Sierra Club Compass Blog
By Lena Moffitt, Sierra Club Beyond Coal Campaign Representative
On Monday, the Environmental Protection Agency issued a sharp blow to the State Department's review of the Keystone XL pipeline, undermining State's claim that the pipeline would have little environmental impact. Of particular note was the EPA's critique of State's assumption that the tar sands will be developed regardless of Keystone XL, and shirking the responsibility to consider the significant greenhouse gas emissions generated by tar sands mining. The EPA challenged State Department's assertion that an alternative mode of transporting tar sands to market would materialize if Keystone XL were to go away. They note that State's analysis was "not based on an updated energy-economic modeling effort" and that a "more careful review is needed."
EPA specifically instructs the State Department to consider the fact that rail transport is significantly more expensive than pipelines -- a fact that undermines the viability for rail to serve as an easy alternative to pipelines. EPA also points out the uncertainty of the other major pipeline proposals in Canada, which have been consistently, vehemently, and successfully opposed by First Nations groups and environmental organizations in British Columbia, Ontario, and Quebec. The State Department's job now is to listen to the EPA and include a more "careful" analysis of just how important Keystone is to expanding this polluting industry, and include a full accounting of the pollution that would come with this growing industry.
In addition to the pipeline's role in expanded tar sands mining, the EPA identified several other areas where State needs to take a second look. In fact, they said they have identified "significant environmental impacts that must be avoided… to provide adequate protection for the environment," and that the draft SEIS "does not contain sufficient information to fully assess environmental impacts." To craft a more robust picture of what this pipeline would mean for our planet, the EPA issued a series of recommendations, in several categories:
Greenhouse gas emissions
1. Include an economic assessment of the impacts of the 935 million metric tons of carbon pollution Keystone XL would add to our atmosphere. Note - while this is a big number, it's likely an underestimate, and only captures the incremental carbon pollution that would be generated by replacing 830,000 barrels a day of conventional crude with tar sands, using State Department's own assessment that tar sands are 17% more carbon-intensive on a lifecycle basis. Studies have shown that tar sands may be 37% more carbon-intensive, on a lifecycle basis, than conventional crude, and potentially even more, if you count the burning of the pet-coke produced as a by-product of the refining process.
2. Include a "more careful review" of the market analysis and rail transport options. State should "recognize the potential for much higher per barrel rail shipment costs than presented in the DSEIS."
3.Explore specific ways the US can work with Canada to reduce GHG emissions associated with the production of tar sands crude, including a join focus on carbon capture and storage and energy efficiency.
4. Explore specific commitments TransCanada could make to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from the construction and operation of the pipeline, particularly from the electricity needed to power the pumping stations.
5. EPA recommends focusing on pumping station energy efficiency and use of renewable energy, as well investment in other carbon mitigation options.
6. More fully address the differences between conventional oil and diluted bitumen, especially as they relate to spills and cleanup.
7. More clearly acknowledge that bitumen sinks, and in the event of a spill into water, unique cleanup technologies and resources will likely be needed.
8. Include means to address the additional risks posed by spills of diluted bitumen, which may be greater than risks posed by conventional oil spills. These risks include public health threats from high levels of airborne carcinogens.
9. Publish the 3rd party review (by an independent engineer) of TransCanada's risk assessment on the potential impacts of a tar sands spills into water, as well as the the 3rd party review of TransCanada's proposal for leak detection equipment installations. This should include an opportunity for the public to comment on both the scope of the analysis and the draft of the analysis.
10. Consider requiring TransCanada to establish a network monitoring wells along the length of the pipeline, to provide a practical means for early detection of leaks.
Including the following permit conditions:
- Require the emergency response plan to addressed submerged oil, including in cold weather;
- Require pre-position clean-up technology that can address sunken oil;
- Require spill drills and exercises;
- Require the emergency response and oil spill response plans be reviewed by EPA.
More clearly recognize that dissolved components of dilbit, including carcinogens like benzene and heavy metals, could be slowly released back into the water column for years following a spill into water, causing long-term chronic toxicological impacts to organisms in the area, an impact that is different from a spill of conventional crude or refined product.
13. Require TransCanada, as a permit condition, to develop a plan for long term monitoring/sampling in the event of a spill, to asses and monitor these impacts in the water column.
14. Require TransCanada, as a permit condition, to provide detailed information on the content of the diluent (the material they mix the heavy bitumen with) and the source of each batch of crude sent through the line, to support response preparations.
Alternative Pipeline Routes
15. Provide more detailed information as to why alternative routes were not considered reasonable, particularly the I-90 corridor route that would avoid the Ogalalla aquifer, or analyze these routes in more detail as viable options.
Community and Environmental Justice Impacts
16.Include as permit conditions TransCanada's commitment to conduct cleanup and restoration and to provide alternative water supplies to affected communities in the event of an oil spill (affecting surface or ground water).
EPA gave the draft Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (SEIS) a negative rating of "Environmental Objections - Insufficient Information." This means that the State Department is now on the hook to provide EPA with the additional information they have requested. But complicated federal procedure aside, Secretary Kerry must know that the EPA wouldn't raise these concerns, wouldn't challenge a sister agency, and wouldn't issue a failing grade if it didn't see major flaws in the environmental review. Secretary Kerry and his staff at the State Department need to take this failing grade to heart and finally conduct a thorough, unbiased assessment of this proposed pipeline. And once they do, we know it will have to be rejected. Greenlighting the expansion of the most carbon-intensive fuel on earth, via a pipeline that will threaten our most important aquifer and drinking water or millions of Americans, all so that Big Oil can export their extreme oil? That simply isn't in our national interest. Thank you, EPA, for once again standing on the side of public health and the environment. And this time, thank you in advance, Secretary John Kerry and US State Department, for heeding EPA's wisdom and experience.
 US EPA comments to Keystone XL draft Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement
 On the Wrong Track: Rail is not an alternative to the Keystone XL pipeline, Natural Resources Defense Council
 Setting the Record Straight: Lifestyle Emissions of Tar Sands, Natural Resources Defense Council
 Petroleum Coke: the coal hiding in the tar sands, Oil Change International
By Courtenay Lewis, Beyond Oil Campaign Representative
When the State Department released its supplemental review of the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline in March, Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune mused, "We're mystified as to how the State Department can acknowledge the negative effects of the earth's dirtiest oil on our climate, but at the same time claim that the proposed pipeline will 'not likely result in significant adverse environmental effects.' Whether this failure was willful or accidental, this report is nothing short of malpractice."
Unfortunately, State's behavior regarding the contractors it hired to prepare the Keystone XL review suggests that someone at the Department is obscuring close connections between its hired contactors and Big Oil, resulting in a report that appears to be a far cry from the impartial, objective analysis that the country deserves.
On Monday, April 22 -- Earth Day -- a group of organizations including the Sierra Club wrote to the Department of State's Inspector General, asking him to investigate the agency's selection of contractors with strong ties to Big Oil to evaluate Transcanada's proposed Keystone XL pipeline project. The State Department hired Environmental Resources Management Inc. (ERM) to assess the environmental impacts of the project, even though some of these same contractors had in the past worked for TransCanada and other energy companies that would benefit from the pipeline. ERM is also a dues-paying member of the American Petroleum Institute, which is one of the most vocal supporters of the Keystone XL pipeline.
While hiring ERM contractors with existing industry relations might at first glance seem like a simple act of oversight by the State Department, State's subsequent behavior suggests that they felt compelled to hide something. At the last minute before publication of the Draft Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement, the State Department redacted the resumes of several ERM team members who had previously worked for TransCanada and other companies that could gain financially from the pipeline.
State already has a history of hiring Keystone XL contactors with strong ties to the industry. Its Inspector General slapped them on the wrist in 2011 for failing to follow rigorous conflict-of-interest procedures in hiring Cardno-Endrix, a third-party contractor that prepared the Environmental Impact Statements for the Keystone XL Presidential Permit in 2011. After the Inspector General called State out, the agency promised to clean up its contracting vetting processes.
Has State just made the same careless mistakes regarding crucial conflict-of-interest considerations in hiring consultants for the Keystone XL project? Or, as the bio redactions imply, was this a case of State knowing that it was hiring Keystone proponents who were far from objective? Either way, this is a grave cause for concern, and we expect better from Secretary of State John Kerry. Landowners who will have a pipeline forced on their properties, communities that will experience rivers of oil gushing down their streets, and future generations who'll suffer the impacts of climate change if Keystone XL is approved deserve more than a slipshod or biased environmental report.
Fortunately, at least one federal agency is wary of giving Keystone the thumbs-up without any proper environmental analyses. On the same day as the Conflict of Interest letter was released, the Environmental Protection Agency expressed its own skepticism about the report, stating that it included "insufficient information" regarding the pipeline's impacts, and specifically highlighting that the Draft Environmental Impact Statement did not adequately outline the project's greenhouse gas emissions, pipeline safety, alternative pipeline routes, and community and environmental justice impacts. These critical considerations are a huge blow to any State Department assertion that the Keystone XL pipeline benefits the national interest (outside of the handful of Canadian and American energy companies that would pocket the pipeline's proceeds without owning any of the risks).
The EPA report adds even more weight to voices coming from around the country calling for the Obama administration to reject the Keystone XL pipeline project due to the havoc that tar sands emissions and oil spills would inevitably wreak on our climate and communities. The number of comments sent to the State Department asking the Obama administration to reject the Keystone XL pipeline has climbed well past the one million mark, with comments collected by 20 organizations including the Sierra Club. Last week over 200 pipeline opponents testified at the State Department's final public hearing in Grand Island, Nebraska.
"The science is screaming at all of us and demands action," Secretary Kerry said about climate change in Monday's Earth Day Remarks. To mark the same occasion, President Obama proclaimed, "Nothing is more powerful than millions of voices calling for change." Never has it been more pressing that the Obama administration heed its own advice, by honoring anti-Keystone XL cries nationwide, and rejecting a pipeline whose advocates grow less credible each day.
During the past two years, plug-in car technology and innovation have spurred a new way of thinking about cars and their role in home energy efficiency, renewable power, and gas mileage.
Now, in a move that will help move the "connected car" vision, Ford has put forth a $25,000 cash prize to the person who most adeptly develops an app designed to maximize fuel efficiency. Another $25,000 will be split among runners-up. Ford will judge entries based on the ability of drivers to utilize the app to increase fuel efficiency, "taking into account temperature, terrain, traffic conditions, individual driving styles, and a host of other factors," reports CNET.
Because everyone drives differently in different locations and weather, fuel economy can vary even with the same car. The winning app would focus on the individual driver's fuel economy and conveniently compile data in a way similar to existing popular apps that map people's diet or personal finances. The contest, which starts taking entries today, gives a chance for tech-savvy web developers to show off their talents while also encouraging new ways mobile apps can reduce the number of trips to the gas pump. The deadline is July 24.
"This is another sign that innovation through mobile technology is pushing car efficiency to new levels," said Sierra Club's Director of Green Fleets & Electric Vehicles Initiative Gina Coplon-Newfield. "Smart phone apps are making it easier for people to get smart about reducing their vehicle emissions and fueling costs."
Vehicle-to-grid-technology EV chargers connected to solar panels, and mobile apps that allow EV drivers to remotely check their state of charge or the nearest public charging stations are just a few examples of how technology is entering an exciting era of enabling drivers to phase out oil and maximize efficiency.
-- Brian Foley
This past Saturday hundreds of tribal leaders, clean energy supporters, and faith leaders from across the southwest joined the Moapa Band of Paiutes for a 16-mile "Coal to Clean Energy Walk."
The march came on the heels of NV Energy announcing plans to retire its coal plants and stop drawing power from Arizona's Navajo Generating Station. A year ago, Moapa Paiutes walked 50 miles over three days from their reservation to Las Vegas to protest the Reid Gardner coal plant's pollution and bring attention to the tribe’s efforts to develop solar energy. This year's 'Coal to Clean Energy' walk was set to culminate at the site of the 250-megawatt solar project on the Moapa Paiute Reservation that will sell power to Los Angeles.
"For far too long, the Reid Gardner coal plant has been poisoning our air, water, and the health of our families," said Moapa Band of Paiutes Chairman William Anderson. "NV Energy moving to close the coal plant is the result of countless families coming together to demand change. We want to make sure that the coal plant does indeed close and stays closed. We don't want the coal plant to be replaced by another polluting power plant - like a gas plant. We want a switch to truly clean sustainable energy sources like the solar project that will be built in our Reservation."
Senator Harry Reid expressed his support for the Moapa Paiute 'Coal to Clean Energy' march. "The Moapa Band of Paiutes is an important voice for Nevada's transition towards a cleaner, more sustainable energy future," said Reid. "The day is soon coming when the Paiutes will be able to breathe freely and the Reid-Gardner coal plant will be shuttered and they will break ground on the nation's first commercial solar energy project on tribal lands that will not emit any hazardous emissions, wastes, or carbon pollution."
For decades, Moapa Paiute families have experienced high levels of asthma attacks, lung disease, heart disease and cancer they believe is related to the coal pollution coming from the Reid Gardner power plant. The plant is located immediately adjacent to their community on the Moapa River Reservation.
"The Paiutes are leading the way with the Moapa Solar project that will soon break ground and create good jobs for the families that live right here in the Reservation," said Allison Chin (pictured at the left), national President of the Sierra Club, who participated in the walk on Saturday.
"Today's march from the Reid Gardner coal plant to the future of site of the Moapa Solar Project represents for all of us a new coal to clean energy path for not only Nevada, but for the entire West to follow."
NV Energy's recently announced statewide plan to transition away from coal takes place in the midst of a trend to end the use of coal in the West. Washington State enacted a law that will close its last coal plant by 2025, and Oregon will be coal-free by 2020. Los Angeles just announced that it is ending its use of coal energy from Arizona's Navajo Generating Station and Utah's Intermountain Power Plant.
Southern California Edison is in the process of finalizing its exit from the Four Corners Generating Station. The Department of Water Resources will exit the Reid Gardner plant this summer, and several smaller publicly owned California utilities are also finalizing an exit from New Mexico's San Juan Generating Station.
The Sierra Club’s Leslie Fields (center) accepts a 2013 U.S. EPA Environmental Quality Award on behalf of the Sierra Club of Puerto Rico with our partners and EPA Region 2 Regional Administrator Judith Enck (far right)
Last week, the Sierra Club of Puerto Rico was honored by the Environmental Protection Agency with the 2013 U.S. EPA Environmental Quality Award for efforts to create an innovative recylcing program.
Leslie Fields the director of the Environmental Justice and Community Partnerships Program (EJCP) was on hand in Washington at the EPA’s offices on April 19 to accept the award on behalf of Sierra Club of Puerto Rico. That chapter was singled out for recognition because of the program volunteers there created with the San Juan Bay Estuary Program. Called SanSe Recicla after the San Sebastian Street Festival (Las Fiestas de la Calle San Sebastian), the program seeks to create “zero waste” areas. By setting up recycling programs at major events and festivals like Las Fiestas de la Calle San Sebastian with the goal of producing zero waste, Sierra Club volunteers help keep the recycling bins full and the trash empty.
“Over 200 volunteers manning recycling stations collected 70 tons of recyclables at the festival,” said Camilla Feibelman, Organizing Representative for Sierra Club Puerto Rico. Festivals draw in thousands of guests that generate a lot of trash.
At the same time, proposals to build seven trash burning incinerators are being considered for Puerto Rico - so every bit of recycling helps reduce demand for the incinerators. Jessica Sieglie and Isiali Mariñez, the two lead Sierra Club volunteers at the San Sebastian Festival are looking beyond just that event by working to bring recycling solutions to offices and schools. Sieglie especially cares about working to reduce the amount of trash the island produces, considering she lives in Arecibo - the site of one of the proposed garbage-burning facilities.
“If we can attend to the trash problem, reduce, reuse, and recycle, we’ll protect the environment, create raw materials, and create jobs,” says Camilla Feibelman. Like Camilla, the Sierra Club is proud that she and the Puerto Rico Chapter are being being recognized for these critically important efforts, calling attention to the fact that Recycling is a much better alternative than burning trash.
The next big recycling push for the chapter will be at the Puerto Rican Day Parade in NYC on June 9, 2013. For the third year in row, the Sierra Club of Puerto Rico, EJCP program, volunteers and partners will have a float built and salsa down 5th Avenue and recycle. Come join us! You can help support their efforts by looking for a recycling program in your area and by checking out the Puerto Rican Day Parade website for tips on how to make your Puerto Rican Day greener.
--Sierra Club Media Team Intern Kristen Elmore
While the fight to end mountaintop removal coal mining is still far from over, we are celebrating today's ruling by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit on a massive mountaintop removal project, the Spruce Mine. The court affirmed that the Environmental Protection Agency has the authority under the Clean Water Act to veto mountaintop removal coal mining permits after they've been issued.
This is a major milestone in the fight to end the destructive practice of mountaintop removal mining. The Spruce Mine - the focus of this case - was the largest mountaintop removal permit ever proposed in West Virginia history, and its valley fills would have buried more than six miles of streams.
Today's ruling affirms EPA's authority to ensure the safety of our waterways and the health of our communities, including by vetoing improper permits issued by the Army Corps of Engineers.
We joined Earthjustice, Appalachian Mountain Advocates, and other allies West Virginia Highlands Conservancy, Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition, Coal River Mountain Watch, and Natural Resources Defense Council in arguing for this ruling, which reverses a prior District Court ruling. The case will now return to District Court to answer other questions about the Spruce Mine decision.
Here's some history on this Spruce Mine case: On January 13, 2010, the EPA finalized a "veto" of a waste dump associated with one of Appalachia's largest surface mines, Mingo Logan Coal Company's Spruce No. 1 mine in Logan County, West Virginia. The EPA used its clear legal authority under the Clean Water Act Section 404(c) to veto the mine's waste dump because it posed unacceptable risks to the environment.
According to the EPA, the proposed mine would have:
- Dynamited more than 2,200 acres of mountains and forest lands.
- Disposed of more than 110 million cubic yards of mining waste into streams.
- Polluted downstream waters with mining waste, causing permanent damage to ecosystems and streams.
The EPA's veto of the Spruce mine waste dumps was not a surprise, as EPA's opposition to the project began during the Bush administration with a 2002 letter objecting to the proposed permit. The EPA consistently expressed its concerns about the environmental impacts of the Spruce mine. Contrary to some reports, the EPA never approved granting the permit.
Given the failure of state regulators and the Army Corps of Engineers to prevent the destructive impacts of mountaintop removal coal mining, EPA plays a crucial role in protecting Appalachia's communities and environment. Today’s decision reinforces one of EPA's most powerful tools.
This victory comes on the heels of another court victory, on Monday, when the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit threw out a rubber stamp for mountaintop removal projects, the notorious "nationwide permit 21" issued in 2007. Although that version of NWP 21 expired last year, this court ruling affirms that, for far too long, Appalachia's mountains were being forever destroyed under an embarrassingly flimsy permitting process that did little to nothing to safeguard public health or clean water.
Meanwhile, many current mountaintop removal mines that started operating under the 2007 NWP 21 are still operating today. The case was brought by our allies Public Justice and Appalachian Mountain Advocates on behalf of on behalf of Kentucky Riverkeeper, Kentuckians For The Commonwealth, and Kentucky Waterways Alliance.
I am honored to work side-by-side with such amazing people to stop mountaintop-removal coal mining. From the local Appalachian advocates who live with the destruction of it every day, to our national partners. Many of them have worked tirelessly for decades on this issue and will not stop until mountaintop removal coal mining stops.
This quote from last week's Kentuckians For The Commonwealth "Appalachia's Bright Future Conference" especially rings true to me:
"We're for a viable and a sustainable community....we want this place to last. I've got eight grandchildren, and I would love for them to be able to run around these mountains and drink out of these streams."
Mountaintop removal coal mining destroys Appalachian communities, poisons waterways, and lays waste to beautiful, biodiverse landscapes. It must be stopped.
-- Mary Anne Hitt, Beyond Coal Campaign Director
By Deb Nardone, Director of Beyond Natural Gas Campaign
Today we celebrate Earth Day -- and envision a future in which the air is not polluted, water is not contaminated, and landscapes are not being destroyed.
Fracking causes these negative impacts on our environment, and it directly affects our public health and well-being. But there is hope for a better future that protects our health, environment, and climate. Just last month, two new bills were introduced in Congress -- the BREATHE and FRESHER acts -- which aim to close critical loopholes in the Clean Air and Clean Water Acts. And this month in California, the Sierra Club and the Center for Biological Diversity won a landmark victory when a federal judge ruled that the Obama administration broke the law when it failed to consider the environmental impacts of fracking before leasing 2,700 acres of public land in Monterey and Fresno counties to oil and gas drillers. These victories give hope to children, families, and communities that some people in government are looking out for the public's best interest.
The BREATHE Act, sponsored by Colorado Congressman Jared Polis, aims to close the Clean Air Act loophole that exempts the oil and gas industries from having to take any precautionary measures to prevent toxic air pollution while they are exploring and extracting oil and natural gas. The bill will also add hydrogen sulfide, also known as "sewer gas," to the federal list of hazardous air pollutants and help ensure that the industry takes measures to avoid the release of this toxic substance into the air. This gas, which smells like rotten eggs, has been associated with nausea, vomiting, headaches, and irritation of the eyes, nose, and throat for many people living near oil and gas wells.
The FRESHER Act (also known as the Focused Reduction of Effluence and Storm water runoff through Hydrofracking Environmental Regulation Act), sponsored by Pennsylvania Congressman Matthew Cartwright, aims to close a Clean Water Act loophole. For too long, the oil and gas industry have been exempt from having to adequately manage stormwater pollution and runoff from the large acres of industrial development needed for natural gas wells. Stormwater provisions are commonsense precautions that are critical for protecting water quality. And to further lower the chances of stormwater pollution, the bill also directs the Environmental Protection Agency to conduct a study of the impacts of stormwater runoff from fracking infrastructure.
In California -- one of the most progressive states in the nation and home to some of the most beautiful coastlines in the world -- a federal judge ruled in favor of protecting its beautiful public lands from being leased to dirty fracking. U.S. District Judge Paul Grewal said the federal government violated the nation's environmental laws when it awarded permits to oil companies to frack without first conducting an environmental impact study. This landmark victory has secured a moratorium on fracking for 2,700 acres of public land in southern Monterey County.
We need more of these common-sense decisions. They are important steps we can take to protect the public from fracking. On Earth Day, I am thankful for those political supporters who are on the right side of the fracking fence and are willing to stand up to the big fossil fuel polluters and say enough is enough. They have found the courage to demand that the gas industry be reined in, and they want to secure a clean, healthy future for our children. Continuing to rely on dirty, dangerous fossil fuels is a bad bet. There are better ways to truly secure a clean-energy future where we won't have to compromise on fresh air, clean water, and treasured landscapes nor acquiesce to further climate disruption.
We already have the technology and the solutions to secure clean energy through renewables, such as solar and wind, and to double down on energy efficiency. What we need now are the political will and the investment security to make what we already envision -- a clean planet -- a reality.
Last week in Washington, D.C., labor union members, environmentalists, business owners, community leaders, and elected officials from across the nation came together for the Good Jobs, Green Jobs 2013 national conference. These broad interests gathered to engage in one of the nation's largest discussions on how to address the climate crisis by building a cleaner, more-efficient economy that creates good-paying American jobs.
The conference featured leaders like House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi and Senator Sheldon Whitehouse sharing their ideas about building strategic partnerships to fight for a clean energy economy. One of the first panels featured the Sierra Club's Michael Brune as well as labor leaders Larry Cohen of the Communications Workers of America, Mike Fishman of Service Employees International Union, Leo Gerard of the United Steelworkers, and David Foster of the BlueGreen Alliance for a discussion of how the labor and environmental movements can come together to build a strong economy and a cleaner environment.
Sierra Club Media Team Intern Kristen Elmore put together this video from the session -- check it out!:
--Sierra Club Media Team
Indianapolis families gathered for a "Clean Energy Showcase" at The Nature Conservancy earlier this month for a focused look into the city's energy future. The event, which included a NCAA March Madness theme, featured presentations and a breakout session that weighed the economic and public health benefits of clean energy and forecasted which types of energy investments might advance "to the next round."
The event was organized in light of Indianapolis Power & Light's proposal to raise rates to fund alterations to old, dirty coal plants instead of clean-energy investments. Nearly 70 Indianapolis residents attended the showcase with about half of the participants being new to the issue, said Indiana Beyond Coal Organizer Megan Anderson.
"This is a really exciting time where across the nation communities are moving away from their outdated and polluting coal plants and moving toward a clean energy future," she said.
If IPL gets its way, it could cost Indianapolis-area families over $511 million and would lock the city into a coal-dependent future with higher rates and expensive health costs due to pollution.
"Tonight's event showed the direction that Hoosiers want to take our city in. Indianapolis is the capital, and in a state where we tend to burn a lot of coal, we have a responsibility to set an example, move Indy beyond coal, and put our city on a path toward an affordable, sustainable energy future. IPL has a responsibility to this city. If we want a world-class city, we need to move toward clean energy," Anderson added.
The Clean Energy Showcase took place at The Nature Conservancy's LEED platinum facility, which includes the use of geothermal energy. Ray Wilson, a Unitarian Universalist Church board member, and Tim Method, director of environmental and conservation programs at Indianapolis International Airport, presentedon solar projects happening at both locations.
The showcase was one part of a larger push to mobilize the grassroots and demand that city and utility leaders choose clean energy. IPL's power generation is nearly 99 percent fossil fuel -- primarily coal-based and a major source of climate-changing pollution and health ailments in Indiana. IPL's archaic business model has prompted the utility to raise monthly rates on customers by as much as 44 percent over the past decade, an increase driven by the costly coal industry.
"We had a breakout session where groups brainstormed their own vision for Indy’s energy future that will be included in a city-wide petition which community leaders and groups from across Indy can add their signature on to urge IPL to move beyond coal," Anderson said. "This was a great way to show everyone what's at stake in terms of Indy's energy future, highlighting the incredible local clean-energy potential by showcasing a couple of clean energy projects already happening locally."
-- Brian Foley
It's increasingly clear that our current centralized energy and financial systems fail the poor and, as a result, a sustainable future is distributed. Already we're seeing entrepreneurs making this vision reality by leveraging off-grid mobile phone penetration to deliver distributed clean energy access. Now entrepreneurs are using that same off-grid infrastructure to deliver vital new services. The latest is Air Jaldi which provides Wi-Fi for the rural masses, and it just so happens to be solar powered.
Air Jaldi designs, builds, and operates wireless networks spanning five different states in rural India. Just like the clean energy micro power plants OMC is building, Air Jaldi's networks piggyback on rural telecom towers. These towers are located in areas where the grid is either nonexistent or infrequent, with voltage fluctuations that damage expensive equipment. In the early days, battery backups proved to be too expensive to maintain. Eventually, just like the telecom towers on which they were perched, the networks were switched to solar.
In defiance of the out-dated axiom that fossil fuels are cheap, Air Jaldi made the move because it realized the cost of maintaining the alternative to solar -- the grid with backup diesel or batteries -- was just too costly. Often workers were forced to travel for four hours or more through the monsoon rains or other extreme weather events to take care of operations in an area where the grid failed. Maintenance trips like these, and the heavy costs they imposed, were eliminated by solar.
The move to solar also allowed Air Jaldi to focus on its core operations, which are relatively simple: It buys wholesale bandwidth which is distributed through economic Wi-Fi relays that optimize traffic without degrading the users' experience. In other words, it sells Internet access.
Here's how it works: Every client has a router (just like you or I have at home) that gets connectivity via the airwaves and bandwidth provided by the telecom companies. Air Jaldi mounts relays on small towers that receive a signal from other relays or a main distribution point. Those relays send the signal to Air Jaldi's clients. The main difference between our systems and theirs is the vast distance covered, which requires stronger routers.
While nearly all relays are solar-powered, the network operation center -- basically a server room to handle the traffic and optimize it -- is not. That's because these are large systems (1 kilowatt or more) so the economics are slightly different. But in about a month, Air Jaldi will convert its first center to solar. It expects to convert more as the price of solar falls.
Ironically, Jaldi is actually a Hindi word that means fast and, according to company founders, the name started almost as a joke (as you can imagine, Wi-Fi connections in rural India are mostly anything but). Jokes aside, Jaldi's growth has been anything but. It now serves 600 enterprise clients with (relatively fast...) broadband connectivity and has three more networks in the works in addition to opportunities in Africa.
Right now 70 percent of clients are nonprofits, schools, rural banks, and other rural institutions. The other 30 percent are private clients, who are largely middle class. That means the poor are still being left out -- but thecompany wants that to change.
Just as off-grid clean energy entrepreneurs are demanding social bankability, Air Jaldi believes Internet access must be provided by fiat, by becoming a right of every citizen. As founder Michael Ginguld puts it, "We have come to expect and accept that electricity, water, and roads are a given. Internet should be the same." He's got a good argument too. For every 10 percent increase in Internet access, a country sees a one percent increase in GDP. Thus far the only country in the world to enshrine Internet access as a human right is Finland, where courts and the state are obliged to provide access.
The good news is that Indian officials are trying to follow Finland's lead. The bad news is they are not investing enough, and corruption remains a monumental problem. That's because, just as with power production, the tendency is to put huge amounts into large centralized projects, which leads to rampant corruption and service-delivery failure. At the same time, the telecom industry doesn't want competition for Internet provision because it undermines one of its most significant sources of income. That means yet again we have a broken system.
That's ultimately what this is about -- an opportunity to disrupt these broken systems dominated by entrenched incumbents and the politicians that serve them. Air Jaldi is the latest example created by the convergence occurring between off-grid mobile phones, distributed renewable energy, and the world of services previously off-limits to rural residents (Wi-Fi is just one, OMC is now providing electric bikes for instance). But by no means will they be the last. Here's to the little guys shaking things up and making a big difference.
-- Justin Guay, Sierra Club International
Yesterday, senators Jeanne Shaheen (NH), and Rob Portman (OH) introduced a bipartisan energy efficiency bill. While the bill is a good one, and should easily pass if Congress worked the way it should, I'm skeptical that it will. Here's why.
First, let me take a step back and walk you through the bill.
This bill sets out to save us energy by using low-cost technologies that are widely available today and can be adopted quickly. It reduces barriers to the residential, commercial, and industrial sectors. It addresses energy waste from the biggest energy user in the country, the federal government. It would create a program called "Supply Star" which would help industries green their supply chain. It would set up much-needed building training centers to train people to have these good, green jobs.
During the last Congress, senators Shaheen and Portman introduced a similar bill. It sailed through the Energy and Natural Resources Committee (common-sense things tend to) but then was stalled on the Senate floor. The American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE) analyzed that version, and by their estimates, Shaheen-Portman version 1 could have produced 80,000 net jobs and saved consumers $4 billion on their energy bills in 2020. In 2030, 159,000 net jobs would have been created and consumers would have saved $20 billion on their energy bills.
Version 1 would have also taken a small but useful bite out of our carbon emissions, the driver of climate disruption. It was projected to save us 29 million metric tons of carbon pollution by 2020, and up to 108 million metric tons by 2030. Annually. If this newer version is even half as good as the first, then this is serious progress.
It's been endorsed by efficiency wonks like Alliance to Save Energy and ACEEE, trade unions like the National Association of Manufacturers, businesses like Dow Chemical Company, and environmental groups like the Sierra Club. Groups that rarely, if ever, see eye-to-eye have endorsed this bill. That is no small feat and deserves recognition.
It should be a no-brainer. Why, then, is the fate for Shaheen-Portman uncertain?
Because Senators like to put junk into random bills for no reason besides partisan politics.
This has been a reality for more than 4 years. At the beginning of President Obama's first term, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (KY) promised to add poison pill amendments to anything and everything possible. To my knowledge, he's kept this promise. Amendments to approve Keystone XL, even though Congress doesn’t have the authority to do so, have been filed again and again. Amendments to gut the Environmental Protection Agency's authority to save lives under landmark bills like the Clean Air Act and Clean Water Act abound. Attempts have been made to steamroll over National Environmental Policy Act. And the list goes on and on.
The worst part is that these amendments rarely - if ever - have anything to do with the underlying bill. The abundance of poison pills makes our jobs as environmental advocates even harder, and it gives heartburn to environmental champions on the Hill who want to write good laws, but know that even if they can find that too rare sweet spot - when Republicans and Democrats agree on a piece of policy - they can count on opponents trying to lard on amendments that carry no such agreement.
Consequently, despite being able to identify an issue that would pull a clear bipartisan majority, it doesn't pass and nothing moves except the ever-falling public approval rating for Congress. Think the debt ceiling, the transportation bill, the farm bill, etc.
The damage from such amendments is truly underrepresented. In the rare instance you have a bill that everyone seems to agree on, take Shaheen-Portman for example, one really bad amendment can make it impossible to get floor time and make even supporters want to kill it.
It is rare to see Senators these days so committed to writing good laws and reaching across the aisle. Senators Shaheen and Portman are one of those rare exceptions. They have done the hard work for their colleagues: They wrote a great bill that diverse stakeholders agree will do a lot of good. Now we need them to relentlessly press their colleagues- on both sides of the aisle - to do their job and keep controversial amendments off this bill.
-- Radha Adhar, Associate Washington Representative for the Sierra Club
According to Brad Markell, Executive Director of the AFL-CIO's Industrial Union Council, increased investment in advanced vehicle technology is leading to more domestic jobs. "Why do hybrids and electric vehicles produce more jobs?" asked Markell. "New content," he answered. "Somebody has to engineer it, create production tools, and put the vehicles together."
This week, I attended the Good Jobs, Green Jobs conference in Washington, DC. This is an annual conference where labor union organizers, environmental organizers, and business leaders come together to discuss challenges and opportunities in creating more domestic union jobs that move us forward to a clean energy future. The conference is organized by the BlueGreen Alliance, which is a coalition of some of the nation’s largest and most influential environmental groups and unions, including the United Steelworkers, United Auto Workers, AFL-CIO, Union of Concerned Scientists, National Wildlife Federation, and Sierra Club.
I had the pleasure of putting together a workshop panel called Green Fleets –Ramping Up Demand and Production of Cleaner Fleet Vehicles. Markell, one of our speakers and someone who worked for many years at the United Auto Workers, said there is growing demand for more fuel efficient and smaller vehicles, including hybrids and electric vehicles. He shared that the number of jobs in the U.S. automotive sector went steadily down over the last decade, but they started to rise again in 2011 and 2012. This increase in auto industry jobs coincides with thousands of jobs in dozens of U.S. states recently created in the advanced vehicle technology arena.
Joyce Mattman, General Motors' Director of Commercial Product & Specialty Vehicles, also spoke on our panel. Mattman said that her government and corporate fleet customers are increasingly asking for "greener" vehicle models. "Three years ago, 16 percent of our [total number of] vehicles sold achieved at least 30 mpg highway; today, it’s 40 percent," said Mattman. GM manufactures cars and light trucks that run on gasoline, natural gas, E85, hybrid power, and electricity, including the Chevy Volt -- today’s best-selling plug-in vehicle. GM is also doing research into vehicles that can run on hydrogen fuel cells and next generation biofuels. Mattman was proud to say that GM has received more clean-energy patents in the last two years than any other company or organization.
I talked about the importance of addressing vehicle fleets if we are to combat climate change pollution. Even though fleet vehicles only make up about seven percent of the vehicles on U.S. roads, they consume up to 35 percent of the oil. New light-duty vehicle efficiency and emissions standards and upcoming medium- and heavy-duty standards will only be strong and only be met if we can get individual consumers and the companies that operate large numbers of fleet vehicles to demand cleaner vehicles. Also, America's biggest companies are also among the biggest consumers of tar sands, the dirtiest source of oil on earth -- and a source that will dramatically increase if we allow the Keystone XL pipeline to be built. You will soon here much more from Sierra Club about oil, vehicle fleets, and what companies and activists can do.
The conference included dozens of workshop panels and an illustrious group of plenary speakers, including House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune, President of the Communication Workers of America Larry Cohen, President of the United Steelworkers Leo Gerard, U.S. Congresswoman Michelle Lujan Grisham, and AFL-CIO President Richard Trumpka. Many major corporations, including International Paper, General Motors, and Alcoa, also sent high-level speakers.
While there have been important efficiency improvements by GM and other vehicle manufacturers as well as in numerous other industries, we cannot rest on our laurels if we’re to meet the crises we face in our economy and our climate. We need to build upon the enthusiasm from this conference to work in earnest for more and better good, green jobs.
(Top photo: Gina Coplon-Newfield. Bottom photo: Todd Post.)
-- Gina Coplon-Newfield is the Sierra Club’s Director of Green Fleets & Electric Vehicles Initiative.
Big Coal has a dirty little secret: For coal mined in the Powder River Basin (PRB) of Montana and Wyoming, transported to the coast, and shipped to East Asia, the industry only pays government royalties at the time it’s mined and not when it is actually sold overseas, when the price can "increase more than fivefold," reports Associated Press, "saving them millions of dollars in the process."
The Interior Department is investigating and considering a new royalty payment system after two U.S. senators raised the point that taxpayers are the ultimate losers in this scheme. Meanwhile, Big Coal is enabled by a complacent Bureau of Land Management, which is leasing out PRB coal at rock bottom prices to boost industry profits. No wonder why coal companies are rushing a number of proposals to expand their exporting operations up and down the Pacific Northwest.
PRB leasing should cease until we learn more from the investigation and the federal government considers the massive climate impacts from such mining. Coal from PRB accounts for 13 percent of U.S. climate changing emissions. The federal government has leased more than 2.1 billion tons of PRB coal between 2011 and 2012, directly causing the release of more than 3 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide. Without a moratorium, the potential for another 3.5 billion tons of new coal mining could happen.
Applying fair market practices to how Big Coal does business will reveal that the industry has been relying on special favoritism for far too long. Thousands upon thousands of families in communities across Washington and Oregon have made it loud and clear that they don't want miles-long coal trains snaking through their neighborhoods and polluting their cities and crops. They know that a clean-energy future will do more for local jobs, public health, and the climate crisis.
--Bill Corcoran, Western Regional Campaign Director of the Sierra Club's Beyond Coal campaign
Every year the Goldman Environmental Prize committee selects an amazing group of winners from around the world to receive what is sometimes called the environmental Nobel prize - and I could not be more thrilled with their pick for North America this year: Kim Wasserman Nieto of Chicago, Illinois.
Kim is a phenomenal environmental justice activist and mom from the Little Village neighborhood in Chicago. Her work with the Little Village Environmental Justice Organization (LVEJO) has been inspiring and ground-breaking. The Little Village community is primarily Latino, and is located next to one of the most notorious, polluting coal-fired power plants in America. As a woman of color on the frontlines of the fight to stop the pollution, Kim not only served as an inspiration to many others, but she also led a winning campaign that ultimately secured the retirement of not one, but two, deadly coal plants.
We are proud to have been one of Kim and LVEJO's allies in the work to retire Midwest Generation's old, dirty Fisk and Crawford coal plants in Chicago last year. The pollution from these two plants caused significant health problems for kids and adults in the nearby neighborhoods, including increasing the number of asthma attacks suffered by Kim's children.
LVEJO and dozens of other organizations, including Sierra Club, joined together in the Chicago Clean Power Coalition to push for the coal plants to be cleaned up or retired. The coalition was powerful because it was led by frontline community members who not only marched in the streets, but also sat at the decision-making table. It’s an inspiring model of successful environmental justice work that I hope will get more of the national attention it deserves, thanks to the Goldman Prize.
The impact of the plants on Kim and her children provided a compelling story and images that we will never forget. You might recognize Kim's son Peter from these hard-hitting ads that filled billboards across Chicago.
Kim also shared her story in a powerful op-ed in the Chicago Tribune about her children's struggles with asthma. As a mom, I'll never forget reading this piece, and imagining how frightening it would be to see my own baby struggling for air. In the piece, Kim wrote:I'm not saying that Fisk and Crawford caused my sons' asthma. After all, there's industry everywhere in our community - it's a regular toxic soup. But Fisk and Crawford depend on outdated technology, and they're impacting my environment more than anyone else. I don't necessarily blame them for causing my kids' asthma, but I do blame them for making it worse.
My husband Stan and I are also trying to do our best by our kids. We try to make sure they eat healthy food and get lots of physical activity to strengthen their lungs. But we can only do so much. After that it falls on our city, state and federal government to provide Peter and Anthony and all the other little kids with a clean environment.
The Environmental Protection Agency last week featured Kim's path to activism on its environmental justice blog. In the blog, Kim highlights her commitment to engaging young people in environmental justice advocacy, and points to her latest focus bringing more green space to Little Village.
Here is how Christine Nannicelli, a Sierra Club organizer who has worked closely with Kim over the years, described her:
"Kim worked on these issues for over a decade, and at a time when many people were scared to talk about them. Ultimately, Kim stood up and said her family in Little Village, and other working class Latino families on Chicago's southwest side, have just as much right to breathe clean air as wealthy white people on the north side. That was the blunt reality, and Kim called it like she saw it."
We joined activists from communities all over Chicago and celebrated alongside Kim and residents of Little Village when Midwest Generation formally announced that Fisk and Crawford would be retired. Those victories wouldn't have happened without Kim, LVEJO did and their decade of tremendous work organizing creative events to raise awareness and call for the closure of Fisk and Crawford.
Today, we join with many of those same activists in celebrating North America's newest Goldman Prize winner. Congratulations to Kim for this well-deserved honor. The world needs more wonderful activists like her.
-- Mary Anne Hitt, Beyond Coal Campaign Director
Consider these facts: African-American children are six times more likely to die from asthma than other children. Race is the number one factor in predicting the location of toxic waste sites in America, and there is a direct relationship between the rate of poverty in a community and cumulative environmental impacts.
This is not new information. Leslie Fields (pictured sitting above), Director of the Sierra Club's Environmental Justice and Community Partnership program discussed these incredible statistics on Tuesday, at a briefing for congressional staff on environmental justice and building healthy communities. She spoke alongside leaders from other environmental justice organizations including Jalonne White-Newsome and Cecil Corbin-Mark from the Harlem-based "WE ACT for Environmental Justice", and Dr. Nicky Sheats (pictured speaking above) from the "Center for the Urban Environment" from New Jersey.
Together, these advocates and leaders are fighting to relieve the staggering disparity in this country of how different people are affected by environmental hazards. Poor and minority communities bear a disproportionate burden from pollution, climate disruption, and other environmental threats compared to white and more affluent communities. Their briefing was meant to get environmental justice on everyone’s radar, especially lawmakers.
"Children grow up sick and compromised when they grow up in compromised communities," said Fields. She spoke about Title VI of the Civil Rights Act, which prohibits discrimination for any program that receives federal funding. This has been a useful tool in fighting many environmental injustices, according to Fields.
Dr. Jalonne White-Newsome (pictured at the podium above) from WE ACT for Environmental Justice discussed urban air toxics, which is only one of the many problems that affect at risk communities. Because of some failing regulations, "super-pollution," the overabundance of multiple types of pollution, concentrates in certain areas and turns neighborhoods into toxic air pockets. Children and adults living in highly contaminated areas are at higher risk of respiratory diseases, birth defects, and infertility.
The panelists emphasized that environmental justice is not an issue, but a perspective. Decision makers have to incorporate this perspective into every stage of development for programs and projects that may affect the environment. Most importantly, community members should engage as much as possible to protect their health and communities through environmental justice actions. The Sierra Club has a number of local environmental justice programs throughout the country. Locate a program near you on the Sierra Club's Environmental Justice and Community Partnership Regional Programs page.
--Kristen Elmore, Sierra Club Media Team Intern
Southern Nevada's Moapa Band of Paiutes are organizing a 16-mile "Walk from Coal to Clean Energy" on April 20, 2013 in concert with Earth Day. This walk will celebrate the tribe's efforts to retire the polluting Reid Gardner coal plant that adjoins their tribal lands, and also their success in developing the largest solar project on tribal lands in the nation, which will begin construction later this year. The walk will start at the coal plant and end at the solar site - a powerful symbol of change for Nevada and the nation.
The Moapa and a broad coalition of environmental and community groups in Nevada have been pushing to retire NV Energy's Reid Gardner coal plant for many years. A recent announcement by NV Energy CEO Michael Yackira that the company wants to retire its coal plants and contracts early and replace them with renewable energy and natural gas power is a key milepost in the decades-long struggle of the Moapa for environmental justice.
"Coal is a fuel of the past in our state" - that's how Yackira put it, in a recent interview discussing the announcement. The company has drafted legislation to be considered by the Nevada legislature that would allow the coal plant retirements.
So on Earth Day, tribal leaders and members, as well as other tribes from the region, will walk 16 miles starting at sunup and arriving at the solar plant site by mid-afternoon. Environmental activists and other community supporters will meet them to rally and celebrate this important milestone in their campaign, and to call for the expansion of more renewable energy like solar, wind, and geothermal for Nevada's clean energy future.
Grassroots supporters from throughout southern Nevada will meet at a location 1.5 miles from the rally site (about 40 miles northeast of Las Vegas) and walk to the site. The rally will feature a drum circle and several speakers including William Anderson, Chairman of the Tribal Council, and Allison Chin, President of the Sierra Club. It will conclude with a round dance by the Moapa Band of Paiutes.
The Reid Gardner coal plant is located directly adjacent to the tribal community, only a few hundred feet from the nearest homes. Built beginning in the 1960s, it is a source of serious air and water contamination. Over the decades the Moapa have experienced many health problems that are likely related to the plant, including very high rates of asthma, heart disease and cancer.
The Moapa were featured in Sierra magazine's recent "Cost of Coal" series, too.
The Moapa and other organizations like the Sierra Club and the Nevada Clean Energy Campaign are hopeful that NV Energy's change in strategy will ultimately lead to a just, fair and environmentally sound resolution to close the Reid Gardner plant and move Nevada quickly to a clean energy future.
The city of Los Angeles has already agreed to purchase the energy from the Moapa solar project, as part of the city's commitment to move beyond coal, announced just last month by L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, Al Gore, Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune, and others. We look forward to keeping the clean energy momentum rolling with this powerful, symbolic march.
For more information about the "Walk from Coal to Clean Energy" on April 20, please contact Sierra Club Organizer Elspeth DiMarzio at (702) 732-7750 or email@example.com. Second photo by Craig Rock.
-- Mary Anne Hitt, Beyond Coal Campaign Director
A coal ash/slurry impoundment at a mountaintop removal coal mine in West Virginia.
Today, Lisa Evans, Senior Administrative Counsel at Earthjustice, stood up for the 1.54 million children living near coal ash waste sites who have an increased risk of being diagnosed with cancer, heart damage, lung disease, respiratory distress, and a host of other life-threatening illnesses. Evans gave voice to those who, through no fault of their own, jeopardize their health daily simply because of where they live.
Evans testified today (read her full testimony here) before the Subcommittee on Energy and Environment in the U.S. House of Representatives against a recently-introduced bill that fails to substantively protect children and vulnerable communities from exposure to hazardous chemicals in coal ash.
Coal ash is the toxic by-product that is left over after coal is burned for electricity. Right now, it is dumped into open-air pits and precarious surface waste ponds, contaminating drinking water supplies and polluting the air in communities across the country. Coal ash ponds and landfills are disproportionately located in low-income communities, with almost 70 percent of coal ash ponds in the U.S. in areas where household income is lower than the national median.
While health professionals and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) have recognized for years that many of the hazardous substances found in coal ash are among the most deadly known to man, Evans' testimony shed light on the fact that coal ash is far more dangerous than previously understood. Using improved protocol, EPA found that some coal ashes leached toxic metals, such as arsenic, barium, chromium and selenium, at levels that far exceeded federal thresholds established for hazardous waste. Given this, it's no wonder that people living within one mile of unlined coal ash ponds can have a 1 in 50 risk of cancer - more than 2,000 times higher than what the EPA considers acceptable.
Establishing means to properly and safely dispose of coal ash should clearly be a national priority - and yet, as Evans explained in her testimony before Congress today, the Coal Ash Recycling and Oversight Act of 2013 introduced by West Virginia Rep. David McKinley cannot and will not adequately protect American communities from the toxic pollution from coal ash. Among other things, the bill fails to establish a national protective standard for coal ash, meaning that state regulations would not necessarily be required to protect human health and the environment, and owners of coal ash disposal units do not need to obtain enforceable permits by any specified date. This absence of a deadline renders the bill nearly meaningless.
Today, Evans shed light on a toxic problem that is causing real pain to children and communities across the country. Congress should reject Rep. McKinley's inadequate coal ash bill and get to work on legislation that sufficiently protects public health, our drinking water, and our environment.
-- Ed Hopkins, Environmental Quality Program Director, Sierra Club
A while back we wrote a piece clarifying some myths about increased coal consumption in the EU. We did that because the clear trend in the EU is just like the U.S. - a move beyond coal. Now it looks as though a similar set of myths is developing around coal growth in Japan. The problem is, just like the EU, the myth doesn't match reality. Here's what's really going on.
The 2011 earthquake and super tsunami have taken a big chunk of Japanese electrical production off line. Today only two of the country's fifty nuclear reactors have come back online and the national debate still rages over the future of nuclear power. In this vacuum a few analysts have suggested coal is filling the gap. It turns out this in fact is not happening, but it's getting attention because reporters love a good counter factual argument.
As it turns out Japan's total coal consumption hit a peak in 2007 and hasn't moved upwards much since then. In fact, in 2011 total coal consumption dipped roughly 6 percent. This changed slightly in 2012 when coal consumption did go up - a whopping 0.2 percent in the power sector and 4 percent for industrial uses. Hardly a resurgence.
But why didn't it go up if they needed the power? A big part of the reason coal didn't replace nucleari mmediately after the tsunami is that coal plants were also forced to idle production given the impacts of the storm. At the same time, the plants that were still functioning didn’t have a lot of spare capacity so there wasn't much room to increase production. Since you can’t build a coal plant overnight -- they typically take around five years -- there wasn’t much the country could do.
Well maybe they couldn't ramp up fast, but they must be planning a wave of new coal plants now right? Nope. According to World Resources Institute, Japan only has plans to build four new plants totaling 3.2 gigawatts. Fifty percent of this capacity is scheduled for commissioning soon, but the other half (1.6 gigawatts) is not even supposed to be commissioned until the next decade. One 600 MW unit is not slated to even start construction until 2015. meaning, at best, it won't be online until 2020. Another 1,000MW project, which has been on the drawing boards for years, has a commissioning date of 2023 "or later". But even if all of it were to come online next year it is only about one percent of total electricity capacity in Japan. So much for the hype.
It's also important to note that while most of the coal-fired fleet of power stations in Japan is relatively modern (1990s+) there are a number of older generating units (including a couple of coal/oil units from the 1970s) and a handful from around 1980. That means that while there are two new coal plants being commissioned soon, and maybe one more by 2020, there are a number of older plants which are getting towards the end of their life that will need to be retired. A booming coal sector this scenario does not make.
Of course as long as we're discussing facts, it's also important to point out that Bloomberg forecasts that Japan will become the world's second largest solar market this year. Solar isn't the only growth market though. Bloomberg reported that another 21 geothermal plants are under consideration and that wind is also likely to boom.
The combination of wind and solar could be particularly problematic for the future of coal (and nuclear) because it is as inflexible a source of power as you'll find - it just doesn't mix well with variable output. Japan could be facing a situation where coal and others with fuel costs would be forced to ramp down their output to accommodate the variable solar and wind output. That means if they do get the nukes restarted, a few coal plants get built and solar keeps growing, there could be a clash. That means the economic future for coal is anything but certain.
The truth is that as the US EIA data above shows Fukushima marked the end, not the beginning of a clear trend in rising coal consumption. So where's all the coal hype coming from? Hard to say, but with the winds of change against the coal industry it’s clear they are trying to take advantage of this tragedy - facts be damned.
-- Co-authored by Lauri Myllyvirta of Greenpeace International, and Ted Nace and Bob Burton of Coal Swarm.
Congressman Ed Markey and Sierra Club Volunteer Sheila Loayza in Concord, MA on Saturday
Congressman Ed Markey has been an outspoken and tireless champion on climate and clean energy issues since first being elected to the U.S. House. There, he has lead the charge to hold big polluters responsible for the damage they do to the people and places we care most about, and acted time and time again to pursue climate solutions. That’s why so many excited Sierra Club members stood in support of his U.S. Senate campaign on Saturday at a kick-off rally in Concord, Massachusetts.
Congressman Markey was greeted by loud applause from the crowd of more than 100 at the outdoor event at Nashoba Bakery in Concord. As he addressed the group, among the first people he thanked was Massachusetts Sierra Club Chapter Chair Dan Proctor and the dozens of Sierra Club members that came out to support his campaign. And the feeling is mutual. His remarks on Saturday - like his campaign and his record - make it easy to see why so many Sierra Club members are fighting to ensure he is the next Senator from the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.
Congressman Ed Markey in Concord on Saturday (Photo: Diana Bowen)
Ed told the story of growing up in Lawrence, MA as the son of milkman in a poor immigrant family, working to put himself through school when his family was not able to. He talked about how he went back to the house he grew up in just last year to meet the family now living in that triple-decker, suggesting that though the neighborhood has changed, the children living in that house still have the opportunity to become a U.S. Senator just like he does - if we continue the fight to ensure they have a safe and secure future. To ensure that opportunity remains, Markey spoke passionately about the need to ensure our schools are strong, safe and free from gun violence. And he talked about another issue critically important to our children’s future - the climate crisis.
“There are no emergency rooms for planets,” said Congressman Markey. And he spoke of the need to pursue a clean energy revolution driven by the same passion found in Concord nearly 240 years before, when Minutemen helped start the American Revolution.
With Congressman Markey’s campaign, Sierra Club members know we have the opportunity to send a true hero for climate action to the Senate. Just look at his record. Markey’s name was on the most significant piece of legislation to address climate change to come before the House in years. He’s led the fight to end tax giveaways to big oil companies and proposed critical bills to increase invest in clean energy solutions. And, he’s proudly campaigning on those achievements. That’s why Sierra Club members cheered loudly on Saturday when Congressman Markey noted that 19th century dirty fuels like coal and oil need to make way for wind and solar technology that will not only help turn around our climate crisis, but put people in Massachusetts back to work. And it’s why Sierra Club members are going to get to work for Markey.
Sierra Club member Sheila Loayza was able to meet Ed after the event and had her picture tweeted by the campaign. Sheila and many more Sierra Club members have been inspired by Markey’s commitment to climate action and clean energy - and they’re pledging to help his campaign with neighborhood phone banks and canvasses. You can help, too. The Sierra Club and our members are holding Environmentalists for Markey events this coming weekend and you can RSVP today to do your part in sending an environmental hero to the Senate.
-Drew Grande, Sierra Club Organizer, Boston, MA
Paid for by Sierra Club Political Committee, SierraClub.org, and Authorized by the Markey Committee.
Like a moth to the flame, U.S. Export-Import Bank (Ex Im) Chairman Fred Hochberg has an affinity for controversial fossil fuel projects. Instead of shying away from coal plants and mines that destroy the communities, tank local economies, and endanger the climate, Ex Im uses our taxpayer dollars to support them.
Under Hochberg’s leadership, the bank has ignored a Congressional mandate to direct 10% of financing towards renewables, and instead gone on a fossil fuel bender. Ex Im approved $900 million in financing for the 4,000 megawatt Sasan coal-fired power station in India, which displaced entire villages and used dangerous labor practices that lead to worker deaths. It directed $800 million in financing for the 4,800 MW Kusile power station in South Africa, despite local protests and the fact that the area around the project already exceeded pollution limits set by the South African government. Essentially, the Ex Im Bank is completely at odds with President Obama's desire to address climate change.
But it doesn’t have to be this way. An institution that is following President Obama's promise to lead on climate, is ExIm Bank’s sister organization - the Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC). Thanks to a robust climate policy and strong leadership, OPIC financed over $1 billion in clean energy in 2013. Even better, they didn't support a single fossil fuel project.
Now that Hochberg has announced he will stay on as Ex Im Chairman in Obama's second term, he has a responsibility to live up to the high standards set by the President, become more like OPIC, and kick the fossil fuel habit.
We shouldn't have to wait long to see which path Hochberg will choose. Ex Im is circling not one, not two, but three dangerous coal projects that will serve as litmus tests.The first two are highly controversial coal mine and export proposals in Australia's Galilee Basin. Just how bad are these projects? A recent UNESCO report cites coal development as a major threat to the Great Barrier Reef, and Greenpeace has dubbed the push "Monster Mine Madness".
The third project is Rio Tinto's Oyu Tolgoi mine in Mongolia, which ExIm will vote on this week. aside from being destructive in its own right, will also include a dangerous captive coal-fired power plant. Oyu Tolgoi has been a disaster from the start with two open investigations into impacts on local herders who rely on the region's scarce water resources to survive.
The U.S. government has already implicitly opposed Oyu Tolgoi by abstaining from a vote on a $900 million funding package from the World Bank's International Finance Corporation (IFC), citing water resources and the coal plant as major concerns.
Given the position U.S. Treasury took in that vote, rejecting financing for Oyu Tolgoi should be a no brainer for Hochberg. But Hochberg's legacy says otherwise. In 2010 the U.S. abstained from a vote on World Bank funding for the Medupi coal-fired power plant in South Africa, but a year later Ex Im ignored this guidance and approved $800 million in financing for Medupi's sister plant, Kusile.
If Fred Hochberg is going to stay on as Chairman of the U.S. Export-Import Bank, he must start living up to the clean energy agenda laid out by President Obama. Tell Fred Hochberg it's time for Ex Im to join the 21st century by rejecting fossil fuels and redirecting resources towards clean energy.
-- Nicole Ghio, Sierra Club Campaign Liaison