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.

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Live for Now? What About Tomorrow?

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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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The Next Frontier for Beyond the Grid Solar Markets: Big Data

When it comes to energy access, we’re fond of saying small is big.

That’s because all those small scale solar lanterns, solar home systems, and solar mini-grids add up to a very big market. But the size of that market, and its social impact, could well be dwarfed by an even larger opportunity the solar revolution is engendering. With the explosion of mobile money platforms, and the pay-as-you-go (PAYG) solar financing options they enable, companies working Beyond the Grid are collecting reams and reams of data that could provide rural communities with perhaps the most transformative intervention yet -- financial inclusion.

It’s important to first take a step back and understand just how profoundly important financial inclusion is for these off-grid rural communities. For many populations living beyond the grid, they are also living beyond the reach of the formal economy and the financial system. That means they can’t take out loans for productive uses (say a sewing machine to make clothes and generate extra income) that could improve their lives, which in turn restricts their ability to move up the economic ladder and reinforces the poverty trap.

But it doesn’t have to be this way. Rural communities already pay tremendous amounts for heavily polluting sources of energy -- nearly $40 billion for kerosene lighting. Solar entreprenuers are redirecting those cash flows to cheaper, cleaner sources of energy saving them money and improving their quality of life. But more importantly, by paying off these products, they are demonstrating the people’s ability to pay, and therefore their creditworthiness.  

                                                             Photo courtesy of Angaza

But there is a wide gulf between being creditworthy in principle and creditworthy in practice. That’s because the financial institutions that would be granting loans to these people need historical data on which to judge risk (this is the same dilemma that faces solar providers in the U.S. as they try to securitize loans). That is where we reach a classic Catch-22: without credit history you can’t get credit, and if you can’t get credit, you can’t build credit history.

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Bangladesh "Long March" to Save Sundarbans Featured in a New Documentary

Last September, thousands of Bangladeshis joined the five day “Long March” from the capital city, Sundarbans Dhaka, to the city of Rampal to protest a proposed new coal-fired power plant. Now you can join the walk in a new documentary, “Long Live Sundarban,” available on YouTube.

The proposed coal project threatens the Sundarbans -- a UNESCO World Heritage Site which translates to “beautiful forest” in Bengali -- home to the largest reserve for endangered Bengal Tigers. It is also the world’s largest mangrove forest and plays an important role in the local economy and agriculture. More importantly though, the Sundarbans are a critical natural defense against cyclones, and it is estimated that every time one of these powerful storms hits Bangladesh, the forest saves hundreds of thousands of lives.

And the danger from these cyclones will only increase. At less than 20 feet above sea level, Bangladesh is one of the most vulnerable nations to the effects of climate disruption. As sea levels rise and storms worsen, the country will need the Sundarbans more than ever.

But this could all change if the proposal from India’s state owned National Thermal Power Corporation (NTPC) and Bangladesh’s Power Development Board (PDB) to build this proposed 1,320-megawatt coal-fired power plant moves forward. This coal project will not only contribute to the climate disruption threatening Bangladesh, it will also endanger their main protection against it.

But local activists are working hard to make sure this doesn’t happen.

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Big Coal Doesn't Get It

EPAad3 (1) (1)

 

As thousands rally this week in support of the EPA’s proposed Clean Power Plan, one thing is clear – people across the country are united in their demand for cleaner air to breathe. It’s fitting then that the final hearing starts in Pittsburgh on Thursday, an area that suffers from some of the worse air quality in the nation.

Every summer more than 53,000 children in the Pittsburgh region suffering from asthma are told to stay inside on bad air days because playing outside is a risk to their health. Summer is especially difficult for these kids and other vulnerable people -- including seniors and people with respiratory disease -- because the hotter temperatures lead to more smog, one of the most dangerous forms of air pollution.

Climate disruption is making this problem even worse with more hot days, longer heat waves and higher temperatures. That means even more smog.

The Sierra Club made this connection in the radio ad posted above that was launched this week in the Pittsburgh region, declaring that it’s time we did something to clean up our air. And that something is support the Clean Power Plan.

Coal-fired power plants, like those that dot Southwest Pennsylvania, are one of the primary sources of both smog-causing nitrogen oxides, soot and the carbon pollution that’s fueling climate disruption. In fact, while most of these plants could cut their pollution right now,  they simply choose not to, putting our kids at greater risk.

But when the coal industry heard our ad, they did what they do best -- deny and smear. An industry group called the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity issued a press release claiming carbon pollution has nothing to do with public health, thereby again putting polluters soundly on the opposite side of science and reality.

If big polluters are denying reality and abdicating responsibility for wreaking havoc on our public health, it must be a day that ends with a “y”. Check a scientific study, big coal: carbon pollution from burning coal worsens smog which triggers asthma attacks. That's part of why the Clean Power Plan's curbs on carbon are expected to prevent 150,000 asthma attacks in children.

But Americans shouldn't expect big polluters, the same companies that have been dumping toxins into our air and water for years, to care about public health. That's why we are doing our best to cut through their smears with these latest ads.

--Kim Teplitzky, Sierra Club Media Team, Pittsburgh, PA

Poll: Communities of Color Overwhelmingly Support Climate Action

As the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) holds public hearings across the country on the proposed Clean Power Plan, national polling continues to show strong support for climate action. And a new survey released by Green For All and conducted by the firm Brilliant Corners suggests that the desire for government action to combat climate disruption is especially high among minority communities. In fact, three quarters of voters of color surveyed said that they have become more interested in climate issues over the past several years and are paying closer attention to new information.  
Green for all report

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First Day of EPA Carbon Pollution Standard Hearings a Success!

Atlanta EPA rally

Hundreds and hundreds of people gathered in Washington, D.C., Denver, and Atlanta Tuesday for the first day of public hearings on the Environmental Protection Agency's Clean Power Plan. The EPA proposed these first-ever limits on carbon pollution from existing power plants just last month.
Senator Markey at the DC rally

In Washington, D.C., crowds gathered to speak out in favor of the carbon pollution standard, packing the hearing all day. Supporters also gathered at a rally outside the hearing (see above photo) to hear from a variety of great speakers, including Senator Ed Markey, Delaware Governor Jack Markell, Latino Victory Project president Cristobal Alex, Green Latino president Mark Magaña, Hip Hop Caucus president Rev. Lennox Yearwood and others.
DC EPA rally kids - Photo by Javier Sierra
Kids were out and about in force as well, thanks to coalition partner Moms Clean Air Force.

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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.

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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


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