Big Clean Air Victory in Indianapolis

August 22, 2014

Power-Indy-Forward

After a two-year campaign by 50 organizations in the Power Indy Forward Coalition, Indianapolis Power & Light (IPL) has announced its intention to stop burning coal at its downtown Harding Street power plant in 2016 and close the unlined coal ash lagoons at the plant, located on the city's south side.

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"Harding Street is the largest single source of industrial pollution, sulfur dioxide, soot, and carbon in our city," says Megan Anderson, an Indianapolis-based organizer with the Sierra Club's Beyond Coal campaign. (That's Anderson at center, below, delivering petitions to IPL headquarters in 2012.) "This retirement marks the 500th coal boiler to be retired since the launch of the Club's Beyond Coal campaign in 2010, so we're dubbing this victory the Indy 500."

Delivering-petitions-to-IPL

[Note: Coal plants are made up of one or more boilers, or "units" -- Harding Street has three. With the Aug. 21 announcement that TVA's Allen plant in Memphis will be retired, the Beyond Coal campaign has helped retire 178 coal plants and 503 boilers since the campaign launched in 2010.]

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A long-standing tradition at the Indianapolis 500 car race is for the victor to drink a bottle of milk immediately after the race. Below, local volunteers toast the Harding Street victory in downtown Indy.

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IPL's August 15 announcement came as the Indianapolis City-County Council was preparing to vote on a resolution urging IPL to stop burning coal at Harding Street by 2020. Resolution 241, which also urged IPL to invest in greater amounts of clean, renewable energy, had 11 co-sponsors, and a majority of council members had pledged to vote yes.

Harding-Street-victoryPhoto by Alicia Tucker, courtesy of A.L.T.ERNATIVE PHOTOGRAPHY

The measure passed the Community Affairs Committee 4-1 last month, with supporters of the resolution vastly outnumbering opponents at the hearing. Hours earlier, the Sierra Club released a poll showing that nearly 7 in 10 Indianapolis voters supported IPL phasing out coal entirely in Marion County, and for the utility to increase its energy efficiency and use of renewable energy like wind and solar.

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Among those who testified at the July hearing was Amber Sparks, below in tan jacket, who lives about three miles from the Harding Street plant. She told the City-County Council how asthma-related illnesses have regularly kept her children home from school, led to about 20 emergency room visits and half a dozen intensive care stays, and thousands of dollars in medical bills.

July-hearing

"Asthma has changed our lives," she said. "We continue to adjust and eliminate as many triggers as possible … but there are some triggers I can't control. On bad air days, the children must stay indoors, limit physical activities, and have round-the-clock breathing treatments. Their quality of life is affected, and it breaks my heart each time they look at me and ask why they have asthma."

Below, clean-air activists at the hearing.

July-hearing

According to the EPA, Harding Street was responsible for 88 percent of the toxic industrial pollution released in 2012 in Marion County. It is also the largest source of dangerous soot and sulfur dioxide pollution in the county, contributing to central Indiana's failing grades for air quality announced earlier this year by the American Lung Association.

Harding-Street-StationPhoto courtesy of NUVO News

Over 55 churches, neighborhood associations, student groups, and other organizations comprising the Power Indy Forward Coalition passed resolutions urging IPL to power our city with clean energy and put an end to toxic pollution in Indianapolis. Hoosier Chapter volunteers knocked on doors, talked to people at festivals and on the street, made phone calls, and spoke out at rallies and public hearings about the public health impacts of burning coal.

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Above and below, clean-energy activists celebrate IPL's August 15 announcement.

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"For the past two years, thousands of Indianapolis residents have demanded clean air for our community," says Jodi Perras, Indiana representative for Beyond Coal. "They've signed petitions and postcards, rallied on the steps of Monument Circle (above) and at the Indiana State Museum, and urged their City-County Councilors to call on IPL to stop burning coal at Harding Street. Today, those calls have been answered."

Harding-Street-victoryPhoto by Alicia Tucker, courtesy of A.L.T.ERNATIVE PHOTOGRAPHY

Perras gives a shout-out to coalition partners Hoosier Interfaith Power & Light, Citizens Action Coalition, Indiana NAACP, Organizing for Action, Concerned Clergy, and students and faculty at Purdue University Indianapolis and Butler University.

Cleaner-air-in-Indy

Sierra & Tierra: The Tyranny of Asthma

August 20, 2014

By Javier Sierra

Fear is Pati Calzada’s constant companion. Her 6-year old son, Abraham, has asthma, and his frequent attacks fill them both with terror and anguish.

“He gets scared and calls me, ‘Mommy!’ And I can hear him wheezing, and he asks me, ‘why can’t I breathe?’ And then I have to calm him down because I can’t give him his medicine while he’s panicking,” says Pati, who also has asthma.

The illness, which was diagnosed a few months ago, has completely changed Abraham´s life.

“He’s a very active child, he loves running,” Pati says. “And now he cannot run even half the time he used to be able to run because he cannot breathe, and it really scares me.”

PatiCalzadaPati Calzada and her son, Abraham, two victims of the tyranny of asthma (Photo: Sierra Club)

The cause of her misfortune is an undesirable neighbor called smog, also known as ground level ozone, a corrosive pollutant that causes abrasions in the lungs comparable to sunburn. Smog is formed by the effect of sunlight and heat on fossil fuel pollutants from vehicles, factories and power plants. In Colton, California, where Pati and Abraham live, there is an abundance of these ingredients.

“There is a freeway right in front of us,” says Pati. “To our right are the train tracks, behind us is the train station, and a few miles from here, we have the dirtiest power plant in California [the Mountainview Generation Station in Redlands].”

According to the American Lung Association, the barrio where the Calzadas live in San Bernardino County has the highest smog level in the whole country.

“In our county, 1.5 million people have asthma, including half of our children,” says Pati. “The problem is we can’t afford to live anywhere else. We either have a roof over our heads or have to live on the streets somewhere else where the air is clean.”

But facing this cruel dilemma is unnecessary. The federal government needs to improve the national ozone standard from 75 ppb (parts per billion) to 60 ppb. Recently, a committee of experts chartered by the EPA concluded that the current smog standard is insufficient to protect public health.

The experts determined that even a 70ppb standard would continue to cause “adverse effects, such as decrease in lung function, increase in respiratory symptoms and increase in airway inflammation.”

According to the EPA itself, every year, a 60ppb standard would prevent up to 12,000 premature deaths, 21,000 hospitalizations, and the loss of 2.5 million work and school days.

The last time this standard was updated was in 2008, when the Bush administration rejected the recommendations of another committee of experts, who warned of the terrible consequences of adopting a weak 75 ppb standard. The decision has caused massive suffering to families like Pati’s.

For polluters and those who protect them, Pati has a few questions: “How many times have you actually woken in the middle of the night because your son or daughter cannot breath? What would happen if you were out of breath and could not reach your medicine? Are you aware of the consequences of your actions?”

The Clean Air Act requires that the EPA review the federal smog standards every five years, and a court order mandates that the agency issue a new proposal by December 14.

The health of millions of people, such as Pati and Abraham, is at stake. The EPA must establish a new 60ppb smog standard to help end the tyranny of asthma.

Javier Sierra is a Sierra Club columnist. Follow him on Twitter @javier_SC

Sierra Club Brings Clean Energy Investments to Mississippi

August 19, 2014

Kemper-campaign

Six years of legal challenges and grassroots pressure from the Sierra Club against the Kemper coal plant have resulted in a landmark legal settlement that will bring $15 million in energy efficiency and clean energy investments to Mississippi. The agreement between the Sierra Club and Mississippi Power will also make it easier for homeowners in the state to install solar power, and will require power plants in Gulfport, Mississippi, and Greene County, Alabama, to stop burning coal over the next 20 months.

Kemper-campaign

In exchange for these and other concessions, the Sierra Club has agreed to drop its legal challenges of the now-nearly-completed Kemper coal plant. The Club's legal challenges and grassroots pressure led state regulators to block Mississippi Power from billing its customers for cost overruns, which have now soared to $5.6 billion -- more than twice the original projected cost of building the plant.

Kemper-campaign

"With this agreement, we are building a future where dirty, expensive, and unnecessary projects like Kemper coal plants will be things of the past," says Louie Miller, below, state director of the Mississippi Sierra Club and Kemper's leading opponent over the last six years. "This agreement represents a quantum leap forward for Mississippians by creating a clear path for residents to install solar on their homes, make their own clean energy choices, and avoid huge rate hikes for unnecessary coal plants."

Kemper-campaign

While Sierra Club attorneys repeatedly challenged Kemper in court, local volunteers and staff kept up the grassroots pressure in the court of public opinion, holding rallies, tabling events, protests, town hall meetings, and press conferences all along the Gulf Coast. The Club also took out giant billboards at three key junctures during the campaign.

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"The legal effort and grassroots activism went hand-in-hand," Miller says. "We couldn't have accomplished what we did without both."

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Linda St. Martin, below, a Sierra Club activist and volunteer leader with Mississippians for Affordable Energy who died this May, helped Miller to build a grassroots coalition of Gulf Coast residents opposed to the plant and the rate hikes the Mississippi Public Service Commission (PSC) was attempting to foist on ratepayers.

Linda-St-Martin

"Linda worked closely with Louie to fill buses with people who traveled from the Gulf Coast to Jackson to testify at PSC hearings," says Jenna Garland of the Sierra Club's Beyond Coal campaign. "They probably chartered buses to Jackson nearly a dozen times."

Linda-St-Martin"Jackson is far removed from Mississippi Power's service area in the southern part of the state, so it was easy for the PSC to ignore customers hit hard by Kemper rate hikes," Garland says. "One married couple, commercial fishers, made the trip every time, and told the PSC how the rate hikes would hamper the Gulf Coast's economic recovery from Hurricane Katrina. Getting folks like this to Jackson forced the commission to face the people who were being affected."

"Linda was the heart and soul of our work in coastal Mississippi," Miller says. "We are all saddened that she was unable to see how years of fighting the Kemper plant has resulted in this agreement, but we honor her work that will put her beloved Mississippi on the path to a clean energy economy, cleaner, air, and support for those hardest hit by Kemper's costs."

Part of the settlement with Mississippi Power will provide $2 million to protect habitat for the endangered gopher frog, and the Sierra Club will work to name this new preserve in honor of St. Martin.

Kemper-campaign

The Sierra Club challenged the Kemper plant from its inception, building an unprecedented coalition of Mississippi Power customers in central and southern Mississippi, homeowners and Kemper County residents, low-income and environmental justice advocates. The Club's expert witnesses accurately predicted the cost overruns and delays that have plagued the plant from the get-go. Mississippi attorney Robert Wiygul and the Sierra Club's Environmental Law Program staff successfully challenged the plant's first construction permit, winning a unanimous decision from the Mississippi Supreme Court. Below, Club activists and other Gulf Coast residents outside the Supreme Court's chambers in Jackson.

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After that ruling, the Public Service Commission rushed to issue a new permit to allow Mississippi Power to continue construction work on the plant, but the Club's lawyers challenged that permit as well, arguing that the utility was passing on rate increases to its customers to cover cost overruns.

Kemper-campaign

Ultimately the Club won concessions in the August 4, 2014, settlement that include phasing out coal at the Gulfport and Greene County power plants, securing a binding commitment from Mississippi Power not to oppose measures to make solar more affordable for homeowners, and requiring the company to strengthen flood protections adjacent to the Kemper plant that will help keep toxic pollution out of groundwater and local waterways.

Kemper-campaign

The agreement will reduce air and water pollution and significantly improve air quality in the region, leading to fewer asthma attacks in children, fewer emergency room visits, and improved quality of life for hundreds of thousands of people. It will also provide millions of dollars to assist low-income Mississippi Power customers in making their home more energy-efficient.

Due to the increasing cost of coal and rapidly declining cost of clean energy, Kemper -- the only new coal plant to break ground during the Obama administration -- is likely to be the last coal-fired power plant built in the U.S.

Kemper-coal-plant

New Jerseyans Organize for People's Climate March

August 14, 2014

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Nearly 100 citizen activists gathered on the Princeton University campus earlier this week for a training session to help mobilize 10,000 New Jerseyans to join the People's Climate March in New York City on September 21. The training was put together by 350.org volunteer Rosemary Dreger Carey and New Jersey Chapter staffer Nicole Dallara. That's Dallara at right in jean jacket, above.

Participants included Sierra Clubbers and other concerned citizens, representatives from civic and environmental groups including 350.org, municipal and faith leaders, labor union members, and students from Princeton, Rutgers, Montclair State, Monmouth College, and Ramapo College.

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"It was a great crowd with lots of energy and excitement," says Dallara. "We have a great group of volunteers which continues to grow every day. Our original goal was to get 1,500 Sierra Club members to be among the 10,000 New Jerseyans participating in the march, but this training makes me confident that we're going to easily surpass that number."

Community organizer and social change activist Paul Getsos gave a detailed overview of the People's Climate March route in Manhattan, the significance of the march, and the larger goal of building a people-driven movement demanding climate solutions and climate justice.

Kevin Buckland, an artist and activist coordinator with 350.org, enlisted volunteers to hoist hand-made fabric banners called cantastoria -- Italian for "sung story" or "singing history" -- that will be carried at the march.

Cantastoria

Above and below, two of the cantastoria.

Cantastoria

Buckland explained why climate action is so urgently needed, and how we can transition away from fossil fuels and build a clean energy infrastructure that will create good-paying jobs and benefit public health.

Five breakout sessions allowed participants to explore key organizational challenges: Organizing for Faith-Based Groups, Campus Organizing, Art-Inspired mobilization, Bus Coordination, and Recruiting for the People's Climate March.

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"Everyone at the training shared the common desire to influence the world leaders who will be convening in New York for the UN Climate Summit on September 23-- as well as influence friends, families, and communities -- to respond to the climate crisis with boldness, speed, and fairness," says Dreger Carey, who designed the training curriculum with Dallara.

Cantastoria

Dallara gives a shout-out to Princeton student Isaac Lederman, co-president of Students for a Responsible Global Environment (SURGE), for booking the training venue on the Princeton campus.

"People from around the country will be coming together on September 21 to march as one, calling on our world leaders to tackle the most important issue of our time: climate change," says Dallara. "This is a march for the planet that we want to protect for future generations."

Cantastoria

Join the People's Climate March

 

Big Win For Energy Efficiency in Los Angeles

August 12, 2014

Los-AngelesPhoto by Thomas Pintaric, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

With the help of some amazing coalition work in Los Angeles over the past few years, the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power (LADWP) approved a major new energy-efficiency mandate for the utility. The new savings targets put LADWP among the leading utilities in the nation, and Los Angeles among the leading cities, when it comes to energy savings. Serious thanks are in order to Mayor Garcetti, the LADWP board members, and the excellent LADWP Energy Efficiency Department (helmed by David Jacot).

Here's the nitty gritty: Every California utility is required to provide a 10-year energy savings target to the California Energy Commission. State legislation requires that utilities save at least one percent of total sales each year. Los Angeles' previous commitment was exactly that: one percent every year for the ten years between 2011 and 2020.

On August 5, the utility's board unanimously approved a new plan which would kick our energy-efficiency programs into high gear and ensure that the utility saves 15 percent by 2020 instead -- a 50 percent increase over the last program. Below, Frank Alvarez, an organizer with RePower LA, and coalition members at the Aug. 5 hearing in front of LADWP's board of commissioners. The Sierra Club is a charter member of the RePower LA coalition.

Frank-Alvarez-LADPW-hearing

When fully up and running, LADWP will save over two percent of its annual energy use and has plans to invest upwards of one billion dollars on energy saving projects across the city. The utility has come a long way over the last five years, from the time when Los Angeles was one of the worst-performing utilities in the state, to being the clear leader of the pack.

"We've long known that our utility has the potential to perform as well or better than the best utilities in the nation on energy efficiency," said Evan Gillespie, western region deputy director for the Sierra Club's Beyond Coal campaign. "To get there, we needed the city to commit to saving at least two percent annually and allocate sufficient funding to do so. We also knew that we had to engage the public in new ways and ensure that every single customer in the city -- from apartment dwellers to industrial facilities, to small business and schools -- could benefit with programs tailored to their needs."

Key to all of this work has been a partnership between the city and the public. In 2012, LADWP adopted guiding principles that have informed its project development ever since. The adopted principles include commitments to serving low-income communities, prioritizing programs that spur job development, transparency, and collaboration with community-based organizations. The principles spurred expanded programs targeting small businesses, low-income homeowners, renters, and more while providing grants to community-based organizations to help spread the word about opportunities for customers to reduce their energy use and lower their bills.

All of this work has paid off; over the last two years the city has doubled spending on efficiency and seen its energy savings double as well. You can read about these victories in this Sierra magazine article from late 2013, Repower LA.

Then the big news came last week with the LADPW commissioners hearing testimony from a packed room with people from all over the city calling for better standards for the city. Below, a young woman from Venice YouthBuild gives testimony at the hearing in favor of energy efficiency.

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Jasmin Vargas, Beyond Coal organizer in L.A., helped translate the testimonies of two Spanish speakers before the LADWP, and said more than 20 organizations were represented.

"When our coalitions win, we all win," said Vargas. "We came together last Tuesday with labor groups, environmentalists, youth groups, and social justice organizations with a united message: 'equity, good jobs and climate action now!'"

Gillespie said LADWP board members were blown away by how much support increasing the energy-efficiency mandate had.

"During the hearing, LADWP board president and retired congressman Mel Levine noted he'd never seen so many people at a LADWP meeting," said Gillespie. "He praised the coalition for the breadth and depth of support for energy efficiency. As he moved to open the vote, he jokingly dared his fellow commissioners to vote no, and the motion passed unanimously!"

Vargas says the next steps are to work with communities to increase participation in the wide array of programs offered by LADWP, while making sure that efficiency is utilized to ease the transition away from the city's dirty coal plants. While the City approved the transition away from coal last year, the utility is still crafting its replacement strategy.

Learn more about what the Sierra Club is doing to move Los Angeles beyond coal.

Tar sands pipelines and their cumulative climate impacts

August 11, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

Communities call for strong EPA pollution standards near oil refineries

August 07, 2014

Louisiana goes to Houston to testify

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sierra Club names new Environmental Justice Award after Dr. Robert Bullard

August 05, 2014

Dr.RobertBullard (1)The Sierra Club's newest award is getting some great attention because of the namesake of our newest Environmental Justice Award. Last week we announced a new national award that bears the name of Dr. Robert Bullard, one of the founders of the environmental justice movement.

The new award will be given annually to an individual or group that has done outstanding work in the area of environmental justice. The first Robert Bullard Environmental Justice Award will be presented Nov. 21 along with the Sierra Club’s other 2014 awards.

Bullard said he was delighted to have the new award named after him. "I must say that I am humbled, honored, and at the same time excited to a have the Sierra Club name its Environmental Justice Award after me," said Bullard. "For someone who has spent most of his adult life teaching, writing and lecturing, I am speechless."

In 2013, Bullard received the Sierra Club's top award, the John Muir Award. The award recognizes individuals with a distinguished record of achievement in national or international conservation causes.

"His expertise and media savvy has garnered much needed attention and remedies for communities burdened with environmental hazards," said Leslie Fields, director of the Sierra Club Environmental Justice and Community Partnerships program, when Bullard received the award in 2013.

Continue reading "Sierra Club names new Environmental Justice Award after Dr. Robert Bullard" »

The fight for voting rights in Delaware

August 04, 2014

Delaware votings rights rally

"It's impossible to protect our environment if we don't defend our democracy." Stephanie Herron, volunteer and outreach coordinator for Sierra Club Delaware, says those words confidently after a fight for voting rights that's lasted for more than a year now in the state.
 
Sierra Club Delaware is working with a broad state coalition to pass same-day voter registration legislation, engaging thousands of residents in a movement crucial to participatory democracy.
 
"It shouldn't be hard to participate in the system," says Courtney Hight, director of the Sierra Club's Democracy Program. "Same-day voter registration is one way of removing a barrier that often affects young people and communities of color. This makes it easier to vote -- we thought Delaware's legislation on this issue was a good way to be proactive and encourage participation in voting."
 
The Sierra Club is a member of the Democracy Initiative, a coalition of groups that seeks to restore the core principal of political equality. Sierra Club executive director Michael Brune has written extensively on the importance of the Sierra Club and a coalition of groups in building "a movement to halt the corrupting influence of corporate money in politics, prevent the systemic manipulation and suppression of voters, and address other obstacles to significant reform."
 
Herron says the Delaware chapter first started engaging on same day voter registration (SDR) in early 2013 during the state's legislative session. The movement picked up momentum in the state in early 2014, when more and more diverse groups -- from unions to local community groups -- joined the coalition and voting rights in Delaware started getting more and more attention. The diverse coalition members were able to work their different legislative contacts and respective members to help bring the bill to a vote in the state House of Representatives--no easy feat as we saw in 2013 when the bill languished for almost a year without a floor vote.
 
The coalition fought bad amendments to the bill - and growing opposition from the Delaware Republican Party, who made fighting SDR a top priority in 2014. Herron says the opposition was well-funded and powerful, but that didn't stop thousands from contacting their state legislators to pass same-day voter registration.
Delaware votings rights rally
In the weeks leading up to the final vote in the state senate, Sierra Club Delaware sent out action alerts to more than 5,000 members and generated more than 100 calls to state senators. Delaware Sierrans also joined other coalition members at a June 17 rally calling on Senators to bring SDR to a vote.
 
In the end, with time running out before the June 30th close of session, unfortunately the bill never made it to a floor vote in the Senate.  Herron says she and the coalition were disappointed but hope the push for same-day voter registration in the next session will be successful.
 
"The Sierra Club offered a unique voice in the coalition - we were the only environmental group," she says. "We have to continue pushing these voting rights and good government issues. If we continue to let undemocratic things happen, we won't be able to bring about meaningful change."
 
The Sierra Club's Hight echoed that sentiment. "If you're going to change the country, you have to find ways to increase participation and make it less complicated to vote."

-- Heather Moyer, Sierra Club

Rocky Mountain Power Solar Fee Heats Up Utah

August 01, 2014

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Earlier this week, the Utah Public Service Commission held a two-day hearing on Rocky Mountain Power's request to impose a $4.65 monthly fee on customers with rooftop solar. If approved, Utah would be only the second state in the country to penalize customers who have installed rooftop solar -- last year, the Arizona Corporation Commission approved a fee of $0.70 per kilowatt of solar installed (the average residential installation is 3-6 kW).

Hundreds of citizens rallied outside the Public Service Commission's offices in Salt Lake City, below, and later packed the hearing inside to protest the proposed solar fee. (See more photos of the rally here.)

Rally-against-solar-taxPhoto by Kim Sanders

Rocky Mountain Power's proposed fee is not based on any evidence that rooftop solar customers impose additional costs on the utility's system. Rather, the company is arguing that because customers with rooftop solar purchase less electricity, they aren't contributing sufficiently to the fixed costs of maintaining the distribution grid.

What the company's sparse analysis fails to take into account, however, are the many benefits that rooftop solar customers offer the grid. The absence of any accounting for these benefits is inexcusable because state law (recently amended by SB 208) requires the Public Service Commission to weigh the costs and benefits of net metering prior to imposing any fee.

Despite that law, Rocky Mountain Power submitted no evidence of the benefits of net metering in its initial application. In a last-ditch effort to cobble together a record that would support a decision in its favor, the company asserted that the price paid to small utility-scale renewable resources was an adequate proxy for the benefits of net-metered rooftop solar. (The reason that the price paid to these "qualifying facilities" under the federal Public Utility Regulatory Policies Act is not conclusive of the benefits of net metered distributed solar will be discussed in a future post.)

The Sierra Club and Utah Clean Energy, however, did present detailed evidence of the benefits of rooftop solar. First, net-metered rooftop solar customers reduce their electricity consumption during the time of day and of the year when it is most expensive for the utility to provide power, and thereby save the utility and all other ratepayers a lot of money. This locally generated power is even more valuable than remotely generated power, since almost no electricity is lost during transmission.

Moreover, the 14.2 megawatts of solar installed in Rocky Mountain Power's territory helps the utility meet its capacity reserve requirements, and reduces or defers the need for upgrades to the distribution system. The Sierra Club's expert, Dr. Dustin Mulvaney of Ecoshift Consulting, calculated that these benefits added up to more than $1.4 million annually -- and this isn't even taking into account the very real benefits of reduced emissions of carbon dioxide and other pollutants that result when rooftop solar generation displaces fossil fuel generation. Dr. Mulvaney estimated that a modest 6.8 percent growth rate of rooftop solar in the Rocky Mountain Power territory could avoid over 20 million metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions from 2015-2040.

The Sierra Club, along with Utah Clean Energy, The Alliance for Solar Choice, and Utah Citizens Advocating Renewable Energy, are asking the Commission to deny Rocky Mountain Power's effort to impose this unjustified fee on rooftop solar customers. Instead, the Commission should open up a separate proceeding to undertake a comprehensive evaluation of the costs and benefits of net metering, and to allow adequate time and opportunity for public input. Over ten thousand citizens and many local leaders,  including Salt Lake City Mayor Ralph Becker, have come out against the proposed fee, as has the city's major newspaper.

The hundreds of citizens who rallied in opposition to the fee on July 29th called it a "sun" tax. This show of public support for distributed solar -- not just from net-metered customers -- should remind the Public Service Commission of the broad social benefits that this resource provides.

- Casey Roberts, Staff Attorney, Sierra Club Environmental Law Program


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