NOAA Releases Annual Climate Report for 2013

January 16, 2014

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has released its 2013 Annual Climate Report, which found that the United States experienced seven weather- and climate-related disasters that resulted in more than $1 billion in damages. (See infographic below.) Specific dollar amounts for each event will be released later this year.

Weather-&-climate-disasters(Graphic courtesy of NOAA)

The report contains numerous maps, charts, and graphics such as the one below, highlighting some of last year's significant weather and climate events.

Weather-and-climate-events(Graphic courtesy of NOAA)

2013 was both warmer and wetter than average for the contiguous United States. The report includes a summary of national and regional temperatures and precipitation, including drought, wildfires, hurricanes and tropical storms, snow and ice, tornadoes, and -- for the more technically minded -- a "Synoptic Discussion describing recent weather events and climate anomalies in relation to the phenomena that cause the weather."

Check out the full report.

Carbon Sequestration No Salvation for Virginia's Coalfields

January 10, 2014

Virginia-coalfields

By Ivy Main, Virginia Chapter Vice-Chair

Many elected officials who care about the stark challenges confronting America's coal-producing regions today are pinning their hopes on carbon capture and sequestration. This technology takes carbon dioxide out of power plant emissions and stores it underground. (See infographic below.) Since coal is the number one emitter of carbon dioxide, the greenhouse gas primarily responsible for heating the planet, carbon sequestration might be the only way to continue our use of coal in a world increasingly worried about climate disruption.

Carbon-sequestration

Virginia's newly-elected governor, Terry McAuliffe, has high hopes for carbon sequestration. McAuliffe is confronting a problem that confounded his predecessors: how to deal with the continuing economic decline of southwest Virginia's coal-producing counties. But, enthusiastic as he is about new technology, McAuliffe should be skeptical of suggestions that carbon sequestration offers a solution to Virginia's coal decline. It does not.

This decline has been going on for decades. It predates the recession and the Obama presidency and tighter regulations aimed at protecting public health. It predates the explosion in natural gas fracking that has made gas cheaper than coal. Coal employment in Virginia has steadily dropped and is now below 5,000 workers, less than half of what it was in 1990. The best coal seams have been mined out, exacerbating the problem that Virginia coal is more expensive to mine than coal from other states. To get at the remaining seams as cheaply as possible, coal companies increasingly resort to mountaintop removal, destroying vast tracts of the Appalachians with explosives and giant machines (but very few workers). Even if carbon capture and storage proves successful, coal employment in the commonwealth won't recover.

Continue reading "Carbon Sequestration No Salvation for Virginia's Coalfields" »

The New Year Brings New Wind Energy to the Midwest

January 08, 2014

Wind-turbines

Today, Kansas City Power & Light (KCP&L), a utility that serves over 800,000 customers in Kansas and Missouri, announced that it will nearly double its existing wind portfolio with the purchase of 400 megawatts (MW) of power from facilities located in both Kansas and Missouri.

EDP Renewables will construct and operate the first facility in Waverly, Kansas, while Element Power will build and manage the second site in Holt County, Missouri. Expected to be operational by the end of 2015, each facility will be capable of producing up to 200 MW of electricity. KCP&L will purchase power from these wind farms via 20-year power purchase agreements that will be cheaper than purchasing power from other sources. In fact, KCP&L estimates that this wind energy purchase will save its customers approximately $600 million over the lifetime of the agreements. KCP&L's wind energy purchase puts the utility on par with other Midwestern utilities that are investing in wind and saving customers money. [Note: A recent report from the Department of Energy describes downward-trending wind prices and skyrocketing demand, noting that in 2012, wind was the largest source of new electrical generation capacity in the United States.]

So, how did this happen? In 2007, the Sierra Club and Concerned Citizens of Platte County entered into a settlement agreement with KCP&L where we agreed to drop legal challenges concerning the Iatan coal-fired power plant in exchange for, among other things, the utility's procurement of 400 MW of wind-generated electric power by December 31, 2012. By the end of 2012, KCP&L had come up short on its promise, so we sent the utility a demand letter indicating our intent to sue over breach of contract. KCP&L took these allegations seriously and respectfully, and we commenced a series of very productive conversations about the need to comply with the legal agreement that the parties had negotiated in good faith, as well as the incredible value that wind energy can bring to a utility like KCP&L.

With the procurement of 400 MW of new wind, KCP&L will power past its original obligations under our settlement, resulting in a net win for the climate and the utility's customers. Unfortunately, Missouri's wind energy portfolio currently lags behind neighboring states like Illinois and Iowa, which hold nearly eight and eleven times more installed wind capacity, respectively. Still, we commend KCP&L for its efforts here, which are in stark contrast to those of Ameren Missouri, the state's largest electric utility. Today's announcement will bring KCP&L's total wind energy portfolio to 939 MW, making it a clear leader in both Kansas and Missouri, and over nine times larger than Ameren Missouri's 102 MW wind portfolio.

KCP&L's announcement is a refreshing way to ring in the New Year, particularly for the state of Missouri, which generated over 80 percent of its electricity from coal-fired power plants in 2011, the most recent year for which data is available. In 2014, we will continue to push both Ameren and KCP&L to invest in clean, renewable energy while we simultaneously advocate for a timely and responsible phase-out of the utilities' oldest and dirtiest coal-fired power plants.

Sunil Bector is an attorney with the Sierra Club.

Patrick Goldsworthy: A Gentleman, Relentless in His Advocacy

December 23, 2013

Dr.-Patrick-GoldsworthyAt its final meeting of 2013, the Sierra Club's Board of Directors passed a resolution honoring lifelong conservationist and longtime Sierra Club volunteer leader Patrick Goldsworthy, who died this October at age 94.

In 1957, Goldsworthy helped establish the Sierra Club's first chapter in the Pacific Northwest (then called the Northwest Chapter) and its close ally, the North Cascades Conservation Council (NCCC).

"Dr. Goldsworthy was present at the creation of the Northwest's conservation movement, back in the days when horn-blasting logging trucks lined up outside wilderness hearings," writes Joel Connelly of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. "Goldsworthy was a gentleman, but relentless in his advocacy."

Born in Ireland in 1919, Patrick Donovan Goldsworthy earned his Ph.D. at the University of California, Berkeley, joining the Sierra Club while still a student there. After serving in the U.S. Army and Air Force, he moved to Seattle in 1952 to become a professor of biochemistry at the University of Washington.

No sooner had Goldsworthy settled in Seattle than he heard about illegal logging being allowed in Olympic National Park by the park superintendent. His response was to travel to the park, photograph the destruction, and help stop the logging.

In 1956 he was elected to the board of Olympic Park Associates, and the following year he helped found the Club's Northwest Chapter (now split into the Washington State and Oregon chapters) and the NCCC. The two organizations led the fight to establish the Glacier Peak Wilderness in 1960, pass the Wilderness Act in 1964, and establish the iconic North Cascades National Park in 1968.

"Pat always impressed me as one of the true gentlemen of Northwest Conservation," says author and fellow Olympic Park Associates activist Tim McNulty. But Goldsworthy was nothing if not tenacious in pursuit of his conservation goals.

In 1962, when Interior Secretary Stewart Udall came to Seattle for the 1962 World's Fair, local attorney/conservationist Irving Clark, Jr., invited Goldsworthy to a beach party honoring Udall on nearby Bainbridge Island. Joel Connelly relates the story in the Post-Intelligencer:

"Now Pat," Clark admonished Goldsworthy, "Steward Udall is a busy man." Clark gently suggested that Goldsworthy let Udall relax and hold off lobbying for a national park in the North Cascades.

No way! Armed with maps, Goldsworthy positioned himself just inside the door of the beach house. He waylaid Udall, took him into the study, and laid out the case for a park. Goldsworthy, lugging topographical maps, became a familiar figure in Washington congressional offices.

Six years post-Bainbridge, Goldsworthy stood with Udall at the White House while President Lyndon Johnson signed the North Cascades Act into law. He received a pen used by LBJ to sign the act."

Below, Goldsworthy with LBJ at the 1968 creation of North Cascades National Park.

Patrick-Goldsworthy-and-LBJ

In 1966 Goldsworthy received the Sierra Club's William E. Colby Award for outstanding leadership and service to the Sierra Club.

Patrick-Goldsworthy"Pat was perpetually genial, always self-effacing, ever eager to give credit to others," reads the Sierra Club  resolution honoring Goldsworthy. "He was a particular inspiration to each young person he encountered. Pat remained active in every major wilderness battle in Western Washington up until his death. As a result of his work and inspiration, Americans have a nearly unbroken block of wilderness and national park land stretching along the crest of the Cascades from the Canadian border to just south of Mt. Rainier National Park.

"Pat inspired generations of the Sierra Club's chapter and group leaders and staff members with his dedication, his persistence, and his confidence that our political system could and would match his vision if we were effective advocates. There was not a cynical bone in his body. Pat lived a full life, so we cannot so much mourn his passing as honor his legacy and take his example to renew our own commitment to the work he pioneered."

Other places Goldworthy was instrumental in protecting include the Wild Sky, Alpine Lakes, William O. Douglag, Norse Peak, Boulder River, Chelan-Sawtooth, Henry M. Jackson, Mt. Baker, and Noisy-Diobsud wilderness areas.

"If you want to see his legacy," says Joel Connelly, "lift your eyes to the hills."

Fighting for Environmental Justice -- From the Inland Empire to Deep in the Heart of Texas

December 19, 2013

Erica-Thames

Erica Thames grew up and spent most of her life in a low-income community in Southern California's Inland Empire, a region of more than four million people just east of Los Angeles that is beset with some of the worst air pollution in the U.S.

"Growing up, I had a general idea of environmentalism in the form of recycling, saving water, etc.," the 23-year-old activist told MTV in an interview this fall. "But it wasn't until I started learning about environmental justice and environmental racism that I became really involved."

Thames hooked up with the Sierra Club in 2012 when she was a student at San Bernadino Valley College. While volunteering at an Inland Empire cultural collective called Chicccaa (Chicano Indigenous Community for Culturally Conscious Advocacy and Action), she met Allen Hernandez, an organizer with the Club's My Generation campaign.

Thames quickly became a key volunteer leader with the campaign, going door-to-door to ask local residents to sign petitions supporting rooftop solar in low-income communities, and organizing demonstrations opposing California utilities' restrictions on renewable energy.

SoCalEdison-rally

"Erica took the lead in organizing these demonstrations," says Hernandez. "We wouldn't have had such a successful rally outside Southern California Edison's headquarters this August if it wasn't for her." The demonstration, pictured above and below, was held to protest the utility's opposition to California families installing solar panels on their homes.

SoCalEdison-rally

Thames, above at right, said that many of her friends and neighbors in the Inland Empire were initially skeptical when she began working to bring rooftop solar to her working-class community, which in addition to being plagued with bad air also suffers from high unemployment.

"People would say, how does that apply to me? I don't have $20,000 to put rooftop solar on my house," she told the Associated Press this fall. But when she explained that the growth of rooftop solar would mean local construction jobs, savings for local property owners, and lower electric bills and cleaner air for everyone, it hit home. "When you start talking about health benefits and jobs, people become really intrigued."

Erica-ThamesHernandez calls Thames "the most critical volunteer I've had." The admiration runs both ways. "Allen mentored me completely," Thames says. "I wasn't sure what to expect when I started out as a Sierra Club volunteer. Allen taught me all about environmental justice -- and injustice. He really drove home the point that the area where I grew up was hit hard by environmental racism."

This fall, Thames moved to Austin, Texas, to work for the Sierra Club's Beyond Coal campaign. "Being a staff organizer gives me the time and resources to be able to dedicate myself to creating change," she says. "It was a bit of a challenge at first dealing with culture shock -- Texas and California are totally different worlds! But the skills I learned in California helped greatly, and I was able to make the transition with not much problem."

Thames stresses that organizations like the Sierra Club must make it a priority to assist communities like the one in which she grew up in their fight of resistance against environmental racism.

"Erica is an example of what investment in our communities can produce," says Hernandez. "She was already a student leader at her college, but her involvement and development with the My Generation campaign helped her achieve community leader status. Her furious and unwavering commitment to social justice and environmental justice is both humbling and inspiring."

Alt Rockers and Sierra Club Team Up for Clean Energy

December 16, 2013

Trapdoor-Social

You know somebody is really walking the green walk when you meet them in Los Angeles and they show up on their bicycle. That was the first thing that impressed me about Skylar Funk, above at left, when I met him recently at a coffee shop in the Silver Lake neighborhood near downtown L.A. The second was his infectious enthusiasm for a project that is now coming down the home stretch.

Funk is co-leader with Merritt Graves, at right above, of the alternative rock band Trapdoor Social, which broke onto the music scene last December with their debut EP release, Death of a Friend. The two met in an Environmental Analysis program at Pomona College in 2007 and quickly bonded over their shared passion for music and the environment. After graduating, Funk spent a year volunteering for the Sierra Club's Beyond Coal campaign.

Skylar-Funk

Now, Trapdoor Social is partnering with the Sierra Club, Everybody Solar, and GRID Alternatives to raise $30,000 for a solar energy project in Los Angeles. All proceeds from pre-orders of Trapdoor Social's new album, due out in the new year, will go toward installing solar panels on the roof of Homeboy Industries, a non-profit that provides services, counseling, and job training -- with a special focus on the green energy sector -- to formerly gang-involved men and women.

Homeboy-Industries

"Merritt and I want Trapdoor Social to be part of a movement that engages people in making social change," Funk says. "Climate disruption is an urgent matter, and the Homeboy solar fundraiser is an opportunity for us to make a point about the importance of renewable energy."

"We're excited about the emerging clean-energy economy, which will promote national security through energy independence and job creation in a new sustainable sector," says Graves.

Merritt-Graves

Trapdoor Social is using Pledge Music, an online "direct-to-fan" music platform, to host the fundraiser. Anyone who makes a donation by the end of 2013 will get the band's new album prior to its official public release, along with the satisfaction of knowing they've contributed to two righteous causes: clean energy and a non-profit that is making a real difference in helping motivated people turn their lives around.

Continue reading "Alt Rockers and Sierra Club Team Up for Clean Energy" »

Sierra Clubbers Help Culminate Fast for Families, Join Call for Immigration Reform

December 13, 2013

Immigration rally

On Thursday Sierra Club staff and DC chapter members braved a frigid afternoon in our nation's Capital to join supporters of immigrant families from the labor, faith and civil rights communities at the breaking of the Fast for Families. Calling on Speaker John Boehner and the House of Representatives to be true to the deepest values of this nation of immigrants, fasters and their supporters predicted Congressional action in the New Year to enact long delayed legislation that includes a path to citizenship.Eliseo Medina
Supporters of families who have been separated and harmed by our country's outdated immigration policies have been fasting on the National Mall since before Thanksgiving. As Javier Sierra noted in his column earlier this week, the fast has attracted the country's attention, including President Obama, the First Lady, Vice-President Joe Biden and the Democratic leadership in Congress, including House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi.

Brune and Fast for FamiliesIn his column supporting the fasters, Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune said, "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."

At yesterday's event, former SEIU Vice President Eliseo Medina referred to the fast as a wake-up call to the nation about "the moral crisis caused by our broken immigration system." Medina was one of four original fasters who broke their fast on December 3, and passed the baton to others including Sojourners founder Rev. Jim Wallis, Congressman Joe Kennedy III, and Chicago Mayor Rahm Emmanuel.

Echoing the spiritual resistance embodied in earlier fasts by Mahatma Gandhi, who led the struggle for India's freedom from colonialism, and Cesar Chavez, who opened the nation's consciousness to the plight of farmworkers, yesterday's event opened with interfaith prayers in Spanish, English and Korean. At the close, fasters broke their fasts by breaking bread and sharing grape juice in a spiritual communion with participants.
Immigration rally2

Among the sacred verses quoted was Isaiah 58:6: "Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice...to set the oppressed free and break every yoke?"

-- Dean Hubbard, Director of the Sierra Club's Labor Program. Photos by Javier Sierra.

Beyond Coal Activists Speak Up at Bridgeport City Council Meeting

December 10, 2013

Bridgeport city council mtg
Last week the Bridgeport, Connecticut, city council met for the first time since new council members were elected and sworn in. That meant Connecticut Beyond Coal activists were on-hand to say "Welcome" and make sure the new members know that Bridgeport should be coal-free.

"There were nine new members elected to the 20-person council,"' said Onte Johnson, a Beyond Coal organizer in Bridgeport. "Every council meeting there is a 30-minute public speaking forum to present to the city council matters pertaining the community. We took that opportunity and came strong!"

Johnson said activists and students from Yale, Quinnipiac, and the University of Bridgeport spoke for 10 minutes to the Mayor and City Council about the local Beyond Coal campaign's goals.

"We discussed a transition for Bridgeport's coal plant, the health impacts of coal and carbon pollution, and how it all contributes to climate disruption and the health of our children and community," said Johnson.

Bridgetport's coal plant ranks as the tenth most harmful coal plant in the U.S. The Beyond Coal activists in Bridgeport have made the news before for their activism demanding that the city retires the dirty coal plant. Keep up the great work!

Bridgeport city council mtg2

Sierra & Tierra: A Monument to Human Decency

By Javier Sierra

During 22 days, four social justice heroes fasted in Washington, DC, to support immigration reform including a path to citizenship, in the shadow of the very same Congress that refuses to vote on it.

Their names are Cristián Avila, Dae Joong Yoon, Eliseo Medina and Lisa Sharon —the vanguard of a movement hungry for justice for 11 million undocumented immigrants who live in the shadows of our society exposed to all kinds of injustices.

Medina et al leaving by Javier SierraLabor leader Eliseo Medina, followed by his colleagues, ends his fast in Washington, DC (Photo J. Sierra)

Their sacrifice —under the theme “Fast for Families”— has attracted the country’s attention, including President Obama, the First Lady, Vice-President Joe Biden and the Democratic leadership in Congress, including House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi. But so far, all they have to show for it is the indifference of a House of Representatives that stubbornly refuses to vote on a bill the Senate has already approved.

The fast, inevitably, brings us memories of César Chávez’s formidable struggle in favor of justice and humane treatment for farm workers in California and other Southwestern states.

During his activism, this social and environmental justice giant completed two hunger strikes and, in 1988, a “Fast for Life” in protest against the use of pesticides. Over 36 days, Chávez sacrificed his body to safeguard the health of tens of thousands of farm workers who suffered a daily toxic bombardment of terrible consequences.

Our moral debt to Chávez is enormous. And a new initiative is trying to partially repay it. The Department of the Interior has submitted a proposal to Congress to establish a new National Historic Park to honor Chávez and the farm workers movement he led along with Dolores Huerta.

After evaluating 100 sites of historic significance regarding Chávez’s legacy, the department has recommended that the following five be integrated into this new park:
—The 40 Acres National Historic Landmark, in Delano, CA, where he completed his first hunger strike.
—The Filipino Community Hall, also in Delano, the headquarters of the 1965 grape strike.
—The César E. Chávez National Monument at Nuestra Señora Reina de la Paz, in Keene, CA, where he lived and founded the United Farm Workers Union.
—The Santa Rita Center, in Phoenix, AZ, where he underwent his second hunger strike in 1972.
—And the route of the 1966 Delano to Sacramento March, a 340-mile walk that Chávez and his fellow activists covered to protest the working conditions in the California vineyards.

“Recognizing these sites associated with his leadership of the United Farm Workers as part of a national historical park will ensure that his contributions to the Civil Rights movement will be preserved and shared as an inspiration for future generations,” said Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell.

Chávez’s spirit was almost palpable in the air of that cool morning in Washington, DC, when his successors ended their fast after three weeks of sacrifice.

But the struggle continues, and several other activists took their places to continue reminding the consciences of the House members that 11 million people are still suffering deportations, deaths on the border, labor exploitation and environmental injustices that threaten the health of their families and communities.

All of them also deserve a monument, a monument to human decency.

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

What's At Stake: Clean Air and Public Health in our Highest Courts on December 10

December 09, 2013

800px-US_Supreme_CourtThis Tuesday, December 10, our nation's highest courts will hear two landmark Clean Air Act cases that have big implications for public health. First and foremost, the Supreme Court will hear arguments Tuesday on the Environmental Protection Agency's Cross-State Air Pollution Rule.

Back in 2011, EPA unveiled this update of a critical public health protection that would reduce power plant emissions of sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides, dangerous pollutants that form soot and smog and contribute to poor air quality days and respiratory illnesses affecting millions of Americans. They call this the Cross State Air Pollution Rule because it curbs the millions of tons of air pollution that travel downwind and across state lines each year. Pollution doesn't stop at state lines.

Unfortunately, the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals handed down an extremely controversial divided ruling in August of 2012 that struck this rule.

The EPA and a coalition of environmental and public health organizations - including the Sierra Club - sought review by the Supreme Court, and on June 24, 2013, the Court agreed to hear the case.  Briefs submitted by the EPA, our coalition of the American Lung Association, Environmental Defense Fund, the Natural Resources Defense Council, and many others make the case that the DC Circuit's ruling is unfounded, contrary to the Clean Air Act, based on a misunderstanding of interstate pollution, and seriously jeopardizes the ability of downwind states and the EPA to protect millions of people from dangerous ozone and particulate matter pollution.

The benefits of the Cross-State Air Pollution Rule are remarkable. According to the EPA, this standard would prevent up to 34,000 deaths annually, would prevent 1.8 million days of missed work/school annually, and would provide $120-280 billion in benefits every year at a cost of only $1.8 billion in the first year, and roughly $1 billion a year thereafter. The benefits-to-cost ratio is about 100 to 1!

What's more, for many downwind areas, 75 percent or more of local air pollution comes from upwind states. In parts of Connecticut, more than 90 percent of ozone pollution is due to pollutants flowing in from other states. Without this cross-state protection, these states simply cannot resolve their air quality problems, putting the health of their citizens at grave risk.

Industries and states and many others are standing together calling for implementation of the Cross-State Air Pollution Rule. Just today, underscoring the urgency of the problem, governors of eight Northeastern and Mid-Atlantic states petitioned EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy to reduce air pollution blowing into the region from nine Midwestern and Appalachian states.

The second major public health protection coming before a court this week is the EPA's Mercury and Air Toxics Standard. Coal plants are the largest source of mercury pollution in the U.S., so of course the industry is challenging this standard that requires them to stop dumping so much mercury into our air and water.

Mercury is a powerful neurotoxin that can damage the brain and nervous system. Mercury is of special concern to women who are pregnant or thinking of becoming pregnant, since exposure to mercury can cause developmental problems, learning disabilities, and delayed onset of walking and talking in babies and infants.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit will hold oral argument on December 10 regarding these challenges by industry to this critical public health mercury standard.

Make no mistake about it - this Tuesday, December 10, is a big day for clean air and public health in our nation's highest courts, and there are tens of thousands of lives on the line.  

-- Mary Anne Hitt, Beyond Coal Campaign Director


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