Chinese Coal Consumption Just Fell For The First Time This Century

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Sources: Compiled from China National Bureau of Statistics and China National Coal Association statistical releases.

There may be a light at the end of the long dark tunnel: It appears China’s coal boom is over.

While positive signs have been emerging from China for well over a year, it appears the ‘war on pollution’ is not just talk. According to analysis produced by Lauri Myllyvirta and Greenpeace International in the first half of this year, China’s coal use dropped for the first time this century - while the country’s gross domestic product (GDP) actually grew.

You read that right: coal and GDP growth have decoupled in China.

At the same time, the growth of imports -- the seemingly endless source of optimism for the moribund U.S. coal industry -- ground almost to a halt, with only 0.9 percent growth so far this year, as opposed to more than 15 percent yearly figures we have seen since China first became a net importer. Topping off the trifecta of good news is that domestic production dropped by 1.8 percent [article is in Chinese]. While uncertainty over the changes in coal stockpiles still exists, we’re confident that the unbelievable may be at hand: peak coal consumption in China.

It’s hard to understate just how historic this shift is. Analysts have been arguing over if, and when, Chinese coal consumption would peak. Some were forecasting a peak before 2020 while others -- including Wood Mackenzie -- have been loudly claiming Chinese coal demand may not ever peak but would instead double by 2030. This new data exposes the wide gulf between reality and hype that those predictions rely on.

In a sign of just how dramatically the tables have turned on the previously skyrocketing projections for the coal industry in China, consider this: the China National Coal Association is now calling for a 10 percent reduction in second half domestic coal output in many of the main coal-producing provinces. That about face comes as quite a shock considering as recently as December, the Association was busy advocating for a billion tonnes of coal to be added to the Chinese coal market by 2020. My what a difference a year makes.

Continue reading "Chinese Coal Consumption Just Fell For The First Time This Century" »

BMW i3: A Subtle and Sublime Revolution

BMW-i3Photo courtesy of BMW

The BMW i3 made its debut in U.S. markets in May. The best way to describe the car is that it's radically different. It really looks like a concept car; its design is futuristic and colorful, with the added bonus that you can actually buy it today. The i3, though dead silent, has impressed with a 22kwh battery that has a range of 81+ miles between electric charges and can take you from 0-60 in under 7 seconds.

"It takes off like a rocket!" says i3 owner Charlie Rabie, a Tufts University professor and former business leader, who took delivery of the first i3 in the U.S. [Check out the Sierra Club's electric vehicle guide.]

So what's all the fuss about?

We met with Rabie, pictured below at right, to discuss the car. He explained why he found himself drawn to it. "[The car] is flawless… it drives like a BMW…I don't have to deal with gas stations. The car had been built from the ground up to be electric, and it shows."

Charlie-RabiePhoto courtesy of Charlie Rabie

Rabie went on to show us some of the innovative functionality that is available to smartphone users through the i3's own app. You can remotely view charge levels, check historical efficiency stats, lock and unlock your doors, start and stop charging, precondition the battery's temperature for optimal efficiency, and even see how many pounds of CO2 you've avoided releasing into the atmosphere.

Charger-&-CO2-calculator

Additionally, BMW seems to have come up with a solution to the range anxiety issue experienced by some. My dad, who also happens to be an i3 owner, decided to go for the Range Extended (REX) model. The REX version comes with a small gasoline engine that effectively doubles the car's range, kicking in only when the battery is about to drop below 5 percent.

The fact of the matter is that the range extender is a foolproof safety net; it doesn't just double your mileage range; it gives you total freedom to drive i3 to its full electric range every time you charge it. Most times, you'll drive in only electric mode. But if you happen to run out of electric charge, you can rely on gasoline and even fuel up at a gas station if you don't have access to or time for EV charging. However, all the i3 drivers I've spoken to, including my dad, say that the vast majority of the miles they're driving are electric.

"I've driven 6,000 miles, 95 percent of that was on electricity, and I've never gotten stuck " said my dad, Jack Mark. "For a city, it's the ideal size. And it's so quiet, my wife and I can sit and chat as if we are in our living room."

[That's Joe and Jack Mark with the i3, below.]

Jerry-CuranPhoto by Joe Mark

The Sierra Club's New Hampshire chapter chair Jerry Curran is another i3 driver. He also adores his new wheels and recently gushed:

"The i3 is the most advanced electric car in America in terms of sustainability. To reduce energy consumption, it was built with light weight carbon fiber and aluminum... The carbon fiber was produced in Washington with Bonneville hydro power. The assembly plant in Germany is powered by three wind turbines. Recycled materials comprise half of the interior. It's a blast to drive, handles like a BMW, and will drop any other BMW muscle car off the line from 0 to 45." 

- Joe Mark, an incoming senior at Tufts University, is an intern with the Sierra Club's Electric Vehicle Initiative.

Predators, Prey, and the Trans-Pacific Partnership

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If you’re one of the 29 million Americans that can’t wait to tune in to this week’s Shark Week spectacular, you’re probably familiar with the incredible power, grace, and agility of the world’s 460-plus species of sharks.

For the past 27 years, audiences have been captivated by the annual week-long tribute to the world’s majestic aquatic predators. But what you might not realize is that sharks are in serious danger.

In fact, tens of millions of sharks are mercilessly killed each year. More than 160 species of sharks are categorized as at risk of extinction, ranging from near threatened to critically endangered. But what’s the biggest threat to these crucial and magnificent creatures? Shark finning.

Shark finning is the increasingly rampant and highly profitable process of stripping sharks of their fins and throwing the sharks back into the ocean, very much alive but unable to swim. This leaves the helpless sharks at risk of bleeding to death or becoming prey for another predator. Shark fins -- the most profitable part of a shark -- are then traded in a billion-dollar annual market.  For centuries, shark fins have been mainly used in the wildly expensive shark fin soup, a delicacy in some countries.

Continue reading "Predators, Prey, and the Trans-Pacific Partnership" »

Tar sands pipelines and their cumulative climate impacts

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Last summer, President Obama delivered a major climate speech in which he laid out his plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 17 percent by 2020. He also committed to deciding the fate of the Keystone XL pipeline based on its climate impacts, stating unequivocally: "The net effects of the pipeline’s impact on our climate will be absolutely critical to determining whether this project is allowed to go forward."

While the evidence (PDF) shows that Keystone XL would result in significant greenhouse gas emissions and should be denied in its own right, it is only one of many proposed tar sands pipelines on the Obama administration’s desk. The State Department is currently preparing an environmental impact statement (EIS) for an expansion of Enbridge's Alberta Clipper pipeline, which would increase its capacity to over 800,000 barrels per day (bpd) - roughly the same size as Keystone XL.  An expansion of Enbridge's Line 3 would transport up to 760,000 bpd of tar sands crude through the Great Lakes region; and a reversal of the Portland-Montreal Pipeline could bring up to 600,000 bpd through New England.

Because the tar sands deposits are landlocked in Alberta, the oil industry needs these pipelines to carry tar sands crude to U.S. refineries and overseas markets. Each one is a key part of the industry's plan to triple tar sands development to around six million bpd by 2030. Without these pipelines, much of the high-carbon tar sands would stay in the ground.

Last week, the Sierra Club and allies urged (PDF) the State Department to evaluate the cumulative climate impacts of these pipelines as part of its Alberta Clipper EIS. The National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) requires an analysis of the cumulative environmental impacts of a proposed project combined with other past, present, and reasonably foreseeable projects. Federal courts recognize that "the impact of greenhouse gas emissions on climate change is precisely the kind of cumulative impacts analysis that NEPA requires."

Continue reading "Tar sands pipelines and their cumulative climate impacts" »

On the Contrary, World Bank President Dr. Kim, Renewable Energy Is the Future

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In the 21st century, it’s hard to take anyone seriously who thinks coal, not clean energy, is the future for dynamic, emerging economies.

But that’s exactly what Dr. Jim Yong Kim, president of the World Bank, did this week during the U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit. Dr. Kim disparaged clean energy as incapable of powering development and even worse, suggested coal needed to remain on the table for the World Bank to be “taken seriously.”

The truth is clean energy is the future of energy access efforts with a $12 billion pot of gold awaiting those innovative enough to catalyze it. Even more exciting is that much like cell phones, distributed clean energy is poised to leapfrog the ineffective centralized grid and put power in the hands of the people living beyond the grid today - not decades from now. But that’s only if leaders of important development institutions -- like the World Bank -- finance the clean energy technology of the future, rather than prop up the dirty industries of the past.

Dr. Kim’s statements are even more troubling because they come at a time when we are making great strides to do just that. President Obama’s Power Africa Initiative presented a historic Beyond the Grid program set to catalyze new technologies -- like off-grid distributed solar -- which will end energy poverty.

But rather than moving investment into these exciting and innovative clean energy markets, Dr. Kim is insisting that one of the world’s largest international financial institutions, the World Bank, can’t be taken seriously unless it continues to fund dirty and dangerous coal projects. And, he wants to use public money -- your money -- to do it.

Tell Dr. Kim and the World Bank to join us in the 21st century and put money into catalyzing beyond the grid solar, not dirty coal. It’s time that those who lead development institutions realize the only way to be taken seriously is to move beyond 19th century energy sources to our modern energy future.

--Justin Guay, Associate Director, Sierra Club's International Climate Program

Weeks, Months, and Years Later, Still No Coal Ash Safety Standards

Dan River coal ash spill - courtesy Appalachian VoicesThis week marks the six-month anniversary of the Dan River coal ash spill in North Carolina. In February 2014, a broken pipe released up to 82,000 gallons of toxic coal ash and wastewater into the Dan River. The cleanup still continues today as Duke Energy drags its feet.

But if you think that sort of coal ash water contamination happens only once in a blue moon, you'd be wrong. Coal ash contains arsenic, lead, mercury, and selenium, as well as aluminum, barium, boron, and chlorine. Coal ash waste is stored in more than 1,400 sites in 45 states -- and just this week coal ash waste was found buried beneath a softball field at a middle school in Brunswick County, North Carolina.

From the article:

The source of the ash: Southport's Cogentrix coal-fired energy plant, which distributed the ash in the early 1990s.

"It wasn't documented, because back then it wasn't deemed hazardous waste," said Stephen Miley, Brunswick County Schools' director of operations.

Well guess what - coal ash still isn't deemed hazardous waste despite its toxic contents. For that matter, it isn't subject to any national protections at all! There simply aren't any federal standards to govern how to safely dispose of coal ash, to keep it out of our streams, rivers, lakes, and drinking water. That's right – no Environmental Protection Agency safeguards for toxic coal ash. And yet, according to the EPA, coal ash has already contaminated waters at 200 sites in 37 states across the country.

TVA Coal Ash Spill 2Every year, the nation's coal plants produce 140 million tons of coal ash pollution, the second biggest waste stream in the country, after household garbage.

All that ash has to go somewhere, and because we don't have any federal standards to guide safe disposal, much of it is dumped in the backyards of power plants across the nation, into open-air pits and flimsy surface waste ponds -- and sometimes it ends up stashed under softball fields where kids play, or used in the construction of golf courses, or dumped into an old quarry. Monitoring these sites is left up to the states, and in the absence of federal standards, most states lack either the resources or the will to do the job.

Coal ash doesn't just pose a threat to water – it pollutes our air, too. Our friends at EarthJustice just released this new report entitled "Ash in Lungs: How Breathing Coal Ash is Hazardous to Your Health." Here is one shocking quote from the report release:

"Breathing toxic coal ash dust can lead to disease and even death," said Dr. Alan Lockwood, co-author of the report and emeritus professor of neurology at the University of Buffalo and past president of Physicians for Social Responsibility. "This is a dangerous pollutant that not only damages the respiratory system, but even increases the rate of heart attacks and strokes."

How long will we let this happen? The EPA must finalize strong coal ash standards this year to protect our health and ensure that we have clean air and water. It shouldn't take a massive spill, water contamination, or billowing dark clouds of coal ash dust to convince the agency to make this happen, despite opposition from the coal industry. Let the Dan River spill be our last coal ash spill – we don't need any more wakeup calls to tell us that now is the time for EPA coal ash safeguards that will protect our health.

What will it take? It will take all of us working together, raising our voices, and keeping the pressure on, until strong, long overdue national coal ash protections are in place.

TAKE ACTION: Tell the EPA to finalize strong coal ash standards. And while you're at it, tell your state legislators to demand action from the EPA as well.

-- Mary Anne Hitt, director of the Sierra Club Beyond Coal campaign

Communities Call for Strong EPA Pollution Standards Near Oil Refineries

Louisiana goes to Houston to testify

Hundreds of concerned residents from port communities along the Gulf Coast packed an Environmental Protection Agency hearing in Houston this week to call for stronger pollution controls near oil refineries.

"In Louisiana and Texas, communities around refineries have for too long lived with exposure without knowing what was in the air," said Darryl Malek-Wiley, a Sierra Club environmental justice organizer in Louisiana.

The EPA is proposing additional pollution control requirements for storage tanks, flares, and coking units at petroleum refineries. The EPA is also proposing to require monitoring of air concentrations at the fenceline of refinery facilities to ensure proposed standards are being met and that neighboring communities are not being exposed to unintended emissions.

Exposure to toxic air pollutants can cause respiratory problems and other serious health issues, and can increase the risk of developing cancer.

The Sierra Club, EarthJustice and coalition partners helped bus in residents from neighborhoods near refineries in Louisiana to speak at the Houston hearing. Affected residents from around the U.S. were also at the hearing to testity. From the AP story:

Theresa Landrum traveled to Texas from Detroit to testify about the "toxic soup" she said she and her neighbors are exposed to from living alongside a refinery. A cancer survivor, Landrum said she lost her mother, father and brother to cancer she believes was caused by refinery emissions.

"The fenceline monitoring will help us determine what is coming out of those stacks," she said.

Adan Vazquez said that in winter, "snow flurries look like ash" because of a refinery near the Houston Ship Channel less than a mile from his Pasadena, Texas, home.

Leslie Fields, director of the Environmental Justice and Community Partnerships program for the Sierra Club, testified at the hearing as well, calling on EPA to create the strongest standard possible and enforce it. This EPA standard at refineries would reduce toxic emissions, improving air quality and protecting public health in communities surrounding these facilities.

"Leslie Fields testifies in HoustonWe support the proposed standard -- it's long overdue for these affected communities," said Fields. "We also are advocating for real time fenceline monitoring and more hearings in the Midwest and along the East Coast on this standard," said Fields. "The EPA also needs to create an environmental justice analysis for this rule."

But Fields and Malek-Wiley also think the standard could go even farther.

"The EPA needs to look at more chemicals from these refineries, require more monitoring, and we also want to make sure that all that information is easily accessible to communities," said Malek-Wiley.

"Also, some have said it's too expensive for industry. Well, for one example, I looked at the first quarter of 2014, and Marathon Oil made $540 million. If they don't have enough money now, when will they ever have enough money to do comprehensive real-time monitoring of their pollution?"
Houston EPA hearing
(L to R) Mary Willams of the Deep South Center for Environmental Justice, Jane Williams of Sierra Club California, Monique Harden of Advocates for Environmental Human Rights, Jesse Marquez of the Coalition for Safe Environment, Lisa Garcia of Earthjustice, Hilton Kelley, Leslie Fields, Margie Richard, Dr. Robert Bullard.

Also testifying at this week's hearing in Houston were 2011 Goldman Environmental Prize winner and long-time Port Arthur environmental justice activist Hilton Kelley and Dr. Robert Bullard, the winner of the 2013 Sierra Club John Muir Award and known as the father of environmental justice. Dr. Bullard is the dean of the Barbara Jordan-Mickey Leland Public Policy School at Texas Southern University.

Powerful testimony also came from Dr. Beverly Wright, director Deep South Center for Environmental Justice at Dillard University in New Orleans, Willy Fontenot, the conservation chair of the Delta Chapter Sierra Club in Baton Rouge, Neil Carman, Clean Air Director of the Lone Star chapter, Jane Williams, chair of the Sierra Club Toxics Committee, 2004 Goldman Environmental Prize winner Margie Richard, and Dorothy Felix of Mossville Environmental Action Now in Louisiana.

TAKE ACTION: Tell the EPA you want strong pollution standards and enforcement for oil refineries!

Port of Long Beach -- Putting California Communities at Risk

Long Beach coal train

California leads the nation in solar energy generation. But while most of California continues moving the clean energy transition forward, the Port of Long Beach has taken a huge step backwards, promoting the interests and protecting the wallets of the toxic fossil fuel industry.

In a controversial agreement that ignited community outcry, the Port of Long Beach recently approved a new lease to raise the amount of guaranteed coal exports, as well as to continue the Port’s petroleum coke exports (or petcoke, a byproduct of oil refining). The plan, which will have devastating consequences for local and overseas communities, secures dirty fossil fuel exports for the next 15 years.

The Port's agreement violates key provisions of the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) that require proper environmental impact analysis and disclosure for projects. Under this state law, the Port is required to gather public insight and provide vital information to decision-makers before approving projects or agreements with detrimental consequences.

Additionally, CEQA mandates that all assessed impacts are met with measures to mitigate harmful impacts. The Port did not conduct any environmental review at all in this case and it claimed that its decision to approve the lease agreements was exempt from CEQA. This claim is especially problematic because the leases deal with increasing the exports of two of the most polluting fossil fuels--coal and petcoke--both of which have air, water, and climate change impacts.

Continue reading "Port of Long Beach -- Putting California Communities at Risk" »

Live for Now? What About Tomorrow?

Click to take action
I've been struck by Pepsi’s "Live for Now" advertising theme. "Now" is good, but I keep wondering: what about tomorrow? PepsiCo, which owns Pepsi, Gatorade, Quaker Oats, Frito-Lay, and dozens of other brands, is one of the largest companies in the world and has a tremendous impact on people and the planet. For example, the company uses toxic tar sands fuel in its massive fleet of delivery trucks. By "living for now," is the company saying it could care less about tomorrow?

I know we can expect more from PepsiCo. Why? I've met the CEO, Indra Nooyi.

I had the opportunity to meet Nooyi at the PepsiCo shareholder meeting in June when I was there to speak on behalf of the tens of thousands of people who had signed a petition urging the company to stop using fuel made from tar sands in its trucks. Before the meeting started, Nooyi and I connected over the fact that both of us are mothers to two daughters. As mothers, both of us want the best for our kids.  

During the meeting, when Nooyi responded to my remarks in front of the shareholders and board of directors, she emphasized that because she has two daughters, and I have two daughters, we share the same values and commitment to the future.

Recently, dozens of major organizations signed a letter to companies like PepsiCo urging them to avoid tar sands fuel because it's "among the most environmentally-destructive sources of oil on the planet in terms of climate and water pollution, forest destruction, public health impacts, and the destruction of ancestral First Nations lands."

In a letter in PepsiCo's 2012 Sustainability Report, Nooyi says: "Business does not operate in a vacuum -- it operates under a license from society. We recognized…when we transform our business to deliver for our consumers [and] protect our environment...we achieve sustained value."

Companies like Walgreens, Trader Joe's, and many others have committed to working with their fuel and transportation providers to avoid tar sands fuel. Why hasn't PepsiCo made this commitment?

Given that we connected over our children and the future we're leaving them, I'm making this appeal directly to Indra Nooyi:

For our daughters, for all of today's and tomorrow's children, please commit your company to clean up its delivery trucks, which make up one of the largest private carrier fleets in North America with tens of thousands of vehicles driving millions of miles each year. You can make a major difference by having PepsiCo avoid tar sands fuel, an extreme source of oil that is destroying forests, poisoning water, and hastening climate change.

Oil makes up about 40 percent of U.S. carbon emissions, so reducing oil consumption is essential if we're going to have any possibility of avoiding the worst effects of climate change. Please also ensure that PepsiCo invests in more than just a few hundred electric vehicles, so that it can take a serious swipe at its oil use.

Gina's kidsToday, Sierra Club is asking people (like you, dear readers!) to show Indra Nooyi and PepsiCo's other executives who we’re living for -- now and for tomorrow: children who deserve a safe planet with clean air and water and no extreme and dangerous fuels.

Do you have children, grandchildren, nieces, nephews, or other kids in your life? Upload their photos here like I just did (those are my daughters on the first day of school last fall). We're hoping each picture is worth a thousand words, and that the full collage shows Indra Nooyi that we're rooting for her to commit PepsiCo to tomorrow.

-- Gina Coplon-Newfield is director of the Sierra Club's Future Fleet & Electric Vehicles Initiative

Four Things the U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit Can Do for Beyond the Grid Solar

All eyes will be on the U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit in Washington next week with one question in mind -- will those gathered take steps to move investment beyond the grid?

Just this week, Politico reported that former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and former President Clinton are set to attend. With a long list of U.S. Government dignitaries also expected, the event will send an important signal for the future of President Obama’s Power Africa Initiative. Now’s the time for that signal to be loud and clear - Power Africa is doubling down on investment in solar markets beyond the grid.

Earlier this summer, Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz announced at an event in Addis Ababa Ethiopia, a  groundbreaking new $1 billion initiative as a part of Power Africa dubbed “Beyond the Grid.” The initiative builds on more than 25 small-scale energy projects already in the Power Africa pipeline to catalyze a distributed clean energy deployment. To build the initiative and drum up investment, the Administration pulled together 27 founding partners – including impact investors, venture philanthropists, clean-energy enterprises, and practitioners – who have committed to invest over $1 billion over the next five years to seed and scale distributed energy solutions for millions of African homes, businesses, schools, and other public facilities.

That announcement was a big deal. By shifting policy focus and investment towards the cheapest, fastest, most effective energy access solutions - distributed off-grid solar - the Obama administration is poised to unlock between a $12 billion and $50 billion clean energy opportunity.

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Continue reading "Four Things the U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit Can Do for Beyond the Grid Solar" »


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