Irony Alert: A Delaware Oil Company Feels Threatened by Sea Level Rise

Oil companies seem to think they have the most to gain by denying climate disruption. Just look at the lengths that the oil-rich Koch brothers have gone to in order to suppress climate action, spending and saying anything to derail any policy tackling the climate crisis.

Why? Well, carbon pollution caused by burning fossil fuels is a key cause of the climate crisis -- and without action, they’ll be free to drill, extract, frack, refine, transport, and burn oil as much as they want. Apparently, it’s easy for them to ignore the cascade of problems their polluting behavior creates when they’ve got profits to be made. But, as it happens, such irresponsible, deeply flawed logic eventually comes full circle.

IRONY ALERT
Click the image to download the full application.

In Delaware, severe storms are eroding the shoreline and affecting homes and businesses up and down the coast - including the business of an oil refinery. The functioning of the Delaware City Refining Company property just south of New Castle, a division of PBF Energy, is threatened by increasing extreme weather. In other words, climate disruption is hitting the doorstep of its source.


The refinery has tried to get help, submitting an application with the Coastal Zone Management Act seeking shoreline protections due to “tidal encroachment” -- which is one way of saying sea level rise.

“The extent of the shoreline erosion has reached a point where facility infrastructure is at risk,” says the permit application from the company.

You read that right -- an oil company feels jeopardized by sea level rise. And they’re asking for assistance. That’’s like a cigarette company asking for help paying for ventilators for it’s executives after they’ve pedalled tobacco for decades.

Continue reading "Irony Alert: A Delaware Oil Company Feels Threatened by Sea Level Rise" »

Why VATs on Solar Energy Hinder Progress on Energy Poverty

Zambia.jpg

Photo credit: SolarAid

What difference can a value added tax make to the lives of those living in energy poverty?  A big one.

Currently, many countries in sub-Saharan Africa apply a value added tax (VAT) to clean energy products like solar lanterns and solar home systems. While it is critical for all countries -- particularly developing countries -- to develop a strong and diverse tax base to pay for public services like healthcare and education, VATs are usually regressive, meaning that they hit the impoverished the hardest.

As the anti-poverty organization Christian Aid explains in its Tax Justice Advocacy Toolkit, “unless a comprehensive set of exemptions is applied to the basic goods and services consumed by poor people, they will spend a much higher percentage of their minimal incomes on the goods and services that carry this tax than those with large disposable incomes.”  

Tragically, VAT is holding up a key development and climate objective: increasing clean energy access for all, both on and off the grid.   

According to Lighting Africa, solar components and products in many geographic areas continue to be hit with duties, VATs, and surcharges which can lead to price increase on solar products of upwards of 30 percent. That means, in practice, the VAT is an unnecessary barrier to sourcing affordable solar products for off-grid and rural populations.

Even worse, thanks to high subsidies for kerosene, VAT exacerbates an already unequal energy playing field. The end result is that those desperately seeking energy access turn to heavily polluting and ultimately more expensive forms of fuel-based lighting - like kerosene.

As such, many governments have begun to update their tax code to include VAT waivers and exemptions that support, not hinder, solar energy deployment. This includes leaders from Burkina Faso, Nigeria, Mali, and most recently Kenya.  The result? The off-grid solar industry is thriving in these countries, and solar energy is affordable for low-income people who most need access to energy.

sales of lighting global quality-verified PLSs in Africa.JPG

But many more countries must implement these kinds of exemptions to expand solar power for everyone.

Zambia currently exempts off-grid solar products -- like solar lanterns -- from a VAT that is typically applied to imported goods. They do this because 42.3 percent of the population lives in extreme poverty and only 22 percent are connected to electricity. Affordability of solar products is therefore critical for those living beyond the grid. The existing VAT exemption has allowed solar products to remain within the budget of low-income individuals and families.  

The Zambian government will soon be setting its budget for 2015, a process which will decide the fate of this exemption.  Solar energy access providers like SolarAid are strongly encouraging the government to keep the VAT and tariff exemption in place. Zambian solar lighting customers who buy $10 solar lights save an average of $75 a year, with savings spent on food, school fees,  and building small businesses.

But more solar products are needed in Zambia and across sub-Saharan Africa. While no panacea, reducing and eliminating solar VAT supports the ability of entrepreneurs and NGOs -- like SolarAid -- to get these services into the hands of those who need them most. In this specific case, solar VAT does nothing but harm those who need clean, reliable energy access the most.  

A VAT exemption on off-grid solar products is the obvious choice, and we support SolarAid’s push to ensure it remains in place.   

--Justin Guay, Associate Director, International Climate Program, and Vrinda Manglik, Associate Campaign Representative, International Clean Energy Access

The EPA's Clean Power Plan: A Chance to Get it Right for Workers, Communities, and our Climate

ActonclimateLast month, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) proposed its Clean Power Plan, the first-ever limits on carbon pollution from existing power plants.   Besides re-establishing the United States as a leader in the drive to reduce the carbon pollution that is disrupting our planet's climate and threatening civilization itself, the Clean Power Plan will spur the growth of cleaner energy sources and energy efficiency, maintain and create family-sustaining jobs, and ensure America's infrastructure is prepared for the impacts of climate change.

Next week, the EPA is holding four hearings around the country; in Pittsburgh, Atlanta, Denver, and Washington DC. Some people will be arguing for protecting the environment. Some people will be arguing for good jobs. What we all need to keep in mind is that these two things are not in conflict -- the Clean Power Plan lets us do both.  

From a union perspective, the Clean Power Plan presents a tremendous organizing opportunity in every state of the nation. That's because the EPA has structured the plan to give each state, or groups of states, enough time to comply in a way best suited for their local economies, meaning they can create their own plans to protect existing jobs and spur the creation of new ones all while reducing pollution. In fact, states have until 2015 to put a plan in place, until between 2020 and 2029 to meet reduction goals, and until 2030 to meet final targets, meaning they have time to make any needed adjustments to accommodate local needs.  

We should use the next two years to come together, talk through our differences, and find common ground to get this done in the best way possible. That's because both the Clean Power Plan and the transition to a clean economy are NOT about "jobs versus the environment" --- they are about creating good jobs in healthy communities on a living planet.   

Continue reading "The EPA's Clean Power Plan: A Chance to Get it Right for Workers, Communities, and our Climate" »

Organizations Call on Major U.S. Corporations to Ditch Tar Sands

Stop-using-tar-sands-fuel

Today, leading environmental groups and corporate campaigning organizations released an open letter to major corporations -- the biggest consumers of tar sands, the dirtiest oil on the planet -- calling on the corporations to take responsibility for the disastrous effect that lax to non-existent corporate purchasing policies are having on the climate. Check out the letter here.

Unless a company has a specific policy in place not to purchase tar sands oil, the company is in practice supporting the destructive tar sands mining industry that is polluting our water, air, communities, and climate. The letter puts companies on notice that it's time to do the right thing.

Over the past year, corporations have come under increasing public pressure to stop using tar sands oil. PepsiCo and Coca-Cola were the first among them, due to the amount of tar sands oil used to fuel the companies' massive vehicle fleets. Just Monday, people began asking the question across social media: "How much water is poisoned to produce one barrel of tar sands? Just ask Pepsi."

"Tar sands crude is the dirtiest oil on the planet. Nineteen major companies have already adopted policies not to purchase oil from tar sands, so it's high time that the rest of America's corporations follow suit," said Michael Bosse of the Sierra Club's Beyond Oil campaign. "This letter puts the biggest corporate consumers of oil on notice that there's no excuse not to invest in cleaner, more efficient fleets, and that it's simply wrong to source oil from the tar sands, which is fouling the land and water in communities across the country, from Maine to Kalamazoo to Utah."

Amanda Starbuck, the Climate Program Director at Rainforest Action Network, put it this way: "Many big corporations that sell commodities far removed from oil extraction are nonetheless enabling the nightmarish expansion of the tar sands by refusing to purge tar sands oil from their fuel supply chains. Huge companies with massive operating budgets have ample resources to ensure they are not contributing to the worst environmental disaster on Earth, and until they do so, we will consider them complicit."

With this letter, it should be clearer than ever to America's corporations that they need to take note, take a look at how PepsiCo has been dragged into the spotlight over its use of tar sands, and take action. It's time for America's corporations to step up to the plate, say no to tar sands, and move beyond oil.

-- Rachel Rye Butler, Sierra Club Beyond Oil Campaign

Rallies Next Week! Your Voice is Needed to Support Climate Action

Cut carbon signLast month, the Environmental Protection Agency proposed the first-ever national standard to clean up carbon pollution from power plants. Now the EPA is holding public hearings on the proposed standard in four cities. If you live near DC, Pittsburgh, Denver, or Atlanta, we hope to see you next week!

Join Sierra Club and our allies as we march and rally outside these hearings. We've all got to do our part to show strong support for the EPA to take bold action on climate disruption! Polluters are gearing up to try and stop this standard in its tracks, so it's especially important that everyone concerned about our climate shows up, raises their voice, and gets involved.

Here are the dates and locations of the hearings and rallies - click on each to learn more and to RSVP:
 
Washington, D.C (July 29 and 30)

Denver, Colorado (July 29 and 30)

Atlanta, Georgia (July 29 and 30)

Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania (July 31 and August 1)
 
As I've said before, this carbon pollution standard gives all kids a fighting chance at a safe and promising future. The Clean Power Plan will save lives and money.
 
We applaud the EPA's Clean Power Plan and will work to make it even stronger. It creates a framework that, once in place, could mean significant reductions in carbon pollution. States will make plans to reduce power plant emissions, and boost renewable energy and energy efficiency; states could also pledge retirements of dirty, outdated power plants.

The Clean Power Plan also sends an important signal to the world that the United States is serious about addressing climate disruption, and it could help clear the way for international climate action.
 
I’ll be in Atlanta for the events there, and I can't wait to see the huge crowds gathered to support the Clean Power Plan. I hope you'll join us -- either in Atlanta, Washington, DC, Denver, or Pittsburgh as we rally, march, testify and make our voices heard!
 
If you can't make it, please submit your supportive comments here!

-- Mary Anne Hitt, Beyond Coal Campaign director. Photo courtesy of Josh Lopez.

Coal Exports: "You Don't Know Longview"

Coal export hearing5Last week we highlighted the amazing work of the Longview, Washington, community in standing up against coal exports and speaking out for a strong clean-up of a toxic port site in their town. Residents packed a hearing to say as much.

We want to share the powerful testimony from one of those Longview residents, Mary Lyons:

Tonight, July 16, 2014, is an important anniversary for me, in that 27 years ago this evening I was in Intensive Care at Swedish Medical Center in Seattle after surviving a Sudden Cardiac Arrest while playing softball with friends. I was on life support and comatose and based only upon the statistics, the neurologist told my friends and family that I would probably be a vegetable if I ever regained consciousness.

But my friends and family kept telling her;
"Doctor...you don't know Mary."

As you can see, the doctor's dismissal of my role in that prognosis was a crucial misstep. She didn't make an effort to learn about my personal strengths and skill set. She didn't consider that "optimistic energy and stubbornness" could have a major impact on "outcome." That lack of insight caused her name to later be used in our family as a derisive slur for "short-sighted pessimism."

And tonight, I have one phrase to leave the Department of Ecology with as you consider the elements of this Clean Up, and that is:

YOU DON'T KNOW LONGVIEW.

The level of Clean Up the DOE chooses to enforce could have the ability to not only clean up this site, but also this region AND this country as we lead in holding polluting industries responsible for ALL the damage they do. Level 6 is the only level which returns this site to the competitive playing field it occupied when Reynolds Aluminum moved in. And if you think this is a community which will slip back into the shadows and be satisfied with sub-par repairs for damages done

YOU DON'T KNOW LONGVIEW.

The commercial value of this deep-water port so close to the mouth of the Columbia River AND Portland could LEAD the West Coast in its efforts to turn this country into a more economically-powerful and cleaner nation. Lowering the bar to Level 4 models the defeatism of a dying vision and a cynical world steeped in denial of the fast approaching train ahead.

Don't get me wrong: this city will survive, no matter what level you choose for the Clean Up. But here's a tip: Supporting this community as we DETERMINEDLY rise from the ashes of the last fifty years is an investment which will pay off in spades.

And if you don't believe me,

YOU DON'T KNOW LONGVIEW.

Thank you.

Mary Lyons

‘Pay-as-you-go’ solar financing hits new milestone

We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again: pay-as-you-go solar is the future for those working beyond the grid.

From Pakistan to Kenya, anecdotal reports have trickled in that pay-as-you-go solar finance -- the off-grid solar market’s version of a “solar lease” --  is driving record sales. Now, we have one more data point to add to the mounting evidence. Solar market leading d.light, a manufacturer and distributor of solar light and power products that just closed a $11 million series C investment, announced it sold a record 500,000 solar systems. Those systems will serve a record 2.5 million people. This is all thanks to pay-as-you-go financing.

This announcement is a confirmation of what many in the off-grid solar market have been saying for quite some time: it’s all about unlocking finance. That’s why the solar industry continues to demand $500 million from the World Bank in order to catalyze growth. (You can support their call by signing our petition here). Of course with millions flowing into the solar market from a variety of sources, they’re not exactly waiting for international financial institutions to make a move.

But enterprise financing is just one piece of the puzzle. Access to financing for everyday consumers is just as critical to unlock solar for the masses. That’s because the upfront costs of solar technology can often times leave these clean off-grid energy products out of reach for many.

That’s why d.light is doubling down on its success by announcing a new initiative that will focus on integrating advanced product technology and service offerings for a full range of payment systems, including microloans, self-help groups, top-up cards, and mobile money. Making solar financing as easy as possible for customers is the best way to get solar power into their hands.

 

Photo courtesy of d.light

Continue reading "‘Pay-as-you-go’ solar financing hits new milestone" »

How much water is poisoned to produce a barrel of tar sands? Just ask Pepsi.

PepsiOver the last year, activists have been pushing PepsiCo and other companies using tar sands in their massive corporate vehicle fleets to do the right thing and stop using this dirty source of fuel that's poisoning our water, our climate, and our communities.

You might remember when activists unveiled a Pepsi can re-design in the hottest spots of San Francisco and New York City to highlight the company's use of tar sands.

You might remember when a no tar sands protest showed up outside the door of an environmental conference for the food and beverage industry that PepsiCo sponsored.

You might remember when we showed up at PepsiCo's annual shareholder meeting to speak in front of the board and share firsthand the impacts of tar sands on refinery communities.

You might remember when a team of activists pulled a nighttime operation to make sure that attendees at the corporate Sustainable Brands conference knew that Pepsi and Coke are making climate change worse by using tar sands.

You might remember all of these actions - and many others - because you helped make them happen.  Over the last year, tens of thousands of activists have called on the PepsiCo CEO Indra Nooyi and on the company to stop using tar sands and slash oil use in their vehicle fleets.

While all this was happening, we've been working hard behind the scenes with the company to help them step up and do the right thing -- and it's the hard work of activists that has brought PepsiCo to the negotiating table.

Sadly, though, despite tens of thousands of people speaking up and taking action, despite the commitments that 19 other big companies have made around tar sands, PepsiCo hasn't made enough progress towards making the commitment to say no to this dirty fuel source. Conversations have been happening, but we know that conversations aren't enough. We know that using tar sands is not acceptable for the climate, for our communities, or for our water.

So, it's time to step up the game.  

Over the next month, activists will be bringing the heat and getting serious with Pepsi, asking questions like this one: "How much water is poisoned to produce one barrel of tar sands? Just ask Pepsi." You can help out by sharing the graphic featured in this blog post on your social media pages and by posting it to Pepsi's Facebook wall.

We've been asking nicely. Earlier this year, we released a report and sent it right to the PepsiCo Board of Directors highlighting the effects of tar sands on water, an issue that PepsiCo publically says it cares a lot about. But now's the time to ask the hard questions.

We're ready to step up, Pepsi. Are you?

-- Rachel Rye Butler, Sierra Club Beyond Oil Campaign

Washington supports highest cleanup standard at toxic port -- and no coal exports

Coal export hearing5On Wednesday night, more than 100 community members turned out in force at the Washington state Department of Ecology's hearing on proposed cleanup options for the old Reynolds aluminum smelter site in Longview, Washington.

Currently contaminated by cyanide, fluoride, PCBs and other known carcinogens, the site must undergo cleanup funded by Alcoa and Millennium Bulk Terminals, the latter of which wants to use the polluted port as a controversial coal export facility.

The community is staunchly against the coal export plan, and of the six options being presented as "solutions" to the toxic site, residents overwhelmingly support the highest cleanup option -- level six.

"We have one chance to clean up the site's toxic legacy for good and make this industrial river property a job creator with high-value manufacturing potential," said Diane Dick, vice president of Longview residents' group Landowners and Citizens for a Safe Community (LCSC).

Every speaker during the hearing voiced their support for option six and spoke up for creating clean and safe economic opportunity for the area.

"This region needs jobs," said Gayle Kiser, LCSC president. "But we shouldn't have to compromise on the health of our families and natural resources, especially when the Department of Ecology has identified options that can address all three."

The local Sierra Club is working closely with the LCSC to demand a proper cleanup of the site that includes  good jobs for the community. Longview residents say it's time for a positive change at the site.

"We've been mistreated time and again by companies at this site. And it's important to remember: Millennium is a coal company, not a cleanup company," said the Rev. Kathleen Patton, Episcopal priest in the Diocese of Olympia, and a Longview resident. "Longview families live just across the tracks from this site. They deserve a full cleanup that protects community health and a port that attracts a wide array of economically stable industries and family-wage jobs."

Texas Democrats Band Together to Oppose Fast Tracking a Flawed Trade Deal

The massive Trans-Pacific Partnership, a proposed trade deal stalled time-and-again by grassroots and Congressional opposition, has a new hurdle to get over -- the Texas Democratic Party.

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Congresswoman Eddie Bernice Johnson (TX-30) at the Fair Trade Caucus (left); Hal Suter, Sierra Club Lone Star Chapter (center); and Wendell Helms, United Automobile Workers. Photo courtesy of David Griggs. 

Thanks to the work of the Sierra Club’s Lone Star Chapter and allies, the Texas Democratic Party has taken an important stance on international trade policy by resolution and including a party platform plank that explicitly opposes “fast-track” legislation and demands transparency in the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) negotiations.

President Obama has pushed for fast-track authority, which limits the role of Congress to casting yes-or-no votes on trade pacts, limiting debate, and forbidding amendments. To make matters worse, the TPP has been negotiated in near secrecy for more than four years, without meaningful opportunities for public input.

The Texas Democratic Party’s statement reflects an alliance between labor, environmental, and human rights activists, enjoining U.S. trade policy to “combat child and slave labor, sweatshops, environmental degradation, and other practices that turn global trade into a race to the bottom”--as the platform states.  

Hal Suter, Chair of International Trade and Labor Relations at the Lone Star Chapter of the Sierra Club, co-chaired the inaugural Fair Trade Caucus at the Texas Democratic Convention with representatives of the United Automobile Workers and the Communications Workers of America, a coalition that was integral to the resolution’s passage. David Griggs, Political Chair of the Lone Star Chapter, was selected for the Platform Advisory Committee and led the energy and environment sections of the Texas Democratic Platform. The new caucus attracted two Congressional representatives: Reps. Al Green and Eddie Bernice Johnson.

Organizers expected an audience of 20 to 30 at the caucus as the resolution was being discussed.

“Not only did it go over, they needed to give us a bigger room!” Suter said. 

Continue reading "Texas Democrats Band Together to Oppose Fast Tracking a Flawed Trade Deal" »


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