Moving Cars in the Right Direction

March 03, 2014

Everybody knows that standing in front of a moving car is dangerous, but what about standing behind one? Currently, four out of ten Americans live in a place where the air is sometimes dangerous to breathe, thanks in part to smog from cars and trucks. Today, the Obama administration finalized cleaner tailpipe standards that will help us all breathe easier.

Beginning in 2017, these cleaner tailpipe standards will require that refiners produce cleaner-burning, lower-sulfur gasoline, and that automakers use advanced pollution control technology on new cars. Although the impact of cleaner new cars will be felt over time, the cleaner gasoline will be used by all cars, old and new, and reduce pollution almost immediately. In the first year alone, smog-forming NOx emissions will be reduced by 260,000 tons. That's like taking 33 million cars off the road -- nearly two out of every ten cars in the U.S.

Cleaner tailpipe standards mean cleaner air, and cleaner air has real health benefits. Smog pollution, or ground-level ozone, can cause asthma attacks, respiratory disease, and even premature death. The Environmental Protection Agency estimates that by 2030 these cleaner tailpipe standards will prevent roughly 2,000 premature deaths a year, along with reducing hospital admissions and asthma attacks.

That's good news for everyone, but it's especially important for families who live near a major road. According to the American Lung Association, living or working near a major roadway results in a greater risk of health problems, especially for children and teenagers.

Disappointingly, the oil industry did everything it could to derail or delay these health-protecting standards. They failed in part because the standards will dramatically clean our air for less than a penny a gallon, all while creating jobs. A study by Navigant Economics found that these standards would create almost 5,400 permanent jobs in the operation and maintenance of new refinery equipment, as well as more than 24,000 new jobs during the three years it takes to install that equipment.

The economic and employment benefits of the standards explain the strong support for them from automakers, auto parts manufacturers, and the United Auto Workers.

These cleaner tailpipe standards mark the third time that President Obama has acted to make our cars and trucks cleaner and more efficient. In 2012, finalizing historic vehicle standards of 54.5 miles per gallon was the biggest single step any country had ever taken to reduce climate-disrupting pollution. Then, just two weeks ago, the president directed his administration to move forward with the next round of fuel-economy standards for tractor-trailers and delivery trucks.

Eventually, cars and trucks that run on gas will be found in museums instead of garages, and the smog and health problems they caused will only be bad memories. Until that day, though, we can be thankful for these standards, which will eliminate so much pollution for so little cost. 

Protecting Those Who Protected Us

February 05, 2014

It's not hard to understand why the Sierra Club has had a long and proud relationship with the men and women who serve our country in the armed services. As our history shows, a passion for exploring and enjoying the outdoors is a natural complement of both the skills and the spirit of the military.

After all, it was our first executive director, David Brower, who used his mountaineering and outdoors skills to help found the U.S. Army's 10th Mountain Division during World War II, a unit that has since distinguished itself from the Dolomites of Italy to the Hindu Kush of Afghanistan. Brower isn't an isolated example -- thousands of veterans are Sierra Club members and supporters. That's because their commitment to protect our country doesn't stop when they take off their uniforms. And their sense of duty extends from protecting our freedoms overseas to protecting our air, water, and natural legacy here at home.

So it's more important than ever that those who have sacrificed for our nation be given every opportunity to succeed here at home and receive every benefit they have earned. Incredibly, though, not everyone in Congress or in Washington, D.C., seems to agree. In fact, the recent omnibus budget bill would deliver harsh cuts to veteran's benefits.

That would be a slap in the face to all of the men and women who have put their lives on the line for our country. No veteran should receive anything less than every benefit to which he or she is entitled. That is the least we can do for those who fought to preserve our democracy.

That's why the Sierra Club is standing shoulder to shoulder with our partners, Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America and Blue Star Families, as well as with veterans, active duty service members, and their families nationwide, in opposing any cuts to veterans' pensions or benefits.

Our nation's budget should not be balanced on the backs of those who have fought to protect it. If we care about raising our voices to protect our nation's clean air, clean water, and wild places, we must stand with those who have sacrificed to ensure we have a strong nation. This is not an ideological issue or a partisan issue. It's common sense.

You can help fight for a full repeal of the cuts to military retirees' benefits here.

Keystone XL: Set to Reject

February 04, 2014

All across America, people are gathering to draw attention to the threat that the Keystone XL pipeline poses to clean air, clean water, public health, and the stability of our climate. Last night alone, thousands attended nearly 300 vigils in 49 states. This outpouring of hope and frustration came together in just a few days, in response to the release of a deeply flawed report by the State Department that underestimates the consequences of building this pipeline across the heart of the United States.

People are hopeful because the decision to reject the Keystone pipeline is in the hands of President Obama, who has stated his firm commitment to fight climate disruption. He will be advised by Secretary of State John Kerry, a long-standing champion in the effort to solve the climate crisis that is already upon us, already stirring extreme weather like Superstorm Sandy, the polar vortex, droughts, and wildfires. These leaders know that Americans have embraced clean energy and have no interest in retreating to dependence on the dirty fossil fuels of centuries past. So I'm cautiously confident that the president and secretary of state will do the right thing and stop this pipeline in its tracks.

People are frustrated, however, because the report released last Friday was largely written by a contractor that stands to profit if the pipeline is built. Not surprisingly, it gives the pipeline a passing grade, while virtually every credible expert has already given the project a big fat "Fail."

Biased as it is, though, the report sets the stage for President Obama to reject this dirty, dangerous manifestation of Big Oil's greed, by abandoning the contention in earlier drafts that KXL would have no significant impact on climate. Instead, it concludes that the pipeline would contribute the equivalent of an additional 6 million cars on the road to annual greenhouse gas emissions.

The president is on record that he will not allow Keystone XL to be built if it would "significantly exacerbate" carbon pollution. The pollution from six million cars is anything but insignificant. And a more credible independent analysis estimates that carbon pollution from the pipeline would be equivalent to more than 37 million gas-guzzling cars -- or 51 coal-fired power plants. How does that make sense at a moment when we are making progress against climate disruption by retiring dirty coal plants and building more and more wind turbines and solar panels to create the energy that is already powering Teslas, Leafs, and Smart cars?

There are plenty of reasons to reject Keystone. Here are a few reasons to reject last week's report:

  1. The report was too narrow in scope.  Federal law requires government agencies to consider the cumulative impact of proposed federal actions such as permits for pipelines that cross international boundaries. Last week, the Sierra Club and its coalition partners alerted the State Department that it had failed to consider the climate impacts of Keystone XL combined with other tar sands pipeline decisions, including the proposed Alberta Clipper pipeline expansion.

  2. The report has a serious conflict of interest. ERM -- a member organization of the American Petroleum Institute, the oil and gas industry's lobbying group -- was handpicked for the job by TransCanada, the company seeking to build the KXL pipeline. The State Department's Inspector General is currently investigating this contract for mismanagement and bias.

  3. The contention that the pollution is inevitable is false: The review assumes that tar sands expansion will happen with or without Keystone XL. But that's not what industry experts, financial analysts, and Canadian government officials are saying. And if you follow the money, it's clear that the delay already caused by the campaign opposing Keystone XL has led to both reduced foreign investment in the tar sands and reduced projections of tar sands crude production. In short, this pipeline is the linchpin for tar sands development.

  4. The tar sands cannot economically or safely be carried by rail: The review also assumes that, without a pipeline, tar sands crude would be shipped by rail. But moving tar sands by rail is both difficult and expensive, and will become even more so once new federal safety requirements come into effect. Since last July, when an oil train disaster killed 47 in Quebec, we've seen oil train accidents in Edmonton (Oct.), Alabama (Nov.), North Dakota (Dec), and New Brunswick and Pennsylvania (Jan). Just last Friday, while all eyes were on the rollout of the State Department's report, yet another crude-oil rail train derailed and spilled in Mississippi.

The next step in the Keystone XL decision is for Secretary Kerry to make a recommendation to the president about whether the pipeline is in our "national interest." We welcome Secretary Kerry to the fray. Kerry said in October that "energy policy is the solution to global climate change." He realizes that  climate-driven extreme weather is making life perilous in all 50 states, weakening our economy, and threatening our national security. If we invest in tar sands pipelines, we can expect only poisoned air and water in return. Investing in clean energy, on the other hand, creates jobs, lowers energy costs, builds energy security, and reduces carbon pollution. It's time to go "all in" on clean energy.

Ultimately, though, this is President Obama's decision. Although he has struggled with the paradox of reducing carbon pollution while promoting a dirty "all of the above" energy policy, the president already has more than enough evidence to reject this pipeline based solely on its effect on climate disruption. But even though this debate has centered on climate, that is only part of what's at stake. When considering the "national interest," the president will also need to consider how this pipeline would affect the health and safety of American families, farmers and ranchers along the pipeline route, and fence-line refinery communities.

Finally, after weighing all the facts, the president must reject Keystone XL and send the world a clear message: Our nation is committed to clean energy and climate solutions.

Green Bang for Your Bucks

January 24, 2014

Last week, I did a Reddit AMA (Ask Me Anything) about the draft environment chapter of the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) that appeared on WikiLeaks (spoiler: It's a terrible draft). People asked many good questions, but my favorite from the session was one I never get tired of hearing: "What can we do?"

In the case of the TPP, we can write to Congress. But every single day, there are things we can do, choices we can make, that help protect the planet. Small or large, they make a difference.

Many of those choices center on how we spend our money. You might favor environmentally responsible products or companies, for instance. But if you're gauging effort versus impact, it's tough to make a more effective choice than replacing your big bank credit card with one from a bank that shares your values: Allow me to introduce the new Sierra Club credit card from One PacificCoast Bank.

Not so long ago, switching credit cards -- not to mention banks -- was a serious hassle. Thanks to the digital age, that's no longer true. So why give your business to a giant corporation that may be financing the same kinds of projects that you're writing to Congress to stop -- especially if you don't have to sacrifice any convenience or features like reward points?

The Sierra Club chose to partner with One PacificCoast Bank for a reason. Their mission is "to build prosperity in our communities through beneficial banking services delivered in an economically and environmentally sustainable manner." The only part of that you'll find in the mission statement of most banks is "banking services."

Of course, by using a Sierra Club credit card, you are not only doing business with an environmentally responsible bank, you're also helping support the mission of the Sierra Club. By making one easy choice, you're doing something good for the planet all year long.

After all, no one ever said that everything that makes a difference has to be hard.

A Compromise We Can't Afford

January 17, 2014

Yesterday, the Sierra Club and 17 other environmental, environmental justice, and public health advocacy groups sent a letter to President Obama in which we asked him to stop basing national energy policy on an "all of the above" strategy. If we want to reach the goal of 100 percent clean energy before our climate is catastrophically disrupted, then common sense demands that we prioritize clean energy -- and make it official -- right now. Here's what we told the president, followed by a link to the letter itself:

Dear Mr. President,

We applaud the actions you have taken to reduce economy-wide carbon pollution and your commitment last June "to take bold action to reduce carbon pollution" and "lead the world in a coordinated assault on climate change." We look forward to continuing to work with you to achieve these goals.

In that speech, you referenced that in the past you had put forward an "all of the above" energy strategy, yet noted that we cannot just drill our way out of our energy and climate challenge. We believe that continued reliance on an "all of the above" energy strategy would be fundamentally at odds with your goal of cutting carbon pollution and would undermine our nation's capacity to respond to the threat of climate disruption. With record-high atmospheric carbon concentrations and the rising threat of extreme heat, drought, wildfires and super storms, America's energy policies must reduce our dependence on fossil fuels, not simply reduce our dependence on foreign oil.

We understand that the U.S. cannot immediately end its use of fossil fuels and we also appreciate the advantages of being more energy independent. But an "all of the above" approach that places virtually no limits on whether, when, where or how fossil fuels are extracted ignores the impacts of carbon-intense fuels and is wrong for America's future. America requires an ambitious energy vision that reduces consumption of these fuels in order to meet the scale of the climate crisis.

An "all of the above" strategy is a compromise that future generations can't afford. It fails to prioritize clean energy and solutions that have already begun to replace fossil fuels, revitalize American industry, and save Americans money. It increases environmental injustice while it locks in the extraction of fossil fuels that will inevitably lead to a catastrophic climate future. It threatens our health, our homes, our most sensitive public lands, our oceans and our most precious wild places. Such a policy accelerates development of fuel sources that can negate the important progress you've already made on lowering U.S. carbon pollution, and it undermines U.S. credibility in the international community.

Mr. President, we were very heartened by your commitment that the climate impacts of the proposed Keystone XL pipeline would be "absolutely critical" to the decision and that it would be contrary to the "national interest" to approve a project that would "significantly exacerbate the problem of carbon pollution." We believe that a climate impact lens should be applied to all decisions regarding new fossil fuel development, and urge that a "carbon-reducing clean energy" strategy rather than an "all of the above" strategy become the operative paradigm for your administration's energy decisions.

In the coming months your administration will be making key decisions regarding fossil fuel development -- including the Keystone XL pipeline, fracking on public lands, and drilling in the Arctic ocean -- that will either set us on a path to achieve the clean energy future we all envision or will significantly exacerbate the problem of carbon pollution. We urge you to make climate impacts and emission increases critical considerations in each of these decisions.

Mr. President, we applaud you for your commitment to tackle the climate crisis and to build an economy powered by energy that is clean, safe, secure, and sustainable.

Letter to President Barack Obama, January 16, 2014

Send your own message to the president encouraging him to take action on climate disruption. 

Eyes on the Prize

January 16, 2014

I've written a lot about the consequences of relying on fossil fuels for energy, but the chemical spill into West Virginia's Elk River still comes as a shock. Almost a week later, thousands are still without drinking water, and many of those who've been given the "all clear" have been hospitalized shortly after drinking or bathing in water they were told is clean. And yet this disaster is just a single, impossible-to-ignore, example of the constant toll that fossil fuels exact upon us every day.

If you're like me, each new disaster leaves you angry and frustrated. That's normal. But here's the one thing we can't afford to forget:

It doesn't have to be this way.

Humanity has been given a wonderful gift: We know how to get all of the energy we need without using dirty or dangerous fuel sources. It's no longer a question of whether we can -- but of whether we will.

The amount of accessible energy from the sun and wind is far greater than what the entire world is projected to need in coming decades. The key word there is accessible. We already know how to reap that energy bounty -- worldwide -- with technology that already exists (and will only get even better).

This isn't speculation. Scientists and engineers have crunched the numbers and shown that it's doable: a 100 percent clean-energy economy.

Mark Z. Jacobson and Mark A. Delucchi, professors at Stanford and U.C. Davis, respectively, published an article in Scientific American five years ago that showed how the world could be powered by clean energy within decades. Last year, they published an even more detailed plan, in Energy Journal, for how the state of New York could switch to 100 percent clean energy by 2050. They've since produced draft plans for California and Washington, as well.

Read these plans, and you'll know right away that they aren't fanciful. Resources, technology, and economics are all taken into account: We can do this. Exactly how hard -- or easy -- will it be? My hunch is that it will be challenging but perhaps easier than most people think -- but the important point is that this should be our goal. If we know we can achieve 100 percent clean energy, why would we settle for less? Even if we set aside their many drawbacks, is there a single good reason to rely on coal, oil, or natural gas if we don't have to?

Every week, I read about new clean energy successes, whether it's yet another utility deciding to add more renewable generation (because it's the cheapest option), an innovative plan for financing community solar, or the news that the new Popemobile is an electric bicycle. Yesterday it was the news that both Spain and Denmark got more power from wind than any other source last year. I can't get enough of these stories. But I also know that each of them is only one more step toward the ultimate goal: 100 percent clean energy.

That's why every time I hear President Obama or someone in his administration talk about an "all of the above" energy policy, it's like fingernails on a solar panel. If someone asked you which way leads to the top of a mountain, would you tell them "all of the above"? Of course not. The route to the summit might not be direct or easy. But if you ever want to get there, you need to know which way is up and which way is down.

We all know the adage about the forest and the trees. People in general aren't always good at seeing the big picture or taking the long view. Politicians are usually worse than most. Leaders, though -- true leaders -- have the ability to show us the mountaintop and inspire us upward.

That's the kind of leadership we need to see from President Obama, and he can start by making it official that 100 percent clean energy is our goal.


2013: A Year to Remember

December 20, 2013

Although 2013 had its share of tragedies (Typhoon Haiyan), portents (reaching the 400 ppm mark for atmospheric CO2), and absurdities (the shutdown of the federal government), it also was in many ways a landmark year for the Sierra Club and the issues we work on. So in this last post of the year, I want to highlight some of the very good things that happened:

In February, the largest climate march and rally in American history filled the National Mall. More than 50,000 people braved one of the coldest days of the year to let President Obama know that we expect him to lead on climate -- starting with a rejection of the Keystone XL pipeline. Not so long ago, the conventional wisdom was that the pipeline was a foregone conclusion. Thousands of grassroots activists have both turned that around and raised national awareness of the dangers of extreme fuels like tar sands.

Earlier that week at the White House, I joined with Sierra Club Board members Allison Chin and Jim Dougherty and several dozen other grassroots environmental leaders in the Sierra Club’s first-ever civil disobedience.

In March, President Obama designated five new national monuments, including Rio Grande del Norte in New Mexico and the San Juan Islands in Washington State. Less than a month later, the Senate confirmed his nominee for Secretary of the Interior, Sally Jewell -- a dedicated outdoor enthusiast who understands the economic, recreational, and conservation benefits of protecting public lands. Here's hoping that 2014 sees even more ambitious monument designations and protections for public lands.

In June, President Obama delivered a groundbreaking speech that laid out his Climate Plan: "As a president, as a father, and as an American, I'm here to say we need to act." The Obama administration has already followed through on elements of the plan, including ending financing of overseas coal plants, but has much to do in 2014 to meet the obligation and clean energy opportunities identified by the president, particularly by curbing carbon pollution from power plants and by rejecting projects that would expand dirty fuel production, such as the Keystone XL pipeline, drilling in the Arctic, and new LNG export terminals.

About those carbon standards: They mean that 2013 is the year that coal-fired power, which was already in decline, lost all hope of a comeback. The EPA not only released draft carbon-pollution standards for new power plants but also held listening sessions on standards for existing power plants -- which were filled with passionate proponents of clean energy. In October, the Sierra Club's Beyond Coal campaign celebrated its 150th coal plant retirement. Eight more retirements have been announced since then. Strong carbon-pollution standards will only accelerate the move away from dirty coal.  

Progress in fighting dirty fuels is great, but it's even better when accompanied by a surge in clean energy. Because Congress waited too long to renew the Production Tax Credit, the wind industry got off to a slow start this year, but it's sure booming now, as evidenced by the $1 billion order for turbines placed just this week by Warren Buffett's MidAmerican Energy. Wind is increasingly competitive with both coal and natural gas and, in places like Iowa, is already the least expensive source of new power. In 2014, expect to see more utilities choosing to invest in renewables for mainly economic reasons, as Xcel Power in Colorado did this year.

By the way, falling costs also helped made this a record-breaking year for solar power, with enough new solar electric capacity added to power more than 850,000 average American homes. The Sierra Club's own Solar Home Program has now helped more than 1,000 homes go solar.

There's no way to know exactly what challenges next year will bring, but one thing I am confident about is that we're going to build on all the progress we made this year in replacing dirty fuels with clean energy sources. Here's to a happy renewable year in 2014.

A Monumental Time to Act

December 09, 2013

Former Sierra Club president Edgar Wayburn once pointed out that, in at least one respect, wilderness was like any other natural resource: "Once it is consumed, it is gone forever."

When that happens, we lose a lot more than scenery. We lose critical habitat for plants and animals that are already stressed by climate disruption. We lose recreational opportunities and the long-term economic benefits for neighboring communities that come with them. We lose an irreplaceable part of our natural heritage -- not just for ourselves but also for generations to come.

The good news is that we still have time to protect some of our finest public lands before it's too late. The bad news is that Congress has become a black hole from which no conservation legislation has been able to escape for several years. Instead, the House of Representatives has cranked out a stream of bills that would increase drilling, hand over sacred lands to foreign mining companies, extend grazing leases without proper environmental review; allow states to take over management of federal lands; and undermine (or even eliminate) environmental protections such as the Endangered Species Act and the Clean Water Act.

Although it would be wonderful if Congress were to come to its senses anytime soon, chances of that are slim. If we want any real progress on protecting public lands, then our best hope is the executive branch. And in fact, there's reason to be optimistic that the Obama administration might deliver.

Last Halloween, at a National Press Club event, Obama's new Secretary of the Interior, Sally Jewell, fired this shot across the bow of the most dysfunctional and anti-environmental Congress in history:

Protecting the special places that communities care about most and passing sustainable budgets that support our public lands are the kind of commonsense, bipartisan actions that Americans want to see Congress take, but we cannot and will not hold our breath forever. We owe it to future generations to act, and President Obama is ready and willing to step up where Congress falls short.

Actually, President Obama has stepped up on several occasions and designated new national monuments. But given the current state of Congress, he needs to take his game to a higher level. Many first-rate candidates for national monument status are still waiting -- from the seashore of Northern California to the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks of New Mexico. The opportunity to save these places won't always be there. President Obama needs to act before it's too late.

We cannot and will not hold our breath forever. Well, why hold it at all? Let's tell President Obama that we're ready to see him do what Congress won't: Protect these wild places before they're gone forever. Then we'll all be able to breathe a little easier.


Supporting a Fast for Families

December 04, 2013

Fast4FamiliesI was honored to meet some real heroes yesterday on the National Mall. Eliseo Medina of the Service Employees International Union, Dae Joong Yoon of the National Korean American Service & Education Consortium, Cristian Avila of Mi Familia Vota, and Lisa Sharon Harper of the Christian social-justice group Sojourners. All four had gone for 22 days without food in an attempt to galvanize Congress into moving forward on immigration reform.

I also had the privilege to meet labor leader and civil rights activist Dolores Huerta, co-founder with César Chávez of the National Farmworkers Association (later the United Farmworkers of America), who participated in a portion of the fast.

I've written before about why the Sierra Club supports a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants. There's no excuse for forcing millions of people to live outside the prevailing currents of our society, where they are frequently exploited and where they often suffer the worst effects of environmental pollution.

Having risked their health to make their point, the original four long-term fasters have now passed their vigil on to new advocates. They've also been joined by thousands of other citizens in shorter solidarity fasts. The immediate goal is to persuade House Speaker John Boehner to at least allow immigration reform to be brought to the floor (the Senate passed its own bill on June 27).

Although the current Congress has an unmatched record of un-achievement on practically every major issue, there's still time to contact your representatives and let them know that you want to see immigration reform brought to the House floor. Time is running out, though -- Congress is only in session for a little more than a week.

The Road Ahead (and Some Bumps Along the Way)

November 21, 2013

Between the devastation in the Philippines, deadly floods in Sardinia and Vietnam, and the COP 19 UN climate change summit in Poland, the last ten days or so have delivered more than the usual collection of global stories on climate and energy issues. But a lot was going on here at home, too, and those stories speak both to why we need a 100 percent clean energy future and the road that will get us there.

Even if they weren't a threat to our climate, fossil fuels would still be dangerous enough to make getting rid of them a good idea. A week ago today, a small town in Texas had to be evacuated after a construction crew accidentally drilled into a 10-inch liquefied petroleum gas pipeline owned primarily by Chevron. Thankfully, no one was killed by the resulting massive explosion. The incident was a reminder that both fossil fuels and the pipelines used to transport them are by definition "accidents waiting to happen."

It was also sobering last week when CBS News reported that the tar sands pipeline TransCanada is building from Oklahoma to Texas appears to be rife with defects like bad welds. This is the same pipeline that President Obama was talking about in March of last year when he boasted he had directed his administration to "cut through the red tape, break through the bureaucratic hurdles, and make this project a priority." Priority or not, the 125 faulty sections of pipeline that TransCanada is being forced to replace are ample evidence that the company is too irresponsible to be allowed to complete the entire Keystone XL pipeline, which would cross the U.S. from north to south carrying toxic tar sands crude that is more likely to spill, more toxic in the air and water, and nearly impossible to clean up.

Fossil fuels are inherently dangerous, but it's especially frustrating when that danger is amplified because of bad decisions by people who should know better. Last week we had an especially egregious example of that when the EPA caved in to the state of Kentucky's request to weaken clean water standards for selenium pollution from mountaintop-removal coal mines. The standard Kentucky wanted -- and which the EPA approved -- is even weaker than a similar one that George W. Bush's EPA proposed but ultimately withdrew after strong objections from government scientists. This was new EPA administrator Gina McCarthy's first ruling on coal, and she failed miserably.

Don't worry, last week also brought some very good news. The Tennessee Valley Authority will retire coal-burning generating stations at three locations in Alabama and Kentucky, which brings the total number of announced coal-plant retirements to 154. And in Colorado, the final tally of ballots in the town of Broomfield made it official (pending one last recount) that all four fracking-moratorium measures in that state passed.

Of course, the essential complement to taking dirty fuels out of the equation is adding more clean fuels in their place. Last week, Pennsylvania, one of the states most ravaged by fossil fuel drilling in recent years, saw major progress on that front, too, with the introduction of a bill in the state legislature that would almost double the renewable portion of its energy generation (going from 8 to 15 percent) by 2023. If the bill passes, Pennsylvania will close much of the gap between itself and neighboring states like Maryland, Delaware, New Jersey, and New York, which have all adopted renewable energy goals of 20 percent or more in the next decade or so.

In all, 30 states now have renewable electricity standards requiring utilities to generate a percentage of their power from clean sources. Someday, perhaps the entire nation will. A bill introduced by Senator Ed Markey would establish such a standard by requiring utilities to obtain at least 25 percent of their electricity from renewable sources like wind, solar, hydro, geothermal, and biomass by 2025. That would put the U.S. in the company of 118 other nations that have already adopted national clean energy targets.

Rome wasn't built in a day, and we won't replace fossil fuels with clean energy based on the events of a single week, either. But the important thing to remember is that, once they happen, clean energy victories are irreversible. No one will tear down wind farms because they are nostalgic for fracking in our watersheds. And nobody will pull down their solar panels because they miss having mercury in their tuna or asthma inhalers for their kids. Because once we leave fossil fuels behind, we are never going back.

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Michael Brune

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