Sierra Club National
On Tuesday, City Council Member and Sierra Club endorsed candidate Eric Garcetti surprised many political observers by pulling out a victory against an establishment favorite to be elected the next mayor of Los Angeles. Garcetti won a sizable 8 point victory against Wendy Greuel, his opponent who received so much outside support that this became the most expensive race in L.A. history.
This win is great news for Sierra Club members and supporters for two reasons. First, in the face of massive political spending, we have people all across the country who will spend their time working hard to get clean energy and climate action champions elected – and we know that speaking to our friends and neighbors about an election makes a huge difference. That’s why the Sierra Club went to work for Garcetti as soon as we endorsed him in March. Executive Director Michael Brune met with Garcetti and announced our support at a press conference, and the Sierra Club set up-phone banks and online get out the vote efforts to ensure every voter who cares about clean energy voted for the clean energy candidate. With only 19% voter turnout, this election showed how important it is to mobilize our members.
The second reason Garcetti’s victory should be celebrated is because it is important not just for the city of Los Angeles, but for the whole country. It means that one of our country’s biggest, most populated cities will continue to have a mayor who will build on the momentum for a transition off coal to clean energy. The benefits that will provide by protecting our air, our water, our climate, and the health of our families far exceed the L.A. city limits.
Outgoing Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa did an exceptional job in creating the foundation for a clean energy future in Los Angeles, committing to get the city off coal for good. Sierra Club members fought hard for Garcetti because we know he is the person to build on that foundation and continue that clean energy legacy.
The reasons to be excited about Garcetti – a long-time Sierra Club member -- are numerous, as his record as a council member is unparalleled. He authored the nation’s most significant green building ordinance, one of the strongest local clean water initiatives, and a bill that would make L.A. the largest city in America investing in solar energy. He tripled the number of parks in his district, worked to ban plastic bags, and even drives an electric car.
That’s why the Sierra Club was fired up to get him in to office – and that’s why we are thrilled to work with Mayor-elect Garcetti in the years to come. Together, we have the opportunity to build on his strong record and guarantee Los Angeles is an integral part of a clean energy economy that will help create jobs while protecting our air, water, and climate.
--Melissa Williams, Sierra Club Political Director
After spending last weekend at the Heartland Coalfield Alliance's retreat in the Illinois coal basin region, I'm more inspired than ever. Listening to such amazing, committed people talk about their tireless work to move beyond coal was really exciting. These activists know the potential for clean energy in their region -- especially wind power. And there has been some blockbuster news about wind in recent days.
Wind power is growing like gangbusters across the country, and employs more than 75,000 workers across 43 states. Just last week, Warren Buffett's Mid-American Energy Co. announced it will make a $1.9 billion investment in Iowa wind power, which Governor Branstad called, "The largest economic development investment in the history of the state."
The project will lower energy bills, be built at no net cost to customers, generate millions of dollars for landowners, and "enhance economic development and provide in excess of $360 million in additional property tax revenues over the next 30 years," according to the Des Moines Register.
The clean energy stakes got even higher last week when Facebook announced it had chosen Iowa over Nebraska as the location for a $1.5 billion new facility. As state Senator Galen Hadley wrote in an op-ed:
State officials are seeing the economic boost that clean energy brings with it - a boost that doesn't come with the terrible health and environmental effects that dirty fuels have.
But the growth in wind power is an international trend as well. The World Wind Energy Association recently announced that Iceland's move into wind energy makes it the 100th country to utilize wind power.
If that doesn't seem appropriate for the upcoming "Global Wind Day" on June 15, I don't know what does!
The Sierra Club and our activists and allies across the Illinois coal basin, Appalachia, the Pacific Northwest, and beyond, are all proud to join in on the Global Wind Day celebration. Last year we celebrated with events across the country, including on the Jersey Shore, and this year's events are aimed at convincing our leaders to switch from dirty fuels to clean energy.
You can get involved by visiting the Global Wind Day Facebook page. From there, try out the G8 Wake Up Call where you can send a message to a world leader asking them to move towards clean energy.
There are Global Wind Day events all over the world where attendees can tour wind farms, take action, and much more. I encourage you to check out the website and find one near you. Together we can move beyond dirty fuels and secure a clean energy economy for the U.S. to fight climate disruption. Let's join the rest of the world in calling for clean energy that won't pollute our air and water.
-- Mary Anne Hitt, Beyond Coal Director
If you love this country, fight for it. This will be the biggest social movement this country has ever seen, and it will change this country forever.
That was the message from Drew Hutton, president of the Lock the Gate Alliance, to the nearly 300 attendees at the "Australian Our Land, Our Water, Our Future: Beyond Coal and Gas" conference -- and he would know. Through Lock the Gate, communities across the country are voting to "Lock the Gate" by barricading the way against gas companies attempting to enter their land for exploration. Without exploration, the companies cannot gather the necessary information or obtain the permits to begin drilling.
Through Lock the Gate, law-abiding farmers, who have never aligned with environmentalists, are finding allies against powerful industrialists, and are participating in the first civil disobedience actions of their lives. Activists from across the country are setting out with tents and sleeping bags, or sometimes Winnebagos, to rural areas to spread the word on the dangers of gas and ask the communities how they can help. The blockades can go on for years; the rallies involve thousands and thousands of people, and the victories are real. And of course, the Knitting Nannas are there to protest with their bright yellow yarn and commitment to provide a safe environment for their grandchildren.
But gas activists weren't the only folks present for the three days of conference meetings. Three generations of Australians were represented, and the mix of rural and urban activists was nearly even. There were people fighting massive coal export terminals, standing up against huge new coal mines in the country's interior, and working to protect the Great Barrier Reef from dredging and shipping channels for coal. They didn't come to be talked at, but rather to spend three days meeting and building solutions. To this end, the Change Agency facilitated and conducted the meetings as a series of open space sessions where the attendees set the agenda, allowing space for regional meetings, specific strategy and tactic discussions, sharing of knowledge, and much more.
And in the midst of this was the Sierra Club. Fresh off our amazing organizer training with over 30 Australian activists, we were there to discuss the amazing success of our domestic Beyond Coal campaign, share our organizing model and strategy, and be part of a larger discussion on the international coal market. Hint: it's not as promising as coal companies would lead you to believe.
As Ailun Young from World Resources Institute told the crowd on the last day, "we are all in this together." I can't wait for to see the next actions that come out of this historic gathering of Australian coal and gas campaigners, and I feel so privileged to be a partner in their work, and the worldwide fight by grassroots communities to transition beyond coal to clean energy.
-- Nicole Ghio, Sierra Club International
One of the first things we noticed when we arrived at the Glenrock Scout Camp in Newcastle was a plaque commemorating 1791 the discovery of coal in Australia. A hundred-and-twenty-two years later, we journeyed to this same spot to conduct the Sierra Club's first ever international organizing training with activists who are taking on the coal and gas industry across Australia
Like nearly everything in Australia, the scope of the fossil fuels fight is massive. But even before we landed, grassroots activism was challenging new coal and gas proposals -- and winning.
The Rio Tinto backed fourth terminal in Newcastle has been delayed, with officials acknowledging it could be shelved entirely, and on the day we started, Xtrata announced it was abandoning the Balaclava terminal in Queensland. Meanwhile, activists are going door to door, community to community, in rural Australia to discuss the danger of gas. Through this movement, communities are voting to Lock the Gate, refusing to allow gas companies on their land for exploration in acts of direct action to protect their land and water.
With all this impressive action going on, what were a bunch of Americans doing leading an organizing training? It all started with Australian activist Victoria McKenzie, who traveled to the U.S. to observe coal fights against mountaintop removal mining in Appalachia and exports in the Pacific Northwest. After witnessing our model and its effectiveness in stopping 177 proposed coal-fired power plants and securing the retirement of 55 GW of existing coal-fired production, she discussed the experience with her colleagues back home. We were then invited to come to Australia and share our training with a larger group of coal fighters.
To say we were humbled by the energy and creativity of the activists we met in Australia is an understatement. This was by no means a one-way exercise, and we have learned much about innovative approaches to taking on powerful industries. And the participants let us know how much they appreciated our strategic approach and long term planning.
But perhaps most exciting was finding the overwhelming similarities. As we discovered in India, organizing is organizing, and the principles are universal. This training was only a first step in building a deeper exchange with coal and gas fighters in Australia, and a global movement to move beyond coal to clean energy.-- Nicole Ghio, Sierra Club's International Campaign
Just like the two-way street, car innovators are focusing more than ever on the two-way plug that could revolutionize cars' relationship with the grid. The idea is to give plug-in cars the ability to feed energy back into the grid when parked. And part of the vision includes small payments to people whose vehicles become energy providers when the grid is in need of balancing during peak hours. This innovation will be particularly useful for backing up energy sources like wind and solar that can vary by time of day or weather.
Using 15 plug-in Mini E's donated by BMW, the idea is being explored by Prof. Willett Kepton of the University of Delaware. These days cars sit idle and unused for a large majority of their lives. Creating back-and-forth capabilities with the grid --
and the home -- would sharply increase the car's efficiency and role in our lives while challenging the traditional energy provider and consumer relationship.
Kempton estimates that in the high-value grid markets, an EV at a charging point with the capability to charge or discharge at 10kW can generate $2,000 or more each year. It's a very appealing proposition to go on vacation while leaving your car at home in the garage generating a paycheck for when you return. And, over a typical 5-10 year ownership period, it's enough to pay for the cost of the battery and still provide you the benefit of EV motoring at its spectacular two- to three-cents-per-mile operating cost.
In this world, the rules of car ownership change dramatically. Drivers can quit oil, provide clean energy to the grid, and get paid for it.
-- Brian Foley
Minnesota energy has begun a new chapter.
Minnesota has taken a first step in outlining the next big leap forward in the state's sustainable energy future. Pushed by more than 60 environmental, labor, business, youth, and faith groups, the jobs omnibus bill -- expected to be signed by Governor Mark Dayton -- includes a Clean Energy and Jobs package that sets a standard of 1.5 percent solar by 2020 with a broader goal of reaching 10 percent by 2030. This is a great start for a state that is in position to lead the Midwest into the clean-energy economy.
I remember seeing pictures earlier this month of people filling the halls of the Capitol in St. Paul to demand phasing out coal and bringing in clean energy jobs. Legislators, impressed by the turnout, stopped in the rotunda to express their support. The governor even put a picture of the rally on his Facebook page.
Retiring coal is key to solving climate disruption and investing in healthy communities. But just as important is the transition to clean energy. Minnesota's solar legislation will propel the state's investment in energy innovation, generate jobs, and build on the existing goal of reaching 25 percent renewables by 2025. This new standard includes:
- An estimated 450 megawatts of new solar by 2020 added to the existing 13 MW in the state.
- Community-shared solar. Utilities will offer solar "subscriptions" to anyone who wants to invest in an off-site project and receive credits on their energy bill. This is perfect for Minnesotans who rent or have shady roofs.
- A solar tariff. Minnesota will be one of the first states in the country to adopt a tariff that will pay homeowners who generate and pump clean energy back into the grid.
- The commission of a study to explore how Minnesota can achieve an energy system free of burning fossil fuels over the next several decades.
Critics have complained that this will increase rates. But they conveniently overlook the fact that the cost of Big Coal has sharply increased, while solar and other renewables have been steadily getting cheaper. This is one reason why the vast majority of Minnesotans support more wind and solar. They are tired of polluters calling the shots. That's why their representatives have taken action by paving the way for a bright energy future.
-- Mary Anne Hitt, Beyond Coal Director
By Deb Nardone, Beyond Natural Gas Campaign Director
Dear Secretary Moniz,
Congratulations on being confirmed as Secretary of Energy. You will play a vitally important role leading our country toward a clean-energy future.
As you begin to consider how natural gas will fit into our energy policy, the Sierra Club's 2.1 million members and supporters urge you and the Department of Energy (DOE) to seriously consider whether fracking for gas is really going to benefit Americans.
There are currently 25 proposals the DOE is considering to build terminals that could export up to 45 percent of total U.S. gas production as liquefied natural gas (LNG). We ask you to think through how exports will affect our public health, environment, climate, and economy, which we have detailed in
our report, Look Before the LNG Leap.
In December, NERA Consulting (which is known to have close ties with the fossil fuel industry) published an economic study on LNG exports that included a number of major flaws, such as using old data for its projections. Even more concerning is that NERA's report provides no economic assessment associated with risks to public health and the environment. If exporting natural gas has such potential to change the U.S. economic landscape, why would we think it would not also drastically change our environmental landscape?
The reality is that exporting natural gas will mean more fracking in our communities, which will affect not only our air, water, and land, but the health and safety of the public. Fracking is a dangerous and largely unregulated drilling process, which lacks adequate federal and state protections. Even the Environmental Protection Agency's Inspector General warned in its latest report that poor data on air emissions of toxic pollutants from oil and natural gas production make it difficult to predict the potential health effects fracking will have on the public.
Continued drilling and fracking is also going to wreak havoc on our climate by increasing greenhouse gas emissions into the atmosphere. Natural gas is made up mostly of methane, an extremely powerful climate-disrupting gas in its own right, which is actually seventy times more potent than carbon dioxide in terms of trapping heat. According to studies by the International Energy Agency, using more natural gas will put the planet on track toward a 3.5°C global temperature increase, driving us closer to climate disaster.
As the new head of DOE, it is your public responsibility to complete a full environmental impact assessment for LNG export before our nation commits to any exports. The Environmental Protection Agency has repeatedly advised DOE that a comprehensive environmental impact statement is essential to understanding the public health and environmental implications of increased domestic fracking.
In addition to public health and our climate, LNG exports will have significant negative effects on the U.S. economy, especially the middle class. Purdue University conducted an assessment of NERA's study and found, disturbingly, that exports would actually decrease GDP and transfer wealth from the middle class to the already-rich oil and natural gas investors. As stated in the NERA report, "impacts [from LNG exports] will not be positive for all groups in the economy. Households with income solely from wages or government transfers, in particular, might not participate in these benefits." And major job loss, especially in the manufacturing sector, is also expected to be an outcome of LNG exports. A recent report commissioned by Dow Chemical showed that exports could affect hundreds of thousands of planned new jobs in U.S. manufacturing.
In order to fully determine whether sending natural gas overseas is in the public's best interest, DOE must redo the flawed economic study and ensure that it includes costs associated with health and environmental risks. It must also be based on current climate science.
But the real game-changer for exporting LNG will be if the U.S. completes the free trade agreement called the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP), which is currently under negotiation with 10 countries across the Pacific Rim. And Japan, the world's biggest LNG importer, is likely to join the talks in July. The TPP and another pact the U.S. is initiating with the European Union (EU) are likely to require DOE to approve all gas exports, of any amount and without delay, to nations in the agreement. The TPP could be finalized as early as October of this year, and the U.S.-EU trade pact in 2015.
To keep domestic control of our natural gas resources, the DOE must insist that the trade negotiations do not remove DOE's authority to examine the environmental and economic impacts of LNG exports, even to free-trade countries.
Gas exports will transform the U.S. energy landscape and affect communities across the country. They are already altering our climate. We urge the DOE to conduct a thorough scrutiny of the nation's energy policy and take a hard look at the economic and environmental consequences of gas exports. Until these steps have been taken, we must not move forward on extracting any more natural gas. Let's keep it in the ground and fully understand what's at stake before making any decisions that cannot be easily undone. The American public and our future generations deserve no less.
Energy company Kinder Morgan announced last week that it is ditching plans to export 30 million tons of coal through the Port of St. Helens, Oregon -- a move that further galvanizes the grassroots movement in the Pacific Northwest that is keeping Big Coal out.
"Three down, three to go!" exclaimed Sierra Club Organizer Laura Stevens. "This proposal would have meant a dozen mile-and-a-half-long, dirty, coal-dust spewing trains through the Columbia River Gorge and dozens of other communities every day."
The three remaining sites coal companies have their eye on to build coal-export terminals are in Boardman, Oregon, and Longview and Cherry Point in Washington.
"The announcement came just two days after we packed two hearing rooms in St. Helens to oppose a re-zone that would facilitate coal exports, and the nearby city of Scappoose, where the council voted unanimously to pass a resolution expressing their concerns about the project," Stevens said.
Communities through Washington and Oregon continue to face the prospect of dealing with miles-long trains carrying tens of millions of tons of coal each year -- and bringing its harmful coal dust pollution with them. The coal would then be burned in energy-hungry East Asia, emitting carbon that would rival the infamous Keystone XL tar sands pipeline. The nightmare scenario has solidified communities across the Pacific Northwest, bringing together a coalition that includes environmental groups, hunters and anglers, farmers, business leaders, mayors and state leaders, faith leaders, and the health community.
"All of us locally involved in this love the Columbia River and our environment here," Darrel Whipple, an organizer with the group Clean Columbia County, said in the Los Angeles Times. "We have concerns about coal dust polluting the river, coal dust polluting the land. We have children and asthma patients who are at risk."
Activists in the Pacific Northwest have already won several battles. Just two months ago, Ambre Energy licked its wounds after the Oregon Department of State Lands tabled a decision on a dredging project for a planned facility at Port of Morrow that would receive nearly 9 million tons of coal a year via train from the Powder River Basin. The state’s decision to delay came two days after hundreds gathered at the state Capitol to demand that Big Coal stay out.
Congratulations to everyone in the Pacific Northwest for this much-deserved victory!
-- Brian Foley
By Michael Marx, Beyond Oil Campaign Director
The Sierra Club has a long and successful history mobilizing our two million-plus members and supporters to push government leaders to protect our health, air, water, land, animals, and climate. Corporations have a tremendous impact on all of these.
With the launch of the Future Fleet campaign we intend to hold corporate leaders to the same high level of scrutiny and responsibility as government. We will push them to get off the fence on climate, stop being part of the problem, and start being part of the solution. Today, the Sierra Club, ForestEthics, and our millions of supporters, kick off our campaign to persuade the first three companies -- Coke, Pepsi, and Dr. Pepper -- to make the leap and join us as leaders in the effort to solve the climate crisis.
Coca-Cola, PepsiCo, and Dr. Pepper Snapple Group own and operate some of the biggest vehicle fleets in the U.S. -- between them more than 100,000 vehicles moving soft drinks and snacks around the nation.
Oil use accounts for more than 40 percent of U.S. carbon pollution, and the biggest customers for oil are large companies. By getting these three corporate fleets to start a corporate race to the top by prioritizing fuel efficiency and eliminating tar sands, we can significantly reduce the nation's demand for oil, curb emissions, increase transportation choices, and slow the development of extreme oil sources, like tar sands.
We are quickly running out of time to head off the climate crisis, so we're starting with some of the biggest oil consumers. As well-known worldwide brands, the decisions these beverage giants make about what they drive and what fuel they use will influence what vehicle and parts manufacturers build and the market for high-carbon extreme fuels like tar sands. Efficiency gains in those 100,000 vehicles will have a real and immediate effect on the amount of carbon pollution we produce as a nation.
These are companies that care deeply about consumer feedback, so when consumers ask them to be leaders on climate solutions, we know they will listen. Washington, D.C., remains gridlocked, and oil companies continue their multimillion dollar climate denial PR campaign, but these companies have three great reasons to act without delay. First, to protect and strengthen their brand by being climate leaders. Second, to reduce fuel usage and save money. And third, to do the right thing for their next generation of customers.
We are asking these companies to accelerate the switch to electric and more efficient vehicles, improve driving behavior, and change shipping practices to save fuel.
We are also asking them to reject the most dangerous and extreme sources of oil, starting with the worst of the worst: tar sands. While companies need eventually to move off oil altogether, they urgently need to start with the most egregious source. We know which oil refineries process tar sands, and ForestEthics has already convinced 19 companies to stop buying from them. The Sierra Club is joining and expanding this successful effort to convince even more companies to get on board and go even further to reduce their oil consumption altogether.
To date, the climate movement has largely given large corporate oil consumers a free pass. Those days are over. With the Future Fleet Campaign, we along with ForestEthics intend to shine a bright spotlight on the need for corporate leadership to head off a climate crisis, starting with their oil consumption. This has been a critical missing link in the climate movement, but no more. The future fleet will use no oil!
More than 1.3 billion people around the world live in darkness lacking access to even small amounts of life changing electricity. The good news is we can change their fate and help solve climate change at the same time. The bad news is those tasked with solving the problem aren't getting the job done because they are products of two broken systems - energy and finance. That's why we need disruptive solutions like solar crowdfunding to transform these systems so that they deliver outcomes that benefit the poor and the planet.
Crowdfunding works by aggregating small amounts of funding through online portals like the one maintained by SunFunder, SolarMosaic, or Milaap. These platforms aggregate small 'crowdsourced' amounts of funding into larger sums that directly finance clean energy entrepreneurs. All told, it's a $90 billion clean energy access opportunity that can help transform people’s lives and the fate of our planet.
But more than the sheer amount that can be raised, what makes crowdfunding so important is that it fills a gaping hole left by traditional financial institutions. These institutions simply aren't financing enough clean energy - let alone decentralized clean energy that serves the poor. That’s a big problem because we know that to end energy poverty we need to dramatically ramp up decentralized clean energy (at least according to the International Energy Agency). Because, after all, small is big.
Instead financial institutions tasked with ending energy poverty are dumping billions into the problem - large scale coal plants (like the one in Kosovo). This outrageous use of public funds leaves us with the maddening task of banging our collective fists on the brick wall of institutional inertia until the system changes. And change it will.
But in the meantime people living in the dark need solutions now. That's why myself, and the Sierra Club, are working to increase awareness of the power crowdfunding holds. Not only does it empower individuals to make concrete change in the world, it also sends a political message: we won’t stand by while the planet burns and the poor get screwed - even if our leaders are.
That's why I personally am putting my money where my mouth is, starting with a new project SunFunder is financing near Kampala, Uganda. SunFunder has already provided clean energy to over 22,757 people by sourcing $75,000 from the 'crowd.' Now they're looking to raise another $15,000 to provide 375 people with solar power via Fenix Ready sets to help power off-grid wireless communications for nearly 4,000 people. Deploying this clean energy will generate over $100,000 in village income over the next three years, increasing poor household income by 36.4% while eliminating 15,000 liters of kerosene and 37 tons of CO2. As you can see, a little finance can go a long way.
But it doesn't end here. Supporting these off grid entrepreneurs holds tremendous promise in the battle to disrupt the fossil fuel dominated grids in the Western world. By supporting clean energy where the playing field is actually level - off grid areas - we can create a base of power to launch an insurgency against the industries fueling climate change. That's why how we power the world's poor is just as important, and perhaps even more, than how we power the rest.
The Sierra Club is doing its part to bring its 1.3 million members to this revolution. Help us build our ranks by spreading the word. Because with crowdfunding the future is literally in our hands. Check out the project here and tweet: "What if you could shine light for billions living in darkness while fighting climate change? @SunFunder is doing just that: http://bit.ly/109MrvB"
-- Justin Guay, Sierra Club International
Earlier this year, the Louisiana Public Service Commission abandoned new energy efficiency rules in a bid to roll back progress on clean energy and efficiency. Not only did the Commission scrap a program that will help citizens across the state -- they did it without hearing public comments.
Now the Sierra Club, with the help of the Alliance for Affordable Energy, Louisiana Environmental Action Network, and the League of Women Voters of Louisiana, is fighting back, suing the PSC for refusing to allow public testimony before voting to ditch the energy efficiency rules -- a vote that barely passed.
The PSC's questionable judgment didn't stop there. Late last month, the commission got an earful from grassroots activists and entrepreneurs when it weighed the idea of overturning the state's solar net metering. The commission promptly passed on the ill-advised idea.
"Louisiana has the best solar tax credits program in the country," said Jordan Macha, Sierra Club Louisiana Representative. "The Sierra Club, the Alliance for Affordable Energy, and other industry and consumer groups generated 750 calls and letters in one week to commissioners. The support for net metering was overwhelming and the commissioner who wanted it overturned backed off and decided to hold off the vote."
Later in the week, the focus turned to New Orleans, where the city council hosted a public hearing on their proposed Integrated Resource Management Plan, which develops a long-term energy strategy for the city under the purview Entergy New Orleans, the city's only energy utility provider.
"The plan seriously lacked energy efficiency and renewables as part of the city's long-term energy portfolio. The council should prioritize the access to energy efficiency for all, as well as including cleaner alternatives to fossil fuels," said Macha.
The coalition helped push a turnout of nearly 80 people with 45 people commenting to the city council about the need for more renewables.
"What we’re seeing is a surge in support for clean energy, not just among environmentalists, but also business leaders, the faith community, and families who'd rather get energy from clean sources that are cost effective instead of dirty fuels that make people sick," Macha said.
-- Brian Foley
On May 8, concerned residents of the Appalachian region came to Washington, D.C. to demand an end to the industry practice polluting their water and devastating their communities – mountaintop removal mining. They took their call – and samples of the water from their hometowns – to the Environmental Protection Agency’s doorstep in the hope that new rules and safeguards could curb the destruction and danger mountaintop removal poses to their environment and their families.
--Sierra Club Media Team Intern Kristen Elmore
Elaine Tanner and her partner Jimmy Hall have both experienced, up close and personal, the destruction caused by mountaintop removal coal mining. The Kentucky natives are fighting a coal company they claim poisoned their well water. One of the company's mountaintop removal sites is right next to their home in Letcher County.
"They destroyed our water," said Jimmy. "The Kentucky Department of Water tested the water of many wells in our area and found a toxic soup. They said the water was unfit to touch and could only be used for flushing the toilet. But the state Division of Mine Reclamation and Enforcement (DMRE) had knowledge of this and still said the water was safe to use, just filter it to drink. So now we have people in our town with cancer, heart disease, and skin and organ issues."
The mining has blown away their land over the years, too. The property, which has been in Jimmy's family for more than 200 years, went from 250 acres down to 134 acres thanks to a coal company that leased it out from under their family when an uncle passed away. The two also are living in Ohio because they cannot drink the water at their home in Kentucky.
Jimmy and Elaine joined more than 100 other Appalachian residents in Washington, D.C., this week to tell their members of Congress and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) that mountaintop removal coal mining must end.
"The water is poison and I came to D.C. to see if the federal government will do what the local, state, and regional governments have failed to do - which is to bring us an emergency supply of water for the 100 families in my community," says Jimmy.
The photo to the left and below shows some of Appalachian activists sitting outside of the EPA offices with jugs of water from their home taps that showing contamination by mountaintop removal coal mining.
Elaine says she and Jimmy filed a Safe Water Drinking Act request for relief in February and just got to show EPA on Monday the request and permit documents showing that mining company Consol Energy is responsible for providing emergency drinking water within 10 days and a permanent supply to her community within a year.
The process has been a long, tiresome journey. Jimmy says it took the state around 10 years to test their water, and Elaine says not much has been done since then.
"It's been over a year since our water tested to contain 17 times more arsenic than allowed. Some families have had no choice but to take the chance and use this toxic water in the meantime," Elaine says. "We plan on coming back until the destruction of our mountains has ceased," says Elaine.
Jimmy and Elaine are not alone. All across Appalachia, people are fighting coal companies who are destroying the region's land and water with mountaintop-removal coal mining. These families are tired of waiting for action from their legislators, most of whom are beholden to the King Coal because of the industry's deep pockets.
However, in spite of the powerful forces aligned against them, local residents are still winning victories, In Virginia this week, residents of the town of Appalachia celebrated a victory when the Virginia Department of Mines, Minerals and Energy denied a surface mine permit for the Ison Rock Ridge mine in southwest Virginia.
Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., wrote about Ison Rock Ridge in the Washington Post back in 2009, when the Obama Administration first took office and was weighing its approach to mountaintop removal. In the intervening four years, while the EPA has taken some actions that have slowed the clip of mountaintop removal, mountains are still being blown up, streams are still being buried, families are still suffering from polluted air and water, and states are not adequately enforcing the law. We applaud the recent Ison Rock Ridge decision, and we call on the EPA to do more to protect other communities, mountains, and public health.
The Sierra Club proudly stands with these Appalachian residents in the fight for clean water and clean air. We work with great local organizations and coalitions, as well as nationally, to petition government at all levels to end mountaintop removal coal mining.
"Every day this goes on, our folks are in danger," says Jimmy.
Join us and tell the EPA and President Obama that all Americans deserve clean water, and it's time to end mountaintop removal coal mining.
-- Mary Anne Hitt, Beyond Coal Director. Photos courtesy of the Delaware Sierra Club.
Maybe there has never been and will never be a more important energy decision in my city, Los Angeles, than the one made last week by our city council representatives.
In fact, just recently I was having pizza next to Ronni Solomon, a local high voltage organizer for environmental justice and fellow advocate for the L.A. Beyond Coal campaign. She was wondering if there was anything that the L.A. City Council could ever vote on energy issues that would be more important than their vote to secure L.A.'s transition off of coal fired power. Andy Shrader, the dark knight of the plastic bag ban in our city and one-man clearing house for L.A.'s environmental initiatives, stepped up and said, "maybe even nothing!"
The L.A. city council's unanimous vote to move beyond coal power was the culmination of three-and-a-half years of on-the-ground organizing work with highly diverse constituents all over the city. Residents from black, white, Asian and Latino neighborhoods, along with labor, business and environmental advocacy groups came together to make the city council an offer it couldn't refuse. This victory belongs to all of these communities that raised their voice on this issue.
Back when I started this work in January of 2010, the accepted wisdom was that conservative neighborhood councils (NCs) in the San Fernando Valley would squawk so loud at the prospect of having their utility rates raised to bring more renewables online, that no city council member would dare to go against them. But we volunteer advocates, spearheaded by Chrissy Scarborough and Evan Gillespie, engaged these neighborhoods to spread the truth about how clean energy creates jobs and will not harm our health, our air, or in the long run, our wallets.
Through these meetings, we secured endorsement after endorsement from the most conservative of the Valley NCs, frequently going up against the most reactionary pro-coal voices in the city and defeating their arguments. Even more important, many members of those NCs became strong allies in the fight and showed up at L.A. Department of Water and Power Commission meetings and city council meetings to voice support for a coal-free future.
For me it was a big lesson in the power of getting out and participating in public debate about something important. Oftentimes I hear a lot of cynical comment about how it's all hopeless and the powers that be will never allow any real change. But this change is very real, because now the clean energy business contracts that will sever L.A. from two giant polluting coal plants in Arizona and Utah have been signed and their implementation is a matter of settled law.
The fight goes on, of course. Beyond Coal advocates in the southwest will work to create a cleaner alternative for those customers and continuing employment for Navajo Indians currently employed there in coal-fired generation.
A victory this fast and this complete would have been hard to foresee back in 2010. We knew it would be winnable, but having several city council members sporting Beyond Coal buttons and brandishing pieces of coal as they gave their speeches - well, that was just off the charts.
Our work now will center on helping our fellow citizens take advantage of a smorgasbord of energy efficiency rebates and credits, and helping streamline the rooftop solar program so as to minimize the utility's dependence on natural gas and maximize the percentage of clean energy in its portfolio. (And did you see the latest report - L.A. could get 20% of its power from rooftop solar by 2020?)
However you stack it, we get to be citizens of the fastest-moving city in the country in getting to a clean and sustainable energy system. What could be cooler than that?
-- Kent Minault, L.A. Beyond Coal volunteer
Detroit resident and Sierra Club volunteer Dr. Delores Leonard speaks at a community press conference last week about the April 27 Marathon oil refinery explosion.
More than 60 Southwest Detroit residents and community leaders gathered last week to call on local, state and federal officials to design an evacuation plan in wake of the April 27 explosion at the Marathon Petroleum refinery in the 48217 neighborhood.
State Representative Rashida Talib, Detroit City Council Member Brenda Jones and members of the Community Advisory Panel (CAP): Theresa Landrum, Dr. Delores Leonard, Jackie Smith and Tyrone Carter held a press conference last Friday at the Kemeny Recreation Center to announce the community's demands.
"If Melvindale residents understood that they needed to be evacuated, why didn't a predominantly African-American community in the city of Detroit need to be evacuated?" Rep. Talib said. "You have to be honest. For the local residents to be completely ignored by their local officials downtown is unacceptable."
The multi-billion dollar refinery, which processes tar sands imported from Alberta, Canada, into crude oil, is located in Southwest Detroit bordering the neighboring communities of River Rouge, and Melvindale. City and Homeland Security officials deemed the response to the fire and resulting explosion to be adequate while defending the decision not to evacuate Detroit residents because the wind was blowing in the direction of Melvindale.
"They said that they didn't come out because the wind wasn't blowing in our direction, but that wind can shift at any moment just like your mind and your opinion," CAP member Theresa Landrum said. "That smoke went up and it mushroomed all around. It went up and it's got to come down."
Here is footage of Theresa Landrum speaking at last week's press event.
Landrum drafted a letter to federal, state and local officials outlining the community's concerns. The letter made three specific demands and requested a response within 30 days. The primary demand was for the design and implementation of an emergency evacuation plan involving cooperation between Detroit and the surrounding communities of River Rouge, Ecorse, Melvindale, Lincoln Park and Dearborn for the over 9,000 residents of 48217.
Marathon sits between the community and the rest of Detroit with the 1-75 bridge connecting the two. Residents are concerned that first responders from downtown Detroit will be unable to reach residents and residents will be unable to evacuate across I-75 in the event of an explosion like the one at a fertilizer plant in West Texas that killed 17 people and injured 200 more on April 17.
"You look and see a fire over there and you know that there is gas over there," CAP member Dr. Deloreas Leonard said. "You know they have that hydrogen plant over there with tar sands. (The city) does not have a plan. Homeland security tells us to stay in place. Well how many of the firefighters and policemen live in Detroit? We need an escape plan and we have been asking and asking."
Although no one was hurt at the Marathon explosion, residents feel now is the time to take the necessary precautions.
"I honestly think the city of Detroit was very lucky," Dr. Leonard added. "If that air quality testing that was taken right away came back and said that the air was poisonous with things that it would impact the public health, which I do believe was the case in Melvindale, they were lucky. This could have been West Texas and they were not prepared to evacuate 9,000 in this neighborhood. Our Detroit residents were not evacuated and were not communicated with or anything."
Also called for in the letter was the immediate repair of emergency sirens and air quality monitors testing for industry specific pollution in residential areas.
"When I go to the CAP meetings once a month, they tell us how much they expel into the air," CAP member Jackie Smith said. "They say that we are not the only ones. I know we have BP, DTE and all the rest, but Marathon is the biggest culprit out here with this pollution. This is taking us out as a community. The injustice is that they are bringing in more with the hydrogen plant in Oakwood Heights. The ones that live the closest to Marathon will get the most pollution. That's just common sense. It's a sin and a shame what they are doing to this community. They are just killing people."
Residents also took issue with the confusion around the classification of the incident by local officials. Publicly residents were told the incident was a level three hazard, which calls for evacuation of the area. However, Detroit City Council Member Brenda Jones, who has been the only official to respond to the letter so far indicated that city officials were told residents were not evacuated because the incident was classified as level two.
"Level three is combustible materials, heavy thick smoke, and odor. Level four is theses three and fire. There were all four, so we know that anytime anything happens they are going to down play it," Landrum said.
"We have the 'fox watching the hen house mentality,' where industry is allowed to tell our regulatory agency what happens. They said it was a sour water tank that exploded. Number one: water doesn't burn. Two: water doesn't blow up. So, tell me how can you classify it as a level three? There is a disconnect with local residents and elected officials because they work with big business on big business' behalf. They are working to protect big businesses."
-- Patrick Geans, Sierra Club Detroit Organizer. See more of Patrick's videos of the community press conference right here.
Mountain lovers everywhere high-fived today when the news came down that the Virginia Department of Mines, Minerals and Energy has denied a surface mine permit for the Ison Rock Ridge mine in southwest Virginia.
While A&G Coal Company, the ones applying for the permit, said they will appeal, this is a great grassroots victory for now.
Look at the destruction this mountaintop removal mine would've caused:
The Ison Rock Ridge mine would have obliterated approximately 1,300 acres of steep, forested, mountainous terrain near the town of Appalachia, Virginia - one of the very few, if not the only, remaining mountain ridges in Wise County that hasn't yet been destroyed by the coal industry. The mine would have buried about 14,000 feet of streams with more than 11 million cubic yards of rock and dirt in nine valley fills. Sediment ponds would've discharged pollutants to various streams, including Callahan Creek – an "impaired" waterway – and Looney Creek – a proposed "impaired" waterway. Worst of all, the mining would've inflicted severe and unconscionable harm on surrounding communities with all its associated blasting, truck traffic, dust and water pollution.
We're sending a big congratulations to the Southern Appalachian Mountain Stewards for their years of hard work to save this mountain. The Sierra Club was proud to have worked closely with SAMS, Appalachian Mountain Advocates, and many others on this case.
It's worth noting that SAMS is comprised almost entirely of local residents, including former underground miners, who are working to end mountaintop removal mining and to transition the region to a just economic future.
This news comes on the heels of a coalition of environmental groups (including the Sierra Club) calling for stronger water quality protections from the Environmental Protection Agency for Appalachian communities near mountaintop-removal coal mines:
"In a formal petition for rulemaking, 18 Appalachian local, regional, and national groups are petitioning the EPA to set a numeric water quality standard under the Clean Water Act to protect streams in Kentucky, West Virginia, Virginia, Tennessee, Ohio, and Pennsylvania from pollution caused by mountaintop removal mining."
Good work is happening against mountaintop removal coal mining!
For more info on the Virginia victory, here's the press release from Southern Appalachian Mountain Stewards:
Residents of Appalachia Applaud DMME Denial of Ison Rock Ridge Surface Mine
Community Groups Cheer Rejection of Dangerous Surface Mine
The town and coal camps of Appalachia can breathe a sigh of relief today after learning that A & G Coal Corporation has been denied a permit to strip mine Ison Rock Ridge near Appalachia. The 1,200-acre permit, located behind the town of Appalachia and between the coal camps of Inman and Derby, would have had intense impacts on residents already affected by decades of mountaintop removal coal mining.
The permit application was technically approved by the Department of Mines Minerals and Energy in May of 2010 but has been held up for its failure to adhere to water quality standards in nearby Callahan Creek. Further, Southern Coal, which owns A & G, is required to resolve at least four outstanding violations in Kentucky, West Virginia and Virginia, before the permit could be issued. Finally, the permit is being denied due to A & G's inactivity on the application for at least 2 years.
The A & G coal company plans to contest this decision by the DMME. An informal conference on the company's appeal will be held at the DMME office in Big Stone Gap on Wednesday, May 8th at 10 AM. The conference is open to the public.
The Southern Appalachian Mountain Stewards have argued against this dangerous surface mine since 2009. Based in Appalachia, SAMS' membership includes residents of the coal camps adjacent to the proposed permit. SAMS applauds the DMME’s move to deny this dangerous strip mine.
SAMS has argued instead for community leaders to get behind efforts to diversify the local economy, and for politicians to give as much support to developing new industries that can sustain our economy as they do to propping up a coal industry failing in the face of natural gas, dwindling reserves and cheaper western coal.
Sam Broach, president of SAMS said, “Preserving our clean mountain water, protecting our productive forests and making this a place businesses want to move to is a key part of building an economy built to last the next 100 years. Stopping the destruction of Ison Rock Ridge is an important first step. ”
For years the prospect of a new mountaintop removal mine, with increased blasting, dust, truck traffic and sedimentation of the streams has hung over the area like a black cloud. The four valley fills included in the operation threatened to bury headwater streams and increase concentrations of toxic heavy metals in streams, like Callahan Creek, already legally recognized as impaired.
Judy Needham, SAMS member and resident of the coal camp of Andover, reacted to the news: “after living for years with blasting from A & G’s operations on Kelly’s Branch, the idea of another strip mine above Andover, was just too much to consider. Blasting has impacted so many communities already. Enough is enough.” More than 20 peer-reviewed studies since 2010 have shown a connection between proximity to mountaintop removal operations like Ison Rock Ridge and poor health outcomes, including higher cancer, heart, lung and kidney disease rates.
This type of mountaintop removal mining is a last ditch effort by the coal industry to extract profits from a dwindling supply in an increasingly competitive fuel market. “Coal executives realize that coal production and markets for Appalachian coal are declining”, said SAMS’ board member Judiana Stines. “As those reserves go down, companies will move elsewhere, leaving mass destruction, more poverty, and severe health problems behind. It is up to us, to stand together, united, and speak out against this permit, and against the destruction of any more mountains. We want to let citizens know that we can be their voice if they need one, and that SAMS is here to stay and build a brighter, healthier and cleaner tomorrow.” Stopping the destruction of Ison Rock Ridge is an important first step.
The Southern Appalachian Mountain Stewards is a community organization committed to ending the destruction of our communities by surface coal mining, to improving the quality of life in our area, and to helping build sustainable communities in Southwest Virginia and Southern Appalachia.
In justifying its decision to revoke the environmental clearance for a huge 1,050-megawatt coal plant, the Indian National Green Tribunal (NGT) described its original approval as 'smacking of non-application of mind.' I couldn't agree more. In fact, if the world moves forward with the massive coal pipeline it has planned, future generations will have much stronger words than these. Hell, with climate-change effects today roasting Australia and disastrous air pollution killing hundreds of thousands of Chinese citizens, we should have stronger words now. But of course actions speak much louder than words and the NGT is letting its rulings do all the talking.
It turns out that this is just the latest in a string of rulings by the NGT that strike at the heart of India's proposal to dramatically expand its reliance on coal. Back in February of 2012 the NGT made its first ruling when it ordered a halt to construction of a coal plant in Kutch, home the country's first "ultra-mega power project," Tata Mundra, as well as a slew of new coal proposals. After the Kutch ruling, the NGT struck again, revoking the environmental clearance for a coal mine in Chattisgarh. With the latest ruling, the NGT is demonstrating that these rulings are anything but unique.
But to truly understand the importance of the latest ruling, it's important to understand where the project was sited. Chattisgarh, along with neighboring Jharkhand, makes up the heart of Indian coal country. This is where India's remaining forests, coal, and indigenous peoples combine to form a volatile mix. It's also where opposition to the coal industry is so dangerous you can be murdered for it, even if you are a nun. It's here that the coal industry assumed that plans for yet another big coal plant would hardly be noticed, let alone challenged.
That is until some brave locals decided that enough was enough. They took advantage of the fact that the NGT gives locals the right to challenge any project anywhere in the country on environmental grounds. It's an incredibly progressive institution first created by India's "Green Crusader,'" Jairam Ramesh. Ironically, the project locals just defeated was illegally granted approval by none other than Jairam Ramesh himself.
As it turns out, the NGT had some choice words for Ramesh and the Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF). According to the NGT, the project was granted "...environmental clearance...by the MoEF hastily, without proper application of mind and without applying the principle of sustainable development and the precautionary principle since the power plant was proposed to be located in a critically polluted area...where the MoEF itself had imposed a moratorium on further projects." Moreover the NGT cited the fact that the MoEF "had not properly considered the comments and grievances raised during the public hearing." That was enough for them to drop the hammer: "The Tribunal observed that the MoEF's hasty action in granting clearance smacked of non-application of mind."
Scrapping a previously granted coal plant clearance on environmental grounds? Citing sustainable development and the precautionary principle? Dropping the proverbial smackdown for rubber-stamping such projects in the coal industry's wild west? It's enough to make an activist swoon.
Policymakers in the U.S. would do well to take note. After all the "business knows best" antienvironment, antiregulation atmosphere that pervades the country has enabled one of the most destructive forms of mining -- mountain-top removal (MTR) -- to occur within a few hours' drive of our nation's capital. The practice is so destructivethat it makes Indian advocates like Debi Goenka from Conservation Action Trust blush. If Indian activists react this way, one can only imagine the words and actions the NGT would reserve for MTR. I'mwilling to bet they'd be a hell of a lot stronger than what we are doing about the problem.
-- Justin Guay, Sierra Club International
Once again, U.S. Export-Import Bank (Exim) Chairman Fred Hochberg is using our taxpayer dollars to finance a dangerous fossil fuel project. This time it’s Rio Tinto’s Oyu Tolgoi gold and copper mine and the associated coal-fired power plant in Mongolia. What’s even more galling is that Hochberg and the Exim board of directors approved the project in April despite what amounted to a vote of no confidence in the very same project by the U.S. Treasury, which abstained from a decision on funding from World Bank Group’s International Financial Corporation (IFC).
When explaining their abstention, Treasury officials stated, "The ESIA does not provide a sufficiently detailed analysis of associated facilities and cumulative impacts, notably concerning a coal-fired power plant that will likely be needed to provide reliable power for the project." Clearly these were trivial matters for Mr. Hochberg and Exim that should not come between them and a new destructive coal plant.
The sad part is we now know that the situation is much worse. At the time of the World Bank vote, Rio Tinto was telling officials that a final decision had not been made on whether or not they would construct a coal-fired power plant. But in Mongolia, they were already making preparations on the ground for the plant. In other words, Rio Tinto was lying in order to get funding from the IFC and the U.S. Government -- and it worked because neither the World Bank nor Exim did the necessary due diligence to check Rio Tinto’s claims. Did I mention this is your tax payer dollars at work?
Our partners at Accountability Counsel did check, and it wasn’t that hard. They traveled to Mongolia and took a tour of the mine with a Rio Tinto official. Not only did he tell Accountability Counsel that he had not heard any talk of reconsidering the decision to build the coal-fired power plant, he pointed out where the worker housing was already under construction. It is the white line in the distance of the above photo.
Of course, Hochberg has a long history of supporting controversial coal projects backed by unscrupulous companies, so we’re hardly be surprised. But we can’t let him, or the US Government off the hook for decisions like these. It’s clear that abstention votes are not enough. Going forward Exim and Treasury must vote “no” on fossil fuel projects, especially dirty coal projects. It’s way past time for the World Bank and the U.S. Export-Import Bank to get out of the coal business.
(Photo: Accountability Counsel)
-- Nicole Ghio, Sierra Club's International Campaign
This week marked six months since Superstorm Sandy, and it was also the end of our 100 Days of Action for Climate and Clean Energy, which we kicked off when President Obama began his second term. In those 100 days, more than one million Americans from across the country attended large-scale rallies and local events, signed petitions, sent letters to decision-makers and used social media to engage friends and neighbors in fighting climate disruption.
I'll let Aura Vasquez, a fantastic Beyond Coal organizer in Los Angeles, tell you more in this great video about the 100 days of action.
Of course, while the great successes of the past 100 days are worthy of celebration, we know the work is far from over. In his blog, my colleague Michael Brune wrote that his parents were finally able to move back into their New Jersey home after it was heavily damaged by Sandy. It was a powerful and moving reminder of how serious the effects of climate disruption are- and that there are many, many others in New Jersey and New York who haven't been able to move back home yet. How many more across the U.S. will lose their homes due to climate disruption?
Americans are putting the pieces together. We know the increasing severe weather in the U.S. and worldwide - from excessive droughts and floods, to record snowstorms and hurricanes - are signs that are climate is changing. The more than one million who took action know it's time to transition away from dirty fuels that cause climate disruption and harm public health. We know solar power won't befoul our water like oil pipelines will. We know wind power won't cause air pollution and increase asthma attacks.
And we know clean energy creates jobs and brings with it an economic boost for local communities.
We are pleased with some moves by the Obama Administration to protect our air and water from the Obama administration in the first 100 days. For example, the Environmental Protection Agency recently released draft safeguards for the toxic wastewater coming from coal plants. Without federal standards to safeguard our water, those plants will keep on sending toxic sludge into rivers and streams, where it threatens swimmers and boaters and anglers, poisons wildlife, wrecks ecosystems, and could even contaminate drinking water.
It's time to finalize those standards to protect our waterways and our health.
But that's just one step. There is much, much more than President Obama can and must do to turn the corner on climate disruption, and he needs to start now. We've identified four more major steps President Obama must take.
All of the items on this list are important, and I'm keeping a close watch on #5 - we need carbon pollution standards for coal-fired power plant to protect our planet from the worsening effects of climate disruption. Americans want climate action from President Obama now.
-- Mary Anne Hitt, Beyond Coal Director
President Barack Obama talks with Mike Froman in the Oval Office, Oct. 27, 2011. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)
Ilana Solomon, Sierra Club Trade Representative
Yesterday, President Obama nominated Deputy National Security Adviser for International Affairs Mike Froman for one of the remaining spots in his Cabinet – U.S. Trade Representative (USTR). If confirmed, Mr. Froman will face many opportunities to build a new and responsible model of trade. The Sierra Club calls upon Mr. Froman to put communities, working families, and the environment at the core of our trade agenda. Here are six opportunities that Mr. Froman can seize as USTR.
1. Bring trade negotiations into the light of day.
Trade rules affect nearly every aspect of our lives – the food we eat, the air we breathe, the water we drink, the price of medicines we may need, the jobs we depend on. It is therefore absolutely critical that the public has a say in how trade rules are formulated and implemented.
Today, trade rules are usually written under a cloud of secrecy. For example, the Trans-Pacific Partnership – potentially the largest free trade agreement ever – has been under negotiation for over three years and may conclude as early as this October. And yet, not a single word of draft text has been released to the public. Without draft text, the public is left to guess what may be included in trade deals and is unable to meaningfully engage. Responsible trade begins with public participation.
2. Strengthen environmental rules in trade agreements.
There is no question about it: as trade increases, so does the stress on natural resources, such as timber, fish and wildlife. Every trade agreement must include a legally enforceable environment chapter that ensures sustainable resource management and that obligates countries to enforce and strengthen domestic environmental policies and their commitments under multilateral environmental agreements. Agreements must also take steps to address trade-related conservation issues, such as the illegal timber trade. The United States should not enter into trade agreements with countries that are unable to agree to these basic principles.
3. Reject investor-state dispute settlement.
Trade and investment agreements have historically encouraged foreign investment by awarding vast privileges to investors and corporations. These privileges threaten communities and the environment and, by offering foreign firms greater rights than domestic ones, have led to the offshoring of jobs.
The investor-state dispute settlement system, for example, elevates foreign corporations to the level of nation states and allows them to sue sovereign governments in private tribunals over laws and policies which may reduce their profits. By the end of 2012, corporations including Exxon-Mobil and Chevron launched more than 500 investor-state cases against more than 90 governments. Cases have challenged critical environmental and public interest policies such as bans on toxic chemicals, new regulations in the mining industry, and phase-outs of nuclear energy. Investor-state dispute settlement must end with the next USTR.
4. Ensure that trade rules do not undercut the ability of nations to fight the climate crisis.
In the past several years there has been an alarming rise in the number of international trade and investment disputes related to renewable energy and climate policies. For example, in just the past year, Japan and the European Union have challenged Ontario, Canada's, renewable energy incentives program and the U.S. has filed a trade case challenging rules in India’s national solar program. Given the dire impacts of the climate crisis that both the United States and the WTO have acknowledged, all governments must have the ability to develop domestic renewable energy industries to fight climate disruption and the fossil fuel industry behind the crisis. Trade rules must not undermine the efforts of governments to confront the climate crisis.
5. Preserve our rights to manage our own resources, including exports of fossil fuels like natural gas.
Because of the new quantities of natural gas unleashed by hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” the United States has the ability to become a major natural gas exporter for the first time ever. Exporting U.S. liquid natural gas (LNG) comes with significant environmental and economic risks. For example, LNG exports would require a significant expansion of gas production using fracking and would raise domestic energy prices.
Unfortunately, thanks to a little-known provision of the Natural Gas Act, the U.S. Department of Energy is required to automatically approve all exports of U.S. LNG to countries with which it has a free trade agreement that calls for “national treatment for trade in gas.” Given the risks that gas exports pose on our air, water, land, and climate, the new USTR cannot let the DOE lose its ability to review the economic and environmental impacts of LNG exports.
6. Bring trade negotiations into the light of day. (This point is worth repeating.)
Economies can grow and trade can exist without threatening our air, water, and health. The first step to building responsible trade is to bring trade agreements and negotiations into the light of day with the American public's input. A new model of trade that benefits communities and the environment is possible, and it begins with transparency and public engagement.
- Eric Garcetti Elected to Continue the Clean Energy Legacy in Los Angeles
- Big New Investments in Wind Energy Across the Country and Around the World
- Our Land, Our Water, Our Future: The Australia Beyond Coal & Gas Conference
- Fighting Coal Down Under
- How Electric Vehicles That Feed the Grid Will Pay Off
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