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West Coast Warnings of Unfair Trade

Tue, 05/26/2015 - 08:59

Across the West Coast, where Sierra Club membership is robust and active, residents are seeing warnings of a trade deal that could disrupt the climate and the environment.

The United States is currently negotiating a trade deal called the Trans-Pacific Partnership, or TPP, with 11 other Pacific Rim nations. The TPP would threaten almost every aspect of our lives: our environment, access to healthcare and affordable medicines, and even the food we eat, air we breathe, and water we drink. But we’re not allowed to see the text of the deal.

 

 

Even worse, the TPP’s investment chapter would give multinational corporations including Big Oil and Gas polluters the right to sue governments over clean air and water protections that corporations aledge reduce their profits.

The Sierra Club launched a targeted ad campaign in California, Washington, and Oregon exposing these and other risks. The TPP has the potential to undermine decades of environmental progress in our country and threaten our ability to keep dirty fuels in the ground where they below. The West Coast has always been at the forefront of environmental progress, so it is critical to shed light on this toxic trade deal.  

 

The ad blitz, which includes radio airtime in English and Spanish, online ads, billboards, and even ads on public transportation, focuses on just a few of the major threats of the TPP -- including that the TPP could increase fracking and threaten environmental protections because of corporate privileges in the deal. It exposes the complete and total lack of transparency of the ongoing negotiations of the TPP. Not only are talks going on behind closed doors, but every indication shows the TPP has the potential to wash away protections we rely on to clean up our air and water from pollution and other vital safeguards.

You can hear the radio ad, aptly-named “Secret” (or “Secreto” in Spanish), that states “If you think it’s wrong for Americans to be left in the dark, while some of the world's worst corporate polluters are actively involved in shaping the text of this pact, then visit sierraclub.org/TPP to demand fair trade, not toxic trade.”  We’ve taken to billboards, radio, television, transit, and online to spread a warning cry.  You can add your name to demand fair trade, not toxic trade, too

 

Kate McCormick From Compass

Santa Barbara Oil Spill Yet Another Reason Why We Need Clean Energy Solutions

Fri, 05/22/2015 - 13:37

As a former graduate student at UC Santa Barbara, I remember vividly my time spent at Refugio State Beach on so many gorgeous sunny afternoons. The scene was almost too beautiful to believe, with glittering green water, chalky white cliffs dotted with palm trees, and so many dolphins that you were almost guaranteed to catch a glimpse of one every time.

Which makes it all the more painful to see the pictures of this spectacular beach now marred by more than 100,000 gallons of crude oil, polluting more than nine miles of the Santa Barbara coast.  This spill is such a stark reminder of the fact that even the most pristine, cherished places are not safe from the very real impacts of our continued dependence on fossil fuels—and a demonstration that it truly is a matter of when, not if, this infrastructure will spill and tarnish our land and water.

We've seen the heartbreaking photos of beachgoers trying to rescue oil soaked birds from the blackened beaches, aerial photos of migrating whales appearing to swim directly through the slick, and oiled sea lions lying on the beach. And this pipeline was only pumping 1,300 to 2,000 barrels per hour—a mere fraction of the 800,000 barrels per day that the proposed Keystone XL tar sands pipeline would pump through the critical Ogalalla aquifer in the fragile Sandhills region of Nebraska. Although California Governor Jerry Brown has declared an official state of emergency in response to the spill, officials indicate the cleanup effort could take months.

So how we can continue to deepen our reliance on oil, allowing pipelines to slice across our heartland and oil rigs to punch holes into the Arctic seafloor, when we see these devastating consequences again and again? We know that the few safety regulations that do exist to govern the oil industry’s dirty deeds are barely enforced and are hardly sufficient to truly protect our land and water—let alone our climate.

We know that that these companies cannot and should not be entrusted to protect our natural resources on their own (the company responsible for the Santa Barbara spill seems to be a particularly negligent actor, with a rate of safety violations more than three times the national average). We also know that if we hope to avoid increasingly disastrous effects of climate change, like the record-breaking, debilitating drought California is currently suffering, we need to wean ourselves off of fossil fuels sooner rather than later.

And yet, we also know that the solutions to this problem are out there—we simply need the political will to make them happen. As Governor Brown has emphasized with his visionary commitment to cut California’s oil use 50 percent by 2030, we can decrease the oil we use as a society by investing in public transportation, community planning, and efficient vehicles. We don’t need ever-increasing oil resources, brought to us by increasingly extreme and dangerous oil infrastructure, like oil rigs in the Arctic ocean, exploding bomb trains (which soon may be coming to the Santa Barbara coast if we don’t stop them), or massive tar sands pipelines. What we need is a firm commitment to clean energy solutions and  regulations that will keep our communities and climate safe while we bring those solutions to scale.

It’s devastating to see what’s happening in Santa Barbara, and my thoughts are with the community, workers, and wildlife harmed by the spill.  Let’s not let this happen yet again. It’s time to stand together and demand that our elected officials invest in the clean energy solutions and regulatory protections that can truly safeguard our communities and our climate.

TAKE ACTION: Stop the proposed Alberta Clipper tar sands oil pipeline!

Top photo: A dead, oiled octopus washed up on Refugio State Beach. Photo courtesy of Mike Eliason. Second photo is of the oil spill's pathway from pipeline to Refugio State Beach. Photo courtesy of the U.S. Coast Guard.

Lena Moffitt From Compass

A Victory in the Decades-Long Fight for Environmental Justice in the Gulf and Beyond

Fri, 05/22/2015 - 13:04

Suzie Canales never planned on going back home. But, when she saw what was happening to her family, her friends, and her neighbors in her community, she could not stay away.

In 1999, Suzie visited Corpus Christi from Illinois at a time of tragedy. Her sister Diana had passed away at the age of 42 due to breast cancer, and she was back in Texas for the funeral. As she explained to CleanHouston.org, it was there that she heard people repeatedly tell her that many others in the area around her sister’s age also faced cancer, prompting Canales to begin to question whether or not, in a community home to industrial facilities like refineries and power plants, something in the local environment could have contributed to her sister’s death and the deaths of so many others.

From there, she started organizing in her community, co-founding Citizens for Environmental Justice (CFEJ) to dig into exactly what was getting into the local air and water. Over the years, Canales and CFEJ mobilized around some of the more egregious cases of environmental injustice in the country. Among the largest problems were upsets, malfunctions, and flaring of gases that would happen all hours of the night and day, or while children were at school, and all without enforcement or penalties by state or federal agencies. As it turned out, the facilities were getting a free pass to pollute during those episodes, and the communities had little recourse as a result.

Today the Obama Administration and the EPA issued a much-needed, long-overdue public health safeguard that marks the beginning of the end of those regulatory loopholes in 38 states that have for decades allowed big polluters to dump huge amounts of off-the-books harmful air pollution onto neighboring communities with impunity.

The new Clean Air Act protection -- called the Startup, Shutdown, and Malfunction (SSM) Emissions standard -- will help protect some of society's most vulnerable communities from big polluters. It reflects many years of hard work from citizen and environmental groups and legal advocates across the country, and stems from a 2011 Sierra Club petition and years of pressure by environmental justice organizations like CFEJ urging EPA to initiate a rulemaking to redress the widespread problems. 

This is a jaw-dropper - some industrial facilities, such as coal plants and oil refineries, often release more toxic pollution at times of startup, shutdown, and malfunctions than they emit during normal operations throughout the entire year, presenting major health risks to people with asthma, children, and seniors who are just trying to go about their daily business. The toxics that pour out during these incidents can instigate asthma attacks, exacerbate conditions like bronchitis and emphysema, and contribute to thousands of premature deaths annually.

In Corpus Christi, Canales and CFEJ organized for safeguards that would curb pollution from routine day-in day-out emissions, pushed for enforcement of laws that were routinely violated, and raised attention to the problems of all the upsets, malfunctions, and flaring events that poured toxics into the air of her community -- and she took her fight about industrial emissions and closing the SSM loophole straight to the top. During a one-on-one meeting with then-EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson in 2010, she promptly voiced her dismay at the level of governmental neglect shown to the most vulnerable communities. And she wasn’t alone. Over the last 30 years activists from so many affected communities organized, spoke out, went to court, and amped up the pressure in the fight for environmental justice.

Today, they scored a victory on the long road to real environmental justice with the new SSM standard. In the 38 states where this loophole was exploited in communities like Corpus Christi, polluters will be reined in, the air will be cleaner, and kids can breathe easier.

"For decades industrial plants have received a free pass from the Clean Air Act every time they have upsets or malfunctions. These emissions create giant plumes of pollution that make our eyes water and pollute our communities. I’m glad the EPA is finally pushing states to address this problem. Children walking to and from school must be protected from off-the-book emissions from big facilities," said Canales.

EPA’s action is just the beginning of a long road ahead until fenceline communities can finally breathe cleaner air. The rule establishes a deadline of 18 months for states to propose fixes to their rules that are consistent with the statute. And after EPA approves a state’s rules, each facility’s permit will need to be modified. Still, closing the SSM loopholes is a great step forward to ensure that all people have access to clean air and water, no matter where they live or who they are.

Photo is of a playground in the shadow of a power plant in River Rouge, Michigan.

Mary Anne Hitt From Compass

Presidents’ Climate Commitment: Campus Carbon Neutrality and Loyola University Maryland

Thu, 05/21/2015 - 18:45

Growing up in the Chesapeake Bay watershed, I witnessed the effects of climate change and pollution directly. Every year, I saw tides of the Miles River creep closer and closer to my doorstep; I witnessed shorelines being washed away; I sat and listened as teachers, skipjacks, and waterman talked about the number of dead zones in the Bay rising, and the number of oysters diminishing; and I watched defenselessly as the unique cultures of Smith, Tangier, and Poplar Island progressively wash away. I knew there needed to be change, and Loyola’s campus seemed like a good place to start.   

 

I began taking action on energy issues through a club I had been a part of since my freshman year, Loyola University Maryland’s Environmental Action Club.

 

This past school year, Loyola University Maryland’s Environmental Action Club has been pressuring our President, Father Brian Linnane, to sign the American College & University Presidents’ Climate Commitment. By signing, Loyola would be agreeing to go climate neutral and have two years to make a carbon neutrality plan.  We also asked that the first step be purchasing 15% of the University’s energy from renewable sources starting this summer when the energy contracts are renewed.

 

Last year, Loyola's EAC presented this commitment to Father Linnane along with about 500 signatures from students, faculty, and administration.  Father Linnane pushed aside student and faculty concerns and said to ‘wait and come back in the fall’ claiming it was too late in the school year to take action.

 

So at the start of this year, I emailed Father Linnane to see if now could be the time to commit to going climate neutral by 2020, 2025, or even 2030.  It took him months to respond. He finally got back to us on Christmas Eve, he said no…again. This time we took it up a notch.

 

Just getting people to sign their name was not going to cut it.  Instead, we had people write why sustainability at Loyola matters to them, and then, sign their name.  This showed that people were taking more than two or three seconds to sign their name on a piece of paper.  They were taking time to think about why they cared.

 

On top of this, some students, faculty, and administrators wrote full letters explaining why sustainability at Loyola matters to them and why it is important that Father Linnane sign the American College & University Presidents’ Climate Commitment.  For Earth Week 2015, we submitted over 450 of these letters, with the last letters being submitted on Earth Day by a large group of students.  Unfortunately, he did not show up to receive the letters, but at least we filled up his office!

 

Last week, I received an email response from Father Linnane.  Again, he said no.  He said that, while the University is already doing the majority of the requirements of the Commitment, he cannot fully commit to all that is required of the University if he were to sign the document.  He did not mention anything about the 15% renewable energy.

 

Father Linnane denied my request to meet with him before my graduation over this past weekend, but did agree that the Interim President, Dr. Susan Donovan, who will take Father Linnane’s place during his six month sabbatical starting this summer, will be more than happy to meet with Alex Torres, the next Environmental Action Club President, in the Fall.

 

Our next step is to propose a signing of the Catholic Climate Covenant. While this does not mean as much work on the University’s part, it still means that they will be taking a stance on Environmental issues that we must address.

 

My hope is that Father Linnane, or Dr. Susan Donovan, will sign the Catholic Climate Covenant; the Environmental Action Club will continue its growing presence on campus in order to create a culture shift within our student body’s mindset and an energy shift in our University for 100% clean energy; and that I will not see the complete disappearance of Smith, Tangier, and Poplar Islands within my lifetime.

 

I will end with one of my favorite quotes.  There is a Greek Proverb that says: “Society grows great when old men plant trees whose shade they know they will never sit in.”  I hope that those trees will be planted on Loyola’s campus within the coming years.

Taylor Rogers From Compass

Cash on the Hood of an Electric Car

Thu, 05/21/2015 - 13:22

You've probably heard of that psychology study that found children are more likely to go for one marshmallow now than the promise of two marshmallows later.  Researchers at UC Davis found that car buyers are no different and are more likely to buy the car and take advantage of an immediate discount -like a rebate accessible within several weeks- than one that comes with a tax credit available several months later, even if the longer-term one is of higher value.

This week, Governor Dannel Malloy of Connecticut wisely announced a new electric car rebate program that gives a more immediate discount than any other state has provided to date; you get the rebate right at the dealership whether you're leasing or buying the car. In the car-selling world, they call that "cash on the hood of the car."

Though plug-in electric vehicles (EVs) are cheaper to fuel and maintain than conventional cars, they tend to have higher upfront costs. EVs are much lower in carbon emissions than conventional cars, even factoring in the emissions from the electricity used to charge them. That's why we need consumer incentives for EVs to bring the cost down and accelerate consumer interest.

California, Massachusetts, and Pennsylvania offer EV rebate programs of $1,500 to $2,500, and Colorado offers a tax credit of up to $6,000. These are all on top of the up to $7,500 federal tax credit on plug-in cars.

But for all these rebates and credits, consumers must wait several weeks or up to several months for their money. In Connecticut, the state pay-back is immediate. For plug-in vehicles with small batteries, it's $750, with medium-sized batteries, it's $1,500, and with large batteries, it's $3,000 off the base price of the car. That's real money!

Another unique aspect of the Connecticut program is that it's not just available for individual consumers, but also for businesses, non-profits, and municipalities. And the rebates will stretch a little further because high-end cars like the Tesla won't qualify for this discount. Additionally, the dealer gets a small commission in exchange for a bit extra paperwork during the deal.

The initial program is only funded at $1 million (not using tax-payer dollars, I might add), which will likely run out in the next several months. That's why we need longer term resources for this program (and those in other states). Connecticut is part of an eight state collaborative to get 10 million zero emission vehicles on the road by 2025 as one important way to slash dangerous air pollution. We have long road to travel to get there, so rebates like this one need a longer shelf life to jumpstart consumer interest in these cars, which happen to be really fun to drive. The Sierra Club is part of the Connecticut Electric Vehicle Coalition that will continue to educate the public and policymakers about the benefits of switching to EVs.

Georgia and Illinois recently ditched their EV discount programs. This means we need more forward-thinking policymakers like Malloy to step up and help accelerate this market. Malloy said when announcing this program, "…new technologies - such as EVs - can help us build a healthy economy, create jobs, and address the energy and environmental challenges we face. These new CHEAPR rebates will provide an added incentive for consumers to embrace new approaches and help lead the way to a more sustainable future."

Sierra Club intern Christina Rohrbacher contributed to this article. Photo courtesy of Darrell Clarke. You can follow Gina on Twitter at @GinaDrivingEV.

Gina Coplon-Newfield From Compass

Power for All Campaign: Seeking a Faster Timeline for Universal Energy Access

Thu, 05/21/2015 - 09:36

 

This week, the Sierra Club is participating in the second annual United Nations Sustainable Energy for All Forum in New York, a forum bringing together key world actors advocating for sustainably to address the problem of energy poverty worldwide. Representatives from civil society, universities, national governments, and multilateral institutions are in attendance to address questions of policy, technology, and financing relating to energy access.

 

Among several new initiatives being announced this week is Power for All, a global education and advocacy campaign dedicated to promoting clean, decentralized energy solutions as the fastest, most cost-effective, and sustainable approach to universal energy access. Power for All seeks to accelerate universal energy access by asking governments, lenders, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), the private sector, and energy consumers to respond to specific calls to action in order achieve universal energy access by 2025.  Founders include d.light, the Global Off-Grid Lighting Association, Greenlight Planet, Off-Grid Electric, Practical Action, and SolarAid.

 

Almost all of the 1.2 billion people currently without access to electricity live in sub-Saharan Africa and developing Asia. Of those without access, 85 percent are in rural areas where the fossil-fuel powered grid has failed to reach them on a reasonable timescale, and centralized energy generation is expensive, inefficient, and often unhealthy.  

 

“By focusing on key accelerators that will help leapfrog ‘business as usual’ energy delivery -- just as mobile phones leapfrogged landlines in the developing world -- we believe that we can achieve universal energy access in half the time for a fraction of the anticipated costs,” said Kristina Skierka, Campaign Director for Power for All.  

 

Graph courtesy of Power for All

 

 

While a global campaign, Power for All intends to focus on a critical mass of countries with significant energy access needs, including several which happen to also be prioritized in the U.S. government’s Power Africa initiative: Ethiopia, Kenya, Nigeria, and Tanzania.  

 

Power for All includes active engagement by the off-grid clean energy sector, which represents decentralized solutions to energy poverty that do not rely on grid extension.  

 

“We shouldn’t have to wait a generation for universal energy access. Decentralized, renewable market-based solutions can deliver energy access today,” said Koen Peters, Executive Director of the Global Off-Grid Lighting Association (GOGLA). “The market for solar light and power in the developing world is growing very fast to meet demand, and already reaching millions of households. Several GOGLA member companies are already outpacing the world’s traditional electrical utilities in terms of number of customers.”

 

GOGLA’s members include companies utilizing pay-as-you-go business models which offer flexible payment options for energy customers -- often using mobile money technology.  A recent report by Lighting Global, a program of the World Bank Group, found that mobile money “catalyzes clean energy uptake among off-grid users.”    

 

In advance of the COP21 international climate negotiations -- the annual United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change conference being hosted in Paris starting this November -- Power for All is issuing a call to action for policymakers, stakeholders, entrepreneurs and customers engaged in driving universal energy access for the billion-plus people without reliable power worldwide. With its launch, Power for All will urge governments, investors, development agencies, foundations, and nongovernmental organizations to mobilize their resources in support of clean, decentralized solutions.

Vrinda Manglik From Compass

How Trade Could Lead to A Big Fracking Mess

Thu, 05/21/2015 - 08:07

 

 

Across the country, towns and communities are organizing against the destructive practice of fracking, and passing scores of bans and moratoriums against the practice. Unfortunately, wherever local communities have been able to pass these measures, the oil and gas industry has been ready to meet them with legal challenges. Some of these challenges have been successful – such as in Fort Collins, Colorado, where a voter-approved fracking moratorium was overturned by a judge in August 2014 – but others have failed. Prior to the passage of the state’s ban on fracking, for example, a New York judge ruled that towns could use zoning laws to prohibit oil and gas extraction, and in 2013 the Pennsylvania Supreme Court struck down a state law preventing municipalities from enacting their own fracking bans.

 

These pro- vs. anti-fracking legal disputes can take on a David-and-Goliath feel. For example, the oil and gas industry spent more than $500,000 on advertising and brochures to fight the fracking ban in the town of Longmont, Colorado – more than 10 times what activists originally spent to enact it. But the New York and Pennsylvania rulings show that communities still have a fighting chance in U.S. courts. However, provisions within two massive international trade deals currently under negotiation could shift these fights away from the U.S. legal system and into a private court system exclusively available to multinational corporations, further stacking the deck against local communities.

 

The trade deals are the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), negotiated, respectively, with partners in the Pacific Rim and the European Union. While the U.S. administration is moving ahead full steam with the pacts, prominent lawmakers such as Senators Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders, and Representative Rosa DeLauro have publically expressed their opposition to various provisions in the deals, and for good reason.

The deals are huge and would affect every aspect of our lives, from the quality of the food we eat to the air we breathe and the water we drink (which you can read about here and here). Potentially most threatening to the movement to stop fracking, however, is a set of rules called investor-state dispute settlement, or ISDS.

ISDS grants foreign corporations the right to sue governments in private trade courts, in retaliation for policies that threaten a company’s profits. Over the last few decades both the number of trade and investments agreements including ISDS and the number of cases brought has exploded, making ISDS a way for deep-pocketed multinationals to fight environmental, health, and safety regulations.

 

Consider the case of Lone Pine Resources v. Canada. In 2011, the province of Quebec issued a moratorium on fracking under the St. Lawrence River, pending the result of a study of fracking’s health and environmental effects. The province was almost immediately hit with a $250 million lawsuit by Lone Pine Resources, Inc., a U.S.-based oil and gas firm, under NAFTA investment provisions similar to those proposed for TPP. Lone Pine’s suit argued that the government’s action constituted an “arbitrary, capricious, and illegal revocation of the enterprise’s valuable right to mine for oil and gas under the St. Lawrence River.” The suit is still being litigated, but it’s obvious that these suits can have a chilling effect on safeguards.

After the tobacco company Philip Morris sued Australia in an investor-state case for introducing plain-packaging laws for cigarettes, for example, New Zealand’s Ministry of Health announced that it would delay implementation of a similar law until a verdict was reached in the Australian case. Presumably, a large reward in favor of the tobacco giant would make the safeguard less attractive, even when the government knows it would save lives. A list of some of the more egregious ISDS cases can be found here.

As the cases above show, corporations have been using ISDS to challenge regulations that threaten their profits, even when the health and safety of communities are at stake. U.S. corporations are already using whatever legal tools are available to prevent communities from passing protections from fracking – ISDS provisions in the TPP and possibly in TTIP  would just add another tool to the corporate toolbox.

 

Park MacDougald From Compass

Asheville Coal Plant to Retire After High Profile Three-Year Campaign; Clean Energy Work To Continue

Wed, 05/20/2015 - 13:28

This week I want to honor some of the most hard-working activists on our Beyond Coal campaign - Team Asheville in North Carolina. After years of rallies, public meetings, educational forums, leadership from the Asheville City council,  letter-writing, and even a visit from TV star Ian Somerhalder, on Tuesday, all that hard work paid off.  Duke Energy announced it will retire its filthy Asheville coal plant, the 190th plant to announce retirement during the Beyond Coal campaign.

While Duke is unfortunately ignoring Asheville residents' demands of replacing it entirely with clean energy (Duke plans to replace the plant with natural gas), these tireless activists can still claim a victory to be proud of - winning a reprieve for the French Broad river from coal ash, eliminating the region's biggest source of air and climate pollution, and a making a strong show of grassroots power that held one of the nation’s most powerful companies accountable.

"Duke's announcement to retire the coal plant came with the unwelcome news of a new gas plant, which of course is not the vision we hold for a clean energy economy here in North Carolina," said Kelly Martin of Asheville Beyond Coal. "We claimed our victory, but stayed honest about the outcome. At least now there is an end in sight to the coal ash pollution, the sulfur dioxide pollution, and the carbon pollution from this plant."

The Asheville coal plant was featured by Showtime's Emmy-award winning climate series "Years of Living Dangerously," and I traveled to Asheville several times, both for the series, and to support the campaign, which became even more intense after Duke spilled coal ash into North Carolina's Dan River (for which they just ran apology ads in major newspapers nationwide). Just a few days ago, Duke pled guilty in federal court for Clean Water Act violations from coal ash at plants across the state, including at the Asheville plant.

I know first-hand  that Asheville's powerhouse team of clean energy advocates from Asheville Beyond Coal including MountainTrue, Waterkeeper Alliance, French Broad Riverkeeper and the Southern Environmental Law Center, along with thousands of individuals and local leaders, will continue their work to move beyond fossil fuels in their city and in all of North Carolina. For years they hammered this Duke Energy coal plant for its Clean Water Act violations, its coal ash pollution, and its immense air pollution and today they’re one giant step closer to a clean, healthy Western North Carolina.

Let's look at some of the highlights from the years of accomplishments they achieved on the road to Tuesday's announcement:

October 2012: More than 100 citizens and Asheville Beyond Coal activists formed a flotilla on Lake Julian -- in front of Asheville's coal-fired power plant -- to raise three 17-foot banners to deliver the message loud and clear, "Let's Move Asheville Beyond Coal." That photo is at the top of this blog post.

August 2013: Hundreds of people gather for a rally encouraging Asheville to move beyond coal by retiring the plant. The rally includes Vampire Diaries star and enviro activist Ian Somerhalder.

October 2013: After amazing pressure from residents, the Asheville City Council voted unanimously to approve a resolution to move Asheville from coal-fired electricity toward a clean energy future.
 
May 2014: Showtime's "Years of Living Dangerously" series airs its episode on Asheville's coal battle and local activist Anna Jane Joyner, and it even includes yours truly.
 
Ads, ads, ads! In 2013, 2014, and 2015, Asheville Beyond Coal aired TV ads about the filthy Duke Energy coal plant in their city and how it needs to be retired.
 
February 2015: The team continues blasting Duke Asheville plant for fouling the air and water, this time with a report showing that the plant has been emitting harmful sulfur dioxide pollution at levels considered unsafe by the Environmental Protection Agency for the past several years.
 
I look forward to seeing Asheville residents continue to push for clean energy. I know they will succeed. They are an inspiration to me, and to climate clean air and climate advocates nationwide.

Mary Anne Hitt From Compass

Top Ten Hits from Senator Whitehouse's 100 Speeches on Climate Change

Wed, 05/20/2015 - 13:01

This week, on the big stage of the U.S. Senate, Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) gave his hundredth and historic “Time to Wake Up” speech to Congress. These sold-out shows all center around one theme: the need to act on climate change.

 

Senator Whitehouse is one of the nation’s strongest and most committed advocates for the common-sense position that we have a moral obligation to future generations to act on climate, and that our prosperity today is tied to efforts to fight climate change and build a clean energy economy. As his number one fans, we couldn’t agree more. With that in mind, we went through each of his 100 amazing speeches, which should really be bound and sold as a book, and compiled his top-ten greatest hits.

 

10. Time to Wake Up: Environmental Protection Was Once a Top Priority of Republicans

Senator Whitehouse reminds us that environmental stewardship was once a top priority of the Republican Party. Climate denial and policies that protect polluter profits are a relatively new among its priorities. As recently the 70’s, 80’s and 90’s, Republicans worked with bipartisan majorities to pass and strengthen some of our greatest environmental safeguards--the Clean Water Act, Clean Air Act and Endangered Species Act.

 

“Conservation and stewardship were once fundamental principles of American conservatism … the Conservative ideal included a commitment to the interests of future generations. Today, under a relentless barrage of unlimited corporate spending in our elections--much and perhaps most of it by polluters--the interests of future generations have taken a back seat to the interests of oil companies and coal barons.”

 

9. Time to Wake Up: The Campaign to Mislead the Public on Climate Change

Here, Senator Whitehouse discusses the history of corporate campaigns to create scientific disinformation that keeps profits rolling in. Just as the tobacco companies fought the science on their products’ dangers for human health, the fossil fuel industry funds disinformation campaigns to create doubt about their products’ consequences for our climate.

“Fossil fuel companies and certain right wing extremists have cooked up a well-organized campaign to call into question the scientific evidence of climate change. The paid-for deniers then manufacture an interesting product--they manufacture uncertainty--so that the polluters who are also doing the paying can keep polluting”

8. Time to Wake Up: Conflicting Voices from Oklahoma

In this speech, Senator Whitehouse calls out the Senate Republicans’ most ardent opponent of climate action: Senator Inhofe of Oklahoma, who also happens to be the chairman of the Senate’s Environment and Public Works Committee.

 

"The senior Senator from Oklahoma, our chairman of the Environmental and Public Works Committee … maintains that human-caused climate change is a hoax. He thinks it is arrogant to say that humans could cause the climate to change. What’s really arrogant is, Mr. President, thinking we can ignore the laws of nature—the laws of physics, the laws of chemistry, the laws of biology."

 

7. Time to Wake Up: American Corporations are Taking Climate Change Seriously

While Congress fails to act on the greatest challenge of our time, Sen. Whitehouse shows us that out in the real world many of the largest corporations on earth are taking action on climate for practical reasons. Companies like Coca Cola, Lockheed Martin, Mars and Walmart recognize the risks of climate change to their bottom lines and are altering their business models to prepare.

“Major corporations—even those with large carbon footprints—are taking voluntary action to lower their own carbon output. Some are joining broader efforts to support policies that reduce carbon emissions. Some of our largest and most sophisticated companies are even factoring the economic burden of climate change into their own accounting and their own long-term planning”

6. Time to Wake Up: Citizens United Crushed the Debate on Climate Change

Senator Whitehouse points to the Supreme Court’s devastating Citizens United decision as a key moment, because it opened the floodgates of unlimited election spending by fossil fuel companies into our political system.

 

“The effect of Citizens United on our politics is pretty plain to see. … A few very wealthy individuals in the fossil fuel business, huge polluters, are now such big players in our politics that they rival our national parties. Small wonder that is hard to have an honest conversation about carbon pollution in the Senate, and most of it is hidden.”

 

5. Time to Wake Up: GOP Falsehoods, Fallacies, and Fantasies on Climate Change

Here, Senator Whitehouse strikes out a well-known logical fallacy promoted by climate deniers -- that CO2 is naturally occurring, and that it can’t be threatening because it is found in nature. To that absurd argument, Whitehouse responds:

“Arsenic is found in nature. But in the wrong concentration, and in the wrong places, it is nevertheless still dangerous. And the principle that carbon dioxide warms the atmosphere dates back to the American civil war. It is not ‘late breaking news.’ It is sound, solid, established science.”

 

4. Time to Wake Up: Republicans Outside of Congress Support Action on Climate Change

In this speech, Whitehouse points out just how out of touch Republicans and tea party members of Congress are--even with their own party. You know that’s true when a survey conducted for the League of Conservation Voters shows that “53% of Republicans under 35 would describe a politician who denies climate change is happening as ‘ignorant, out of touch or crazy.’ ” Despite that, “Republicans in Congress refuse to get serious.”

 

3. Time to Wake Up: Climate Science Obstructionism

Here, Senator Whitehouse makes a compelling analogy. In Congress, carbon pollution is very much like Lord Voldemort from Harry Potter. “Carbon pollution is ‘the pollution that shall not be named.’ Climate change, the harm that is caused by that pollution, is ‘the harm that shall not be named.’ ” If you name it, you need to deal with it--and by refusing to acknowledge that carbon is a pollutant too many members of Congress think they can get away with ignoring it.

 

2. Time to Wake Up: Economic Costs of Carbon Pollution

Senator Whitehouse walks through a little economics 101 by explaining the concept of “externalities.” That’s when an economic transaction has an effect on others who are unrelated to the buying or selling. Carbon pollution, along with massive amounts of conventional pollution from burning fossil fuels has a host of externalities with serious consequences for our air, water, and climate. “We now know how much harm carbon pollution is causing. We see the costs all around us in storm-damaged homes, flooded cities, in drought-stricken farms, raging wildfires, in dying coral and disappearing fish, in shifting habitats and migrating diseases, in changed seasons and rising seas, in vanishing glaciers and melting icecaps.”

 

1. Time to Wake Up: Republicans Side with Polluters over the Public on Climate

In his greatest hit, Senator Whitehouse says what we all are thinking when we hear climate deniers repeat the same tired line over and over again: “I’m not a scientist!” Whitehouse’s simple yet devastating rebuttal? “If you’re not a scientist, all the more reason to listen to the scientists.” 97% of climate scientists recognize that human activity, including burning fossil fuels, is exacerbating global climate disruption.

 

 

Liz Perera From Compass

Standing with Tribal Nations Opposing Coal Exports in the Pacific Northwest

Fri, 05/15/2015 - 12:59

"We collectively stand together to protect what we love; the earth is a part of who we are."

So said Reuben George, Ceremonial Sundance Chief of the Tsleil-Waututh First Nation at a press conference this week, during a historic gathering where tribes from Montana, Washington and British Columbia stood together to oppose North America’s largest coal export terminal.

I was honored and inspired to stand with nine Tribal Nations from the Pacific Northwest as they as they came together in Seattle to sign a declaration urging the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to deny a permit for North America’s largest coal export terminal -- the Proposed Gateway Pacific Terminal in the Salish Sea.


The Lummi Nation, the Lower Elwha, the Northern Cheyenne, the Quinault, the Tsleil-Waututh First Nation of British Columbia, the Tulalip, the Spokane Tribal Council,the Swinomish Tribal Nations, and the Yakama Nation are united against coal because they are concerned about its effects on their communities, their cultures, and our shared future.

Tribal leaders have repeatedly underscored this coal development threatens treaty-protected rights, resources, and sacred sites. At this press conference and a public gathering that followed, they called on the U.S. government to honor those treaty obligations and reject this coal export terminal.

The Lummi Nation has formally called on the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to deny all permits associated with the proposed coal terminal in the tribe’s treaty-protected fishing waters. The Corps gave the project applicant, SSA Marine, a May 10 deadline to explain how they would address tribes’ concerns and mitigate treaty impacts - a deadline the company has missed. The Corps has previously stated they will not make their permit decision until they receive and consider SSA Marine’s response.

The Sierra Club is proud and honored to stand in solidarity with these Tribal Nations in the fight against coal exports in the Pacific Northwest. Thousands of activists across the region have spoken out at public hearings, written letters, submitted comments, and rallied for clean energy instead of coal exports.

As domestic demand for coal dries up thanks to grassroots advocates who have stopped 183 new coal plants and won the retirement of 189 existing plants, the coal industry is pushing hard for these terminals to give them access to international markets. Four of the 6 Northwest proposed coal export facilities have been defeated, but two proposals remain active.

I wrote about the Lummi Nation's 2013 letter against this Gateway Pacific Terminal coal project. From that letter:

In developing the Lummi Nation's position on the projects, the Nation heeded the following principles:

1. "Everything is connected." As our elders conveyed through our Xwlemi'chosen (Lummi language) that cultural and spiritual significances expressed by our ancestors for the land, water and the environment are all connected.

2. "We must manage our resources for the seventh generation of our people." Our unique heritage requires us to honor our past, present and future generations. Since time immemorial we have managed resources that we are borrowing from our children and grandchildren.

3. As a tribal government, we have adopted the critical goal that we must preserve, promote, and protect our Schelangen ("way of life").

The Lummi Nation issued their formal opposition to the Cherry Point project in a letter to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in January of this year.

At this week's event,Tim Ballew II, Chair of the Lummi Indian Business Council, said "The Lummi Nation is proud to stand with other tribes who are drawing a line in the sand to say no to development that interferes with our treaty rights and desecrates sacred sites. The Corps has a responsibility to deny the permit request and uphold our treaty."

This past fall the Lummi's totem pole journey traveled along the proposed 2,500-mile coal train route through the Pacific Northwest to dramatically demonstrate the connection between the Tribal Nations and all cultures.

I've been so inspired by this week's gathering with the Lummi Nation and the leaders from other Tribal Nations uniting against coal exports, and I'm deeply grateful for their leadership. It’s also worth noting that the Northern Cheyenne are fighting a coal mine and rail-line in Montana that would feed these proposed export terminals. And the Tsleil-Waututh are fighting coal export terminal effects as well.

Together we will stop these coal export terminals - not only at Cherry Point but at Longview and in British Columbia and beyond as well - and build a brighter future for our communities, our children, and our planet.

Mary Anne Hitt From Compass

Far From a ‘Progressive’ Trade Deal, the Trans-Pacific Partnership Would Harm our Environment

Fri, 05/15/2015 - 12:29

 

Proponents of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) have called the deal “the most progressive trade bill in history.” But given the history of U.S. trade deals, that bar is set exceedingly low. Our past trade deals have led to the offshoring ofhundreds of thousands of American jobs, have allowed corporations to challenge policies designed to protect our air and water in private trade courts, and have degraded our environment. If you dig in even a little bit to what we know about the TPP and the history of past trade deals, it’s clear: the TPP would harm our air, water, and climate.

 

Here’s why.

 

1. The environment chapter will not go far enough.

 Proponents of the TPP often talk about the benefits of the pact based exclusively on the environment chapter. However, as House Ways and Means Ranking Democrat Sandy Levin (D-MI) recentlywrote, while the environment chapter will cover a broad range of issues, including shark finning and illegal timber trade, the obligations—what countries are actually required to do—are often weak.

 For example, rather than prohibiting commercial whaling and shark fin trade--major issues in TPP countries like Japan and Singapore--the TPP is likely to include vague and toothless language that stops far short of requiring countries to stop these harmful practices. The deal will also likely fall short of prohibiting trade in illegally taken timber and wildlife and will not even mention the words “climate change.”

 

2. The environment chapter is unlikely to be enforced.

 Here is another reason to be skeptical that the environment chapter will lead to any meaningful protection of land, air, water, and wildlife. The United States Trade Representative (USTR) has never once brought a trade dispute against another country for failing to live up to its environmental obligations in trade deals, even when there is documented evidence of non-compliance with environmental safeguards.

Let’s take Peru, for example. The United States-Peru free trade deal included a section aimed at stopping the illegal timber trade between Peru and the United States. Think it has worked?  Think again.

 

Here’s the story. In April 2012, the Environmental Investigation Agency published a multi-year investigative report which documented that at least 112 illegal shipments of cedar and mahogany wood – laundered with fabricated papers and approved by the Peruvian government – arrived in the US between 2008 and 2010.As EIA noted, these shipments alone  accounted for over 35 percent of all trade in these protected species between the U.S. and Peru.

 

Just days after the report was released, EIAformally petitioned the USTR to take action under the U.S.-Peru trade deal and investigate and verify the legal origin of shipments from at least two Peruvian companies and to audit dozens more. The Sierra Club and other environmental, labor, and industry partners sent a letter to the USTR joining the call for action.   

 

The result? Not much of anything.The USTR never used the tools available in the trade pact to hold Peru accountable for violating the agreement. Instead, it put together a five-point action plan which simply reiterated obligations that Peru undertook in the trade deal—obligations which Peru consistently failed to implement. In other words, Peru’s punishment for violating the trade deal was having the deal they signed read back to them. That’s not even a slap on the wrists -- it’s a whisper in the ear.

 To date, no one has been held accountable for these violations of the U.S.-Peru trade deal and no enforcement action has been taken. As a result, illegal logging and associated trade continues to threaten communities and our environment. As theNew York Times reported in late 2013, “But large quantities of timber, including increasingly rare types like mahogany, continue to flow out [of Peru], much of it ultimately heading to the United States for products like hardwood flooring and decking sold by American retailers.”

So the story here is clear. Having obligations on paper is one thing, but without enforcement, those obligations are meaningless. It’s hard to believe the proponents of the TPP who say the deal will raise up environmental standards if even the clearest of violations of environmental rules in past trade deals continue to go unpunished.

 

3.  New Rights to Big Polluters, More Fossil Fuel Exports

 

Here is the last key point. Any potential benefits of the environment chapter would be overwhelmed by other dangerous provisions of the deal. For example, corporations including ExxonMobil, Chevron, and Occidental have used rules in the investment chapters of trade pacts and bilateral investment treaties to bring more than 600 investor-state cases against nearly 100 governments. More and more, these cases are directly challenging policies designed to protect our air, water, and climate including a moratorium on fracking in Quebec,a nuclear energy phase-out and new coal-fired power plant standards in Germany, and requirement for a pollution clean-up in Peru. And corporations are winning. In March 2015,  a NAFTA tribunal found that Canada violated NAFTA’s investment rules because of an environmental impact assessment that led Canada to reject a U.S. company’s controversial mining project from moving forward in an important cultural and ecological area in Nova Scotia.

 

The TPP would expand this harmful system of corporate privilege, offering broad new rights to thousands of corporations, including major polluters, when we should  be reigning in the power of the fossil fuel industry to combat the climate crisis. JX Nippon Oil & Energy Corporation from Japan and BHP Billiton Limited from Australia, both with significant investments in coal, oil, and gas in the United States, are just two of the 9,000 subsidiaries of companies that would be newly empowered to challenge U.S. climate and energy policies as a result of the TPP. (And, more than 19,000 subsidiaries based in the United States would be newly empowered to challenge the laws and policies of the other 11 countries in the pact.)

 

And there’s more. The TPP would also require the U.S. Department of Energy to automatically approve exports of liquefied natural gas to countries in the agreement which includes Japan, the world’s biggest natural gas importer. The TPP, therefore, would pave the way to more natural gas exports, more fracking, and more climate-disrupting emissions.

Does this sound like a progressive trade deal? Hardly. The Trans-Pacific Partnership is shaping up to be all risk and no reward for our families, our economy, and our planet. It’s time to create a new model of trade that puts communities and the environment above corporate profits.

 

 

Ilana Solomon From Compass

Spartan Sierra Club takes on Seize the Grid

Wed, 05/13/2015 - 12:14

The Michigan State University Spartan Sierra Club kicked off on April 23rd- we will fight for clean energy through our Administration’s not-so-perfect environmental history. We will push our Administration and energy provider, Consumer’s Energy, to move to at least 50% renewables by 2020.

 

This issue proves one of critical importance at MSU. As a university previously powered by the largest on-site coal plant on a college campus, and a campus of nearly 50,000 students, we know that our campus uses a significant amount of energy. Recent news from our president about plans to move away from coal in the next year brought excitement, especially to those in the Student Sierra Club and Greenpeace who made up our campus’ Beyond Coal Campaign. However, the plant’s transition to natural gas raised major concerns for students -- from the devastating effects of fracking to methane leakage -- which is why we came together to Seize the Grid and ultimately push for 100% clean energy.

 

On April 23rd students voiced hopes and concerns for MSU’s clean energy future on a big poster board including a lot of inspirational ideas about shifting to renewable energies on campus.

 

With the help of a powerful, core student group and dedicated faculty, our campus has endless possibilities regarding solar energy. Shown by our historical successes with solar power, namely a 2015 invention of a completely transparent solar cell that allows glass screens and window to generate solar power, the resources and knowledge are available.

 

Our group knows we have to push the administration farther and that’s exactly what we plan to do - Seize the Grid. The excellent programs that offer education in the areas of sustainability show our ability to talk the talk. Walking the walk will take outspoken students, creative thinkers and the ability to lead - traits shown early by students who came to our first Spartan Sierra Club meeting.

 

This fall, we hope to reach a breadth of students who are passionate about getting involved.  We will meet with our administration about their energy plan, petition the student body and set up events to educate and engage students on the importance of clean energy.

 

In the area of clean energy, there is no better place to start than on a campus like Michigan State. It’s in our motto- “Spartans Will.”

Courtney Bourgoin From Compass

A Strong Clean Power Plan Will Save Lives

Tue, 05/12/2015 - 07:59

 

This year, the Obama Administration is finalizing the first ever safeguards to curb carbon pollution from existing power plants – The Clean Power Plan. The expected benefits range from extensive growth in the American clean energy economy to a huge step forward to tackle the climate crisis. And, according to a new study released May 4, the proposed Clean Power Plan (CPP) will also bring immediate health benefits if the standards included are as strong as possible.  

The study, published in the journal Nature Climate Change, features analysis from Harvard, Boston, and Syracuse University researchers on the health benefits for three potential options for the CPP’s standards. The findings show that the strongest option prevents an expected 3,500 premature deaths per year and prevents over 1,000 hospitalizations and heart attacks caused by air pollution-related illness.  Researchers also indicate that all states and communities will see better air quality with the strongest Clean Power Plan — with Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Texas showing the greatest health gains. However, weaker standards do not offer the same level of health benefits and could even have harmful health outcomes.

"The bottom line is, the more the standards promote cleaner fuels and energy efficiency, the greater the added health benefits," said Dr. Charles Driscoll, lead author of the study and University Professor of Environmental Systems Engineering, Syracuse University. "We found that the greatest clean air and health benefits occur when stringent targets for carbon dioxide emissions are combined with compliance measures that promote demand-side energy efficiency and cleaner energy sources across the power sector."

Under the strongest standards, the study indicates 45 states will cut smog pollution and 26 will cut particulate matter pollution.

The Sierra Club agrees that increased, robust standards are required to promote cleaner fuels and energy efficiency. That is why we support a strong and just Clean Power Plan. Evidence is mounting that the CPP will not just grow clean energy jobs and cut carbon pollution, but also help clean up our air and keep us healthy. Most importantly, it will put people before polluters by not allowing dirty power plants to dump unlimited amounts of carbon into our air. A strong and just Clean Power Plan will save lives, accelerate the growth of the clean energy economy, improve adverse environmental conditions in communities of color and low-income neighborhoods, and help tackle the worst effects of climate disruption.

-- Sierra Club Media Team

From Compass

My Plate, My Planet

Thu, 05/07/2015 - 12:54

It’s widely acknowledged that burning fewer dirty fossil fuels lessens our carbon footprint. But did you know that eating more fruit, vegetables, whole grains and less meat is better for you and benefits the planet? Both the reckless burning of fossil fuels and unsustainable agricultural practices are major contributors to greenhouse gas emissions.

Our diets are closely linked to the health of our planet. That’s why the Sierra Club signed on to a letter to Secretaries Sylvia Burwell and Tom Vilsack asking them to support newly released dietary guidelines that take sustainability into account.

These guidelines are released by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services every five years. The guidelines shape U.S. nutrition policies and food programs, such as the National School Lunch Program and nutrition education, including MyPlate (formerly the food pyramid).

This year, the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee (DGAC) has recommended the adoption of sustainability considerations in the 2015 edition. These considerations acknowledge the impact of food and beverages on environmental outcomes-from farm to plate to waste disposal-in order to ensure food security for all Americans. They also promote the practice of eating that promotes health and well-being.

The DGAC’s goals for the guidelines include determining “the most effective methods of improving dietary patterns and sound strategies to help promote a healthy, safe, affordable food supply.” This leads to a not only healthier diet, but one associated with far less environmental impact than the current U.S. diet.  If adopted, these recommendations would have a positive impact on Americans' health, the environment, and on our ability to access healthy foods, both today and in the future.

How we farm and what we eat can make a real difference for our climate future, and that knowledge should inform not only our personal choices but also our public policies. Currently the meat-heavy "average U.S. diet has a large environmental impact in terms of increased greenhouse gas emissions, land use, water use, and energy use". Eliminating or reducing meat consumption in our diets is one important way to reduce our contribution to climate change, since animal agriculture is the single largest source of global greenhouse gas emissions from food production.

The pollution from concentrated animal-feeding operations in particular is grossly disproportionate to the amount of food produced. And the single greatest source of agricultural greenhouse gas emissions is livestock, particularly factory-raised animals. Cattle (for both beef and milk, as well as for inedible outputs like manure and draft power) are responsible for about two-thirds of livestock emissions.

Fortunately, with these new guidelines, we can cut livestock emissions significantly. Along with adopting carbon pollution safeguards like the Clean Power Plan, the U.S. can work to combat climate change by changing something as simple as our diet.  

As Americans, we rely on our government to provide accurate, science-based information, that promotes the health of our families and our environment. And these new guidelines do just that.

So enjoy Meatless Mondays, Tofu Tuesdays, Salad Sundays and everything in between. Because a locally sourced plant heavy diet is not only good for you, but good for our planet too.

  Lauren Lantry From Compass

Fighting for the Right to Breathe in Detroit and Beyond

Wed, 05/06/2015 - 09:46

The following guest post is an open letter to Detroit-based utility company DTE Energy, which is having its annual shareholder meeting this week. The letter was authored by Alicia Winters, a mother and community leader in River Rouge, Michigan, home to one of the DTE coal plants that contribute 85 percent of the sulfur dioxide pollution in Wayne County I met Alicia when I visited her community earlier this year, and I'm excited to share her letter with you. Her letter couldn't be more timely - the American Lung Association just gave Wayne County a grade of 'F' in its newly released 2015 "State of the Air" report.

While many families are looking forward to spending time outdoors this spring and summer, there are millions of Americans dreading the dangerous, and sometimes deadly, smog pollution that can trigger asthma attacks.

This week the Sierra Club launched its free smog pollution text alert system for 2015, which notifies mobile phone users through a text message when local air is unsafe to breathe. Available in both English and Spanish, the system was launched in recognition of World Asthma Day and Asthma and Allergy Awareness Month in an effort to help American families avoid asthma attacks triggered by smog pollution and bad air days -- like those in Detroit.

Our hope is that this text alert system helps parents better protect their kids by alerting them when the air outside is unsafe to breathe. You can sign up right now - just text AIRALERTS to 69866.

-- Mary Anne Hitt, Beyond Coal Campaign director

An Open Letter to DTE Shareholders from Alicia Winters:

We met last year in Pennsylvania at your annual shareholders meeting. You learned my name and shook my hand. I told you about where I live, downriver of Detroit, under the plume of the River Rouge plant, one of DTE’s five coal-burning plants. You heard our stories. We took a picture with you. A few months later in July 2014, I wrote your CEO, Gerry Anderson, a letter and invited him to meet with me and my neighbors in River Rouge, so that we might work on plans for our future together. I received a quick reply from his office, which did not acknowledge my invitation. Instead, a representative said DTE was doing what it could to "ensure compliance."

This year, I cannot make it to your annual shareholder meeting May 7, as it is being held in Washington, D.C., a great distance away from my home and family in DTE’s service territory. But I want to call to your attention again the way your company affects my daily life. Because over the past year, DTE’s harmful practices have not changed.

I understand business is about profits and losses. But the way I see it, while DTE profits, my community continues to lose, for decades, for generations.

As you consider the costs of doing business, consider these human costs -- the price we pay.

  • DTE's coal plants are responsible for more than $2.6 billion in health costs to community members across Michigan every year, according to data collected by the Clean Air Task Force.
  • DTE's coal plants are responsible for at least 85 percent of all sulfur dioxide emissions in Wayne County. A new report by the American Lung Association shows that Wayne County, which earned a grade of ‘F’ for clean air, leads the state in pediatric asthma cases, adult asthma cases and COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease) cases.
  • Every year, the air and water pollution from DTE’s coal fleet contributes to an estimated 339 deaths, 555 heart attacks, 5,300 asthma attacks, 248 hospital admissions, 201 chronic bronchitis cases and 166 asthma ER visits.
  • The NAACP has labeled DTE Energy as one of the worst environmental justice offenders for its impact on low-income communities. In 2013, 92 Michigan schools had sulfur dioxide levels that exceed federal limits. Sulfur dioxide is a major contributor to asthma. A 2011 study funded by the Kresge Foundation linked air pollution around schools to poorer student health and academic performance.The City of Detroit and nearby downriver communities comprise "the Epicenter of Asthma Burden," according to the Michigan Department of Community Health.
  • One of the two most recent studies of asthma hospitalization in Wayne County showed that Detroit’s zip codes had three to six times higher admission than the state as a whole. Another study of 29 zip codes showed that asthma hospitalization generally worsened in the city of Detroit from 2000 to 2010, according to the Michigan Department of Community Health.
  • Based on Detroit Public Schools School Nurse Monthly Reports, 18 percent of students have physician-diagnosed asthma, and an estimated 7-10 percent of students have undiagnosed asthma. During the 2003-2004 school year, nurses handled three to five life-threatening asthma episodes per month.
  • The Detroit Alliance for Asthma Awareness lists asthma as the leading chronic condition causing school absenteeism in Detroit, as well as the leading cause of preventable hospitalizations for children under 18.
  • The prevalence of asthma among Detroit adults is 50 percent higher than the rest of Michigan. Rates of asthma hospitalization in Detroit are three times higher compared to the rest of the state.
  • According to a 2014 Public Policy Poll, more than three-in-five DTE customers and Michigan voters (62 percent of both samples) say they support replacing the state's coal-burning power plants with renewable energy sources. The majority of voters sampled say they are concerned about "asthma attacks and other potential health problems from soot, smog and other pollution from coal-burning power plants" (60 percent of Michigan voters statewide and 62 percent of those who are DTE customers).

We ask you to create a transition plan for moving away from coal, specifically at the River Rouge plant in our neighborhood. Our families deserve clean air, and we have been without it for far too long.

Sincerely,

Alisha Winters

From Compass

Are Japan And The World Bank Supporting A Coal Plant With Human Rights Violations In Indonesia?

Wed, 05/06/2015 - 09:43

 

Until last week, farmers near the proposed 2,000 megawatt Batang coal fired-power plant in Central Java appeared to have done the impossible – halted a $4 billion industrial project linked to the Indonesian government, Japan, and the World Bank. Facing down developers from the Indonesian PT Adaro Energy company and Japanese companies J-Power and Itochu Corporation, as well as promised support from the Japanese government through the Japan Bank for International Cooperation (JBIC), local residents endured harassment and arrests as the project’s proponents attempted to quash dissent. However, by refusing to sell their land, they have delayed the project by three years and sent a clear signal to the world that local communities must have a voice in decisions about their land, water, economy, and heritage.

But things began to change last few weeks when the Indonesian military moved in.

Farmers tell us that the military brought an excavator and began to dig up the land, and owners were blocked from accessing their rice paddies. All of this happened immediately preceding a planned visit by Indonesian President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo, who has made the project a key part of his energy plan, despite over 22 protests against the Batang coal plant, some involving thousands of people.

Activists immediately sprung to action when the military arrived, organising meetings with the National Commission on Human Rights and key government ministers. Meanwhile, former Mexican President and chair of the Global Commission on the Economy and Climate, Felipe Calderón, pushed back against the idea that coal is cheap at the Tropical Landscapes Summit in Jakarta, saying that, “It is not true that fossil fuels, either oil or coal, will be cheap forever. Indonesia has an incredible capacity and the natural resources to go all the way to renewables.”

As communities in Batang continued to protest, President Widodo cancelled his planned visit, opting instead to attend the opening of the National Development Planning Meeting in Jakarta. The military has also backed down, and landowners are being allowed to return to some of their fields. But the situation remains tense, and people fear they will be forced to leave soon.

Now all eyes turn to Japan and the World Bank. Both have clear policies meant to safeguard human rights, but both also have a history of overlookingviolations in favor of support for large projects. The World Bank’s involvement, through a $33.9 million guarantee for Batang from the Indonesia Infrastructure Guarantee Fund it helped establish, is particularly galling. The Bank has instituted new restrictions on support for coal, which should prevent funds going towards dangerous projects like this one in Central Java.

With Batang, JBIC and the World Bank have an opportunity to change course and use their influence to ensure that the rights of local communities are respected. It all comes down to Japanese Prime Minister Shinzō Abe and World Bank President Dr. Jim Yong Kim. Will they stand up for the people of Batang, or will they continue to silently support human rights violations?

You can sign the petition here to help support the people of Batang.

Nicole Ghio From Compass

The State of the Air is...Depressing

Tue, 05/05/2015 - 13:01

 

American Lung Association 2015 State of the Air Report - Key Findings

  • Nearly 138.5 million people—almost 44 percent of the nation—STILL live where pollution levels too often make the air too dangerous to breathe, but thanks to stronger standards for pollutants, the United States has seen continued reduction in ozone and particle pollution as well as other pollutants for decades.


  • Overall, the best progress came in the continued reduction of year-round particle pollution in the Eastern half of the nation, thanks to cleaner diesel fleets and cleaner fuels used in power plants.


  • Continued progress cleaning up pollution makes a difference, but a changing climate is making it harder to protect human health. The impact of climate change is particularly apparent in the West where the heat and drought create situations ripe for episodes of high particle days.


  • Many cities continued a decade of progress reducing ozone, but many others had more unhealthy air days. Communities will need more help to reduce ozone pollution in the warmer temperatures expected from the changing climate.

I’d tell you to take a deep breath before reading this, but after going through the American Lung Association’s (ALA) 2015 State of the Air Report, that may not be such a good an idea. Roughly 138.5 million Americans live in counties with dirty, polluted air that can be linked to a host of health issues like stroke, low birth weight, asthma and heart attacks, and even premature death.

 

ALA’s annual report is considered the gold standard in data procurement and analysis by seasoned doctors and medical experts, so its findings generally serve as a barometer on how well America is doing in cleaning up its air pollution. This year, as in other years, ALA found that our overall air quality is still pretty bad -- but we are seeing improvement in some areas of the country. For example, areas in the Eastern half of the country are shown to have done a pretty good job in cleaning up their act focusing on cleaner power plants and diesel fleets. Places like Washington, D.C., Baltimore, and Pittsburgh are now a healthy distance from the report’s top 10 most smog-polluted cities.

 

Because of efforts in those communities, air pollution in the United States has been on a downward trend over the past 4 decades -- but a lot more work is required if we are serious about combating the ailments triggered by dirty air and holding polluters accountable for spewing their emissions into nearby communities. The report takes pains, after all, to highlight that 40.7 percent of the U.S. population still lives in counties that received the grade of “F” for their smog levels. In fact, the actual number of people breathing dirty air is likely much higher since many counties adjacent to urban areas sometimes do not have their own air monitors.

 

Air pollution can be sporadically swept up by the wind and transported to the unsuspecting counties located near our sprawling cities. When this happens, these neighboring counties are exposed to the same harmful air that causes red alert days in metropolitan areas, but without the same level of access to the tools and information that warn urban residents to avoid breathing the air outside. This puts large populations of people at unnecessary risk.

 

The report showed that metropolitan areas themselves suffered fewer severe smog pollution days when measured against last years report, but just as many of the most polluted cities suffered more of these days. 13 of the 25 most smog polluted cities had fewer high ozone days on average in 2011-2013 (the date range for this year’s report) when compared with 2010-2012 (the range for last year’s report). On the other hand, 12 cities fared worse, suffering more high ozone days on average while only one remained the same.

 

This mixed bag, however, shouldn’t inspire a malaise, but a rush to action to guard against what will happen if things stay the same. Remember, climate disruption is quickly making the places most prone to smog pollution, like Southern California, dryer and warmer. Mix these conditions with the emissions that come from burning fossil fuels (like coal plants and tailpipes) and you’ve created a frighteningly perfect context for record-breaking smog pollution in massive cities like Los Angeles, Houston, and Las Vegas. As climate disruption accelerates, air pollution in places like these will become more frequent and pronounced, and time is running out to actually do something about it before things get even more out of hand.

 

Luckily, the EPA is preparing to finalize stronger smog pollution protections in October, which has galvanized medical scientists and doctors from major public health organizations - including the American Lung Association, the American Thoracic Society, the American Heart Association, the American Public Health Association and the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America - to redouble their efforts in calling for protections to be set at 60 parts per billion (ppb), the most protective standard possible.

 

We applaud their efforts and are keeping our own drum beat going by relaunching our text alert product that will warn mobile phone users if dangerous air pollution is anywhere in a 50 mile radius, as well as participating in events for World Asthma Day and Asthma and Allergy Awareness Month to draw attention to prevention strategies. Exposure prevention, however, can only go so far. We agree with medical scientists that there must be a concrete mechanism that can stop the creation of dangerous levels of smog in the first place, and the EPA’s power to implement strong smog protections created under the Clean Air Act would be perfect for that.

A decision from the Administration to set EPA smog protections at 60 ppb would empower states to set strong limits on air pollution and better inform the public on what doctors and medical experts believe to be harmful levels of exposure. Its the Administration that has a real chance to make ALA’s future reports a cause for celebration, instead of depressing blog posts. Join me, and send EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy and the White House a personalized message at sc.org/smog, to heed the warning of this year’s State of the Air report and set smog protections at 60 ppb this coming fall.

Brian Willis From Compass

#SaveTheReef Campaign

Tue, 05/05/2015 - 11:22

 

It’s not Chicago, or Hong Kong, or even Tokyo; surprisingly, the largest structure made by any living organism, humans included, is the Great Barrier Reef. Almost every part of the reef is alive -- from the rainbow array of coral, to the sharks cruising lazily through the current, to the clown fish trying to get their son Nemo back home. Over 11,000 species have come to call this intricate underwater masterpiece and the islands surrounding it home. And that’s just species. We couldn’t even begin to count the individual amount of living organisms that live within the boundaries of the Great Barrier Reef, but it would be somewhere in the millions. It’s one of the most well recognized, treasured, and beautiful places on earth. Spanning over 1,600 miles, it’s even visible from space.

And right now it’s under attack.

A coal conglomerate, Adani, has proposed to develop the Carmichael Coal Mine in Queensland, Australia. In addition to the climate impacts, the railway and port infrastructure would be devastating to the Great Barrier Reef, ripping up 3 million tonnes of seabed.

If the Carmichael Coal Mine is to be built, we would lose some of the most exoctic, diverse, and truly incredible ecosystems and organisms on the entire planet, and with it the $6 billion tourism industry that many Queenslanders depend on. No one wants to go scuba diving to see where the Reef used to flourish. The tradeoff is horribly skewed.

Worse still, Adani has asked for the U.S. Export-Import Bank (Ex-Im) to help with the project, meaning that if it were approved, the destruction of the Great Barrier Reef could be financed by U.S. taxpayer dollars.  And while Ex-Im considers supporting Carmichael, private banks like Citigroup, HSBC, Goldman Sachs and others have publicly stated they will not back the project, recognizing that this plan is not only destructive to the environment, but doesn’t even make any financial sense.

But we are not sitting idly by and waiting for a decision from Ex-Im. Community members, celebrities, and environmental activists are voicing their opposition to the Carmichael Coal Mine through the #SaveTheReef Campaign. Celebrities, like Jason Mraz and Jack Johnson have joined with the Sierra Club and other organizations in advocacy for the protection of our oceans. Coalitions from around the world have written letters stating the environmental and economic repercussions of such a project.

 

Together, we refuse to be ignored. Through the #SaveTheReef Campaign, we hope to not only bring attention to the beauty of this place, but also the dire consequences that could lead to its destruction. Our goal is to gather 40,000 petitions -- 40,000 voices clamoring as one to save unique and wholly irreplaceable natural wonder that is the Great Barrier Reef.  

Kate McCormick From Compass

Florida International University Students Promote Renewable Energy, and Explore what Earth Day is About

Fri, 05/01/2015 - 10:10

 

On Earth Day 2015, G.L.A.D.E.S., an environmental club at Florida International University, held a photo petition, collecting visions for a better future. We asked people to write their vision on a post-it and took pictures. We emphasized visions for a transition to renewable energy, but allowed people to write anything they wanted.

 

G.L.A.D.E.S. is one of the student organizations forming the Coalition for Renewable Energy at FIU. Our mission is to increase the renewable energy use at FIU’s campuses, as part of Sierra Student Coalition’s Seize the Grid campaign.

 

Many people that we talked to as we collected photo petitions on Earth Day supported renewable energy, and some gave ideas on how to create a renewable energy transition. Several people were optimistic about solar power, one person suggested turning waste to energy, particularly in developing countries, and another person suggested harvesting energy from biomass (particularly collecting methane from manure). We also met someone collecting petition signatures for the Solar Choice ballot initiative for Florida.

 

One individual, a mechanical engineering student, said he supported clean energy, but that there was more money in a career in the fossil fuel industry. Many engineering students feel that when they graduate, they have a choice between what will make them the most money and what is better for society. Renewable energy is rapidly becoming the more profitable industry, but during the career of a current graduate, it may be true that the fossil fuel industry holds some more immediately profitable careers. One of my visions is inviting mechanical engineering students at FIU to join our campaign so together we can bring more renewable energy to FIU. I was grateful to meet others who emphasized renewable energy research and support of green jobs.

 

Two other individuals I met while collecting photo petitions demonstrated that Earth Day is about all social issues. One woman was taking care of three kids and wrote a vision for ending police brutality. One of the kids wrote he wanted to “Save animals!!!!” Another woman used her post-it to write out an extensive list. It turned out that she was allergic to dust; so she suggested people vacuum more and install humidifiers to capture dust in the air.

 

Different people go through various struggles every day. Some are social issues that deal with basic human rights and inequalities; like racial discrimination and police brutality. Environmental issues are also social issues. It’s not worth choosing what is most important; everything needs its own time and resources.

 

When it comes to environmental issues, acting on climate change is a very crucial struggle today, because climate change impacts human rights and all life on Earth.

 

How do we act on climate change?

 

Among the most important solutions is reducing our greenhouse gas emissions through a transition to renewable energy. We are morally required as a society to harness renewable energy sources due to many other factors, including pollution affecting health in communities where fossil fuels are produced and extracted, and dwindling sources of finite fossil fuels.

 

While we learn the lay of the land of renewable energy access in Florida, our student coalition’s renewable energy campaign goal for FIU stands at 15% renewable energy by 2020 and 50% renewable energy by 2030. But as we learn more, and have an impact on state-wide access to renewable energy, we know we can improve our goal.


The photo petition activity got people thinking and talking about renewable energy. It certainly led me to have new perspectives. You can see our photos on twitter at @RenewableFIU. Support energy conservation, energy efficiency, and renewable energy as solutions to slow climate change, one of the biggest environmental and social issues of our time.

 

Bianca Polini From Compass

TONIGHT: Conference Call on How to Be An Ally for Racial Justice

Thu, 04/30/2015 - 13:23

Tonight, April 30 at 5pm PT / 8pm ET, our friends at Showing Up for Racial Justice are holding a national conference call to learn more about the uprising in Baltimore over the death of Freddie Gray and continued police brutality, and specifically how white people can be allies in the fight for racial justice. You can RSVP for the call here.

The Sierra Club supports the #BlackLivesMatter movement because we believe that the issues of a healthy planet and equal protection under the law are not separate. Indeed, we believe that working toward a just, equitable, and transparent society is not only morally necessary but also exactly what we need to confront the unprecedented environmental challenges we face.

Injustices in our political system  -- often manifested in unfair policing tactics -- and in our culture empower the status quo -- including big corporate polluters --  leading to the destruction of our most cherished places and most cherished values. Those same injustices often breed hatred, sow division among us, and threaten our health and safety. The Sierra Club's mission is to "enlist humanity" to explore, enjoy, and protect the planet. That mission, which applies to everyone, cannot be achieved when people's rights are being violated and their safety and dignity are being threatened on a routine basis. This must stop.

We strongly encourage you to join tonight's conference call with SURJ to learn more about actions for racial justice in  Baltimore and in your own community.

Photo of the April 29 Baltimore high school and college student protest march, courtesy of Kim Le.

From Compass

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