Climate Crossroads Blog
Posted by: Brian F. at 11:10AM PST on November 11, 2010
Hello Climate Crossroads reader. Same writers, same articles, different venue. We're loading up some moving boxes and heading over to the Sierra Club's climate and energy blog Compass. Please follow us over there for all the latest news and views. Have feedback or questions? Email us at email@example.com.
Posted by: Heather M at 12:32PM PST on November 5, 2010
You've probably read many post-election reactions so far - our folks have written quite a few (Carl Pope's is here, Bruce Nilles' is here).
Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune expounded on the election in his blog, but he also spoke at an environmental community press conference on Wednesday to examine the election's results and talk about what's next. Here are his remarks.
Posted by: Heather M at 12:49PM PST on November 4, 2010
The Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) Greenversations blog reminded us that this fall is the 20th anniversary of the 1990 Clean Air Act Amendments.
Here's the EPA overview on those monumental amendments:
In June 1989 President Bush proposed sweeping revisions to the Clean Air Act....(T)he President proposed legislation designed to curb three major threats to the nation's environment and to the health of millions of Americans: acid rain, urban air pollution, and toxic air emissions. The proposal also called for establishing a national permits program to make the law more workable, and an improved enforcement program to help ensure better compliance with the Act.The Clean Air Act has a long track record of cutting dangerous pollution to protect human health and the environment and spur innovation. It deserves to be celebrated and protected.
So why not head over to EPA's Greenversations blog and share your stories about why clean air is important to you?
Posted by: Bruce Nilles at 11:42AM PST on November 4, 2010
My colleague said it well yesterday in his response to Tuesday's election results - we will not cede our future to polluters, who again poured tens of millions of dollars into various campaigns.
No surprise here, the coal industry is part of those polluters throwing money around to support candidates who will keep the loopholes and handouts in place and help them block any action on global warming. According to an election spending report from the Center for American Progress:
American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity (ACCCE) has spent more than $16.3 million in 2010, including $3,005,540 on a national ad and buys in Washington, D.C., Montana, and Texas over the last three months. The group has budgeted $20 million for online campaigns. This Big Coal front group is infamous for its forged letters to members of Congress opposing clean energy and climate legislation that resulted in a congressional investigation.But the shady politics don't stop there. If you ever wanted evidence that the coal industry is corrupting our politics, look no further than the state of Kansas and the decision Tuesday by Governor Mark Parkinson to fire his chief environmental official Rod Bremby.
In 2007, under then-Governor Kathleen Sebelius, Bremby had the courage to reject the massive proposed Sunflower coal plant because of its impacts on global warming. Global warming, Bremby argued, threatened the health and welfare of all Kansans.
After the state legislature enacted new legislation that attempted to eliminate Bremby's authority to reject the permit and Sebelius was called to Washington to serve as Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services, Governor Parkinson struck a deal with Sunflower Corporation to fast-track the coal plant permit.
However, Bremby remained firm that he was not rushing the permitting and he had an obligation to ensure a fair and open public process and fulfill his legal duties to review the permit's legality before it could be issued.
But on Tuesday, with everyone consumed with election coverage, Governor Parkinson fired Bremby. This was a crass political move to ensure the permit is issued before the Governor leaves office in January 2011.
And another example of coal's corruption comes from Indiana, where Duke Energy is under investigation because "(a) top attorney in the Indiana Utilities Regulatory Commission took a job with Duke, which he appears to have negotiated at the same time he was overseeing decisions about Duke's new power plant."
The Duke plant is already under construction (and $1.3 billion over-budget) and will continue construction during this ethics investigation.
Meanwhile in Kentucky, coal isn't just proving itself unethical again, it's proving itself dangerous. The Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) announced yesterday it is asking a federal judge to shut down a Massey Energy coal mine in protect workers there. This the first time the MSHA has ever used this power.
In filing for a preliminary injunction in U.S. District Court, the government cites persistently dangerous conditions in Massey Energy's Freedom Mine No. 1 in Pike County....The Freedom Mine employs about 130 miners and was cited for safety violations more than 700 times this year alone.Coal is dirty and dangerous, and our politics and our health are at risk as long as the coal industry maintains its lock on our energy sector.
That is why our work is so very important. We are not giving up and we are not done.
Posted by: Guay at 6:56AM PST on November 4, 2010
Tomorrow, November 5th, the United
States Export-Import (Ex-Im) Bank is scheduled to consider greenhouse gas
impacts of the controversial Kusile coal-fired power plant proposal in the
built, Kusile would be one of the largest greenhouse gas-emitting power plants
in the world, which will also emit other forms of toxic pollution into the
local environment. Kusile would increase
Ex-Im Bank must respect the Integrated Resource Plan and Climate Strategy
processes. South Africans must be able to pursue our own energy development
path” said Sunita Dubey coordinator with groundWork in
The project, and the South African state energy utility, Eskom, are the focus of growing opposition from local communities who will bear the brunt of such a disastrous decision.
“Eskom and their large industrial customers hide behind the
rhetoric of solving energy poverty when it’s clear that it is the poor who will
pay the most
While Ex-Im Bank meets to discuss the carbon implications of the project, controversies surrounding the finances of Eskom continue to mount. With public anger over financial bailouts to failing industries and banks still fresh in the minds of many American voters, civil society organizations are also questioning the financial wisdom of Ex-Im Bank bailing out Eskom.
Eskom has thus far only secured 11 percent of the $19 billion price tag required to move the project forward. This comes despite billions in direct loans and loan guarantees from the South African government. With project delays and costs rising every year, a shadow of doubt has fallen over this troubled project, which has consequently been unable to attract adequate private financing to fill the enormous financial gap. Ex-Im Bank’s financing is sought to help prop up this fiasco.
“As if bailing out Wall Street wasn’t enough, the
In addition to the risks posed by Kusile, large capital
needs for another enormous and highly controversial coal power project in
“Eskom has over-reached on these enormous dirty coal-fired power projects. They simply can’t secure the capital needed from foreign investors who see the clear risks associated with these investments,” said Karen Orenstein with Friends of the Earth U.S.
Meanwhile, President Obama’s National Export Initiative, which seeks to double exports over five years, has created a perverse incentive for Ex-Im Bank to prioritize large-scale fossil fuel financing, at the expense of the nascent clean technology sector.
“The Ex-Im Bank must say no to this project. What the U.S. needs is dramatically ramped up investments in clean energy technology to help revitalize our economy and launch commerce into the 21st century, not bailouts for irresponsible utilities like Eskom,” said John Coequyt, Director of International Climate Programs at the Sierra Club.
Posted by: Heather M at 9:08AM PST on November 3, 2010
While some of you may be bummed about yesterday's voting, there were some great voting results from over the weekend. I'll let this press release from Cool Cities Campaign Coordinator Cammy Watkins tell you.
2012 National Model Energy Code Boosts New Home and Commercial Building Energy Efficiency by Thirty Percent
Charlotte, NC-This week the members of the International Code Council (ICC), which consist of state, county, and city building and fire code officials, voted on a series of proposals that would increase the energy efficiency standards for newly constructed homes by 30 percent. After two decades of modest energy efficiency gains, it’s clear that building officials across the nation have embraced the need for much greater energy efficiency in our building energy codes for new construction.
“Code officials this week made the common sense choice, understanding that energy efficiency is not a luxury, it is a necessity, and that was evident in the overwhelming support for strong energy efficiency proposals,” stated Camellia Watkins, Campaign Coordinator Sierra Club National.
Homes and buildings constitute the largest sector of energy consumption in the United States, accounting for nearly half of all U.S. greenhouse gas pollution and using more than 75 percent of the electricity generated from power plants, making them a major contributor to global warming.
Delegates voted in favor of proposals that will increase efficiency through measures such as better insulation, better windows, improved air tightness and ducts, and better lighting. Taken together, the approved proposals achieve a model code that is at least 30 percent more energy efficient than the 2006 version of the model code.
“This was a goal three years in the making,” said Ron Majette, Project Manager for R&D Building Codes for the U.S. Department of Energy. “We’re ecstatic.”
Even considering the small added construction costs of more efficient buildings, these measures will save homeowners money by reducing monthly utility bills. These net savings translate into an extra $511 in the pocket of the average new American homeowner each year.
“Code officials today passed measures that increase energy efficiency and will save on electricity, gas, and fuel oil bills for people across the U.S,” commented Steve Rosenstock, manager at Edison Electric Institute, a coalition that represents private utilities across the nation.
Forty-seven states and the District of Columbia base their building codes upon these national model standards. “Our next step is to encourage states and localities to adopt the 2012 IECC so that all new homebuyers will benefit from improved efficiency,” stated Bill Fay Director, Energy Efficient Codes Coalition.
Harry Misuriello, Outreach Coordinator for the Energy Efficient Codes Coalition went on to add, “Local governments clearly realize the importance of energy codes to their constituents and the local economy; that’s why they sent their delegates here to Charlotte to support these clean energy economy strengthening proposals.”
The 30 Percent Solution 2012 proposal was developed and submitted by the Energy Efficient Codes Coalition (EECC). State and national supporters of the proposal include Edison Electric Institute, the National Low Income Housing Coalition, Environment America, Sierra Club, The U.S. Conference of Mayors, Global Green USA, The American Chemistry Council, and the National Association of State Energy Officials (NASEO).
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.
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