There's only one more day til the deadline to comment on Keystone XL. Check out this great video from National Nurses United on why President Obama should reject Keystone XL.
There's only one more day til the deadline to comment on Keystone XL. Check out this great video from National Nurses United on why President Obama should reject Keystone XL.
Last week, security guards at Duke Energy's Charlotte headquarters blocked me from delivering 9,000 petitions signed by Duke customers calling on the company to clean up its toxic coal ash, in the wake of a spill that decimated 70 miles of the Dan River. It was the culmination of a dramatic rally that shone a glaring spotlight on one company’s reckless pollution practices, and the urgent need for the Environmental Protection Agency to finally close coal water pollution loopholes, without delay.
After keeping the crowd waiting for 45 tense minutes, a Duke spokesperson finally accepted our petitions. You'd think Duke would roll out the red carpet for the public, given all the scrutiny of this spill and their cozy relationship with NC governor Pat McCrory, a former Duke employee - outlined in this recent front page New York Times article with the telling headline "Coal Ash Spill Shows How a Watchdog was Defanged." Instead, they shut the door in our faces, perhaps symbolic of how they wish this whole issue would just go away.
Well, the issue of coal pollution in our water is not going away - not by a long shot.
In their coverage of the rally, CNN pointed out there are hundreds more Dan River disasters waiting to happen, at hundreds of coal ash storage sites nationwide. As I told the crowd in Charlotte, reported by CNN,
"This needs to be our last wake-up call. Our last coal ash spill."
The good news is that the EPA has the opportunity, and the authority, to ensure this is our last coal ash spill. The agency has drafted two standards (one for coal ash disposal and the second for coal plant water pollution) that could prevent a disaster like this from ever happening again. The bad news is that the coal industry - including big coal burning utilities like Duke - is putting the screws to the EPA and the White House to try and make the final standards toothless. We can't let that happen.
Coal ash is a waste product from power plants, and it contains a witches' brew of toxic chemicals like mercury, arsenic, and lead. It may be stored near your drinking water supply - check out our new map of coal as sites to find out.
Meanwhile, in my home state of West Virginia, people are still afraid to drink their water, almost two months after a coal chemical spilled into the drinking water supply for over 300,000 people. Last week, West Virginians delivered 50,000 petitions calling on the U.S. Department of Interior's Office of Surface Mining to take over enforcement of mining and water pollution standards, currently being run by the state. But that hasn't stopped Gov. Tomblin from continued grandstanding against EPA regulation of carbon pollution, despite the recent poll showing two out of three West Virginia voters support more enforcement and stronger environmental regulations in the state.
Over the coming weeks, we will be working hard to make it crystal clear to the EPA, Duke Energy, and all the nation's coal water polluters that enough is enough. No more delays. No more excuses. No more coal pollution spills. If you want to help now, click here to send a message to the EPA.
-- Mary Anne Hitt, Beyond Coal Campaign Director
Setting aside the critically important fact that Keystone XL and the tar sands oil it would tap into would have devastating repercussions on our climate crisis, what the FEIS omits entirely are the serious health effects on the people along its proposed route from Canada to Texas. Every step of the way, from extraction to refining to waste removal, is a proven public health disaster.
"I'm concerned about the impact of tar sands on our people wherever they live," Boxer said.
Today, four voices that could speak to that joined Boxer and Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) to talk about their first-hand experiences with tar sands oil at each stage of the process of its production.
The tar sands originate and are mined largely in Alberta, Canada, the home of Dr. John O'Connor. In the Fort Chipewyan area that O'Connor serves, residents of this tiny town are 30 percent more likely to develop cancer -- specifically rare cancers like cholangiocarcinoma, a fatal bile duct cancer.
Disturbed by the drastically increasing cancer rates, O'Connor brought this information to the attention of authorities starting nearly a decade ago. Since then, he says, tar sands extraction has increased, and the authorities have done nothing.
"It's a public health crisis in this community," O'Connor said.
Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Gina McCarthy proclaimed the month of February 2014 as Environmental Justice Month. Environmental justice activists all across the country are commemorating the 20th anniversary of the Environmental Justice Executive Order 12898 signed by President Bill Clinton twenty years ago on February 11, 1994.
This column was written by Sierra Club Environmental Justice Organizer Rita Harris, pictured above on the right.
Wow, it's really been 20 years! I remember where I was on that day in 1994 clearly. I was attending a conference at the Crystal City Marriott being hosted by NIEHS (National Institute for Environmental Health Sciences). There was a horrible snow storm and government offices in Washington, D.C. were all closed. However, word was quickly passing around the crowds of people at the conference that a select group of activists from our ranks had been called over to the White House.
There was so much excitement among the attendees, and it grew even wilder once the group returned and told us why they went to the White House. We were told that President Clinton had signed an Executive Order that would mandate all federal agencies develop strategic plans to address environmental justice (EJ). This was groundbreaking and historic! Many of the activists that were present at the conference and at the signing felt like this was just the one-two punch that was needed to help us with our many EJ fights and help communities across the country. "EJ will finally be recognized now that we have the President in our corner," is what some said.
The back story to the Executive Order's signing was that strong grassroots EJ advocates on the EPA National Environmental Justice Advisory Council (NEJAC), which was established in 1993, actually pushed for Clinton to take the executive action he took in 1994. Although federal agencies did produce plans to address environmental justice in their decision making, environmental justice was not practiced or addressed in local government agencies and within most state environmental agencies. EJ battles are still taking place across this country and many times the term itself is even challenged, so the struggle continues.
West Virginians hold the coal industry responsible for air and water contamination in the state, and they are tired of the stranglehold they believe the industry's lobbyists have on state politics.
That's just one of many powerful findings of a new poll out today about the aftermath of the January coal chemical spill in Charleston, West Virginia.
The Sierra Club and Hart Research Associates polled West Virginia voters, and look at the results:
1) West Virginians do not view the January coal chemical spill as an isolated incident
-- 69 percent think the spill was a result of companies acting irresponsibly (only 21 percent saw the spill as an accident) and believe spills will happen again unless something changes.
2) West Virginians strongly support increased regulations and enforcement to protect air and water. And they don't just want "better enforcement" in the abstract -- they solidly endorse specific changes in policy and more EPA involvement in the state.
3) Two out of every three West Virginians support political candidates who are independent of the coal industry.
This is major news -- even in a state long dominated by the coal industry, my fellow West Virginians have made it clear that a majority want strong EPA and state action on coal industry pollution. They want the coal industry out of the pockets of their state politicians, and they want state leaders to stop cozying up to the industry.
Meanwhile, in North Carolina, where thousands of people are reeling after a coal ash dam leaked into the Dan River earlier this month, there is major frustration as well. State officials confirmed last week they've known for years that toxins from Duke Energy's 14 coal ash ponds around the state are seeping into groundwater.
That's on top of the controversy surrounding just how close Governor Pat McCrory (a former Duke Energy employee) and the state's Department of Environment and Natural Resources are with Duke Energy. Recent reports have exposed the state's practice of intervening in coal ash pollution suits brought by environmental groups and then giving Duke a small fine that amounts to a slap on the wrist, while avoiding a full hearing before a judge. Federal attorneys are now investigating Duke for any possible legal wrongdoing.
So on Tuesday, February 25, hundreds of people are expected to rally at Duke Energy's headquarters in Charlotte as the Sierra Club, Appalachian Voices, the North Carolina Conservation Network, and Greenpeace deliver more than 8,500 letters demanding that the utility clean up its coal ash.
I'll be in Charlotte at the Duke rally -- if you're in the area please join us!
Americans are standing up to the coal industry in the face of its continuous pollution of our air and water. How many more spills will it take before we see action by the EPA to close these coal water pollution loopholes?
-- Mary Anne Hitt, Beyond Coal Campaign Director
This week, more than 120 Members of Congress sent a clear message to the United States Trade Representative: the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade pact must have a robust, fully enforceable environment chapter that addresses the core conservation challenges of the region.
The letter comes just days before officials from the 12 governments involved in the TPP will meet in Singapore to try to make progress on an agreement that is facing increasingly steep opposition from the American public and Members of Congress.
In the letter, Members of Congress recognized that while they don’t all agree on the trade pact in general, they do all agree on the need for a strong environment chapter that builds on the so-called “May 10th Agreement,” a political agreement struck on May 10, 2007 between then-President George Bush and Congress.
The May 10th Agreement set minimum standards for all environment chapters of U.S. trade pacts. It said that environment chapters must be legally enforceable and subject to “dispute settlement,” meaning a country violating an environmental trade rule could be penalized with trade sanctions. It also required that countries uphold their domestic environmental laws in addition to commitments made in international environmental treaties.
Members of Congress have good reason to be concerned about the environment chapter of the TPP. On January 15, Wikileaks published a leaked version of the environment chapter, which environmental organizations including the Sierra Club, the Natural Resources Defense Council, and the World Wildlife Fund deemed “unacceptable.” The leaked text actually rolled back the May 10th standards. It wasn’t enforceable, and it didn’t obligate the TPP countries to uphold commitments in environmental treaties.
Ohio governor John Kasich finds himself embroiled in a growing scandal that some are calling "Frackgate" because of a PR-plan co-written by his administration and the oil industry to "proactively open state park and forest land" to fracking. The Sierra Club was dismayed (but proud) to find ourselves at the top of a list of opposition targets, along with two state representatives and eight other public interest partner groups.
It's the very definition of corruption when the governor partners with oil industry right-wingers to target public interest groups, even state legislators, to frack Ohio's state parks. Across the U.S. communities are standing up to oppose fracking on public and private lands. Many states and cities are rethinking this dangerous practice, implementing moratoriums or banning the process altogether. The Ohio administration, instead, got into the PR business, allowing corporate polluters to write the state environmental agency’s pro-fracking script. Fracking threatens our property, public lands, climate and our health. Now we can add the insidious threat of the oil and gas industry controlling our democracy to the list of dangers from fracking.
The PR plan was uncovered by the Ohio Sierra Club Chapter as we looked into Kasich administration mismanagement of the regulatory process that would open public lands to fracking. The administration tried to put the news "out with the trash" by releasing it last Friday afternoon. But the governor is not going to walk away from this problem so easily.
In 2011 the Ohio legislature opened state parks and forests to fracking, but required that the administration first create a five member state oil and gas leasing commission. The commission was never formed, though the administration did move forward with permits for fracking on public lands. We discovered evidence through an Ohio Open Records Request that the Kasich administration coordinated with oil and gas industry lobbyists on a public deception PR campaign to "marginalize” opponents to fracking and convince Ohioans of the benefits of fracking public parks and forests. The plan names targets include Ohio Sierra Club, OMB Watch, Ohio Environmental Council, and even elected officials State Senators Bob Hagan and Nickie Antonio.
The 13-page pro-fracking public relations strategy titled, "Oil and Gas state lands leasing: Draft Outline for Communication Plan" was written by the Ohio Department of Natural Resources and the governor’s staff, in alliance with industry giant Halliburton, and lobbying groups like Ohio Oil and Gas Association, the American Natural Gas Association, and JobsOhio, a right-wing pro-fracking political pressure group. The governor, taking a page from New Jersey Governor Chris Christie's playbook, denied knowing about the plan or implementing it. But it was the Governor's top staffers who convened the meeting where the strategy was created. The invitees to the August 20, 2012 "State Lands Leasing, Strategy and Communications" meeting, held in the Governor's main conference room, included Governor Kasich's director of policy, communications director, and reelection campaign director, plus the director of Ohio Department of Natural Resources and several of top agency staff.
This week the Governor Kasich reversed himself on fracking in state parks, admitting that the 'regulatory structure' is not 'mature' enough to allow fracking in Ohio's parks. We agree. But the Sierra Club and our 2.4 million members and supporters understand that what is too dangerous for our parks is too dangerous for all public lands or our backyards too. And everyone will agree that public officials shouldn't be colluding with the oil and gas industry to force fracking down our throats.
When the governor is ready to stop working for the frackers and start working for the people, there are three immediate steps that must be taken:
The Kasich administration chose to ally itself with the oil and gas industry against public health and safety, to discredit public interest groups and try to dupe Ohioans in their rush to frack our public parks and forests. These are the places that we hike, hunt, fish and picnic with our families. They should not be ground zero for dangerous oil and gas fracking, and the governor of Ohio has no business working with the oil and gas industry to push the industry’s dangerous agenda over the health and safety of Ohioans.
-- Co-written by Beyond Natural Gas Director Deb Nardone and Ohio Sierra Club Conservation Program Coordinator Brian Kunkemoeller.
Our climate champions have proven they've got hearts of gold. And now they have the bling to match.
While the Sochi games will continue the rest of this week, the Protect Our Winters (POW) Olympians have finished their competitions, and five of the Olympic champions who raised their voices against climate disruption medaled for Team USA.
Jamie Anderson and Kaitlyn Farrington won the gold medal in Ladies' Slopestyle and Ladies' Halfpipe, respectively. Devin Logan won silver in Ladies' Ski Slopestyle, and Julia Mancuso and Alex Deibold won bronze in Women's Super combined Alpine Skiing and Men's Snowboard Cross, respectively.
Our green athletes have won a quarter of Team USA's total medals, helping the United States to rank in the top five countries in medal count, all while promoting climate change advocacy.
And they aren't alone. More than 100 international athletes recently signed on to a letter written by Olympic cross-country skier Andy Newell, and even more joined the POW Riders Alliance. All have the same goal: to raise awareness of climate disruption and the toll it takes on our winters.
"Snow conditions are becoming much more inconsistent, weather patterns more erratic, and what was once a topic for discussion is now reality and fact," Newell wrote. "Our climate is changing, and we are losing our winters."
A new generation of kids is becoming more dependent on "fast-food" and "smart phones," rather than understanding the importance of "perseverance" and "patience." I'm not alone in feeling that my generation have not taken the time to really to dive deeper into learning our Black History, enough to supplement the enormous gap that leaves the history of people of color out of our schools' lesson plans.
I have tried to impress upon my daughters that knowing your history is important -- even if it's just to recognize that you cannot take for granted the opportunity to attend school, the house and neighborhood you live in, and last but certainly not least, the air we breathe, the water we drink, and the safe, green space we enjoy.
In 2014, we celebrate several milestones in civil rights. Sixty years ago, we desegregated our public institutions with Brown vs. the Board of Education, and 46 years ago, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., led the strike of the sanitation workers in Memphis, TN, which was the civil and human rights movement that would soon become known to many as environmental racism.
Environmental justice is a movement that has fought to bring a solution to end environmental racism -- making sure that no person, despite, race, ethnicity, social status, political power, or the amount of income, will be disproportionately, or negatively impacted by environmental laws and policies that are not protective of public health.
Communities across the county began to speak out about all forms of racism. They were tired of living near hazardous-waste landfills, tired of waking up to the spells of the chemical manufacturing facilities that violate the comfort of their homes. They were tired of their family members getting sick and dying because of some chemical that infiltrated their water system. These were the types of harsh realities that engendered a generation of community activities and leaders that -- through pressure and persistence -- led to signing of the first executive order to mandate that all federal government agencies make their policies and programs in accordance with the principles of environmental justice.
In a speech today in Maryland, President Obama directed his administration to move forward with standards to make our tractor trailers and commercial vehicles more efficient. Already the administration has set historic standards for passenger vehicles of 54.5 miles per gallon by 2025 that will cut U.S. carbon pollution nearly 10 percent. These truck standards are another step to slash oil use, save Americans money, and bring down carbon pollution.
Medium- and heavy-duty vehicles, everything from 18-wheelers to delivery trucks, are the fastest-growing source of oil consumption in the transportation sector. Even though these vehicles make up only seven percent of the vehicles on the road, they guzzle more than 25 percent of transportation fuel. Although new fuel-saving technologies are found in some trucks, most 18-wheelers on the road average around six miles per gallon (mpg) -- about the same as they did decades ago.
In 2010, the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Transportation (DOT) finalized the first-ever efficiency standards for medium- and heavy-duty vehicles sold from 2014-2018. These standards will ensure that new engines are more efficient, and will reduce fuel consumption in semi-trucks by roughly 20 percent.
Developing the next round of efficiency standards now will allow manufacturers to innovate and develop new fuel-saving technologies, such as plug-in electric drive-trains, aerodynamic trailers, higher-efficiency engines, advanced materials, and lower-rolling-resistance tires. Last year, Peterbilt and Cummins showcased a 10-mpg truck as a part of the DOT's Super Truck program. While 10-miles-per-gallon might not sound like much, it's a big deal. By increasing fuel economy 54 percent over today's average trucks, this prototype could slash greenhouse gas emissions and save an average driver $20,000 in fuel costs annually.
It is critical that the new standards developed by EPA and DOT are strong. Stringent standards will not only drive innovation for a wide range of new technologies, they will ensure that these technologies spread throughout the marketplace, instead of being found on only a small portion of vehicles.
Of course, setting new efficiency standards for medium- and heavy-duty vehicles is only one part of the solution to reduce carbon pollution and oil consumption. We must create an energy-efficient, multi-modal freight system that relies on trains and ships, as well as trucks. When we're smarter about what we ship and how we ship it, we save money and reduce carbon pollution.
President Obama's announcement of new heavy-duty vehicle standards will build upon a strong legacy of passenger-vehicle standards that is already reducing our oil consumption, including a transition to plug-in electric vehicles that run on little or no oil. While it will take EPA and DOT two years to develop new standards and incorporate input from the public, this is another tremendous opportunity to save drivers money at the pump and make our air cleaner to breathe. But most importantly, this is the kind of policy action that's good for manufacturers and businesses, good for workers and consumers, and a very real and significant step to addressing carbon pollution.
-- Jesse Prentice-Dunn, Sierra Club
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