Taking a stand against a proposed coal export terminal in Louisiana

Yard Signs

Gretna, La., might be a small city, but the residents are banding together to speak out against a proposed coal export terminal and the increased coal trains that would come with it. In the past month they've packed two community meetings to learn more about the proposed RAM Terminal coal export facility.

Back in June, dozens of people attended a Clean Gulf Commerce Coalition public meeting as a way to kick off the Gretna movement against the facility. The facility itself it planned for Plaquemines Parish, but the rail line serving it bisects Gretna.

The meeting followed weeks of canvassing, phonebanking, and media outreach to publicize the meeting, collect petition signatures, and draw attention to the problems of coal trains rumbling through historic districts and along major commuter highways intersections, said Sierra Club organizer Devin Martin.

"It was a joint effort between the Sierra Club, the Gulf Restoration Network, and the Clean Gulf Commerce Coalition," said Martin.

The movement's been making the news as well:

"Gretna has been making a lot of progress, preserving its historic district, renovating its old post office. It seems Gretna is on the upswing,'' said Devin Martin, a Sierra Club organizer who lives just outside Gretna, in neighboring Algiers. "The last thing the city needs is to have that rail line turn into an industrial corridor.''

Q & A

Then on July 9, Gretna residents packed a Gretna City Council meeting to get the chance to testify their concerns about the possibility of coal trains passing through their neighborhoods, with all the attendant health risks, traffic congestion, emergency response times, and economic and quality of life concerns that would rattle the town.

"They gave some of the best, most heartfelt, moving, and powerful statements I've ever witnessed in my four years with the Club," said Martin.

Martin says the weeks since that first June town meeting included some excellent organizing - from tabling at farmer's markets and cafes, to business outreach, and weekly community meetings.

"Our goal was to introduce our presence and show the council that this is a vital issue that cannot be ignored any longer, and that the Mayor and council must take leadership and elevate and amplify the concerns of their constituents to state and federal decision makers," said Martin.

The coalition is asking the Gretna City Council to pass a resolution that would oppose coal trains, as well requesting that the appropriate state and federal agencies involved in the RAM Terminal permitting conduct a full public health, economic, and environmental impact analysis, which has not been done.

"The Council is definitely feeling the heat, and we intend to come back in August with even more residents, business owners, and health professionals to encourage the Council to pass this resolution," said Martin.

"From there, we will work to engage the entire Parish of Jefferson, the most populous parish in Louisiana, to do the same to stop this new coal export terminal that puts so much at risk for so many in one of the most vulnerable regions of the world for climate change and sea level rise."

New Report: Trade Talks Threaten to Undermine EU Climate Policy and Bring Tar Sands To Europe

image from http://s3.amazonaws.com/hires.aviary.com/k/mr6i2hifk4wxt1dp/14071715/a960c0af-29d0-4f06-9177-8b34a844e4aa.png
Photo courtesy of the "Dirty Deals" report.

As 2014 brings in a new wave of global temperature records, countries implementing policies that reduce climate disrupting pollution should be lauded for their efforts.

But a report released today by the Sierra Club, Friends of the Earth Europe, Friends of the Earth U.S., Transport & Environment, Greenpeace, and Council of Canadians presents new evidence that the U.S. government is joining the Canadian government and oil lobbyists in pushing the European Union (EU) to weaken an important climate policy called the Fuel Quality Directive (FQD). Even more troubling, U.S. efforts to include the FQD in negotiations on the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) -- a free trade agreement being negotiated in secret between the U.S. and EU -- could critically undermine the EU’s ability to lower climate emissions.

The EU adopted the FQD in 2009 as means to reduce the carbon intensity of transportation fuels and ultimately lower transportation emissions by six percent by 2020. In 2011, the European Commission drafted proposed guidelines for how fuel suppliers could implement the policy and proposed that different types of fuels be classified by their climate emissions, meaning some fuel sources would be labelled as having higher greenhouse gas intensity values than others.  Such a system would encourage fuel suppliers to switch from dirtier fuels to cleaner types in order to meet the emissions reduction target.

Not surprisingly, oil corporations and their lobbyists on both side of the Atlantic have used every tool at their disposal to undermine the FQD.  They have been joined by the Canadian government --led by the infamously pro-tar sands Prime Minister Stephen Harper-- and argued that the FQD discriminates against Canada’s tar sands. Canada has even threatened the EU with a World Trade Organization challenge. In reality, the EU’s proposed science-based approach would label all carbon intensive sources of oil including liquefied coal, oil shale and tar sands as having high greenhouse gas intensity-- not discriminate against countries.

Sadly, the United States government, at the urging of the oil industry, has joined Canada and its oil industry in raising concerns about the landmark climate policy.  Moreover, the U.S. now has a new playing field in which to weaken the FQD:  negotiations for the proposed U.S.-EU trade pact, also known as the TTIP.

Ideally, a 21st century U.S.-EU trade agreement would allow -- and encourage -- countries to implement policies that would address the growing threat of climate disruption. Instead, today’s report highlights that our own U.S. negotiators seem to be characterizing the FQD as a potential barrier to trade, rather than a necessary policy that should be emulated.

Continue reading "New Report: Trade Talks Threaten to Undermine EU Climate Policy and Bring Tar Sands To Europe" »

Sierra Club and Center for American Progress premier solar documentary using Google Glass

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Photo courtesy of Harnessing the Sun to Keep the Lights on in India

Today, the Sierra Club and Center for American Progress (CAP) debuted a new documentary that highlights the vital role off-grid solar power is playing around the world, particularly in developing areas like Uttar Pradesh, India.

By using Google Glass, Sierra Club and CAP were able to capture the life-transforming power off-grid solar energy has had in Uttar Pradesh. Through the eyes of Google Glass and traditional filming equipment, Justin Guay and Vrinda Manglik of the Sierra Club and Andrew Satter of CAP not only saw solar panels being installed, but they talked to the very people whose lives have been transformed by solar power.

All this week we’ve been releasing behind the scenes footage of our journey in anticipation of the  launch of our documentary. You can check out our videos on Twitter using the hashtag #PutSolarOnIt or by clicking here.

Make sure you check out our documentary, “Harnessing the Sun to Keep the Light on in India” and take action to help alleviate global energy poverty.

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

'Walls & The Tiger' highlights rural activists' challenge

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Photo courtesy of 'Walls & The Tiger'

In this modern day David vs. Goliath, rural activists of the Kona Forest region in South India are fighting back against a decade of environmental destruction and human rights violations.

Walls & The Tiger, a new documentary set to be released this fall, follows these activists in their campaign to protect and sustain traditional communities and fragile ecosystems from corrupt industrialization.  Propelled by graceful, urgent storytelling and filled with revelations of courage in the

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Photo courtesy of 'Walls & The Tiger'

face of adversity, this film adds cathartic force to one of the most crucial political and human rights issues of the 21st century: the decimation of rural people and their environments in the name of development.

“We accept the development. But not at the cost of the environment and not at the cost of the poor mans’ resources,” one of the activists in the documentary explains. “It is our responsibility to provide fresh air and fresh water to our next generations. Without this, development means nothing.”

Unlike many similar communities that crumbled at the will of big industry, these Kona Forest villagers have decided to take on the development that stands to destroy their environment and livelihoods.

By uniting to protect their land and resources, everyday farmers have become savvy activists, actively working to protect their livelihoods and taking to the courts, filing a lawsuit against powerful global forces. Their story will stand as a model for many communities that face similar situations throughout the world. Despite facing arrests and abuse from the authorities, these rural activists have worked to fearlessly protect their established way of life.

In the face of adversity, they have demonstrated that when the “walls” of development encroach upon them, “the tiger” strikes back.

Continue reading "'Walls & The Tiger' highlights rural activists' challenge " »

Healing Walk in Photos: Stronger When We Walk Together

This weekend, communities from across the northeast San Francisco Bay came together in the fourth of four "connecting the dots" refinery Healing Walks that connected fenceline communities facing refineries and crude by rail oil infrastructure in Contra Costa County.

Led by Indigenous elders, the walks focus on healing and on connecting communities, with prayers offered at each refinery along the way for healing and for a just transition away from fossil fuels.  

Many described the walks as a powerful experience -- walking together, praying together, interacting with community members along the way, and building connections to grow the resistance.  

The communities of Pittsburg, Benicia, Martinez, Rodeo, and Richmond, California, joined together in these walks that spanned 44 miles from the Valero refinery in Pittsburg south through the refinery corridor to end on Saturday at the Chevron refinery in Richmond.

Saturday's walk spanned 13 miles from the Phillips 66 refinery in Rodeo to the Chevron refinery in Richmond -- here are some photos that attempt to capture the experience and the strength and spirit of these communities that are fighting for their health, safety, and survival.
Healing walk view
Here's the view looking up the train tracks at the refinery in Rodeo. As participants gathered, a train carrying oil passed on the tracks, shaking the ground where the Healing Walk participants were standing.

Participants gather and sign in for the opening ceremony before the walk begins in Rodeo. Flags and signs, drums and singing were key parts of the walk.
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The Healing Walk makes its way into Pinole, Calif. Many of the roads we walked on Saturday did not have sidewalks, spreading the walkers out in single and double file along the side of the road.
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The walk stopped at the Kinder Morgan facility to offer prayers right in front of a crude by rail facility. The communities have been banding together to fight proposals to bring more and more explosive Bakken crude by rail into the Bay area. The Healing Walk on Saturday honored the memory of 47 residents of Lac-Mégantic in Canada who were killed this week last year when a train carrying explosive Bakken crude derailed and incinerated the town. Many of the residents of these Bay Area communities live along crude by rail "blast zones" that could face a similar tragedy.
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It was particularly moving this weekend to hear Pennie Opal Plant, one of the lead organizers for the walks, pray at the Chevron refinery for the workers' safety and for the workers to continue to have jobs that support their families as we transition away from the fossil fuel economy, as security and workers for the refinery looked on.  

Richmond residents and community groups also talked about their struggle for health and safety with the refinery in their back yard, especially with the recent Chevron refinery explosion that sent many residents to hospitals.
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As the walk ended at the waterfront in Richmond, in view of the marine facility where Chevron ships its oil, residents from each of the five communities connected through the walk expressed their commitment to each other and expressed gratitude for these walks bringing them together across 44 miles of the refinery corridor in the northeast San Francisco Bay.

Because we're stronger when we walk together.

-- Text and photos by Rachel Rye Butler, Sierra Club Beyond Oil Campaign

Selling Solar in India Through the Lens of Google Glass

 

Solar power is the key to ending energy poverty.

No, this isn’t some out-of-touch Silicon Valley pipe dream. Innovative companies like Simpa Networks and OMC power are pioneering new energy models for rural populations that deliver everything from LED lightbulbs and Skinny Grids to Off-Grid Wi-Fi to pay-as-you-go solar home systems.

To better understand how they empower people, the Sierra Club and Center for American Progress (CAP) teamed up to document their efforts in a hotbed of off-grid solar activity: Uttar Pradesh, India. We brought along a pair of Google Glass to document our travel and give the world a first-hand look at our global distributed energy future.

 

If there’s one thing we learned about their efforts, it’s this: small is big.

All those small-scale solar home systems and mini-grids these companies are building add up to a whopping $12 billion energy market potential. Even more exciting, this market is already booming. From 80,000 solar home systems installed every month in Bangladesh, to a 95-percent compound annual growth rate in Sub-Saharan Africa’s off-grid solar market, it’s easy to see why investment is rapidly growing.

But, despite all this growth, public institutions have still not stepped up to provide the investment these companies require to truly scale their efforts. Perhaps the lone exception to this rule is President Obama’s exciting new “Beyond the Grid” initiative, but even that is not enough. That’s why entrepreneurs are demanding $500 million to catalyze faster growth from leading development institutions like the World Bank.

But lost amidst growth rates and investments is the human story yearning to be told.

Continue reading "Selling Solar in India Through the Lens of Google Glass" »

The Resistance is Growing: Take Note, Oil Companies & Corporate Oil Consumers

Tamhas-Griffith

By Rachel Rye Butler

Tomorrow, Saturday June 12, activists from affected communities in the Bay Area refinery corridor and along crude by rail blast zones will come together for the last of four Refinery Healing Walks, which have traced a path of pollution from oil refinery to oil refinery across the northeast San Francisco Bay.

Saturday's walk will start at the Phillips 66 refinery in Rodeo, California, and proceed 13 miles to the Chevron Refinery in Richmond -- the same refinery that made news not long ago for an explosion that sent more than 15,000 people to local hospitals.

The communities along this corridor have long faced health impacts and pollution from these refineries, and the pollution is only getting worse as the refineries accept and process tar sands crude, which exposes residents to even greater levels of toxic chemicals, particulate matter, sulfur dioxide, lead, carbon dioxide, and other harmful pollutants.

But these communities and many, many more across North America -- including those affected by tar sands refining, pipelines, and rail transportation, and people living at the source of tar sands extraction in Canada -- are standing up and calling for an end to the pipelines, the rail terminals, and the tar sands mining that harms our health, our water, our land, and our climate.

Martinez-Healing-WalkPhoto by Peg Hunter

One of the previous Healing Walks toured Martinez, California (pictured above and below), home to two refineries that process oil and tar sands crude -- and also home to a strong resistance among residents who are fighting for the health of their community.

Martinez-Healing-WalkPhoto by Peg Hunter

Between the explosive crude being shipped by rail through their communities -- and many others across the country -- and the pollution burden from refineries, residents are saying that enough is enough.

Kayakers-at-Healing-WalkPhoto by Peg Hunter

They're saying it through events like the Healing Walks, by pressuring their local decision-makers to protect the communities rather than cow to industry, and by speaking directly to the biggest single consumers of tar sands: corporations like PepsiCo that use tar sands in their massive vehicle fleets.

Tamhas Griffith, a founder of the Martinez Environmental Group, one of the community organizations in the Northeast Bay Area, traveled to the PepsiCo shareholder meeting earlier this year to deliver this message:

"People in our communities have had enough of paying for oil industry record profits with the health of our families. We are organizing to hold oil companies and their corporate consumers accountable for their impact on our lives."

That's Griffith below, with Sierra Club Future Fleet campaign director Gina Coplon-Newfield, at the PepsiCo shareholder meeting.

Griffith-&-Coplon-Newfield

The Healing Walk on Saturday is another step that communities are taking to fight back against big oil and fight for a clean and just energy future, and it's just one of many events taking place this week across the country. The resistance is growing, and it's not going to stop.

NJ Gov. Chris Christie’s Lose-Lose Move for New Jersey

ChrischristieNew Jersey Governor Chris Christie (Photo: Bob Jagendorf)

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie is doing whatever he can to prevent his state from supporting clean energy jobs and climate action. On Monday, Christie again took the path of big polluters by pulling New Jersey out of the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) - an innovative and proven program in which northeastern states are working together to reduce carbon pollution while boosting the clean energy economy. And it’s not the first time Christie’s tried to turn back the clock. In March, an earlier RGGI rollback was slapped down when a court found Christie’s administration violated the law in attempting to pull the state out of the regional agreement.

RGGI has already helped create thousands of jobs in New Jersey while curbing carbon pollution from power plants -- and it’d be a key way in which the state could meet the new carbon standards established by President Obama’s Clean Power Plan.

"People of New Jersey demand action on climate change and want our state to reduce air pollution, for our state to be more resilient, and to support growing our economy through new technology and clean energy jobs,” New Jersey Sierra Club Director Jeff Tittel said. “Especially after Hurricane Sandy, the public supports action on climate change. New Jersey needs to reduce greenhouse gases -- and RGGI is one of the ways to do it."

During New Jersey’s participation in the initiative, the state achieved its greenhouse gas reduction goal of 10 percent within the first three years, boosted the economy by $151 million, and created 1,772 jobs throughout the state. So that begs the question -- why would the state pull out in light of its substantial success?

“We believe that the Governor pulled out of RGGI because he cares more about his national political ambition than the environment and people of New Jersey," Tittel said.

As Christie keeps his eyes on a potential Presidential run in 2016, the big polluters and special interests that back Republican candidates are attacking any and all efforts to create clean energy jobs and act on the climate crisis. Front organizations backed by the oil-rich Koch Brothers have pushed legislators to sign a pledge to refuse climate action while polluter front groups are dumping millions into efforts to smear the Clean Power Plan and its supporters. So, Republicans with national ambitions like Christie are positioning themselves now to be on the side of polluters.

This isn’t the first time Christie has put New Jersey’s communities and economy in jeopardy for the sake of his political standing. Since taking office, the Christie administration has gutted about $1 billion from clean energy funding initiatives. With Christie’s support, a New Jersey Clean Energy Fund could have created 5,000 local jobs, billions of dollars in economic activity, and cut air pollution by 100 million tons.

“With RGGI we can protect our environment, reduce carbon pollution, and move our state forward economically. RGGI is a win-win for New Jersey, and Gov. Christie is a lose-lose when it comes to protecting our environment and reducing the impacts of climate change,” said Tittel. “The Governor would rather side with the fossil fuel lobby in Washington than clean energy jobs in New Jersey."

--Tori Ravenel, Sierra Club Media Team

Leaked: European Union Trade Document, Translation: Climate Disaster

TtipUPDATE! 7/24/2014: Today, more than 35 organizations including the Sierra Club sent a letter to the United States Trade Representative regarding this flawed proposal. In the letter, these groups call on the United States to oppose 1) the inclusion of a specific chapter dedicated to energy or 2) any provisions in the TTIP that could lead to automatic approval of export licenses for crude oil and natural gas. The groups argue that U.S. energy policy must be determined through democratic and transparent domestic processes—not through tradedeals that are negotiated behind closed doors. The U.S.'s role in tackling the climate crisis depends on this. To see the letter and the three dozen signatures, click here.

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A leaked European Union trade document, published today by the Washington Post, reveals the dangers
of the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership for communities and our climate.  The document, similar to a previously leaked EU proposal for a chapter on energy which I wrote about here, makes it clear that the EU is looking to use this secretly negotiated trade pact as a back-door channel to get automatic, unfettered access to U.S. fracked gas and oil. If this proposal moves forward, we would see more fracking for oil and gas in the United States, more climate-disrupting pollution globally, and increased dependence on fossil fuels in the EU. So, while oil and gas companies on both sides of the Atlantic rake in profits, everyone else is stuck paying the costs.

To understand the real implications of the proposal, let’s look at some key elements and translate what each means for communities, energy policy, and climate.

1. “The EU proposes to include a legally binding commitment in the TTIP guaranteeing the free export of crude oil and gas resources by transforming any mandatory and non-automatic export licensing procedure into a process by which licenses for exports to the EU are granted automatically and expeditiously. Such a specific commitment would, in the EU’s view, not require that the U.S. amend its existing legislation on oil and gas.”

Translation: The United States should scrap its process for reviewing the impacts of exporting natural gas and crude oil and automatically send the EU our gas and oil.

Here is the background. In the United States, companies must secure a license to export crude oil and natural gas. Exports of crude oil to the European Union are allowed only if the President determines they are consistent with the national interest and they pass an impact assessment. The EU proposal, however, would require the United States to “automatically and expeditiously” approve crude oil export licenses without even considering the national interest. That leaves no room to even examine how more dirty fracking and more dangerous exports will harm communities here at home. Exporting crude oil to the EU would mean windfall profits to Big Oil, more fracking, and more climate-disrupting pollution.

With respect to natural gas, the EU proposal would remove the U.S. Department of Energy’s requirement to review whether exports are in the public interest before approving any exports. The rubber-stamping of exports would lead to increased natural gas production—most of which will come from dangerous fracking. The natural gas would then be transported to export facilities and cooled and liquefied for overseas shipment--an extremely energy-intensive process that creates a dirty climate-disrupting fuel.

2.“EU and U.S. companies would be first beneficiaries.”

Translation: The oil and gas industries will be the first ones to benefit. Not much explaining to do here! Increased fracking for oil and gas and more exports means more profits for corporate polluters. The oil and gas industry may, in fact, be the only beneficiaries. Certainly American communities and our climate would lose out.

Continue reading "Leaked: European Union Trade Document, Translation: Climate Disaster" »

Sierra Club calls for Ex-Im bank reform

As the debate in Congress continues around the Export-Import Bank's reauthorization, the way forward is not entirely clear. Some Congressional Republicans believe that the bank should be abolished, while many others on both sides of the aisle believe it needs real reform. The Sierra Club believes that Congress should continue to push the Bank to reform its energy sector lending.

Congress should use the reauthorization process to conduct a rigorous assessment of the Export-Import Bank’s (Ex-Im) deficiencies, and to impose some commonsense reforms to ensure that Ex-Im’s activities do as much as possible to create U.S. jobs, promote competitiveness, and advance our national interests. This necessarily includes paying due regard to evolving global issues, such as the imperative to address the impacts of a changing climate.  

If Congress really wants to explore ways to better enable Ex-Im to promote U.S. competitiveness in the evolving global marketplace, it should focus on reforming Ex-Im’s energy sector portfolio.  

By 2020, clean energy will be one of the world’s biggest industries, totaling as much as $2.3 trillion. The vast majority of this investment is projected to take place outside of the United States, and American companies are in danger of being left behind by companies from countries such as Germany, China and Spain whose governments have done much more to advance their clean technology sectors.

Continue reading "Sierra Club calls for Ex-Im bank reform" »


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