret between the U.S. and EU -- could critically undermine the EU’s ability to lower climate emissions.

The EU adopted the FQD in 2009 as means to reduce the carbon intensity of transportation fuels and ultimately lower transportation emissions by six percent by 2020. In 2011, the European Commission drafted proposed guidelines for how fuel suppliers could implement the policy and proposed that different types of fuels be classified by their climate emissions, meaning some fuel sources would be labelled as having higher greenhouse gas intensity values than others.  Such a system would encourage fuel suppliers to switch from dirtier fuels to cleaner types in order to meet the emissions reduction target.

Not surprisingly, oil corporations and their lobbyists on both side of the Atlantic have used every tool at their disposal to undermine the FQD.  They have been joined by the Canadian government --led by the infamously pro-tar sands Prime Minister Stephen Harper-- and argued that the FQD discriminates against Canada’s tar sands. Canada has even threatened the EU with a World Trade Organization challenge. In reality, the EU’s proposed science-based approach would label all carbon intensive sources of oil including liquefied coal, oil shale and tar sands as having high greenhouse gas intensity-- not discriminate against countries.

Sadly, the United States government, at the urging of the oil industry, has joined Canada and its oil industry in raising concerns about the landmark climate policy.  Moreover, the U.S. now has a new playing field in which to weaken the FQD:  negotiations for the proposed U.S.-EU trade pact, also known as the TTIP.

Ideally, a 21st century U.S.-EU trade agreement would allow -- and encourage -- countries to implement policies that would address the growing threat of climate disruption. Instead, today’s report highlights that our own U.S. negotiators seem to be characterizing the FQD as a potential barrier to trade, rather than a necessary policy that should be emulated.

As detailed in the report, despite claims from the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) to Congress that “USTR is not pressing the European Commission for any particular treatment of crude oil under the FQD,” emails uncovered by Friends of the Earth Europe reveal that the U.S. has, in fact, pushed the EU to weaken the FQD proposal. They’ve done so by encouraging the EU to strip out parts of the implementing guidelines that would “single out“ the most polluting sources of oil like tar sands.

This would be akin to removing the nutritional information listed on food products. Rice cakes and doughnuts have distinct nutritional properties, which is something governments have decided that consumers have a right to know. Equally, the proposed FQD would recognize that all fuels are not created equal and that some release more climate-disrupting gases than others.  But representatives of the USTR do not seem to agree, and correspondence indicates that they are pushing for a policy that would hinder the EU’s ability to flag tar sands imports as particularly greenhouse gas disrupting.

Disturbingly, the weakening of an important climate initiative in the TTIP negotiations should come as no surprise. Last week, a leaked trade document uncovered by the Washington Post revealed an EU proposal for the TTIP that would force the U.S. to automatically approve all exports of crude oil and liquefied natural gas to the EU.

The TTIP (which began a new negotiating round this week) is facing massive public opposition to proposed provisions like investor-state dispute settlement, which would empower corporations to sue countries over environmental policies they don’t like before private trade tribunals. Today’s report reveals that even the FQD—an ambitious climate policy that the EU has been pushing for years—could be critically weakened simply in the process of the secretive, non-inclusive negotiations.

Read our report here .

--Courtenay Lewis, Campaign Representative, Sierra Club Responsible Trade Program, and Ilana Solomon, Director, Sierra Club Responsible Trade Program

Categories: Sierra Club National

Sierra Club and Center for American Progress premier solar documentary using Google Glass

Sierra Club Compass Blog - 17 July 2014 - 9:01am
Photo courtesy of Harnessing the Sun to Keep the Lights on in India

Today, the Sierra Club and Center for American Progress (CAP) debuted a new documentary that highlights the vital role off-grid solar power is playing around the world, particularly in developing areas like Uttar Pradesh, India.

By using Google Glass, Sierra Club and CAP were able to capture the life-transforming power off-grid solar energy has had in Uttar Pradesh. Through the eyes of Google Glass and traditional filming equipment, Justin Guay and Vrinda Manglik of the Sierra Club and Andrew Satter of CAP not only saw solar panels being installed, but they talked to the very people whose lives have been transformed by solar power.

All this week we’ve been releasing behind the scenes footage of our journey in anticipation of the  launch of our documentary. You can check out our videos on Twitter using the hashtag #PutSolarOnIt or by clicking here.

Make sure you check out our documentary, “Harnessing the Sun to Keep the Light on in India” and take action to help alleviate global energy poverty.

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

Categories: Sierra Club National

'Walls & The Tiger' highlights rural activists' challenge

Sierra Club Compass Blog - 16 July 2014 - 8:19am
Photo courtesy of 'Walls & The Tiger'

In this modern day David vs. Goliath, rural activists of the Kona Forest region in South India are fighting back against a decade of environmental destruction and human rights violations.

Walls & The Tiger, a new documentary set to be released this fall, follows these activists in their campaign to protect and sustain traditional communities and fragile ecosystems from corrupt industrialization.  Propelled by graceful, urgent storytelling and filled with revelations of courage in the

Photo courtesy of 'Walls & The Tiger'

face of adversity, this film adds cathartic force to one of the most crucial political and human rights issues of the 21st century: the decimation of rural people and their environments in the name of development.

“We accept the development. But not at the cost of the environment and not at the cost of the poor mans’ resources,” one of the activists in the documentary explains. “It is our responsibility to provide fresh air and fresh water to our next generations. Without this, development means nothing.”

Unlike many similar communities that crumbled at the will of big industry, these Kona Forest villagers have decided to take on the development that stands to destroy their environment and livelihoods.

By uniting to protect their land and resources, everyday farmers have become savvy activists, actively working to protect their livelihoods and taking to the courts, filing a lawsuit against powerful global forces. Their story will stand as a model for many communities that face similar situations throughout the world. Despite facing arrests and abuse from the authorities, these rural activists have worked to fearlessly protect their established way of life.

In the face of adversity, they have demonstrated that when the “walls” of development encroach upon them, “the tiger” strikes back.

Sushma Kallam, the director of the film, has spent the past 13 years in the United States working as an IT consultant for top global corporations, specializing in supply-chain management. During this time, she began to understand the devastating impacts certain development policies have had on rural life throughout the world.

Photo courtesy of 'Walls & The Tiger'

Her film shows how expedited industrialization and development have, in many ways, resulted in personal wealth for only a few while leaving large communities that were initially self-sustainable subject to environmental and agrarian crisis.  As both a corporate consultant and a descendant of farmers, Kallam has a unique perspective in connecting these two disparate worlds by showing the effects of their interdependency to meet our consumer demands.

Given her intimate access and years spent filming alongside farmers, government officials, and activists, Kallam takes us into the lives and families of those directly facing this struggle and gives viewers a rare opportunity to understand this complex issue.

Walls & The Tiger is set to be released at movie festivals in the U.S., UK, and Europe this fall, and Kallam hopes it will build and strengthen international coalitions as well as leverage public awareness around the issue. Ultimately, Kallam and her team hope that this campaign will affect policy change and measures by ensuring that awareness is built amongst people in India and throughout the world to protect sustainable communities and the environment.

To watch the trailer for Walls & The Tiger, click here.

--Neha Mathew, Executive Coordinator, Beyond Coal Campaign, and Sushma Kallam, Director of Walls & The Tiger

Categories: Sierra Club National
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