Climate Crossroads Blog
Posted by: Gabriel Derita at 3:40PM PST on October 29, 2010
Eleven influential senators led by Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and Jeff Merkley (D-OR) wrote a letter to Secretary Hillary Clinton urging her to answer some critical questions before granting approval to the massive Keystone XL pipeline, which would pump tar sands crude from Montana to Texas and through the largest aquifer in the US.
The senators highlighted ten concerns with the current proposal, including a failure to account for dramatic increases in greenhouse gas emissions, lack of proposed alternatives to the pipeline like efficiency measures and bio-fuels, and increased pollution in American communities already suffering from toxic refineries. The Senators also pointed to the possibility of the Keystone XL opening up an international market for tar sands in the Gulf, increasing our risk from more toxic spills without providing the energy security proponents tout.
This letter adds to the growing wave of resistance to the Keystone XL project. Thousands of citizens have written to Secretary Clinton opposing the pipeline, the EPA and the Department of Interior gave the State Department’s initial environmental impact analysis a failing grade, and the Department Of Energy has questioned the purported energy security benefits of this risky project.
“As you recently stated, tar sands oil is “dirty oil.” Approval of this pipeline will significantly increase our dependence on this oil for decades,” the senators wrote. “We believe the Department of State (DOS) should not pre-judge the outcome of what should be a thorough, transparent analysis of the need for this oil and its impacts on our climate and clean energy goals.”
The letter comes as a response to remarks Clinton made last week indicating her department was “inclined” to support the Keystone XL. In addressing the pointed concerns raised by this influential group of lawmakers, Secretary Clinton will find it difficult to simply rubber-stamp to another oil industry mega-project, especially in light of the Obama administration’s stated goals of reducing oil consumption and carbon emissions.
In determining if the Keystone XL is truly in the “national interest”, Secretary Clinton must realize that the interests of major oil companies do not align with the nation-wide effort to reduce our costly and deadly addiction to dirty fossil fuels. The concerns raised by these Senators make it increasingly clear that locking in dependence on more of the world's dirtiest oil is the wrong decision for America's clean energy future, and Secretary Clinton must deny the Keystone XL pipeline.
Posted by: Bruce Nilles at 10:09AM PST on October 28, 2010
This is the latest in our series of community coal ash profiles. This piece was written by Sierra Club Apprentice Sari Ancel.
Here's lovely daydream if you're from southeast Texas: It's a warm fall afternoon and you're out fishing on the banks of the Colorado River, listening to the sounds of birds migrating south.
Unfortunately, a proposed coal-fired power plant will soon ruin that daydream. There will be no fish to catch because their habitat has long been polluted. Those birds overhead will be flying through smoke plumes from the nearby coal-fired power plant. And forget a quiet afternoon, you'll be hearing the hum of that nearby power plant.
This is exactly what threatens Bay City, Texas - the proposed White Stallion coal-fired power plant.
On September 29th, the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) granted an air quality permit to the White Stallion coal plant, which is proposed for Bay City, putting the polluting project one step closer to completion.
Yet despite this latest permit, residents of Bay City are not convinced that their air will stay clean or that their community will remain safe in the coming years - and for good reason. According to research, over its entire lifecycle, the plant will cause 600 premature deaths and cost over $5 billion in external costs to the community.
Alison Sliva of the Matagorda County No Coal Coalition is helping lead the fight against White Stallion coal plant. The 1320-megawatt plant will burn petroleum coke and coal but it is not required to produce an Environmental Impact Statement.
"The more you learn about this stuff, the more it makes you sick to your stomach," said Sliva, "It is so incredibly wrong the way things work."
She is worried about the environmental and health impacts this new coal plant will have on Bay City, a small city close to the Gulf Coast known for farming, shrimping, and world-class bird watching.
In addition to health impacts, the plant will require seven billion gallons of fresh Colorado River water every year. This fresh water is already a limited resource, with area farmers experiencing a severe drought in 2009.
"Water is the most finite commodity we have that the state is already fighting over," said Sliva. "And we're giving water to the dirty coal plant but not to our local food growers."
The White Stallion power plant design has also proposed coal ash dump sites just miles away from the Colorado River. Coal ash, which is the toxic waste left behind after coal is burned, contains arsenic, selenium, lead, and mercury. The dump site proposals are open coal ash pits, a design that is exceedingly dangerous when considering how prone this coastal area is to hurricanes. Bay City residents were asked to evacuate for hurricanes Ike and Rita.
The area also gets an average of 42 inches of rainfall yearly, and Silva and her fellow residents have yet to see an adequate coal ash flood plan from White Stallion
"I'm very concerned about the coal ash because it is virtually unregulated," she said. "We're going to have mountains of it. We have a shallow water table and we're worried about it leeching into the groundwater...I'm hoping that the (Environmental Protection Agency) comes through to regulate the coal ash."
Sliva is referring to the new coal ash safeguards proposed by EPA. She joined hundreds of others who went to an EPA public hearing in Dallas, Texas, to testify about the dangers of coal ash.
If EPA enacts stricter safeguards, then Sliva and the residents of Bay City will have one less problem to worry about with the White Stallion plant.
Unfortunately, that would still not be enough to fully protect Bay City. While the White Stallion plant promises job creation, this does not account for the Bay City jobs lost because farmers won't have enough water for irrigation and the impacts on the fishing industry due to polluted waters.
"We have a small rural community with little political clout," said Sliva. "We were targeted because they didn’t think anyone would fight it."
But Sliva and other members of Bay City have proven that wrong by fighting and gaining momentum against White Stallion coal plant.
"Bay City's motto isn't Beaches, Bay, Birding, and Coal Plant'" says Sliva. But, to stop this from happening, "people need to be calling, emailing, faxing, and writing letters to keep this issue in front of the faces of the agencies and elected officials. Keep waving the red flag and raise it up."
Tell EPA to enact strong federal safeguards for coal ash.
Posted by: Gabriel Derita at 2:39PM PST on October 27, 2010
At least 230 ducks died yesterday after landing on toxic tailings ponds at several tar sands mines in Alberta. This event is as ironic as it is depressing, as just last week major tar sands producer Syncrude was fined $3.2 million for the death of over 1,600 ducks that landed on its tailings lakes in April 2008.
The recently settled court case with Syncrude led to the installation of better deterrents, including air cannons and scarecrows, at tailings ponds designed to scare birds away. That doesn’t seem to matter, as company officials claim their deterrents were fully operational yesterday as hundreds of migrating waterfowl perished in the poison lakes.
Alberta Environment Minister Rob Renner called the newest incident "discouraging in the extreme". Though Minister Renner’s comments refer to the public relations disaster this event will surely create for tar sands producers and their complicit government regulators, what is truly discouraging is continued lax regulation of these massive health threats despite repeated events illustrating just how dangerous they are. New tailings ponds continue to be proposed and permitted, companies continue to self-regulate, and the public and environmental health of Alberta continues to suffer.
Tailings lakes currently cover 170 square kilometers of Alberta’s landscape, posing an ongoing threat not just to wildlife but human health as well. Acutely fatal to animals that wander into these vast toxic ponds, the long-term effects of millions of gallons of toxic seepages on Alberta’s groundwater also pose a serious health threat to those living nearby. Studies by leading Canadian scientists have revealed elevated concentrations of toxic heavy metals near and downstream from tar sands operations, and nearby indigenous communities report abnormally high rates of rare cancers.
These toxic lakes and the tar sands that create them are a public health threat, and continue to wreak havoc on the wildlife of Alberta despite the industry’s efforts to make them ‘safe’. There is no such thing as a safe tailings pond, and there never will be. The only way to truly safeguard the health of Alberta’s people and environment is to eliminate tailings ponds entirely, or, better yet- kick our oil addiction and power our economy on clean renewable sources instead of increasing production of the dirtiest fuel on Earth.
The health threats of tar sands are not limited to Alberta’s failed struggle to manage the environmental and health crisis created by poison tailings ponds.
A new pipeline, called the Keystone XL, is being planned to pump tar sands crude through six states, crossing America’s largest aquifer that supplies water to one fifth of cattle, corn and wheat grown in the United States. Opposition from citizens and national leaders has been strong, but some officials seem willing to allow Alberta’s toxic tar sands to threaten our water and health. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton recently indicated she is “inclined to approve” the Keystone XL pipeline, which would expose US citizens to more toxic spills and lock us into dependence on the world’s dirtiest oil for decades.
Contact Secretary Clinton today and tell her the Keystone XL is not worth the health risks, and tar sands have no place in America’s clean energy future.
Posted by: Heather M at 8:47AM PST on October 27, 2010
There's a ton of news out there about various clean energy and dirty energy issues, so here's another round-up of what you may have missed in the past week.
First up, today is the final Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) public hearing on its proposed safeguards for handling coal ash (the toxic by-product of burning coal for electricity). Today's hearing is in Knoxville - not too far from the site of the devastating 2008 coal ash spill at the Tennessee Valley Authority Kingston coal plant.
The Sierra Club has plenty of concerned community members at the hearing, all calling for strong safeguards from EPA for this toxic waste. Some folks are tweeting during the hearing, so watch the #coalash hashtag for their updates.
Continuing on the coal news front, the NY Times had two good articles up this week about the Navajo Nation in Arizona wanting to move away from coal power and toward clean energy like solar and wind power. Be sure to read "Navajos Come to Grips with Coal Mining" and "Navajos Hope to Shift from Coal to Wind and Sun." Both pieces also include quotes from Sierra Club organizers working hard on these issues.
In other coal news, the fight over this dirty energy source in Texas now includes available wawter resources. From a Houston Chronicle article:
Coal-fired power plants are commonly identified as the nation's biggest emissions villain. But that notoriety hasn't slowed the rush to build them in Texas, where there are nearly 30 coal plants either operating, permitted or proposed.Moving on to natural gas news, yesterday Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell announced a moratorium on any future natural gas drilling on public lands in the state.
"The Sierra Club applauds this stopgap measure, but it is not enough," said Pennsylvania Sierra Club Director Jeff Schmidt. "We are appalled that the Pennsylvania Senate failed to pass a natural gas severance tax, a state forest protection bill, or other Marcellus gas-related legislation before adjourning. Senate leadership has chosen to put political campaigning ahead of the needs of the people of Pennsylvania."The Keystone State is a natural gas battleground right now, with residents uniting to express their concerns about "fracking." On Nov. 3rd, the Pennsylania Sierra Club is joining a massive coalition protesting a natural gas conference in Pittsburgh. The Sierra Club nationally and in Pennsylvania are working hard to call for safe natural gas as a transition fuel.
On the dirty energy front, did you watch PBS' Frontline last night all about BP's history of safety infractions? The special covered not just those infractions that led up to the oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, but the company's many other deadly safety issues at a Texas refinery and along Alaska's north slope. You can now watch the full show online.
More depressing dirty energy news - tar sands continue to be terrible. The latest news is that 125 ducks had to be euthanized after landing in a massive tar sands waste pond in Canada. Let's not bring this dirty fuel into the U.S.
And now for some good news. Our good clean energy news comes from Houston, Texas, where settlement with Shell oil company enabled the installation of solar panels on two city high schools.
"We are delighted with this solar power project in the two south Houston schools -- It not only demonstrates the best direction for Texas clean energy future, it also provides real benefits to the schools and the young people," said Sierra Club's Jennifer Powis. "The school district is expected to save over $10,000 annually in reduced electricity bills and the students will study and learn how solar power works."More good energy news, this time on the efficiency front. Yesterday EPA announced the winners of its First National Building Competition to Save Energy.
A residence hall at the University of North Carolina took first place - reducing "its energy use by 35.7 percent in one year, saving more than $250,000 on their energy bills and reducing more than 730 metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions, equivalent to the carbon dioxide emissions from the electricity use of nearly 90 homes for a year."
The full results are inspiring.
Although apparently it isn't that sort of inspiration that will get people to go green. According to this fascinating Wall Street Journal article, peer pressure and guilt are what gets action.
Posted by: Guay at 8:18AM PST on October 25, 2010
According to the International Energy Agency (IEA) 1.2 billion people will continue to lack access to energy by 2030 worldwide - 87% of which will live in rural areas. In September, the IEA, along with other United Nations agencies released an excerpt of the world energy outlook 2010 meant to make the case that reversing this outcome and providing universal energy access was an “ambitious yet achievable” goal. Yet to achieve a radically different outcome requires a fundamental shift in the way the world approaches the provision of rural energy services.
The energy outlook gave the need for this shift a nod by acknowledging the very limited role that traditional grid extension will play in achieving universal electricity access. While this comes as no surprise to the 400 million Indians still waiting for electricity, it may be surprising to the institutions and governments that continue to accept the flawed notion that centralized fossil fuel power generation, transmission, and distribution is up to the task; A notion that has lead to supply side increases in India of 60% over the past decade that have only increased energy access by 10%.
Recognizing the failure of traditional grid extension, the energy outlook concluded that in order to achieve universal access by 2030 only 30% of rural communities will be connected through the grid. The remaining 70% will require mini-grids (75%) or off grid (25%) energy systems. The IEA even goes as far to say that "decentralized solutions…will, indeed, account for most of the investment over the projection period." Moreover, the investment required to achieve universal energy access is only $33 billion per year above what current policies promise – a mere 3% of global energy investment.
This stands in stark contrast to the enormous costs associated with pushing the exact opposite policies of centralized power generation and grid extension. In
The question however, is how best to invest these savings. Many who currently control the purse strings would argue that transmission and distribution improvements, good governance measures that increase the government’s ability to reduce theft and recover costs, and more efficient generation equipment like super critical coal are the best method. However, the IEA makes a resounding case that this is an outdated, inefficient, and flawed way of thinking about rural electrification.
Indeed the failure of this paradigm has generated a new era of Indian social entrepreneurs who have stepped in to provide economical and appropriate solutions for rural communities. For instance, today the cost of coal generation is a mere 2 rupees/kilowatt hour. Compared to micro hydro at 4.5 rupees, biomass at 5 rupees, wind at 12 rupees or solar at 18 rupees this may appear to be the most cost effective source. However, when the costs of infrastructure, maintenance, distribution and grid line extension are included coal is no longer cost competitive with micro hydro or biomass for communities 5 kilometers (~3 miles) from the grid. When you move 10 kilometers (~6 miles) from the grid coal is no longer competitive with wind, and at a mere 15 kilometers (~10 miles) it is no longer competitive with solar. These are the economic calculations before factoring in the Government of India's incentives for renewables, or the enormous hidden costs of coal.
Click the chart to see a bigger version.
In short, the numbers make the case for a completely new and innovative way of conceptualizing rural electrification that supports local entrepreneurs and the clearly superior economics of renewable energy sources. This approach can help address some of the developing world’s most pressing issues including improving health outcomes, and economic productivity while avoiding the heavy toll that fossil fuels exact. So the question really is - why new coal?
Posted by: Gabriel Derita at 2:36PM PST on October 22, 2010
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton indicated she may approve the Keystone XL pipeline in remarks made earlier this week to the Commonwealth Club in San Francisco, despite the fact that her agency has not completed a full review of the pipeline’s potential environmental impacts.
Secretary Clinton has final authority over whether or not the 1,600 mile pipeline, carrying the world’s dirtiest oil through six states, will be granted approval for construction. A decision is not expected to be made officially until sometime next year, yet Clinton’s remarks suggest she is leaning toward a premature approval of this massive polluting project, which would threaten water resources throughout the Midwest, and dramatically increase refining pollution in the Gulf.
Senators Ben Nelson (D) and Mike Johanns (R) of Nebraska, whose state’s most valuable water resource -- the Ogallala aquifer -- is directly threatened by the Keystone XL, wrote letters expressing their dismay with Clinton’s comments. Senator Jeff Merkley (D) of Oregon joined the bipartisan Nebraska pair in criticism of Clinton’s remarks.
These senators add their concerns to a growing list of elected officials, agencies and American citizens, including 50 members of Congress, tens of thousands of citizens, and Nebraska’s governor, who have all expressed disapproval of the Keystone XL project. The EPA weighed in as well, calling the current review of the pipeline’s environmental impacts “inadequate”.
With full consideration of the risks this project poses to American water, air, and health, Secretary Clinton will certainly conclude the costs of the Keystone XL are too high.
Instead of jumping to premature decisions, Secretary Clinton needs to heed the concerns of the Senators, Congressmen and citizens who have called for a more thorough consideration of the risks and alternatives before rushing to approve a project that will lock us into dependence on the world's dirtiest fuel for decades.
We do not have to choose between dirty oil from the Gulf or dirty oil from Canada. Instead, we should be investing in domestic sources of clean energy, like wind and solar and efficiency measures that will keep dollars and jobs here at home.
This toxic project has no place in America’s clean energy future, and we have no need for the risks it poses today. The pipeline would not be able to meet full delivery capacity for nearly a decade, providing little relief from our reliance on hostile regimes to feed our oil addiction. If we increased the average fuel economy for American-made vehicles by just 2.5 miles per gallon, we would eliminate demand for all the oil the Keystone XL can ever provide. A cleaner, healthier and more efficient America has no need for the Keystone XL, and no place for the world’s dirtiest oil.
Posted by: Heather M at 8:37AM PST on October 22, 2010
Mary Anne Hitt, the director of the Sierra Club Beyond Coal Campaign, is a new mom and has some words for those trying to greenwash schoolkids and college students:
As a new mom, I'm paying more attention these days to how big companies are trying to influence our kids. I just learned that one of the biggest blockers of climate action in the U.S. is now bringing its obstructionism to your kid's middle school classroom. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce's Institute for 21st Century Energy just released an energy education guide for teachers of 5th - 8th grade.
The guide explains to kids where our nation currently gets its energy, and then asks this question:
"What do you think could happen if one of our energy sources was suddenly unavailable (e.g., power plant maintenance, government curb on production, etc.)?"Outside the classroom, the Chamber is working overtime to prevent the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) from doing anything about global warming pollution. Of course, EPA would never put this nation in a position where "one of our energy sources was suddenly unavailable." But that doesn't stop the Chamber from suggesting that scary scenario to our nation’s kids and their teachers.
The Chamber has long opposed any action on curbing global warming pollution and other dangerous emissions from dirty power plants, whether it comes via action from the EPA or Congress.
Now they're focusing on instilling their wrong beliefs into our kids. Just look at the focus of their Institute for 21st Century Energy:
"The mission of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce's Institute for 21st Century Energy is to unify policymakers, regulators, business leaders, and the American public behind a common sense energy strategy to help keep America secure, prosperous, and clean. Through policy development, education, and advocacy, the Institute is building support for meaningful action at the local, state, national, and international levels."Sounds innocent enough, but after watching the Chamber spend millions against any action on cleaning up the dirty power plants that poison our air and water and cause global warming, it seems that we all know their real "common sense energy strategy" - make sure polluters can keep on polluting at current levels, regardless of the impact on today's kids and future generations.
Right now EPA is proposing several safeguards to protect Americans from the pollution caused by coal-fired power plants - including rules that would treat coal ash (the by-product of burning coal for electricity) as the toxic waste that it is. EPA officials have already said that living near a toxic coal ash site can be worse for kids' health than smoking a pack of cigarettes a day.
The Chamber doesn't like these proposals, or any others that would require utilities to clean up coal pollution, and they are working overtime to stop them.
And this isn't the first time that the Chamber or the coal industry has directly targeted kids or young people with a misleading pro-coal message.
So for my new baby and the rest of America's kids, I’d like to add my own discussion question to the Chamber's energy education guide:
"What do you think could happen if we don't shift from coal and oil to clean energy sources, and families find that pollution makes the basic essentials of life suddenly unavailable (e.g., clean air, clean water, etc.)?"
Posted by: Bruce Nilles at 10:31AM PST on October 21, 2010
This is the latest in our series of community coal ash profiles. This was written by Sierra Club Apprentice Philip Hawes.
Tennessee's Emory River has long been treasured for its natural beauty.
In 1867, when a young man by the name of John Muir decided to walk from his home in Indiana, all the way to Florida, he crossed the Emory River. Its beauty struck him, and he wrote the following in his journal (which became his famed book "A Thousand-Mile Walk to the Gulf"):
"There is nothing more eloquent in Nature than a mountain stream, and this is the first I ever saw. Its banks are luxuriantly peopled with rare and lovely flowers and overarching trees, making one of Nature's coolest and most hospitable places. Every tree, every flower, every ripple and eddy of this lovely stream seemed solemnly to feel the presence of the great Creator. Lingered in this sanctuary a long time thanking the Lord with all my heart for his goodness in allowing me to enter and enjoy it."Unfortunately, 141 years later, the Emory River would inspire sorrow.
On December 22, 2008, a little before 1 a.m., an earthen dam holding back an 84-acre coal ash disposal pond, collapsed. A flood of 1.1 billion gallons (around six times the amount of BP's oil disaster) of coal ash slurry poured into the Emory River and onto the surrounding land. Coal ash is the by-product of burning coal for electricity and contains toxic materials such as arsenic, lead, mercury, and selenium. The spill covered more than 400 acres and destroyed houses, roads, and trees in its path.
"It was unreal. There's no way to imagine what it was like," said Steve Scarborough, a resident of Roane County, where the disaster took place. "They keep saying it's an ash spill. That's like saying an avalanche is a snow spill."
The earthen dam that failed had problems for years, including multiple leaks. And Scarborough, a civil engineer himself, said that the fixes they made were inadequate, based on bad engineering, and chosen just to cut costs. According to Scarborough, it was "just sheer incompetence. And the community suffered because of it."
Scarborough owns two properties on a lake adjacent to the spill site. He had purchased them ten years earlier as an investment. Before the disaster he had both properties on the market, deciding to sell them in order to put his kids through college. But now, he said, "They're worth pennies on the dollar."
Despite the national real estate market being down in late 2008, the real estate values in the area were relatively strong - until they crumbled following the coal ash disaster.
Scarborough said, "Even in the worst of times there are still people retiring, and we are that market. This is where they retire to. The value of waterfront properties had not yet declined." But afterwards, no one wanted to buy property, even miles away.
He spoke of one couple that decided against waterfront property in Roane County after hearing about the coal ash disaster: "The wife saw the newspaper and they stormed out. They bought waterfront property; they just bought it the next county."
Many land owners sued the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA), which operates the coal plant and coal ash disposal site responsible for the disaster, for the lost value of their property. But Scarborough said that to get money for their property, many of the people signed settlements with TVA that included a gag order and a waiver for any future health problems. Scarborough hasn't filed a lawsuit with TVA, saying he's just "trying to get TVA to do the right thing. Whatever's fair." But, he added, "They just don't want to do it."
The economic problems due to the disaster aren't limited to real estate. The tourism industry in the area has also been severely hurt, and Scarborough said that's affected the entire local economy, calling it "economic devastation."
The cost of cleanup could end up totaling $1 billion, in addition to lost property value, lost tourism, and the effects it has had on the rest of the local economy, as well as possible health risks.
Following the disaster, TVA performed a health study to find out if any health problems had been caused by the spill. But, Scarborough said, the study was very incomplete. Out of the 200 volunteers that participated in the study, only a small handful actually lived in the immediate area.
"The study came out saying that there are no health effects. That's total bullsh-t. They're putting their heads in the sand. And they're trying to push our heads in the sand." He continued, "If you believe TVA, I've got a couple lakeside lots to show you."
For the almost two years since the disaster occurred, TVA has been dredging coal ash out of the water, putting it into rail cars, and sending it to Alabama to another disposal site. Scarborough said they fill around 100 rail cars a day with the material.
TVA claims to have removed around 90% of the coal ash, but Scarborough believes isn't true. He says as they're dredging, they pick up a lot of sediment along with the ash. Any material that is less than half sediment is classified as coal ash, which means a lot of what they're picking up isn't actually coal ash.
Above all, Scarborough is tired of coal companies avoiding responsibility for their mistakes.
"If we put a rock through someone's window, we have to buy a new window, and that doesn't seem to be the case with these coal companies. TVA is in denial - they aren't owning up to what they've done."
The disaster in Tennessee was one of the major reasons Lisa Jackson and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recently proposed new safeguards for coal ash disposal. Having proposed two possible rulings, EPA has been holding public hearings around the country for citizens to weigh in on the decision. Scarborough traveled to North Carolina to testify at the September 14th EPA hearing and he’ll also attend the Tennessee hearing on October 27th.
Scarborough said that the disaster in Tennessee wouldn't have happened if EPA had already passed federal safeguards for coal ash disposal.
"Having seen the results of lax oversight, we feel we have to campaign for the most stringent regulatory option," he said. "This cannot be left to the states where lobbyists wield oversized power on compliant legislators. We don't want anyone else to go through what we've been through."
Scarborough points out that the coal ash from the Tennessee disaster that has been shipped to Alabama still hasn't gone away. "To be honest with you, the remedy, where they're storing the ash now, it's not contained. They just built a wall around it." Since there still aren't yet any federal regulations, the same coal ash that caused so much destruction in Tennessee still isn't being stored in a safe manner.
Scarborough calls Roane County stunningly beautiful and is hopeful for the time years from now when the mess is cleaned up. But about John Muir's famous walk, he says, "He'd be pretty disappointed in what he saw if he was there today."
Posted by: Heather M at 11:59AM PST on October 20, 2010
This is a guest post by Rachel Butler, National Conservation Organizer for the Sierra Club Green Transportation Team.
Today is the six month anniversary of the explosion of BP's Deepwater Horizon oil rig, a tragedy that claimed 11 lives and marked the beginning of the ongoing BP oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico. Though the well has been capped, the saga is far from over for the Gulf Coast communities and the Gulf ecosystem.
America's dependence on oil has pushed oil companies to drill in more and more dangerous places for bigger and bigger profits, resulting in disasters like the explosion of BP's Deepwater rig. This disaster and its aftermath highlight the need for America to get serious about breaking our addiction to oil.
Seventy percent of the 557 million gallons of oil used daily in the U.S. are for transportation, and the vast majority of that oil is used in our passenger cars and trucks. To move beyond oil, it's clear that we have to reform our outdated, oil-soaked transportation system.
We cannot end our dependence on oil until we emphasize convenient transportation choices that reduce our need to drive, like passenger and freight rail and public transit.
Instead, we must develop our towns and cities into livable communities where people can walk, bike, or take transit to their destinations rather than waste time, money, and gas sitting in stop-and-go traffic. We must develop 21st century transportation system that includes high speed rail that connects city centers and to transit – all without oil!
The good news is that investing in transportation reform that provides 21st century transportation choices is not only the right thing to do in the wake of the BP disaster, but it's also the right thing to do to jump-start our economy.
A recent report released by the White House Council of Economic Advisors and the Department of the Treasury (PDF) shows that investment in public transit infrastructure is in high public demand and will create jobs for the middle class. Analysis of the 2009 economic stimulus also showed that funding for public transportation created twice as many jobs per dollar as funding for roads.
Another report released today by the Apollo Alliance, entitled "Make it in America: The Apollo Clean Transportation Manufacturing Action Plan," (PDF) shows that investment in transportation infrastructure that creates a globally competitive transit and clean vehicle manufacturing sector in the United States can create 3.7 million jobs in the U.S., including 600,000 jobs in the manufacturing sector.
In the shadow of the BP disaster and under the weight of a sagging economy, there's no time to lose. America must invest in a 21st century transportation system that puts America back to work, provides transportation choices, and moves us beyond oil.
To join in the Sierra Club's work for a 21st century transportation system that moves us beyond oil, become a Sierra Club Transportation Activist.
First photo by Jordan Macha.
Posted by: Brian F. at 2:08PM PST on October 18, 2010Sierra Club India Environment Post: ONergy’s Answer to Why New Coal?
Posted by: Brian F. at 11:28AM PST on October 18, 2010
by Justin Guay
had the opportunity to sit down and talk with social entrepreneur Piyush Jaju,
cofounder of ONergy (www.onergy.in ) a Renewable
Energy Venture providing complete energy solutions to rural
company has received backing from some of the social entrepreneurial world’s
finest (SELCO and Barefoot Power) and was born out of an
NGO exploring the question Why new coal? The
result was a journey across the coal belt of
What inspired you?
three years ago we (Piyush Jaju, Vinay Jaju, and Ekta Kothari Jaju) got
interested in how we could make a difference. We started with an NGO focused on
climate change and sustainability with an outreach program to schools and colleges
to improve people’s awareness and involving them to take action. From there we got
the idea to travel by cycle along the coal belt at a grassroots level, write a
paper on our experience, and take it to the policy level and see what action
could be taken. It’s not an issue that
wanted to look at how we could directly address the problem. It’s easy to say
we have a climate problem and coal is extremely harmful. But what is the
solution? Renewable energy is expensive. And
realized that decentralization of energy is the solution to address the rural
energy needs. But we need to promote affordable solutions for rural
On Clean Cookstoves…
It’s critical to understand the benefits – including economic. If they [rural villagers] have to pay for the wood there are direct benefits. We are trying a pilot with a few portable cookstoves. We are looking at all rural energy needs starting with the lighting program then moving to cookstoves. Lighting is a much more critical need in terms of saving money (kerosene and battery).
The toughest part of the job is satisfying our customers
We started by promoting small lanterns ($13 or Rs 600). The market wanted something bigger (i.e. something that could power TVs). We went back to the drawing board to find how we could make affordable larger systems available. We decided that what we really needed to do was widen the range of products available to our customers in order to match demand. But the bigger challenge is really to build an effective distribution channel as well as the after sales service network. And accessibility is a problem – this all needs to be done in a cost effective way by using existing networks, training entrepreneurs etc. Entrepreneurs often come to us they say this is a great product how do we promote it.
On the Broader impacts…
It’s important to think of our direct and indirect impact. When we are looking at going to villages we need to ensure community development, empowering people by building entrepreneurs, helping marginalized people, and working with womens’ self help groups. We need direct economic benefit because they pay a massive price for terrible quality light from kerosene. For basic needs they pay such a large price. How can products directly save money for them? We also find linkages to livelihoods and community development and we are becoming involved in those areas.
On Coal’s ability to deliver on development…
have been an argument in the past but now we have alternatives whose prices are
decreasing. Getting on the ground, it’s not feasible for the government to
provide electricity to very remote rural areas. They will have to build new
lines that will have massive transmission losses. The amount of money they will
be spending and then losing would be better spent subsidizing renewable energy
for rural areas. It’s a clear solution.
short run, coal will dominate. But
Right now because of the drop in prices it’s more about how you can get financing in place and make those products affordable so that the rural person doesn’t have to worry about capital expenditure.
On biomass and small hydro…
What about the traditional aid/subisdy approach?
It does not solve a problem if we give something for free. This needs to be market driven. We are working with Rotary International on a project and we had to convince them to stop giving systems for free. The rural person is willing to pay if they see the benefit - in terms of cost and energy provided. In our Rotary project we used their funds to provide a small subsidy instead of subsidizing an entire system. Now we can finance 120 systems instead of 20-30 systems only.
has been challenging. But in a short span of time we have sold 1,000 lighting
systems. Our aim is to impact 1 million lives in the next five years. Initially
we will start with lighting, and then move to electrification and cooking. We have strong partnerships with MFIs and
NGOs and have made our business model more robust. KDS (Kotalipara development
society) and VSSU are our
by Justin Guay
A final message…
unconventional solutions that are market driven. Start challenging notions
Posted by: Brian F. at 9:02AM PST on October 18, 2010
When it comes to climate change, the science is all there. Too bad our elected officials, and many in the media, aren't listening. The latest (bad) news has the year 2010 as among the warmest years of all time (as long as records have been kept). Via NYT's Green blog:
With more than two months to go, 2010 is on pace to tie 1998 as the warmest year in the historical record, according to an analysis of land and sea surface temperatures by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.Get involved! Check out the Sierra Club's Climate Recovery Partnership program.
Posted by: John Byrne Barry at 3:24PM PST on October 15, 2010
This year, I decided to take better advantage of the planting opportunities in the fall.
In the San Francisco Bay Area, we have a second growing season. I haven’t planted fall crops for years, however — not because of laziness so much as the shorter days and the wetter, colder weather. By mid-October, it’s dark when I get home from work, which leaves only the weekends. The rainy season hasn't started yet, but will soon.
I was in Santa Cruz this past weekend, so had no time for planting, but I took Monday off, and got home by mid-afternoon with a flat of lettuces, kale, and chard, plus five bags of dry horse manure from Z’s sister’s horse ranch in Soquel.
The eastern bed is still producing tomatoes, though I seem to be down to the sungolds and other small or cherry varieties. That bed also has some peppers and basil that have some life to them yet. The western bed is finished for the year, except for some parsley and strawberries at one end, which are perennial or, in the case of parsley, act like a perennial.
Here's the before picture. I cleaned most of the western bed a week or two ago, pulling out the dry squash, corn, and beans.
Monday, I pulled out the crabgrass, dug up a few roots, and raked out the dead leaves. Then I poured four of the bags of manure onto the bed.
This manure was lightweight and dry. I remember earlier this year how heavy the manure was — it had composted and compressed, and was hotter. This stuff had not composted as much. It still looked like horse poop. But since the horses eat hay and other and other roughage, and the pile had been sitting in the sun without being watered for a while, I don’t think there’s any danger of the plants being burned by the compost. (I’ll know soon enough if I’m wrong.)
It may have been smarter to dump the manure in my compost bin and let it decompose and heat up first, but, well, let's think of this as an experiment. Lettuce does need nitrogen and phosphorus, so I'll need to remember to give it some fertilizer next weekend. The dry manure will work more as mulch and soil amendment than fertilizer.
I scooped out holes in the layer of dry manure and set out 24 lettuce seedlings — including romaine and buttercrunch — plus 6 kale plants, all close to the soaker hose that curls through the bed. Then I watered it all.
It's Indian Summer here in the Bay Area, so we're experiencing our warmest stretch of the year. Hot, still, clear. No fog. The rains will start in the next month or so, but for now, these seedlings, with their shallow roots, need regular watering.
This is when the turnoff valves I installed as part of the drip system earn their keep. (See Garden Beds, Part 2.) I've turned off the water to the tomatoes — at this point in their cycle, they'll put more energy into their fruit when they're deprived of water — and turned it on for the lettuce bed. Ten minutes every morning for now.
It was still light when I finished so I grabbed the weed whacker and took a couple passes along the pathways. I didn’t finish, but I got more weeding done than I expected.
The weed whacker is the only machine I use in the garden, but it sure is a testament to power tools. I've done enough manual weeding to know. It would have taken many hours more without that little bit of electricity.
One of the main weeds I whacked was morning glory, which you can see below snaking its way from the fence, where I want it, into garden beds and pathways, where I don't.
Here's an out-of-control lavatera that I didn't tackle. That will take an hour or so with some loppers. It's too woody for the weed whacker.
One last thing. Corn. I don't think I'll bother with it next year.
It like how it looks growing, and my plants were tall and healthy, or so I thought. But whether I didn't give them the right nutrients or it wasn't hot enough or Jupiter was in retrograde for too much of July, they didn't produce more than a couple of ears of corn, and even then it was more starchy than sweet. (Based on about two minutes of lazy web research, my guess is that they weren't properly pollinated because I didn't plant enough of them. One source says you need three or four rows, each 8 feet long. I didn't do that.)
Here are couple photos of my pathetic harvest. Look at that cob with two measly kernels.
Posted by: Bruce Nilles at 10:38AM PST on October 15, 2010
Hot off the presses: EPA just announced it is recommending rejecting the massive Spruce Mine in Logan County, West Virginia, for the simple reason that it can't comply with long-standing clean water protections. EPA Region 3 and Administrator Shawn Garvin recommended that the permit for Spruce be withdrawn (read the recommendation in our press release).
In short, this proposed mountaintop removal coal mine would release huge amounts of toxic pollution into the state's waterways. That has been illegal across the country and today Lisa Jackson is proposing the same protections for Appalachia.
Today's recommendation flows from President Obama's and EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson's commitment to restore science and uphold our bedrock Clean Water Act. EPA is proposing to take the radical step to ensure that the residents of Appalachia have the same clean water protections afforded other residents around the country.
For far too long Appalachia's residents have been subjected to pollution from coal mining practices that would be prohibited elsewhere in the United States. There are so many local grassroots heroes who have spent more than a decade fighting this massive mountaintop removal coal mine.
As we have worked with our members and allies in Appalachia to tell the story nationwide about the incredible destruction associated with mountaintop removal mining, the overwhelming response we hear outside of Appalachia is "How can that be allowed to happen in the United States?"
This decision is long overdue. During the Bush Administration hundreds of mines were approved, dozens of mountains were razed and pollution killed stream after stream after stream. Sierra Club and our allies are working to stop this pollution, and recently a federal court ordered a $45 million clean up of an existing mine, but it is far better to not approve these mines in the first instance.
The next step is for EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson to put the final nail in this destructive project and finalize her decision. This decision should then guide the agency to do what the science and public health demands - end the practice of mountaintop removal mining once and for all. We need a uniform rule that says no more mountaintop removal mining, period.
Let's put this devastating practice behind us. Let's put residents to work restoring the land and waters damaged by coal mining over the past decades. And, let's overcome the naysayers who oppose Appalachia sharing in the jobs and economic development that comes with building a clean, renewable energy future underway across the country.
Posted by: Brian F. at 12:49PM PST on October 14, 2010
Do you have a way with words? Are you interested in a solar-powered backpack? On October 30, TV hosts Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert will be hosting dueling rallies -- Rally to Restore Sanity and March to Keep Fear Alive -- at the National Mall in Washington, D.C.
The Sierra Club will be there. But we slogans for t-shirts that we'll be wearing at the two rallies. Enter our slogan contest for the chance to win one of the shirts, a Sierra Club goody bag, and a solar-powered backpack. The deadline to enter is 11:59 PM PST October 22, 2010.
Are you a Stewart or a Colbert? Are you for sanity or fear? Either way, give us your slogan.
Posted by: Brian F. at 12:47PM PST on October 14, 2010
Plug-ins and hybrids are all the rage these days. Can you remember a time when clean cars had so much momentum? Read my interview with the co-founder of Plug-In America Chelsea Sexton, who talks about the great things GM and Nissan are doing. Tax credits (not to mention no trips to gas stations and less maintenance costs) are making it easier than ever for consumers. Today comes news of Hyundai's 2011 Sonata Hybrid, which will include a $1,300 tax credit. But to enjoy the full effect of the credit, you have to act in December when the car comes out because the feds only offer it until the end of the year.
Nevertheless, these are exciting times for clean cars. But there's someone missing in this party. Where you at Honda???
What happened to Honda? Well, after thinking about this for a few days it occurred to me the reason Honda would not publicly endorse electric vehicles. They are late to the game.Join the party and get involved with Sierra Club's Green Transportation program.
Posted by: Brian F. at 12:45PM PST on October 14, 2010
Climate science boils down to trends, not individual weather events. Weather is more like a symptom of the larger issue. Scientists have various tools at their disposal for coming up with predictions on climate's future. But they're always on the lookout for polishing the art of using the past and present as a window into the future.
That's why a new site called Old Weather was launched -- to gather primary historical sources written by sailors of past generations. (h/t Universe Today, Kottke.)
There are gaps in weather and climate data records, particularly before 1920, prior to when weather station observations were accurately recorded. But old naval ships routinely recorded the weather they encountered – marking down temperatures and conditions even while in battle.This is the latest example of "citizen science" that is worth paying attention to as it develops.
Posted by: Bruce Nilles at 8:31AM PST on October 14, 2010
This is the latest in our series of community coal ash profiles. This piece was written by Sierra Club Apprentice Lydia Avila.
The community of Joliet, Illinois, identifies as many things - Midwestern, humble, and hard-working. Yet they also identify with something much less positive: being collateral damage. According to Joliet residents, they don't even merit a second thought to Midwest Generation, a coal-fired power plant that has been dumping toxic coal ash near Joliet for over 40 years.
Coal ash is the byproduct of burning coal for electricity, and it's having a major impact on Joliet. Residents say if you were to spend a week in Joliet you would find yourself driving through coal ash fog; a stroll in your yard would cause you to come back covered in "black stuff" and/or yellow particulates; you wouldn't be able to drink or bathe in the water; and your clothes would come out of the washer tinted orange and black from the chemicals in the water.
If you spent time in Joliet, residents say, you would see this "black stuff" covering your car, yard and house on a daily basis, and you certainly could not fish in any of the lakes, rivers or streams in the area.
But, they added, even worse are the health effects that you and your loved ones would experience: nose bleeds, blisters, skin infections, migraines, coughing, gagging, mercury poisoning, neurological disorders, to name a few. And, these would culminate in the form of asthma, kidney transplants, heart transplants, lymphoma, neurological disorders, seizures, rare forms of leukemia, emergency hysterectomies, and lupus (again, just to name a few).
Tammy Thompson knows the health effects first-hand - calling herself and her family part of that collateral damage. Her six-year-old daughter Faith has suffered the effects of living near a coal plant since she was born. Faith’s doctor diagnosed her with Grave's Disease and recommended that she, and all the children in Joliet, be routinely tested for lead and mercury poisoning.
Thompson recalls times when she often had to struggle to gain composure in her car, while her daughter in the backseat would ask, "What's that smell, mommy?" and then complain of headaches. She saw her daughter suffer from blisters and sores every time they bathed her in a storage tub filled with bottled water following recommendations from her doctor, the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency (IEPA) and others. Yet, for a long time, their health problems remained a mystery.
Thompson and her neighbors have taken matters into their own hands, filing report after report and making phone call after phone call to local, state and federal agencies. When Thompson discusses the actions taken by the people of Joliet, she underscores the fact that this is a human issue: "I'm not an environmentalist, I'm a mom. I'm not an activist, I'm an American," she said.
Unfortunately, Joliet residents say their concerns have consistently been ignored by every public agency and department that, in theory, is supposed to help them.
The IEPA and local officials play a game of ping pong with their cries for help, and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) claims not to have jurisdiction over the area. The IEPA likes to claim that these diseases occur naturally, but there is nothing natural about the levels at which they occur in Joliet.
On the rare occasions when the IEPA has returned a few a call, agency officials have tried to justify the horrendous living conditions by saying the jobs at the coal plant and its coal ash disposal site are needed.
Thompson says that supposed "gain" certainly pales in comparison to watching her family and friends suffer the health effects. "'Get use to it and get over it' is what they try to tell us," Thompson said.
Not surprisingly, when the Environmental Integrity Project and Sierra Club's recently released coal ash report, "In Harm's Way," Joliet was listed as one of the most contaminated sites in the country. The town of Joliet has received national attention from such figures as Erin Brockovich and, at the time, Senator Obama.
Thompson and her community continue to ask why they aren't receiving any help. "Why doesn't the EPA prove something is safe? Why must we wait for a body count to show it’s not?" asked Thompson.
"It's not an environmental issue; it's an ethical, social and civil rights issue."
Tell EPA we need strong federal safeguards for toxic coal ash.
Posted by: Elizabeth Irvin at 2:34PM PST on October 13, 2010
Exxon is currently barging massive (as in, longer than a hockey rink and heavier than the Statue of Liberty) tar sands equipment up the Columbia and Snake rivers to the port of Lewiston, ID. The oil industry wants to drive these huge loads of Korean mining equipment up widened scenic northwest highways to Alberta’s tar sands, to trigger massive expansion of one of the most destructive industries on earth. (See this article for a fantastic overview of the heavy haul project and its awful destructiveness.)
It doesn’t seem to matter to Exxon that a federal judge has halted other shipments in their tracks in Idaho, or that concerned citizens, a U.S. representative, and First Nation communities have voiced serious concerns about the destructive impact of the heavy hauls and the corresponding expansion of the tar sands in Alberta. Exxon officials think they can do whatever they want to increase their bottom line, even if it means blatant disregard for the will of the people. They want to open this scenic corridor for huge, destructive traffic, and keep it open for decades to come. Such arrogance should be shocking, but unfortunately seems to be business as usual for tar sands companies.
If you’re in the Northwest, spread the word about Exxon’s arrogant behavior. Let your members of congress and local elected officials know that Exxon’s actions are unacceptable. If you’re near the Snake or Columbia Rivers and see these massive shipments go by, document them!
Posted by: Heather M at 11:42AM PST on October 13, 2010
The American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy just released its 2010 State Energy Efficiency Scorecard and we wanted to share it with you. One of our policy analysts pulled out some highlights (these include bullet points from the press release as well):
Posted by: Heather M at 1:28PM PST on October 11, 2010
This is a guest post by Rachel Butler of the Sierra Club's Green Transportation Team.
On Friday we wrote about the 10/10/10 Global Work Party, anticipating an unprecedented day of action with people getting to work across the globe for climate solutions.
Yesterday was 10/11/10 and the dust of these work parties is beginning to settle, and it's clear that the 7,347 work parties across the globe - including thousands of events in the United States-- show that the world’s people are leading on climate solutions.
The Sierra Club encouraged its members and activists to get to work on transportation solutions, as the transportation sector accounts for 33% of America's greenhouse gas emissions and 70% of oil use in the U.S. Most of the pollution and oil use comes from cars and light trucks, and it's clear that we're going to have to address our transportation system as we address climate change.
Looking through the photos at 350.org is pretty incredible. It's also inspiring to see how many of these photos involve folks getting to work on their bicycles, especially from our car-centric culture in the United States.
On 10/10/10, millions of people across the globe got to work, had fun, and demonstrated to world leaders that it's time to get to work on climate solutions - but we know that one day of action isn't enough.
The Sierra Club's Transportation Activists are "getting to work" through the year on creating a 21st century transportation system that will move us beyond oil and create transportation choices for all. Couldn't get enough on 10/10/10? Join the Transportation Activists here.
Our work is just getting started.
Photo is of the Minneapolis 10/10/10 bike tour and rally, courtesy of Michelle Rosier of the Sierra Club's Central Region.
Posted by: Guay at 1:02PM PST on October 11, 2010
This past weekend civil
society members from around the world descended on
The Bank however glosses over this failure by continually pushing a false narrative that its fossil fuel energy lending - which includes record sums for coal - is meant to ensure energy access for the poor. In a pointed response to a question on phasing out fossil fuel lending during a civil society town forum, World Bank president Robert Zoellick lambasted those in the West who deny the world’s poor fossil fuel based energy when we ourselves continue to burn coal. Unfortunately, he was unaware that of 26 independently reviewed fossil fuel projects in 2009 and 2010 not a single one had the specific aim of ensuring energy access for the poor, a fact that a searing report from Oil Change International makes painfully clear.
While Mr. Zoellick and the Bank writ large shamefully promoted the failed policies of the past at the annual meetings, a champion was busy rising to the challenges of today in an effort to avoid the destruction that these policies hold. Over the past week, Jairam Ramesh made the unprecedented move of putting on hold for one year all coal-based ultra mega power projects (UMPPs) to be sited in coastal areas relying on imported coal. These 4,000 MW projects are critical to the Government of India’s (GoI) plans for bridging the country’s power deficit. Ramesh’s halt is merely the latest in a series of moves that have earned his ministry the moniker the “no-go ministry.” As if to punctuate the move, later in the week Ramesh clashed with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s demands for a review of all hydro projects in the Northeast region of the country by declaring a “moratorium on any further clearances, as… these are bound to be the subject of agitation.”
Ramesh’s actions bring to stark relief the difference between the World Bank and the hopes and desires of millions of Indians facing the reality of fossil fuel-led development; a contrast which is only sad, painful and ironic when Mr. Zoellick uses that same plight to justify his actions.
Psychologist Ronald David Laing once said that insanity is a perfectly rational adjustment to an insane world. Jairam Ramesh’s moves may be politically insane for those who refuse to challenge the dominant fossil fuel narrative, but in a world that is rushing headlong towards environmental and developmental disaster they are more than a rational adjustment - they are in fact revolutionary. Political maneuvering may burn out, but as long as civil society is able, we will make sure that standing up for what is right will never fade away.
Posted by: Heather M at 7:48AM PST on October 8, 2010
This is a guest post from Rachel Butler, National Conservation Organizer for the Sierra Club Green Transportation Campaign.
On October 10th, the Sierra Club is partnering with 350.org and hundreds of other organizations around the world to host a Global Work Party for climate solutions.
This Sunday, volunteers across the world will host events to call for global action on climate and get to work in their communities to create local solutions. Already, more than 7,000 events have been registered across the globe in nearly every country on the planet. It's not too late to join the fun - these 6,700 Work Parties are all about working for and celebrating local solutions to the climate crisis.
Transportation is responsible for over one third of America's greenhouse gas emissions - most of those emissions coming from cars, trucks, and SUVs. In order to get serious about climate solutions in the US, we’re going to have to re-think the (way that we design our communities and how we get from point A to point B.
In his blog this week, Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune highlighted the need for America to reform our transportation system, and on 10/10/10, the Sierra Club is encouraging its members and activists to promote smarter transportation choices that move America beyond oil.
Here's just a sample of some of the exciting Work Parties organized by Sierra Club activists this Sunday:
And if one day of action for smarter transportation choices isn't enough for you, join the Sierra Club's Transportation Activists here to help create a 21st century transportation system in the United States.
Posted by: Bruce Nilles at 9:27AM PST on October 7, 2010
This post is the latest in our series of community coal ash profiles. It was written by Sierra Club Apprentice Flavia de la Fuente.
When a company named Making Money, Having Fun LLC (how's that for Orwellian?) applied for a permit for a commercial disposal facility to dump coal ash (along with waste oil and gas water) in eastern Oklahoma, they provided geographical maps and documents indicating that, pursuant to the Corporation Commission rules, there was no town of a population below 20,000 within three miles.
Except that's not true.
The town of Bokoshe (450 people) has been there since the 1800s. You can drive through it, you can stop at the post office, and you can graduate from the high school.
But for Making Money, Having Fun, there is no town and there are no rules. For eight years, they have been dumping waste oil and gas water and driving trucks of toxic coal fly ash (as many as 80 trucks in a single day), the product of a nearby coal-fired power plant run by AES, through the main street in town and dumping it in a pit a mere mile and a half from Bokoshe. Dozens of people in Bokoshe have died of cancer or are battling it right now, and children with asthma wake up in the middle of the night, struggling to breathe, afraid that they're going to die.
Diane Reece, an elementary school teacher in Bokoshe, protested the fly ash pit from the beginning.
"We didn't know anything about fly ash at the time," she said. "When they granted us a meeting downtown, it was a courtesy, because they were going to do it anyways. They haven't honored any of the promises they made, and they said it was harmless. And we believed them."
Tim Tanksley, another local Bokoshe resident, also recalls being told not to worry: "They just told everybody it was dirt, that you could put it on your peanut butter and jelly sandwich."
Choosing a site near Bokoshe was nothing if not predatory. Reece stated, "In small towns you have people who help each other. It's a beautiful place to live. It's a wonderful thing to live in a community to help each other. And I feel that they have chosen small towns because we are so trusting. We trusted that they wouldn't be dumping anything to harm us."
"They" is a broad term for the Oklahoma Department of Environmental Quality, the Oklahoma Corporation Commission (lead state agency in charge of oil and gas water that issued the original permit), and the Department of Mines (lead agency in charge of reclamation).
To Reece and other Bokoshe residents, also complicit is Oklahoma's political leadership: the governor who appoints people to these various commissions, the local congressional representative, and the senators from Oklahoma, who in theory are charged with representing the interests of their constituents.
The ODEQ refuses to acknowledge that fugitive coal fly ash is impacting people and property outside the fence line. The Department of Mines refuses to acknowledge that the pit is leaking contaminated wastewater. And Oklahoma's political leadership refuses to acknowledge basic, incontrovertible science.
Tim Tanksley appealed directly to Senator James Inhofe and Representative Dan Boren to help, who in turn replied, "The fly ash is temporarily mounded while it is mixed with water to form slurry. Ultimately, the mine will be transformed into a pasture. Therefore, the fly ash mound is temporary and will disappear once the reclamation is complete."
Meanwhile, Senator Inhofe and Representative Boren are both helping the pit stay open.
According to Harlan Hentges, Oklahoman and attorney for Bokoshe residents, "Senator Inhofe is all over this thing. EPA stopped (the company) from dumping out there. After that happened, the Senator called EPA to find out when they could resume dumping in the pit. Representative Dan Boren did the same thing."
Hentges has learned to follow the money. "Those businesses pay a whole lot of money to do whatever the hell they want to do. They pay people to exploit the power that they have on their behalf. And you come up with all kinds of interesting ways to justify it. It's becoming really, really hard to justify in Bokoshe. What is wrong with this? What is so twisted here? Why is it so bad that we don't think you should dump fly ash into a pit?"
Bokoshe residents are fighting back, and founded B.E. Cause to protect their town, their health, and the future of their children. They've tussled with state agencies, with their elected officials, and even with other people in Bokoshe.
There's a younger generation that is fighting back as well: Diane Reece's class of sixth graders has taken the kind of initiative that reassures us that small towns are still America's moral compass.
Thanks to a federal grant program called "Learn and Serve America" there is structured time set aside for Reece's class (pictured below) to serve their community. Proposals for this year's program included a "Welcome to Bokoshe" sign and a bench downtown for the gossip group (it's a small town, after all).
But then three girls raised their hands and said, "We need to stop the fly ash." Reece asked the class how many people had asthma, and of the 17 students, 9 raised their hands.
Reece recalled, "That was my answer. They started telling me about what it's like to have asthma. I was listening to them tell me how their attacks made them feel like they were going to die."
"We're just getting started," said Reece, "my sixth graders are leading the cause. The other night at our parent-teacher conference, they got 25 signatures in an hours' time. And this type of stuff is important, because out here, not everybody has access to computers and the internet. Tonight at the football game, we're going to pass out flyers about fly ash."
Bokoshe may be a small town, but the residents have big hearts.
Posted by: Heather M at 8:23AM PST on October 7, 2010
There's been a slew of stories about coal this week - so let's share them. First up is a great piece on coal ash from CNN - specifically the huge Little Blue Run coal ash lake in WV and PA: (transcript here)
Posted by: Bruce Nilles at 9:46AM PST on October 6, 2010
The coal industry is a filthy business, but that doesn't stop the industry from spending a fortune on PR consultants to try and distract attention away from the costs it imposes on Americans every day. With labels like "clean coal" and "green coal," the coal industry's spinmeisters spend a lot of time and money trying to pretend coal is something it is not.
Now in response to a successful campaign by the Sierra Club and our allies in the United States to stop the construction of new coal plants - we are up to 145 plants stopped - Peabody Energy - the world's largest coal company - is proposing to grow its market by shipping coal overseas to impoverished countries.
Peabody's rationale for going overseas? They have a moral duty to alleviate energy poverty in countries that lack access to electricity.
Before exploring Peabody's new campaign to ship coal overseas, let's take stock at the industry's anti-poverty legacy in the United States:
Over the past five years, the Sierra Club and our allies have highlighted coal's cost on our health and environment and stopped more than 145 new coal plants from breaking ground, effectively ending the industry's opportunity to grow in the United States. Now in response, the industry is taking another page from the tobacco industry's playbook: Ship its deadly product overseas
Peabody Energy recently announced its new campaign to "end global energy poverty." The company is proposing to ship U.S. coal overseas to bring electricity and prosperity to the world's two billion residents that lack access to electricity.
Peabody urges us to ignore coal's pollution and focus on poverty:
"The greatest crisis we confront in the 21st Century is not a future environmental crisis predicted by computer models, but a human crisis today that is fully within our power to solve. For too long, too many have been focused on the wrong end game," said [Peabody CEO and Chairman] Gregory Boyce.Peabody's Boyce even had the audacity to say, "We must put people first." Which people is he referring to? The miners who paid the ultimate price at the Big Branch disaster in April? The 13,000 people who die annually from coal plant pollution?
Peabody wants us to ignore coal's complete lack of concern for its worker and pollution here in the U.S. because it wants to divert focus onto another problem. (They've even got it all spelled out in this Power Point presentation).
This PR ploy is ugly and offensive, and an act of desperation. Students at Washington University in St. Louis recently protested Peabody's Boyce's appearance at their school: "Alleviating poverty worldwide is something we should all be focusing on, especially as we look at developing a clean energy future that is open to everyone - selling more coal however, will only help pad Peabody's pockets."
Just like other dangerous and corrupting corporations before it - read tobacco - the coal industry when feeling the pressure in the U.S. has always tried to target the workers, communities and countries least able to resist their abuses. Today in the U.S., with a national movement to move the country beyond coal there is a bright spotlight on the filthy lifecycle of coal from mining to burning to ash disposal, and the coal industry is running out of places to hide.
It has also run out of growth opportunities in the U.S. and other wealthy countries, and now wants to exports its pollution to developing countries.
Nice try, but we are not going to let this happen.
Mr. Peabody, consider yourself on notice. You can run, but you can't hide. We will not let you replicate your century of abuse of our workers, of our communities, of our environment, elsewhere in the world. We will use every outlet we have to collaborate with our allies overseas, to alert them that you are offering fool's gold, that clean energy is cheaper and lacks coal's polluting and corrupting ways. You will find no resting place.
This latest plan - perhaps your most audacious cynical ploy to date - will fail as surely as your efforts to build 150 new coal plants in the United States.
Posted by: Brian F. at 12:14PM PST on October 5, 2010
Just in time for 10/10/10, the White House announced today that it will put solar panels and a solar water heater on the roof. President Carter first did this in the 1970s in the wake of the era's energy crisis. Reagan succeeded Carter and had them taken down. President George W. Bush quietly had solar placed on parts of the White House; but panels were never front and center the way Carter had them. Obama's team plans to have solar up and running by spring 2011.
Obama's gesture is sure to send a strong signal about his commitment to renewables. It's something environmentalists have been hoping for ever since his first day on the job. For example, read SIERRA magazine from early 2009:
Wouldn't it be cool if the day after Barack Obama's inauguration a hovering news helicopter captured footage of the new president clambering over the White House roof, boring screw holes for solar panels or bolting down a wind generator? Sure, he could probably talk his Secret Service agents or press secretary into doing the work for him. But if the United States' first black president is also going to be the 21st century's first green president, setting a do-it-yourself example couldn't hurt.
The White House's timing is appropriate. 10/10/10 is an international day of action in which people will commit to reducing their carbon emissions through various means. Thousands of people from all over the world, including some world leaders, have made the pledge. Want to join the fun? Click here to get involved with 10/10/10's Global Work Parties.
Posted by: Brian F. at 9:19AM PST on October 5, 2010
Posted by: Guay at 9:51AM PST on October 4, 2010
Clean energy collaboration was the centerpiece of last
week’s Yale Climate Change and Energy
Institute US-India Energy Partnership
Summit. The summit focused on attempts to wean the
For instance, at the Summit Zia Khan of the Rockefeller Foundation described a pilot project that replaces the often large sums of diesel used to power cell phone towers with solar power. This not only reduces the costs for tower operators, but provides livelihoods for rural entrepreneurs that can distribute the excess power to surrounding communities. The broader societal ramifications of such innovations ranging from increased rural economic development, to reduced concentrations of wealth and power, to increased democratic control of critical livelihoods needs are astounding.
What’s more, those laboring at the bottom of the pyramid (
This flood of entrepreneurial energy at the
However, the foundations of this myth are eroding. This
erosion is being pushed by the entrepreneurial energy at the
Posted by: Heather M at 11:18AM PST on October 1, 2010
This is a guest post by Ann Mesnikoff, Director of the Sierra Club Green Transportation Campaign.
Can America's new cars average at lest 60 miles per gallon in 2025? Yes! This is what Sierra Club has been calling for as part of Go60mpg.org.
Today Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Lisa Jackson and Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood gave a strong start to the process of setting average fuel economy and global warming pollution standards for cars in model years 2017-2025.
Yes, there are details and more details and we won't have a final standard until the summer of 2012 - but the story today is that there are multiple paths the industry can take to achieve an average fuel economy of 62 miles per gallon in 2025.
No surprises here - better engines, transmissions, high strength and lighter weight materials, hybrids and electric vehicles are all technologies that automakers can use to continue to increase fuel efficiency and reduce global warming pollution for cars and trucks. With higher gas prices always on the horizon, making cars go farther on a gallon of gas is a no-brainer.
The oil disasters this past summer in the Gulf and the Kalamazoo River only add urgency to setting strong standards to help break our dirty and dangerous addiction to oil and slash global warming pollution.
We are not talking about doing this overnight. The standards that kick in between 2012-2016 will be reducing emissions of global warming pollution by 5% each year between 2012 and 2016. So, getting to at least 60 mpg in 2025 is a matter of reducing pollution by 6% per year.
Model year 2025 cars will save nearly twice the oil over their lifetimes than aiming low.
Again, no surprises - the auto industry is already saying aiming for 60 mpg is too much. Dave McCurdy at the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers went so far as to say:
"Instead of plucking numbers out of the air, we should base policy on science and expert reviews of factors like affordability of technology, availability of low-carbon fuels and the state of the electric infrastructure."This is about putting technology to work. We have more faith in the automakers than they do. That's nothing new - this is an industry that has said no to seat belts, air bags, air pollution controls, and for decades they said no to raising fuel economy. And, let's not forget the tens of billions of tax payer dollars that went into to bailing these naysayers out.
Our colleagues at Union of Concerned Scientists and Natural Resources Defense Council looked at technologies and costs and found that 60 mpg is not only achievable - but it also will save consumers $101 billion dollars in 2025 (PDF). EPA and the Department of Transportation have looked at the technology and the costs and made clear 60 mpg is not only achievable, but it will save far more than the technologies cost.
In fact, the agencies show that consumers could see net savings of $5,700 and $7,400 at the pump. These are savings after recovering the cost $2,800- $3,500 cost of technologies. These are dollars that stay in our economy instead going to pay for foreign oil. That's a good deal!
A recent poll shows that Americans overwhelming support getting to 60 mpg by 2025. The Administration should follow through with proposing and finalizing a 6% annual decrease in global warming pollution for 2017-2025 vehicles.
Posted by: Heather M at 10:51AM PST on October 1, 2010
This is a guest post by Louis "Cuffie" Winkler, an intern for the Blue Green Alliance.
After the launch of its Green Sneakers Project last spring, Maine Partners for Cool Communities (MPCC) is gearing up for a big fall weekend, supporting eight communities that are taking action to champion local clean energy solutions.
Earlier this month, Green Sneakers community leaders reached more than 500 households in northeastern Maine with high efficiency CFL bulbs, home energy performance information and money saving coupons. Catholic leaders in the town of Fort Kent handed out Green Sneakers energy saving kits to parishioners while high school Key Club volunteers traveled door to door distributing kits and talking to their neighbors about saving energy and combating global warming.
Speaking with residents at their home, volunteers explained how both small and large home improvements can dramatically reduce energy consumption and energy bills. They discussed how community-wide action can reduce foreign oil dependence, cut pollution and contribute to a cleaner, cooler planet.
Green Sneakers volunteers offer initial home efficiency assessments. Interested homeowners are encouraged to consider the benefits of a professional, comprehensive home efficiency assessment and upgrade.
Green Sneakers helps homeowners interested in larger retrofit projects connect with qualified Energy Advisors at Efficiency Maine (EM) Home Energy Savings Program which manages state and federal efficiency rebates and incentives available to Maine residents, oversees auditor and contractor certification and ensures quality efficiency retrofit work is done by trained professionals.
A September event in support of Green Sneakers action in Lewiston, Maine, showcased Lewiston Mayor Laurent F. Gilbert, Sr., Auburn Mayor Richard Gleason and State Senator Margaret Craven in addition to bringing together faith, environmental and public health leaders. Representatives of Maine Senators Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins also attended.
Maine Partners for Cool Communities (MPCC) includes the American Lung Association of Maine, Maine Council of Churches, Maine Energy Investment Corp., Physicians for Social Responsibility, Maine chapter and the Sierra Club, Maine Chapter.
Sierra Club is working with national and local partners to jumpstart home performance markets that create good family-supporting jobs for local residents.
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