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


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.


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

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" »

From East to West, Good News for Wilderness and Communities Threatened by Coal Projects

The Sunset Trail Roadless Area in Colorado. Photo courtesy of WildEarth Guardians - see more photos here.

In the past week we've received good news on major proposed coal projects that pose a threat to communities and beautiful places, from both the eastern U.S. and the western U.S.
First, last Friday a federal court cited climate change as a major reason for rejecting federal agencies' approval of a coal mine expansion plan that would bulldoze roads through the pristine and beautiful Sunset Roadless Area wilderness in Western Colorado.
The Bureau of Land Management and the U.S. Forest Service had authorized the leasing of 10.1 million tons of coal under 1,700 acres of the Sunset Roadless Area in order to expand Arch Coal's West Elk Coal Mine. Last year Earthjustice, on behalf of the Sierra Club, High Country Conservation Advocates, and WildEarth Guardians, filed suit to overturn that authorization on the grounds that they had failed to adequately consider the environmental harm the project would cause.
"BLM's federal coal leasing program has a massive impact on our climate and public health, affecting the waters we use, the air we breathe, and the wild areas we enjoy," said Roger Singer, Senior Organizing Manager with the Sierra Club in Colorado. "For years, BLM has been telling the public that its individual coal leasing decisions -- even those approving hundreds of millions of tons of coal -- have no impact on our climate. That assumption is out the window."
On the other side of the country, mountaintop removal coal mining opponents received good news when the Federal Highway Administration announced that the Virginia Department of Transportation will be required to conduct a full environmental review for a controversial 26-mile section of the Coalfields Expressway that would run through southwest Virginia.

The Coalfields Expressway project, which I described as a "mountaintop removal coal mine in disguise" in a prior post, is a public-private partnership between the Commonwealth of Virginia and coal mining companies, including Alpha Natural Resources. The coal companies would get to strip mine the land and leave it razed for building the highway (which may not ever be completed). In order to make this bad deal work, the coal companies were allowed to re-route the highway's proposed route, moving it away from local business districts and threatening to take thousands of acres of privately-owned land through eminent domain.
More than 85,000 citizens sent comments to VDOT and FHWA expressing their concerns about the harm that mountaintop removal coal mining associated with this project would have on drinking water, community health, and quality of life.
"VDOT now has the opportunity to take a fresh, honest look at this project," said Marley Green, a Wise County resident and Sierra Club organizer in Virginia. "We have the chance to figure out the best ways to improve transportation access and diversify our struggling mountain economy."
Coal projects like these continue to threaten wilderness and communities nationwide, but more and more often, they are being met by robust opposition from local residents whose livelihoods depend on a healthy environment. Americans want clean air and clean water, and they don't want communities and beautiful places devastated by coal mining.

-- Mary Anne Hitt, Beyond Coal Campaign Director

Poll: Voters More Likely to Support Candidates Who Support Climate Action

Climate disruption has been a polarizing issue in the political sphere, with many Republicans in Congress staunchly opposing any efforts by President Obama or Congressional Democrats to combat the global crisis. Most recently, Republican elected officials have been the loudest opponents of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s proposed carbon pollution standards.

With the midterm elections just around the corner, the Yale Project on Climate Change Communications and the George Mason University Center for Climate Change Communication released a new national poll examining how voters across the different political parties feel about climate disruption.

This research has implications for political candidates vying for voter support in the coming months. Researchers at Yale University and GMU found that American registered voters are more than two times more likely to vote for a candidate who strongly supports taking action to combat climate disruption. Conservative Republicans are the only political group studied that would be less likely to vote for such a candidate. And, conversely, registered voters are three times more likely to vote against a candidate that opposes climate action.

Poll graph

Researchers at Yale University and GMU also found that many registered voters are willing to get involved politically outside the ballot box. More than one-in-four (26%) indicate they would be willing to join or are currently participating in a campaign to call for elected officials to take climate action.

Researchers also found deep and consistent divides within the bloc of respondents who identified themselves as Republicans or Republican-leaning independents; liberal or moderate Republicans are significantly more convinced that human-caused climate disruption is occurring and more supportive of climate action (and those politicians who call for it) than conservative Republicans are. While Democrats are the most concerned about climate disruption, this study suggests that liberal or moderate Republicans’ views on climate issues are more similar to Democrats than to some of the more-conservative factions of their party.

Two-thirds of the 860 registered voters surveyed say they think “global warming” is happening, including 88% of Democrats, 59% of independents, and a majority (61%) of liberal and moderate Republicans (which the report calls “establishment Republicans”). The same cannot be said of conservative Republicans; just 28% of these registered voters accept that climate disruption is occurring. Majorities of every political segment are concerned, but liberal/moderate Republicans are more than twice as likely to be worried than conservative Republicans are (51% versus 19%, respectively).

Based on the numbers in these polls, political candidates, no matter what their party, who deny the existence of climate disruption or impede government action to combat it may ultimately be working against their political interests. The public support for climate action and political candidates who support it is overwhelming, especially among Democrats. But there is more diversity within the Republican Party on these issues than one might think. Many Republicans appear to now believe in the existence of global climate disruption, and just a small percentage of Republicans oppose mitigation efforts outright. These divisions within the party serve as an encouraging sign that the topic of climate disruption is become less political, and potentially more likely to encourage action in the months and years to come. 

--Christopher Todaro, Sierra Club Polling and Research Intern

Australian Prime Minister Attempts To Undermine U.S. Climate Action

Nemo outside the Export-Import Bank in Washington, D.C.

How are we going to mitigate climate disruption? By planting more trees, according to Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott.

In an effort to undermine the first-ever standards to clean up carbon pollution from power plants proposed this month as a part of the Obama administration’s Clean Power Plan, Abbott is attempting to join forces with the “like-minded” right wing leaders in the UK, New Zealand, and Canada.

Their goal? Stop the global effort to address climate disruption -- at places like the upcoming G20 Summit in Brisbane, Australia -- and completely shutter all efforts to make curbing carbon pollution a global initiative.

Instead of outright denying the facts of climate disruption -- like many Republicans in the U.S. -- these right wing leaders at least recognize that climate disruption is an issue and are looking to energy efficiency as one way to realistically sustain their energy use for the future. But the progress stops there. Instead of taking the definitive action needed to protect our planet and public health, Abbott and his allies would rather protect the interests of big polluters than listen to their own citizens.

In fact, Abbott believes that the best way to mitigate the severe effects of climate disruption -- including the recent unprecedented droughts, floods, and wildfires that have been plaguing Australia -- is “to cultivate better soils, to plant more trees, to take the kind of direct action measures which we certainly intend to take in Australia.”

But by ignoring the harmful effects carbon pollution from coal, oil, and natural gas on both our public health and our planet, Abbott is not only completely failing to take direct action, he is ultimately helping to further the climate disruption that is so drastically affecting Australians.

And this isn’t the first time Prime Minister Abbott has prioritized big business over the fragile and priceless environment in Australia. For years, he has worked to revoke the World Heritage Site status of both the Tasmanian forest and the Great Barrier Reef in an effort to increase logging and dredge for coal exports. It is at the expense of some of the world’s greatest natural treasures that Abbott has tried to leave his legacy.

Unfortunately, Prime Minister Abbott hasn’t been alone in this quest to destroy the Great Barrier Reef. In fact, the U.S. Export-Import Bank has been planning to open massive coal mines in Australia’s Galilee Basin and dredge one of the most fragile ecosystems in the world. If their plan comes to fruition, not only will Abbott make money off the Reef’s destruction, but your American tax dollars will have helped him do it.

Luckily, many people down under are fighting back against Prime Minister Abbott’s extreme views.

Just recently, activists were able to save the Leard State Forest from the needless clear cutting by the Whitehaven Coal company. In this major victory for environmental champions, instead of building a new coal mine in this critical habitat, the coal company has been ordered to stop clearing during the winter when many threatened species are hibernating, thus protecting these species and this important forest.

Even more, these Australian environmental champions come from all backgrounds, including the Australian Labor Party leader Bill Shorten.

In an interview with The Sydney Morning Herald, Mr. Shorten touted climate disruption as an across-the-board issue that will affect not only the environment but also national security and the economy.

That’s why it is so crucial for Prime Minister Abbott and his allies to not only address climate disruption in their home countries but at every major international forum, including the G20 Summit. It is only through global cooperation in the fight against climate disruption that we can protect our futures for generations to come.

--Justin Guay, Associate Director, International Climate Program

An Innovation A Day Keeps the Emissions Away

800px-New_Teslas_at_the_factoryJust about every day, I'm hearing about new innovation in electric vehicle (EV) technology on the market or in the works.

Sustainia, an annual guide to innovative sustainable solutions worldwide, just announced its 100 top picks. Among the companies were at least five in the EV space. One is Proterra, the electric bus company about which we've blogged before, for its EcoRide Fast Charging Electric Buses. Proterra says these buses get the equivalent (in terms of efficiency and emissions) of 20.8 mpg as compared to 5.25 mpg for hybrid, 3.86 mpg for diesel, and 3.27 mpg for CNG. These e-buses are seriously cleaner!

Honeywell & Safran made the Sustainia 100 list for its new electric taxiing system for airplanes, which is expected to equip A320 aircrafts with autonomous taxiing technology from gate to runway to save the CO2 equivalent per plane of planting 835 trees or eliminating 717 automobiles.

ChargePoint was on Sustainia 100 for the company's technology at 17,000+ EV charging stations nationwide. ChargePoint is clearly charging ahead -- with millions more in venture capital support recently secured and a new partnership with French electrical systems giant Schneider Electric.

Finally, there were two battery technology companies on the Sustainia list; Aquion Energy and Ambri are both making strides in renewable energy battery storage. My Sierra Club colleague Reed McManus wrote for the current edition of Sierra Magazine about research underway for EV batteries that will allow electric cars to charge faster and go further.

So is it competition or collaboration that is enabling these kind of advances? Tesla recently surprised many by announcing that it would open up its 172 current patents to any company that works "in good faith" to advance the EV market. When we read that "Nissan wants a three-way with Tesla and BMW" (not my words!) for supercharger technology, we know this kind of collaboration could mean that EV drivers are soon enjoying big benefits from this kind of corporate love-in.

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

U.S. Supreme Court Continues to Chip Away at Healthy Communities

WorkersToday the Supreme Court turned the screws a little tighter on working Americans who are struggling to get by. In its 5-4 decision in the Harris v. Quinn case, authored by conservative Justice Samuel Alito, the Court made it harder for home health care workers in Illinois to band together for a voice at work, and signaled they intend to do the same to all public sector workers when they get a chance.

Home health care workers are the people who take care of our parents and grandparents. They are usually paid so little they have to depend on public assistance to survive. They are most often women, people of color and immigrants. One of the reasons they are paid so poorly is that the state and private agencies that profit from their work have been quite adept at denying these workers the right to have a voice at work through a union. They have done this by assigning home care workers to a bureaucratic "no man's land" in which they are neither public nor private employees and thus have no real employer with which a union could negotiate about their wages and working conditions.  

The Supreme Court made that abusive limbo state the law of the land today, finding that the Illinois home care workers could not adopt a "fair share" requirement to ensure that all workers share the cost of union representation, because those workers are not "full-fledged public employees." The decision threatens to undo years of organizing to build a system of consumer-directed home care in Illinois that has proven successful in raising wages, providing affordable health care benefits, and increasing training. 

As the SEIU's Mary Kay Henry said in response to the ruling,

"The number of elderly Americans will increase dramatically in the coming years. States need to build a stable, qualified workforce to meet the growing need for home care--and having a strong union for home care workers is the only approach that has proven effective."

Even worse than the immediate impact on the rights of home care workers, Justice Alito signaled that, if he has his way, the Supreme Court will overrule the 37 year-old landmark Abood decision. If they do, that will make it illegal for any public sector union to collect "fair share" fees (equivalent to dues) from workers they are legally required to represent who decide to become "free riders" by not joining the union.

So what does this have to do with protecting the environment? As it turns out, quite a bit:

The case was brought by the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation, an extreme anti-worker group whose funders include climate science denying fossil fuel billionaires like Charles Koch, and climate disrupting global polluters like the Walton family (which owns Wal-Mart).

The case is the latest in a decades-long attack by some of the worst polluters on the planet on the rights of working people to join together to improve their jobs and the quality of services they provide.

If this attack by on the ability of public sector unions to pay the bills and keep the lights on goes the way Justice Alito wants it to, the Court will soon add another link in the Citizens United and McCutcheon chain of cases that turn the free speech protections of the First Amendment inside out, using Orwellian double speak (corporations are people, money is speech) to clear the way for corporate polluters to seize even more power in our democracy.

That's why it is critical that those of us in the environmental movement stand shoulder-to-shoulder with public sector unions. Attacks on these workers are at the core of the corporate polluters' strategy to erode our democracy and distort our government's priorities toward polluters and away from the people. Because private sector union density is now so low (six percent), public sector unions are one of the last institutional bulwarks against the handful of billionaires pushing to drown out the voices of everyone else.

In the environmental movement, we are all about building healthier communities.  Among other things, healthy communities thrive on clean air and water; they have good, safe jobs that pay enough to sustain families; they are part of a functioning democracy, which includes the right to participate in and influence decisions that affect their residents' lives, regardless of their wealth, race, religion, or immigration status. We understand that reality.

This Supreme Court may have had its say today, but no court case will stop us from joining our allies in fighting for the democratic protections that allow people to build healthier and more just communities -- including a strong voice at work.

-- Dean Hubbard, director of the Sierra Club Labor Program

The Faith-Based Push for Fossil Fuel Divestment

UDThis week the University of Dayton made news when it announced that "it will begin divesting coal and fossil fuels from its $670 million investment pool." UD joins a growing list of universities choosing to divest endowments due to concerns about climate disruption and sustainability. But what's unique about UD's case is that it is the first Catholic school to take this step.

"This action, which is a significant step in a long-term process, is consistent with Catholic social teachings, our Marianist values, and comprehensive campuswide sustainability initiatives and commitments under the American College and University Presidents' Climate Commitment," University of Dayton President Daniel J. Curran said.

"We cannot ignore the negative consequences of climate change, which disproportionately impact the world's most vulnerable people. Our Marianist values of leadership and service to humanity call upon us to act on these principles and serve as a catalyst for civil discussion and positive change that benefits our planet."

UPDATE: We've got more major divestment news from over the weekend! The Unitarian Universalists voted to divest at their national meeting Saturday, June 28!

Christian denominations nationwide are divesting or considering divestment. Last year the United Church of Christ (UCC) made the news when it approved a divestment resolution brought forward by many of its member churches

Full disclosure - I'm a member of a UCC church and helped with that resolution and a quote from one of the resolution's writers - the Rev. Jim Antal of the Massachusetts Conference of the UCC has stuck with me since he and I first connected on divestment: "If we believe it is morally wrong to wreck the planet, then it follows that it's also morally wrong to profit from wrecking the planet."

Christian fossil fuel divestment has made other news this summer: Earlier this month the Presbyterian Church (USA) discussed a divestment resolution at its general meeting, although it was referred back to a committee for further consideration. Several United Methodist Church conferences are pushing it as well.

Meanwhile, many individual churches are divesting as well - for example, the Unitarian Society of Northampton and Florence just voted to divest.

The divestment movement is catching fire, so to speak, amongst religious organizations. I thought these words from Green Faith director Fletcher Harper explained the movement well: "(t)he fossil fuel divestment movement is advancing because it is small and unafraid. We need the courage and conviction of our faith that is not just limited to legislative or incremental gain. The audacity of faith in God and the power of God's love will make the creation and God's people whole."

-- Heather Moyer, Sierra Club

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