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First Wind Turbine Foundation Put In Place Off Rhode Island's Coast

Thu, 07/30/2015 - 12:54

Earlier this spring I wrote about the new Deepwater Wind Block Island offshore wind farm breaking "ground" off the coast of Rhode Island. Just this past weekend, the first foundation for the first wind turbine was placed into the water! My colleagues Aaron Mair (Sierra Club President), and Drew Grande (Beyond Coal campaign representative) were there in person to watch it all happen.

They were joined by a who's-who list of elected officials and business leaders who know that clean energy, like wind power, is the way forward for Rhode Island and the rest of the U.S.

(From L to R: Deepwater CEO Jeff Grybowsku, Aaron Mair, Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, Senator Jack Reed, Interior secretary Sally Jewell, and Representative Jim Langevin.)

"Rhode Island is the first state with steel in the water for wind," said Drew. "And more importantly, everyone from Deepwater CEO Jeff Grybowski to Rhode Island governor Gina Raimondo spoke about how this project was the start of a new industry that's ready to expand from Rhode Island."

This clean energy project is another great move in the right direction for New England, Drew noted. The region leads on coal retirements and clean energy innovation. In Massachusetts alone, more than 850 megawatts of solar power has been installed. The solar industry employs more than 12,000 people in the state as well. And according to the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, offshore wind leases offer a potential 8,000 megawatts of renewable energy to southern New England.

Sierra Club Aaron Mair told me he loved his time on the packed ship hearing from officials and seeing the project being constructed, that it is a beautiful sign of what's happening now and what's to come for clean energy in the U.S.

"We're not spilling oil. We're spilling air. We're spilling sun," said Aaron. "This is much more environmentally sound than any form of energy production."

Mary Anne Hitt From Compass

Rocky Mountain Power Should Move Past Risky, Polluting Coal Plants

Wed, 07/29/2015 - 17:47

If you live in Utah, you may or may not know that our biggest utility, Rocky Mountain Power (RMP), still gets most of its power from coal plants, including two of Utah’s biggest, the Hunter and Huntington plants. Coal plants like these are big polluters that hurt public health and the environment, and they also are becoming too expensive for ratepayers to support.

A new report, written by Dr. Ezra Hausman, Ph.D., and commissioned by the Sierra Club, shows how Rocky Mountain Power’s coal plants are becoming increasingly costly, with a growing risk that these costs will be passed on to customers in the form of rate hikes. The report, called Risks and Opportunities for PacifiCorp in a Carbon Constrained Economy, with an accompanying mini-report focusing on Utah and Rocky Mountain Power, details how PacifiCorp/RMP’s coal plants will continue to require expensive retrofits to meet clean air standards, and are becoming uncompetitive compared with cleaner forms of energy.

This information comes at an important time, as Utah’s Public Service Commission is taking public comment until Aug. 25 on Rocky Mountain Power’s “integrated resource plan.” In its plan, Rocky Mountain Power proposes to continue using coal plants for the next 20 years, with the costs being passed on to customers. This new report contributes some important facts to the debate, including:

  • Two of Rocky Mountain Power’s coal plants, Hunter and Huntington, are responsible for more than 40 percent of the nitrous oxide air pollution from Utah’s electric sector. Nitrous oxide emissions add to smog and haze, and contribute to bad air days and poor air quality in Utah, including at Utah’s treasured national parks.
  • It could cost more than $1 billion for Rocky Mountain Power to bring its coal fleet into compliance with the highest air quality standards.
  • Rocky Mountain Power’s customers face a risk of higher electricity bills once the costs of carbon pollution and the remediation costs from environmental harm created by coal plants are internalized. Coal is already becoming less competitive due to increasing fuel costs and the need to protect public health and the environment.
  • Which raises the question: Why should Utahns be asked to pay for these dirty, outdated coal plants for the next 20 years?

But the report is not all bad news. It also goes into Utah’s remarkable clean energy potential. Nationwide, prices for both wind and solar power dropped by more than 60 percent between 2009 and 2013, putting new renewable energy projects increasingly at cost parity with coal and natural gas. Dollar for dollar, investments in clean energy create more jobs in Utah than power plants burning fossil fuels do. And there is effectively no ceiling to Utah’s clean energy development -- the report cites multiple studies showing that Utah’s potential solar, wind, and geothermal resources are more than sufficient to meet the state's power needs.

When we look at other states, we see a national trend of moving away from coal. Coal use has fallen from 44 percent of U.S. power to 30 percent in five years, and coal is no longer our country’s largest source of energy, as it was for decades. More than 200 U.S. coal plants have retired since 2010. At the same time, clean energy prices have dropped sharply; 70 percent of new projects coming online are renewable energy, and some utilities have integrated 30 percent renewables or more into their energy mix without suffering reliability problems. This is a great thing -- it has been estimated that reducing pollution from coal plants has prevented 60,000 asthma attacks and 3,600 deaths each year.

We should welcome Utah’s transition from coal. Rocky Mountain Power has a chance to set out purposefully away from coal and toward cleaner sources of energy. RMP’s polluting coal plants are becoming too expensive to maintain and run, and the price tag for customers, let alone the harm to public health and the environment, is becoming hard to justify. Utahns should seize this opportunity to lessen our dependance on 20th-century fuel sources, diversify our energy mix with modern technology like wind and solar, and create good local jobs in the renewable energy economy. All Utahns should do their part to secure this cleaner energy future by demanding that the Public Service Commission do better than locking us into risky coal plants for the next 20 years.

Lindsay Beebe From Compass

U.S. and Chinese Youth Prepare for Paris Climate Talks During International Summit

Tue, 07/28/2015 - 10:36

Last week, Sierra Student Coalition (SSC) organizers were in Shenzhen, China attending the International Youth Summit on Energy and Climate Change 7.0 (IYSECC). At the Summit, U.S. and Chinese youth facilitated trainings and exchanged ideas about organizing strategies and grassroots youth campaigns in the U.S. that are also applicable in China.

Last year, the U.S. and China -- the two largest emitters of carbon pollution -- came together last year to make commitments to the world that they would address climate change by taking action in their countries to cut back on emissions. This was a significant moment because it helped build trust in the international community that large emitters were actually taking initiative.

Although this announcement was crucial for the international community to start creating a global deal as a global community, the youth from the United States and China think this plan should only be the start. In order to stay below a 1.5°C world, more action is needed from both countries.

Together, SSC and the Chinese Youth Climate Acton Network (CYCAN) wrote a joint youth statementencouraging the U.S. and China to be more ambitious when it comes to climate change for our future. In 2014, we presented the youth statement at the Conference of the Parties (COP) 20 in Lima, Peru. As we have moved into 2015, SSC and CYCAN have been working closely together to build momentum in the U.S. and China around making significant contributions to address climate change through tthe #OurFuture campaign. We have also  been working to build our base of organizers to make changes at a local level to have a global impact.

Throughout last week at the youth climate summit, we discussed ways to engage these young people as we put pressure on our countries to help develop and support an ambitious agreement at the climate talks in Paris this December.

In order to secure a healthy planet for our future, the time to act is now. To learn more about the #OurFuture campaign, sign on to the #OurFuture climate statement.

Natalie Lucas From Compass

In Africa, President Obama Can Highlight Clean Energy's Success

Fri, 07/24/2015 - 09:26

President Obama’s trip this week to Nairobi, Kenya for the Global Entrepreneurship Summit offers an opportunity to shine a light on clean energy entrepreneurs working in African countries. That’s why the Sierra Club and 20 other civil society organizations and companies sent the President a letter urging him to showcase “beyond-the-grid” entrepreneurs as examples of successful entrepreneurship that creates jobs while providing the energy needed to help lift people out of poverty.

Through his Power Africa initiative, the President has shown that he understands the importance of ending energy poverty. Power Africa’s goal is to provide clean and efficient electricity while increasing electricity access for homes and businesses throughout sub-Saharan Africa. 600 million people in sub-Saharan Africa lack access to electricity, and this initiative is designed to solve that problem while creating economic growth.

While Power Africa has yet to truly realize its full potential, off-grid and small-scale clean energy solutions prioritized by the Beyond-the-Grid sub-initiative represent one of the most exciting aspects of Power Africa. Off-grid energy companies, including those featured in the letter to the President, offer affordable clean energy solutions in rural areas beyond the reach of centralized power grids. The basic energy access they provide improves education, health, and economic development outcomes on the timescales needed. The Summit is an opportunity to show how solar energy and the companies behind it make this possible.

Clean energy is also making strides through the Overseas Private Investment Corporation’s U.S.-Africa Clean Energy Finance (ACEF) initiative, which has directed millions of dollars toward renewable energy for the whole continent. ACEF-supported projects include a 150 megawatt Senegalese wind farm and a 12 megawatt run-of-the-river hydroelectric power facility in Rwanda.

In sum, we hope that President Obama seizes this unique opportunity to highlight these incredible energy access success stories.

Vrinda Manglik From Compass

#BumpDay: Ensuring Healthy Pregnancies by Fighting Big Coal's Mercury Pollution

Wed, 07/22/2015 - 09:26

My daughter Hazel is five-years-old now and about to start kindergarten this fall. I've loved watching her become the smart, adventurous, and loving little girl she is today. She's a tough kid, but I know I'll worry about her even when she's all grown up. It's what moms do.
I think about Hazel and so many other moms today as the Sierra Club helps celebrate "Bump Day" with the United Nations Foundation, a day aimed at raising awareness about healthy pregnancies.
Unfortunately I can easily see the connection between healthy pregnancies and my work with the Sierra Club's Beyond Coal campaign. Burning coal releases toxic mercury in the air that then rains down into rivers and streams. This poison then accumulates in the food chain, eventually making its way into our bodies when we eat contaminated fish. When I was pregnant with Hazel, I did everything I could to ensure that my baby was healthy -- and that meant educating myself about which fish were known to be high in mercury so I could avoid the high-mercury fish, while continuing to enjoy those low in mercury.
Why? Because mercury is a dangerous poison that can damage the brain and nervous system. Mercury is of special concern to women who are pregnant or thinking of becoming pregnant, since exposure to mercury in the womb can cause developmental problems, learning disabilities, and delayed onset of walking and talking in babies and infants.

Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) scientists have estimated that as many as one in 10 women has mercury levels in her blood high enough to cause damage to a developing baby.
In fact, all 50 states currently issue mercury advisories warning anglers to limit or avoid eating the fish they catch, due to high mercury levels in some fish. As of 2010, almost 18 million lake acres and approximately 1.4 million river miles were covered by some type of fish consumption advisory.
Coal-fired power plants are the largest single source of mercury pollution in the U.S. The Obama Administration took at important step to rein in this pollution when the EPA put mercury standards in place for coal plants, but just last month a ruling from the Supreme Court sent the EPA's Mercury Air Toxics Standard (MATS) back to the agency for further proceedings.
The MATS protections, which were finalized in 2012, require coal- and oil-fired power plants to reduce emissions of mercury by 90 percent and to strongly curtail the emissions of other toxic pollutants, like arsenic, and hydrochloric acid gas. A recent scientific study found that as mercury levels have been dropping in the air, as a result of our reduced use of coal, mercury levels in fish are dropping dramatically. We are pushing EPA to act quickly and make the changes to the standard required by the Supreme Court, so our mercury protections can stay in place and continue to deliver results for the health of our families.
But of course, major polluters like the coal industry continue to put profit before public health, and it comes at the price of healthy moms and healthy babies.
So this Bump Day, I pledge to keep fighting for clean air and water so pregnant moms everywhere have one less issue to worry about as they try to make sure their babies are healthy. We are counting on the EPA to ensure that the coal industry's progress in cleaning up its noxious pollution isn't stalled any further, so that countless young children across America can grow up safe and healthy, and our daughters aren't still facing this same threat when they become moms someday.

Learn more about the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal Campaign and the Sierra Club’s Global Population and the Environment program.

Mary Anne Hitt From Compass

Protecting New Mexico from Fracking

Tue, 07/21/2015 - 09:05

Last week I had the pleasure and honor of joining Sierra Club Organizer Robert Tohe and Navajo councilman and community leader Daniel Tso for a tour of oil and gas extraction sites on Navajo and Bureau of Land Management (BLM) land in north-western New Mexico. Having grown up in Albuquerque, New Mexico, I was eager to learn more about the rapid oil and gas development happening across our state in the past few years. What we encountered blew me away.

While New Mexico has long been home to fossil fuel development, the advent of fracking has ushered in a new boom of extraction – which, as I witnessed on our tour, is rapidly transforming some of the most jaw-droppingly gorgeous swaths of land I have ever seen into industrial zones riddled with flares, compressor stations, storage tanks, pipelines, and a seemingly endless stream of massive trucks barreling down the narrow dirt roads.

This corner of the state is also home to the Chaco Culture National Historical Park, where ancient pueblo ruins offer a glimpse into indigenous civilization as far back as 850 AD. A United Nationas World Heritage Site, the ruins draw more than 35,000 visitors a year. Prized for their "visual integrity," with very little encroachment from the outside world, these ruins are now threatened by intruding oil and gas extraction. A recent lawsuit filed by Dine Care, a Navajo environmental organization, and Western Environmental Law Center, asserts that drilling near the Chaco ruins poses the threat of "irreparable harm" from drilling caused by venting or flaring of nitrogen gas and methane, emission of toxic air pollutants, consumption of millions of gallons of freshwater, contamination of groundwater, habitat fragmentation from thousands of tanks and compressor stations, truck traffic of 2,300 trips per well, noise pollution, and more. The suit calls for a halt on all new development near Chaco until BLM has fully analyzed the impacts of each of these threats on this area of unique cultural significance. 

The Sierra Club is part the Greater Chaco Coalition, a growing group of environmental, indigenous and community organizations opposed to extraction activities near Chaco Canyon, which recently sent a letter to BLM requesting a similar moratorium on drilling near this cultural treasure. We also participated in a roundtable event recently hosted by Senator Tom Udall and Interior Deputy Secretary Mike Connor at Chaco Canyon, when they came for a tour of the region in response to the growing local controversy about impacts to the ruins. During this roundtable, the coalition encouraged federal officials to fully assess the impacts of extraction before allowing further drilling, including the effect on our climate and on the public health of our communities. 

While extraction proximate to Chaco Canyon has received growing national attention lately, all of the oil and gas extraction happening in New Mexico warrants a closer look. Thanks to the fracking boom the Land of Enchantment is now the number one producer of onshore oil from federal lands, and second for natural gas production. In poverty-striken regions of New Mexico, already one of the poorest states in the nation, the lure of revenue from oil and gas extraction is powerful - but it is simply heartbreaking to think that these are the choices our citizens are faced with: letting Big Oil ravage your land and poison your community, or face poverty so stark you struggle to feed your family. 

At the very least, we must work to ensure these companies comply with our basic environmental laws. Thanks to Dick Cheney and the Halliburton loophole of 2005, fracking companies are exempt from complying with the Safe Water Drinking Act.  Numerous other loopholes exempt the industry from aspects of the Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act, and the Toxics Substances Control Act.  We must work to amend this unacceptable situation. As a start, the Sierra Club is working with a large coalition of organizations to support federal standards expected out this year to require companies to limit venting and flaring and curb emissions of methane pollution from oil and gas wells. While no standards can make fracking entirely safe, we must adopt controls that require the industry to reduce the harm they impose on these communities and our environment and begin to clean up their act.

I believe we can do even better. I believe that, as a species, we must wake up and realize that the payoff of continued fossil fuel extraction simply isn't great enough. We must wake up and realize that there is a better way. And I believe we're up for the challenge. I believe renewable energy will soon overtake fossil fuels and our society will heartily embrace the technologies that will not only create jobs and power our homes and cars, but will do so in a way that doesn't poison our children, our land, or our climate.  We must - our very future depends on it.

You can help - TAKE ACTION: Tell President Obama to protect our climate from methane!

Lena Moffitt From Compass

Grassroots Power: A Key Part of Winning on Trade

Mon, 07/20/2015 - 14:49

If you’ve been paying attention to the debate over international trade, you probably know that the progressive movement—including most Democrats in the House and Senate—fiercely opposed fast track legislation that Congress passed in June. The Sierra Club played an important role in this fight, with tens of thousands of our activists engaged in the movement calling for fair and sustainable trade policy. As the country’s oldest and largest grassroots environmental organization, the Sierra Club is very familiar with the power of organized people calling for change. We also know that building on our successes—and not despairing at our losses—will be critical to ensuring that future trade policies benefit communities and the environment rather than simply enrich corporations.

In case you did miss it: Fast track legislation aims to facilitate the passage of trade deals like the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), and any trade deal that our next president negotiates. Despite strong opposition from the vast majority of Democrats in the Senate and House, Republican members of Congress and a handful of Democrats passed fast track, which was subsequently signed by President Obama.

Thanks to a broad movement that opposed it, this passage was far from easy, and the president was not exaggerating when he said fast track had been “declared dead” many times. The president asked Congress to approve fast track authority in 2013,  but it took two years for fast-track advocates to even bring legislation to a vote. When fast track finally passed, it was like a Frankenstein monster: broken apart and messily patched together. Democratic leaders including Representative Rosa DeLauro and Senator Elizabeth Warren decried the TPP’s pro-corporate rules and threats to environmental, financial, and labor safeguards. Before casting her no-vote, Leader Nancy Pelosi stressed, “You cannot separate commerce and the environment.” And in expressing their opposition to fast track, many members of Congress cited major environmental concerns.

One of the most important reasons that many members of Congress realized the TPP’s environmental threats is because Sierra Club activists became well-versed in the intersection between proposed trade pacts and climate, and they emphasized these threats to members in meetings and at town halls. Sierra Club activists held more than 80 meetings with members in their districts. They highlighted that the TPP and TTIP would require the Department of Energy to approve liquefied natural gas exports to other countries in the pacts. They cautioned that the TPP (and likely TTIP) would give new rights to corporations to sue governments over climate policies in non-transparent private trade tribunals. In New York, they spoke on stage with Nobel Prize-winner Joseph Stiglitz to highlight the risks of the TPP. Volunteers helped move cities like Seattle and New York to pass resolutions opposing fast track. In Texas, they helped move the State Democratic platform to oppose fast track.

In various states, Sierra Club volunteers joined coalitions with diverse concerns, reinforcing the myriad areas of everyday life that the TPP and TTIP would affect. Allies included labor, human rights, and other environmental groups.  Sierra Club chapters and groups partnered with other groups to co-host more than 70 anti-fast track rallies in more than 14 states. They educated press about their concerns. They authored and co-authored op-eds. In 2015 alone, Sierra Club volunteers took in-person trade actions including meetings, teach-ins, and letter deliveries in more than 40 districts across 22 states. This year they sent more than 350,000 emails and made more than 10,000 calls into members’ offices urging them to oppose fast track.

Historically, we have seen that battle losses often do not reflect the broader progress of a movement. In organizing, core measures of success include strengthening partnerships, broadening a base, and changing the existing discourse so that public opinion begins to turn against the status quo. By these metrics, our movement is starting to win. Last year the Sierra Club joined more than 600 organizations including the NAACP, AFL-CIO, Alliance for Retired Americans, Natural Resource Defense Council, and others in a letter asking Senator Ron Wyden to reject the proposed fast track model. With ongoing pressure, the majority of our elected leaders will eventually listen, and trade pacts that harm workers and the environment will become a thing of the past.

But we can only truly win the fight to stop dangerous trade deals and rules if we don’t give up, keep building on this incredible movement, and recognize that even in the face of a fast track loss, the even bigger wins are ahead.

   Courtenay Lewis From Compass

MW Sprog Gave Me the Skills to Organize for 100% Clean Energy

Fri, 07/17/2015 - 11:33

This past Sunday, I came home after spending a week at this year’s Midwest “Sprog” (Summer Grassroots Organizing Training) in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Before Sprog, I had the desire to create change, but was unsure on how to really do it. In the past, I focused on a multitude of environmental projects at the same time, all focused on different issues. However, Sprog was an empowering moment because I learned the skills to begin designing my own campaign. 

At Sprog, I learned more about the Sierra Student Coalition’s (SSC) Seize the Grid Campaign, the growing nationwide movement to transition college campuses’ energy sources from old and dirty fossil fuels to 100% renewables by 2030. From going to Sprog this year I realized that I can start a Seize the Grid Campaign at my school, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (U. of I.). 

The environmental and social justice student-movement has been continuously growing at U. of I. and I believe clean energy is the next step my community should take on! U. of I. already has strong Divestment and Beyond Coal Campaigns, that together with Seize the Grid, can call out  the negative impacts of the fossil fuel industry, demand purchasing of 100% clean energy for campus and an investment in renewable energy solutions for campus.

Last week, I met other young and inspiring leaders from Duke, Michigan State, and Ohio State  who are also working on strategies to transition our campuses nationwide to 100% clean energy. Discussing campus-specific energy issues and solutions were some of the most important and insightful sessions for me. Working closely with other students on Seize the Grid showed me the impact I can have at my University. And working with peers also new to the campaign provided a comforting sense that I am not alone. Beyond Sprog, we will support each other in our shared goal of transitioning our universities to clean renewable energy. 

The reassurance and empowerment I gained at Sprog inspired me to create a clean energy movement on my campus. My first step for Seize the Grid will be planning U. of I.’s kick-off event on September 22nd, when Seize the Grid campaigners throughout the country will deliver letters to their campus administrations demanding clean energy. I will deliver a letter at U of I.’s annual Environmental Expo, where students, faculty, administration, and community members are present. This will also be an opportunity for students and community members to get more involved in Seize the Grid and partner for the solutions we want to see. 

Before Sprog, I had never seen myself as a campaign organizer. I viewed it as foreign and daunting to challenge my institution, but I learned all great leaders started in a place of uncertainty and we cannot afford wait around for the changes we want to see. 

I invite you to launch Seize the Grid at your school this fall!

 Join University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and other campuses in hosting your first big event on September 22nd! 

Allison Steffens From Compass

Myanmar Villagers Stand United Against Coal Plant

Fri, 07/17/2015 - 10:16

After a 10 hour overnight drive from Yangon, we finally arrive in Andin Village. It is starting to rain, turning the red dirt roads into mud, but we can’t miss the large “No Coal” sign in Burmese, English, and Mon. Last May, the now empty football field hosted the latest in a series of protests against a proposed 1,280 MW coal-fired power plant from a Thailand-based Japanese company, Toyo-Thai Corporation (TTCL). The proposal also includes a massive new deep sea port to bring in coal from Indonesia and Australia to fuel the boilers.  Nearly every house in the village has a “No Coal” sticker in the three languages-distributed as part of a survey of local opinions about the project. Out of 1300 households, we are told only one refused to place a sticker on their home. The rest display their opposition on their homes, cars and motorbikes.

Andin is part of Ye Township in Mon State, which sits in the narrow southern strip of Myanmar, bordered by Thailand on the east and the Bay of Bengal on the west. Peace in Mon is relatively new. The state was blacklisted by the former military dictatorship, and the Mon language and history were banned in schools. In 2010, the new government signed a ceasefire with the armed Mon group, opening the door for infrastructure and development. Now the people in Andin can openly teach their culture at a Mon language school in the village. But a monk from the Andin monetary told me he is worried the coal plant will bring new conflict to the village, pitting the Mon people against Burmese immigrants who came to the area looking for work.

Andin Village isrelatively prosperous. In a country with only 33% electrification, residents have access to electricity and the village has public wifi. And even if the village was not electrified, it is very possible that the people would not benefit from new generation. It is more profitable to sell electricity to nearby Thailand than to keep the power in Myanmar. This is why many foreign companies looking to build coal plants in Myanmar plan to send the vast majority of the electricity over the border.

A "No Coal" sticker on display in Andin Village

While the people of Andin village mostly rely on agriculture to make their living, fishing is the business of choice in nearby Andin Thif. When we visit, locals are hanging fish to dry, while small boats bob up and down in the bay and two men work nets from the beach. They tell us that they are committed to sustainability, and have agreed to forgo more destructive fishing techniques common in Thailand and to preserve dolphins rather than catching and selling them. The livelihoods of the local people living near the proposed coal plant depend on clean water and land, and they estimate farming and fishing generates $5.8 million every year. It’s no wonder that the project has united locals in opposition.

As we piled into the back of pickup trucks to drive out to the proposed site, the community members discussed how the process for public engagement has been marred by misinformation and coercion. When the first public hearing took place in May of 2014, no Myanmar companies were involved in the project. Afterwards, a domestic company began purchasing land, claiming they would use it for fish breeding. It was only at a second hearing in December 2014 that the people learned this land was actually for the coal plant. If they had known, many would not have sold. Because of the strong opposition to the project, the companies held this second meeting a long way from Andin. A poorly worded notice led locals in the new meeting location to believe the hearing would be about electricity. When they found out it was about a coal plant, many joined the opposition. Those in favor of the plant were largely brought in by the company from Ye.

On the way to the proposed site

When representatives from TTCL and the Myanmar based company visited the Andin Village monastery to show their respect to the monks, claiming that if they opposed the project the companies would withdraw, word spread like wildfire through the village. Soon, the compound was filled with protestors who poured out into the street. The monks had to ensure the safety of the representatives as they made their way back to their vehicles. Even so, the voices of local people were not officially recorded. When asked why the federal government signed a Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) with TTCL in April 2015, officials cited the two supposedly successful public hearings. The truth of the overwhelming opposition at the hearings is only recorded in the monks’ detailed notes.

While the federal government is eager to move forward with the project, the Mon State Parliament, led by MP Dr Aung Naig Oo has tried to apply the brakes. As a medical doctor, he knows the devastating effects pollution has on public health. When he visited Andin last year, he was struck by the united front the villagers and monks presented. When he returned to Parliament, he brought their message that the project is unsustainable with him. In September, the state government announced it will not allow a feasibility study for the project to proceed. With momentum building, Dr Aung Naig Oo proposed a controversial measure to cancel the project entirely. In April the state parliament agreed. The following day, the federal government signed the MOA. However, Dr Aung Naig Oo is not deterred.

“We are strong. We have the strength to oppose the coal plant,” he told me.

In the face of similar local opposition to coal projects across the country, Japanese companies like TTCL have scrambled to drum up support. Several people from Andin were invited to join a tour to visit a Marubeni plant in Japan using so-called “clean coal” technology. Clean coal is one of the most genius marketing strategies and lies the industry has presented. Since there is no such thing as “clean coal,” companies in Myanmar can claim to have “clean coal” technology without being tied to any specific pollution controls. In general, they use the term to refer to ultra-supercritical coal plants (USC). However, USC refers to the efficiency of a coal plant, not to any of the pollution control measures that can reduce some – never all – of the deadly particulate, sulfur, mercury, and other emissions. USC also has nothing to do with the operation of a coal plant, including the storage of toxic coal ash. Coal ash can contaminate local water supplies, a particularly dangerous possibility in places like Andin where people rely on well water. And as Myanmar does not have set policies for air emissions, water emissions or ongoing monitoring, foreign companies are eager to line their pockets while freely dumping pollutants into the air and water.

Dr. Aung Naig Oo, Mon State Member of Parliament

Dr Aung Naig declined to join the trip to Japan, but locals Min Zaw and Seik Rot did, and they were not convinced. Min Zaw was concerned that the coal project would impact his fish wholesale business, and was eager to meet Japanese fishermen, but he was never given an opportunity to do so. Similarly, the tour did not assuage Seik Rot’s fears for his orchard.

With opposition to the project only growing, officials are resorting to more drastic measures. The week following our visit, 26 locals, including the village chairman, were arrested after police received a letter complaining of harassment by those opposed to the project. But these actions by the coal plant’s backers look like they have backfired. When they learned of the arrests, 350 people from Andin and the neighboring villages of Hnit-Kayot, Ywa Thit, and Thar-Karan traveled to Ye, with many asking to be arrested as well in solidarity.

Seik Son exemplified the community solidarity. After leaving home to study, she told me she returned to Andin to protect her village. She is concerned about the effect the proposed coal project will have on agriculture, and plans to research the social and environmental impacts. When I asked her what gives her hope, she said the community is very strong, and is supported by nearby communities and by non-governmental organizations who can help prepare information and support the effort to protect Andin. Having seen the commitment of the people first hand, I believe her.


See more photos here.

Nicole Ghio From Compass

Beyond Coal Milestone - Coal Plant #200 Announced to Retire

Wed, 07/15/2015 - 10:30

Today we reached another big milestone in our push to move beyond coal - the 200th coal plant to announce retirement in the United States since 2010. This is the latest major crossroads in what Politico recently called "the most extensive, expensive and effective campaign in the [Sierra] Club's 123-year history, and maybe the history of the environmental movement." At the heart of this momentum is the unyielding drive and commitment of thousands of grassroots leaders and activists, some of whom are featured in a new video we're releasing today to mark the occasion.

I'd like to introduce you to one of those volunteers who helped us reach #200. Patricia Fuller is a retired nurse in Council Bluffs, Iowa, who is celebrating with us this week as we reach this milestone in the march toward a safer and more equitable environment. Here's why:

"You haven’t seen fear until you’ve seen a patient fighting to breathe, and their loved ones powerless to help. After the coal plant in my own community retired, I became very active in the fight for cleaner air across the state line in North Omaha, Nebraska," said Patricia, who is also a lead volunteer with the Sierra Club Beyond Coal campaign. "We urged Nebraska to 'get in the game' like Iowa on clean energy, and now Omaha is on the path to tripling its share of clean, renewable energy. I'm proud that Iowa's clean energy success inspires other communities to take action."

Today, thanks to the hard work of Patricia and thousands more like her, we've won retirement announcements for 200 of the 535 coal-fired power plants in the United States, nearly 40 percent of America's coal plants. This 200th retirement is happening right in the heart of America, in the great state of Iowa. Alliant Energy, a major Iowa utility, will be retiring or retrofitting eight coal plants, which were emitting more pollution than was allowed by the company's air permits, contributing to an estimated 32 deaths and 541 asthma attacks annually, and costing local residents $15.3 million in healthcare bills each year according to plant-level 2010 estimates by Clean Air Task Force (CATF).

Iowa won't have any trouble replacing that coal power with renewables - the state has long been a leader in the transition to clean energy. Nearly 7,000 Iowans are employed in the wind industry, and the state is poised to blow past meeting 40 percent of its electricity needs with wind power. The state is leading the way to a 100 percent clean energy future and -- as Patricia had hoped -- is inspiring others to get in the game. This announcement is just the latest example of how the Beyond Coal campaign and more than 100 allied organizations across the country are building clean energy solutions, state by state and community by community.

Patricia is excited to see clean energy continue to expand in Iowa and Nebraska because it means cleaner air and water, and healthier communities. Back in 2009, the pollution from the 200 coal plants now slated for retirement caused 6,000 heart attacks, 60,000 asthma attacks and 3,600 premature deaths each year. Patricia, who has worked extensively with the Iowa Nurses Association and the Beyond Coal Campaign on holding polluters in her state accountable, has been working to reduce those numbers for years.

"Several years ago I testified before a legislative committee in Lincoln, Nebraska, on a bill dealing with the true cost of energy -- the many negative health issues from burning coal," she said. From there she met more nurses involved in the campaign and they joined together to continue speaking out.

Patricia hopes this latest victory continues to inspire more activists to take action in their own communities. "Once we become aware of climate change and realize that it is the greatest moral issue of our time, I think we are obligated to try to do something about it."

I'm so inspired by Patricia and the thousands of other activists nationwide who've spent years working to replace coal plants with clean energy, motivated by our shared believe that everyone deserves clean air and water, and a dignified living environment. Together, we reached this #200 milestone just a year-and-a-half after we hit 150 coal plants retired - which happened only a year-and-a-half after we reached 100 coal plants retired. And as we make this transition to clean energy, it is essential to protect the livelihoods of workers and communities traditionally reliant on coal, including here in my home state of West Virginia. The Sierra Club is working to advance these efforts through our Beyond Coal campaign, our Labor Program, and our federal policy advocacy.

Every week, the transition from coal to clean energy is moving from the improbable to the inevitable. Over the past five years the Beyond Coal campaign has phased out a coal-fired power plant every 10 days.

This big shift in how America makes energy is being driven at the local level, but it’s moving needle on carbon reduction at a global level, too. Community solutions built by leaders like Patricia have enabled the United States to lead the industrialized world in cutting global warming pollution, and they’ve even put the White House in a position to lead during international climate negotiations in Paris later this year. Today, we celebrate Patricia and the thousands of fellow supporters out there who made all this possible. Thank you.

Mary Anne Hitt From Compass

Injection Well Moratorium a Must for Ohio

Wed, 07/15/2015 - 07:56

Athens County, Ohio, is the recipient of nearly 3 million barrels of toxic, radioactive fracking waste every year, almost 80 percent of which is from out-of-state. With the addition of an eighth injection well permitted in March, that amount is expected to rise to 4.4 million barrels per year, making it the number one acceptor of fracking waste in the state of Ohio. Many Ohioans may be unaware of the health risks waiting outside their homes from an industry known for its lack of transparency.

To combat this issue, the Athens County Fracking Action Network (ACFAN) met with the Athens County Commissioners in late June to draft a resolution declaring a moratorium on injection wells in Ohio. It is ACFAN’s hope that the measure will inspire other Ohio communities to pass similar resolutions, triggering Ohio legislators to push the moratorium at the state level.

“We can’t just send paperwork to the governor, we have to have some real action plans - the legislature has to see that this just isn’t something that can be ignored,” said Roxanne Groff, Bern Township Trustee and ACFAN member.  “The voices of our communities are getting louder and stronger.”

The resolution communicates the commissioners’ frustration that with each new injection well permitted in the county, a public comment period is requested by citizens but repeatedly denied by the Ohio Department of Natural Resources.

The resolution also speaks strongly to the environmental degradation caused by injection wells in the already poverty-stricken Appalachian valley.  

“The County Commissioners... have found that hosting Class Il injection wells provide no known benefit to the community, no guarantees of compensation, and no sustainable financial, business, or community betterment opportunities for the County,” the resolution reads. “These injection wells are threatening human health and the environment, threatening the health of streams and lakes, and increasing heavy tanker traffic on roadways, and threatening toxic spills and infrastructure damage for which the state does not hold industrial operators accountable.”

Twenty-one of 32 Appalachian counties are receiving all frackwaste that enters Ohio. Groff said it’s because Pennsylvania and West Virginia have stricter injection laws than Ohio, and it’s an easy way to bring money into the state.

However, Groff said Ohio has preempted significant community efforts by passing statutes and rules prohibiting local control.

“We’re sick of it - our citizens call on us as local elected officials to help, and we can’t help them,” Groff said. “It’s not fair, and it’s not right.”

Oil and gas industry waste is legally exempt from federal hazardous waste regulations and from parts of the Safe Drinking Water Act and Clean Water Act, and Class Il injection wells are notably under-regulated in Ohio. Additionally, aquifers in Athens County and the southeast Ohio region are not mapped, so the Ohio Department of Natural Resources cannot consider the impact on aquifers when permitting Class Il injection wells in the region.

But according to Ted Auch of, Ohio’s 1,530 drilled wells and 918 producing wells will waste 10-15 billion gallons of fresh water and produce 317-500 million gallons of fracking waste in the next five years if the trend continues.

Though successfully passing a statewide moratorium could be a stretch, ACFAN is hopeful given the power of community action. Groff pointed out that while moratoriums have passed in New York and Maryland, the fracking industry was not deeply ingrained in those states’ economies yet.

Even so, Groff believes in the power of county-passed moratorium resolutions.

“This is not the way citizens of the United States should live, across from a dangerous and potentially explosive situation without any sort of transparency to know what’s there,” Groff said. “That’s why we have to rely on the energy of community activist groups, like ACFAN, to support and create solutions wherever they can.”



M.C. Tilton From Compass

You Might be Surprised How Soon You’ll be Driving an Electric Car

Wed, 07/15/2015 - 04:39

Some things in this world happen slowly: water boiling, finding the bathroom at a concert, Mondays. But one thing that doesn’t is innovation  in the electric car industry; this happens fast. Much like the acceleration of the Tesla Model S P85D, which can go from 0 to 60 in a little over 3 seconds, it sometimes seems as if the pace of new electric vehicles (EVs) coming on the market -- including affordable models --  is moving  at blistering speeds. Meanwhile, state governments and utility companies across the country are continuously offering new incentives for people to make the switch to electric.

Electric cars have come a long way since we started the Sierra Club EV Initiative back in 2011. Back then, the Nissan LEAF was just starting its nationwide rollout, and electric cars were only just beginning to get their revenge. Things have changed quite a bit  in the last several months.

That’s why we're excited to say that we’ve recently updated our online EV Guide to provide you with up-to-date information for ALL the plug-in car choices out there. By using our zip code tool, you can also see an updated list of incentives in your state and an estimate of how much carbon pollution you’d prevent with each model -compared to a popular conventional car.

In less than five years’ time, the earlier dilemma of having to choose among a Chevy Volt, Nissan Leaf, or Tesla Roadster has been replaced with the much harder (but much better!) problem of having to decide from a list of over 20 models, including attractive options from Ford, BMW, Kia, Mercedes-Benz, Porsche, Volkswagen, and more.     

Car manufacturers aren’t the only ones putting the pedal to the metal. State governments and utilities have ramped up incentives too.

Since May of this year alone, California announced a new program to help low-income residents go electric and a new initiative that offers small business owners and landlords rebates of up to 15 percent for installing electric vehicle charging stations; Connecticut began providing an immediate rebate at the dealership of up to $3,500 when you purchase or lease an electric car; Tennessee surprised quite a few people and initiated its own EV rebate program; and the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission ruled that most of the state’s utilities have to offer reduced off-peak rates for customers charging their plug-in cars, which could shave 40 percent off EV fueling costs --already much cheaper than gasoline prices.

Moreover, electricity providers like Great River Electric of Minnesota have begun to offer programs that guarantee customers 100 percent wind power to charge their EVs for no additional cost, and Green Mountain Power of Vermont had a ribbon-cutting ceremony for its first in a network of high-speed EV chargers that will cover the state.

Nationwide, EVs are cleaner than conventional vehicles -- even when considering the emissions from the electricity sources used to charge the vehicles -- but just how much cleaner does vary from region to region. For example, you’ll find on our EV Guide by clicking on a Nissan Leaf that it’s 53% lower in greenhouse gas emissions than a Toyota Camry in Miami and 70% lower in GHG emissions in San Francisco. For both, you’ll be saving on average $802 a year in fueling costs. Our EV guide will show you how your region stacks up. Of course charging EVs with solar power is the cleanest way to go.

We've also updated our popular Pick-A-Plug-In  quiz, which allows people to see which electric cars would best fit their lifestyles by answering a few simple questions such as “How many miles do you drive in a typical day?” and “What’s your maximum budget for a vehicle?”

So while you’re waiting for that pot of water to boil, have some fun and check out the updated online Sierra Club EV Guide or take the Pick-A-Plug-In quiz.

  Gina Coplon-Newfield, Max Menard From Compass

Something's Changing in North Carolina: First Major Wind Project in the South Breaks Ground

Tue, 07/14/2015 - 13:31

It's an empty field now, but this area in northeastern North Carolina will soon be home to some towering wind turbines.

Big news from North Carolina - today, wind company Iberdola and retail giant Amazon broke ground on a new wind farm in northeastern North Carolina that's not only the first major wind farm in the state, but the first major wind project in the South.
Sierra Club was in attendance at the groundbreaking for the project, which will provide 208 megawatts of clean energy -- enough to power 60,000 homes -- and Amazon will buy that electricity to meet its goal of being 100 percent powered by renewable energy.
"It's definitely an exciting day when you wake up and get word that the first wind farm in North Carolina and the largest in the Southeast is finally breaking ground," said Zak Keith, lead organizer for the North Carolina Chapter of the Sierra Club.
Zak attended the ground-breaking ceremony today, along with more than 150 nearby residents, county and state officials, and Governor Pat McCrory. "It was exciting to be among people for whom this was personal -- those who've worked on it for years -- and to also see it recognized at a high level of government," he said.
This wind farm is being built in part of North Carolina's Pasquotank and Perquimans Counties known as "the desert" because it's a huge area of open, flat land that Zak says "couldn't be more perfect for a wind farm."
Zak and many others are excited to see this wind farm become a great example for even more clean energy projects in the state and region. "The governor himself even said he hopes this wind farm serves as a role model for future projects," said Zak.
North Carolina is already home to a strong clean energy industry, with more than 32 companies and 50 facilities involved in the wind industry supply chain alone. "We have been making clean energy components for turbines that have been sent to Iowa, Texas, and places all across the globe," said Molly Diggins, state director of Sierra Club North Carolina. "With this infrastructure, it makes sense for us to build wind energy projects right here in North Carolina."
The project will also provide a much-needed, sustainable boost to the local economy. This local farmer said it best:

"The wind is a cash crop to us. It's the best way for us to diversify," said Horace Pritchard, 66, owner of a 1,300-acre corn, soybean and wheat farm that will host nine turbines in exchange for $54,000 in the first year.

I grew up east Tennessee, and so I’m especially excited to hear this news about a breakthrough for clean energy in the South. For Zak, who's been educating North Carolinians about onshore and offshore wind for several years now, this new wind farm is a great motivator.

"The mood is that this is definitely the start of something bigger," he said. "Now that this one is a reality, it gives more weight to the issue of clean energy -- it feels like something's changing in North Carolina."

This wind project comes on the heels of the news that Duke Energy will retire the Asheville coal plant, after a tireless campaign by Asheville Beyond Coal. The transition from coal to clean energy continues to gain steam across the state, with North Carolina providing leadership for the Southeast and inspiring people across the nation.

Mary Anne Hitt From Compass

How Trade Activism and Divestment Go Hand-in-Hand

Tue, 07/14/2015 - 08:03

Across the U.S., hundreds of thousands of climate activists are engaged in a fight against the Trans-Pacific Partnership, or TPP, a trade deal being negotiated between the United States and 11 other countries around the Pacific Rim. Meanwhile, fossil fuel divestment activists are pushing institutions to pull investments from the top 200 publicly traded fossil fuel companies and reinvest in climate change solutions, highlighting that they have more on reserve than we’ll ever safely be able to burn. Both movements are critical in the fight for a stable climate, and climate activists dedicated to the fight for a clean energy economy can amplify efforts by engaging in both.

Trade and climate activists oppose TPP provisions that mandate the Department of Energy’s automatic approval of liquefied natural gas (LNG) exports to TPP countries. This policy would pave the way for more fracking and more climate-disrupting emissions. They also oppose “investor-state dispute settlement” (ISDS)--part of the Trans-Pacific Partnership that would empower corporations to sue governments in private tribunals over policies that they claim reduce their expected profits. Shocking investor-state cases in places like Quebec show that the fossil fuel industry uses ISDS to keep business as usual. Trade activists directly challenge these policies, and the damage that companies like Shell and ExxonMobil can bring to our climate, by fighting  free trade agreements like the TPP.

These kinds of infractions against our chance for a livable climate are what the fossil fuel divestment movement seeks to bring to the forefront of political conversations on climate disruption. They constitute the industry’s business model, and fossil fuel divestment activists are demanding that their institutions reject this business model by revoking the most powerful endorsement of a business model they have - their choice to invest. This public rejection serves as a motivator for citizens and government officials alike to focus their attention and action on the fossil fuel industry as the root cause of the climate crisis.  

The campaigns for fair trade and fossil fuel divestment are both critical components of a common movement to keep carbon in the ground and prevent companies from profiting off of the destruction of our planet. Both have dragged the actions of industry into the light and demanded public debate, making political space for our leaders to say no to fossil fuel industry influence and put us on track for a clean energy economy. We see shreds of evidence that this kind of leadership is coming in statements issued by people like U.S. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and even the Pope - calling for new economic paradigms that are more sustainable and more just.

While recent developments in divestment and trade activism are already shaping political and economic conversations about climate disruption, we’ll find even greater opportunities for growth and success when the members of both movements recognize their common stake in moving our economy beyond fossil fuels. With divestment activists and advocates for responsible trade actively engaged in both fights, our movements will only grow stronger from here.



  Sidni Frederick From Compass

Wind and Solar Cheapest Way for East Coast Energy Producers to Comply with Clean Power Plan

Tue, 07/07/2015 - 12:30

Last week we saw the future of clean energy begin to unfold in Appalachia. Two of the East Coast’s largest power producers announced that investing in wind and solar energy is the most affordable way for them to comply with the Clean Power Plan (CPP), the proposed first-ever national limits on carbon pollution from power plants.

Dominion, which provides energy to states across the East Coast and the Midwest, announced yesterday that after examining many options to address the expected reductions in carbon pollution required by the CPP, they have concluded that the most cost-effective solution is to invest in nearly 4,000 MW of solar energy by 2030, while retiring coal plants across Virginia. Solar beat out nuclear and natural gas co-firing, demonstrating clearly that clean energy sources are now cheaper than dirty and dangerous options. Just six years ago Dominion’s plans included no coal retirements, no wind, and no solar.

While these solar cost projections mark significant progress, Dominion’s resistance to renewable energy remains an obstacle. Their estimate for the cost of wind is many times higher than one provided by Appalachian Power Company (ApCo), a subsidiary of energy giant AEP, the very same day. For ApCo, investing in 1,350 MW of wind by 2030 is the least-cost path forward. Regardless, the message is clear: even in states where coal is mined, electric companies acknowledge that renewable energy options are the most affordable options for customers.

The Appalachian states are leading the way to a just transition from dirty, polluting coal energy to clean, affordable renewable sources. In June the 115 MW Portsmouth coal plant in Virginia retired, further highlighting coal’s economic decline in the face of cleaner, more affordable alternatives. Since 2008 mountaintop removal coal mining in Central Appalachia has been reduced by more than 60 percent. Investments in energy efficiency by major power producers Dominion, AEP, and FirstEnergy have more than doubled. And President Obama recently proposed needed funds to support economic diversification in the region as we transition our workforce away from dirty and dangerous coal mining and burning and toward good clean energy jobs.

When even former coal fans like Dominion and AEP are conceding that solar and wind energy are the most affordable options for energy generation, we know we’re on the right track. A clean energy future for our country is coming, and coming fast.


Mark Kresowick From Compass

Georgians Respond to Pope’s Encyclical on Climate Change

Thu, 07/02/2015 - 08:04

On June 18, 2015, Pope Francis released his Encyclical, which addressed the ever-increasing issue our world has to face -- climate change. Within this letter, he beseeches all of mankind to see climate change as a moral issue: it is the poorest, and most vulnerable among us that will suffer the most as the earth continues to change. With his letter, he joins with dozens of other world leaders who are beginning to recognize that these shifts in climate are a serious problem; he, along with these individuals, are paving a more developed path on the way to climate negotiations in Paris later this year.


It is important that we recognize this important step that the Pope, and thus the Catholic church, has taken in its efforts to combat climate change. What is perhaps most profound about the Pope’s message is that he calls all human beings to participate as one to deter these effects; from religious leaders, to scientists, to activists, Pope Francis addresses his letter to all those “of good will”.

And in Georgia last week, in front of a small church called St. Timothy’s, we tried to embody Pope Francis’ ideal. Members of the Church stood alongside environmentalists in solidarity and support of the Encyclical. The purpose of the press conference was not only to reiterate Pope Francis’ message that we need to do all we can and work together to combat climate change, but also to show that regardless of background, ideology, or religion, we can call for a commitment to cleaner air, food, and water from an interfaith perspective.

Almost 50 people attended the event, at which religious leaders, scientists and environmental activists said their piece. Among the speakers were individuals like Reverend Gerald Durley, one of his generation's greatest civil rights activists, connecting climate change to the progression of human dignity; Reverend Daniel Dice, who outfitted St. Timothy’s with solar at no cost in partnership with a local solar business and made the sacred space almost completely self-sufficient; Susan Varlamoff, Director of the University of Georgia's Office of Environmental Sciences, who was tasked by Atlanta's archdiocese to head up a group of Catholics, scientists and others to create a plan to put the pope’s encyclical into action; Rob McDowell, Environmental Policy Program Director; Ian Karra of the Sierra Club; and more.

Karra, in his statement, reiterated the Pope’s message:

“Georgians, regardless of ideology or background, must hold our state leaders accountable for protecting critical clean air safeguards. Our faith partners have long been leaders in the fight for clean energy. With landmark measures like the Clean Power Plan and an updated smog standard to be finalized this year, Georgia's elected leaders and regulators should embrace clean energy as a way to create jobs and protect public health for our state. Hearing that message from the faith, business, scientific, and environmental communities- the groups represented here today- will be essential in shaping Georgia's clean energy future.”

Kate McCormick From Compass

In push for public health, pediatricians and medical professionals set powerful standards

Thu, 07/02/2015 - 07:37

Perhaps the most effective theater for influencing public opinion on environmental health is the medical community.  Championing the dangerous health issues of climate change for physicians nationwide, Dr. Donald Arnold recently worked with the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy to publish a dynamic opinion piece for The Tennessean. In it, he calls air pollution an “imminent threat” to the health of children, and encourages other medical professionals to publicize the effects of environmental issues on health.


Arnold was a featured speaker at the Vanderbilt Clean Power Plan forum in May, where policymakers, scholars and physicians from around the country gathered to affirm the clinical health effects of climate change from varied medical perspectives. Arnold addressed a topic for which he is well-known: childhood asthma.


“I’ve been a pediatrician for several decades and have witnessed firsthand the adverse effects of air pollution on children, particularly with asthma,” Arnold said.  “I was grateful for the opportunity to speak at Vanderbilt, because there can be few opportunities to speak to broader audiences, yet we need to reach the public most.”


As a medical professional, Arnold said he strongly believes in encouraging the medical community to speak up about the ties they witness between health and the environment, because of the great trust patients and the public put on doctoral opinion.


Arnold has been emphasizing importance of focusing on the Clean Power Plan because it represents the health trends of the next generation.


“Not only are our children our future, but they are, in a sense, the canary in the coal mine,” Arnold said. “We’ve proved that the adverse health effects of pollution directly affect children by putting them in the emergency room and giving them asthma.The lifelong effects of pollution result in substantial human suffering.”


Chris Ann Lunghino, an organizer for the Vanderbilt CPP forum and the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal campaign, said Arnold’s voice and the support of the medical community is invaluable.


“Health experts are a powerful voice in Tennessee for ensuring the adoption of a strong final ​Clean Power Plan and a strong State Implementation Plan that maximize energy efficiency and solar and wind power,” Lunghino said. “Tennesseans care about their health and the health of their children.”


Lunghino pointed out that a recent Energy Foundation Poll indicates that over 2/3 of Tennessee voters support the Clean Power Plan, and that improving public health by reducing air pollution is one of the most persuasive reasons for that support.


Other speakers at the Clean Power Plan forum included Bob Martineau, commissioner of the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation; Dian Grueneich, former California public utility commissioner; Joe Hoagland, vice president of stakeholder relations, Tennessee Valley Authority; and Scott Henneberry, vice president of smart grid strategy, Schneider Electric.




M.C. Tilton From Compass

World Leaders Moving Away from Coal, Fossil Fuels

Tue, 06/30/2015 - 14:13


June has proved to be a great month for the climate, as countries around the world tackle the dangers of fossil fuels head on. Perhaps the action getting the most attention was the announcement earlier this month from G7 leaders that they will phase out fossil fuels by the end of the century. While the details remain unclear, the commitment from the U.S., Canada, Germany, France, the UK, Japan, and Italy is an important sign that the G7 countries are prepared to take responsibility as we move toward the climate negotiations in Paris later this year.  


While all fossil fuels are feeling the pressure of a carbon constrained world, coal is most clearly feeling the heat.


A recent POLITICO article highlighted coal’s demise in the United States, drawing particular attention to the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal campaign which has led to the retirement of 195 coal plants in the United States. The market value of publicly traded coal companies fell by 50 percent in less than a year. The industry is facing pressure from all sides, including grassroots activism in communities across the country. Now, President Obama is helping to ensure that coal cannot return to its dirty ways with the Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Power Plan.       


But the U.S. is not acting alone in its move away from coal and other fossil fuels -- far from it.  As Katie Fehrenbacher recently noted in Fortune, Bloomberg New Energy Finance estimates “there are as many as 200 organizations that have pledged to cut back or eliminate investments in coal or in fossil fuels more generally.”  


And it is not just small funds that are divesting from coal. In a major blow to the coal industry, the Norwegian government decided decided in early June to sell the coal shares in its $890 billion government pension fund -- the world’s largest sovereign wealth fund.


Meanwhile, Oxfam launched a campaign calling on newly re-elected United Kingdom Prime Minister David Cameron to make good on a pledge he signed with the leaders of the other two main political parties to end the use of unabated coal for power generation. Now activists want Cameron to commit to the specifics by producing a concrete plan to stop burning climate-wrecking coal by 2023, taking the lead in encouraging other rich countries to phase out fossil fuels and dirty coal, and pushing for a fair and ambitious deal at the UN climate talks, including pledging the UK's fair share of finance to help the world's poorest adapt to climate change. You can support this effort by signing the petition and sharing the coal animation narrated by Simon Pegg.


All of this is contributing to coal’s downward spiral, which is then further fueled by short sellers who have noted the industry’s failings as coal shares return less than other investments. And in a desperate effort to save themselves, even the oil and gas industry is piling on, calling on governments to set a global price on carbon in the hopes that coal will bare the brunt of the damage.

After decades of pollution, it is clear that the rich countries of the world, particularly the countries of the G7, must act to stop pollution from coal -- the biggest contributor to climate disruption. It is clear that they are prepared to talk the talk, and now it is time for them to walk the walk and fill in the specifics for their plan to end our reliance on coal and all fossil fuels if we are to have a chance in the fight against climate disruption.

Vrinda Manglik From Compass

California Families Hit Hard By Utility Proposal

Tue, 06/30/2015 - 12:44

Last year, I started my own landscaping business, my wife is a teacher and together we support our three wonderful children on a small salary. For us, every dollar counts as we wait for our business to grow, and cutting down our energy bill is one way to save.

We live in Hemet, California, where it can get really hot, so we open the windows, hang out at the community pool, and use fans when we can. Plus, it’s nice to feel like we're doing our part to avoid relying on dirty energy (you may have heard about our smog problem). I recently heard about a new proposal to change how we pay for electricity from my friend Allen, who works the Sierra Club. When I heard that the majority of households, including mine, were going to pay way more, I was shocked and mad.

It is frustrating that utilities are messing with our energy bills to "help" communities that get really hot in the summer, when they aren't. Most of the year a lot of us fall under the low-energy category, so after the summer is over, and the air conditioning goes off we, go back to paying lower rates. But because the utilities want to significantly raise rates on low-energy users, my family will pay up to $150 more a year than we do now. This is money that I would rather be spending on diapers, food, and clothing for my kids.

In addition to charging people like me the same the same as those who use a lot of energy, the utilities want to tack on an extra $10 a month to our bill. This fixed charge is permanent and will not be reduced if we use less energy. Their argument? Customers that use way less energy because of solar are not paying for the energy grid, when they absolutely are. Nearly all of the utilities customers are still sending them a check and only a tiny fraction of customers are paying less than $10 a month on a bill. Asking everyone to pay more when only a sliver of households are paying nearly nothing is not only an attack on rooftop solar, but any household that does its best to conserve.

Lastly, the utilities are trying to sell their plan as one that will help low-income families when in fact it is quite the opposite. Families in my community don’t make a lot of money, including ours. We are the ones who can least afford major bill increases. The vast majority of households that are considered “high-energy users” are also high income. According to a California Energy Commission report, only eight percent of the state's low-income residents are high energy users.

There is a better way, which is why when we heard about Commissioner Mike Florio's plan we got excited. His plan will give some bill relief during the summer months, but will keep my rates low for the majority of the year as we use less energy. Overall, we will only pay $2-$3 a month more. Also, it completely eliminates the fixed charges, which is a big win for families like mine who want to conserve.

In our house, we do everything that we can to cut back on our energy use to save money and be good to the planet. We hope that one day we will be able to invest in energy efficient appliances and rooftop solar, but we need a rate plan that will support that and utilities to get out of the way of change. It is time that they stop using people like us to benefit their bottom line. We can speak for ourselves, and know that the Florio plan is a far better for my family, our environment, and our values.

Glen Perez and his family are residents of Hemet, California

From Compass

Low-Income Families Paying High Costs With CA Utilities' Plan

Tue, 06/30/2015 - 12:44

Last year, I started my own landscaping business, my wife is a teacher and together we support our three wonderful children on a small salary. For us, every dollar counts as we wait for our business to grow, and cutting down our energy bill is one way to save.

We live in Hemet, California, where it can get really hot, so we open the windows, hang out at the community pool, and use fans when we can. Plus, it’s nice to feel like we're doing our part to avoid relying on dirty energy (you may have heard about our smog problem). I recently heard about a new proposal to change how we pay for electricity from my friend Allen, who works the Sierra Club. When I heard that the majority of households, including mine, were going to pay way more, I was shocked and mad.

It is frustrating that utilities are messing with our energy bills to "help" communities that get really hot in the summer, when they aren't. Most of the year a lot of us fall under the low-energy category, so after the summer is over, and the air conditioning goes off we, go back to paying lower rates. But because the utilities want to significantly raise rates on low-energy users, my family will pay up to $150 more a year than we do now. This is money that I would rather be spending on diapers, food, and clothing for my kids.

In addition to charging people like me the same the same as those who use a lot of energy, the utilities want to tack on an extra $10 a month to our bill. This fixed charge is permanent and will not be reduced if we use less energy. Their argument? Customers that use way less energy because of solar are not paying for the energy grid, when they absolutely are. Nearly all of the utilities customers are still sending them a check and only a tiny fraction of customers are paying less than $10 a month on a bill. Asking everyone to pay more when only a sliver of households are paying nearly nothing is not only an attack on rooftop solar, but any household that does its best to conserve.

Lastly, the utilities are trying to sell their plan as one that will help low-income families when in fact it is quite the opposite. Families in my community don’t make a lot of money, including ours. We are the ones who can least afford major bill increases. The vast majority of households that are considered “high-energy users” are also high income. According to a California Energy Commission report, only eight percent of the state's low-income residents are high energy users.

There is a better way, which is why when we heard about Commissioner Mike Florio's plan we got excited. His plan will give some bill relief during the summer months, but will keep my rates low for the majority of the year as we use less energy. Overall, we will only pay $2-$3 a month more. Also, it completely eliminates the fixed charges, which is a big win for families like mine who want to conserve.

In our house, we do everything that we can to cut back on our energy use to save money and be good to the planet. We hope that one day we will be able to invest in energy efficient appliances and rooftop solar, but we need a rate plan that will support that and utilities to get out of the way of change. It is time that they stop using people like us to benefit their bottom line. We can speak for ourselves, and know that the Florio plan is a far better for my family, our environment, and our values.

Glen Perez and his family are residents of Hemet, California

From Compass