Tag Archives: Beyond Coal

New Sierra Club Report Reveals Major Potential Sources of Climate Pollution; Highlights Need to Keep Dirty Fuels in the Ground

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
Thursday, April 10, 2014
 
Contact: Virginia Cramer, 804-519-8449
 
 

 

WASHINGTON, D.C. —  Dirty Fuels, Clean Futures,a new report released today by the Sierra Club reveals four major potential sources of carbon pollution that, if developed, could dramatically alter the world’s climate. Data shows that the oil, gas and coal from these potential sources, including the Arctic Ocean, the Green River Formation, the Powder River Basin, and the Monterey, San Juan Basin and Marcellus shale plays, have the potential to release billions of tons of new carbon pollution into the atmosphere, more than negating positive climate actions taken by the Obama administration.

“We can’t keep burning fossil fuels and reduce climate pollution at the same time. It’s common sense.” said Michael Brune, Sierra Club Executive Director. “As this report demonstrates, real progress to fight climate disruption requires that dirty fuels be kept in the ground.”

As the report details, developing just a fraction of the dirty energy in these major climate disrupters would cancel out the United States’ greatest accomplishments in the fight against climate disruption– efforts like the Obama administration’s new fuel economy standards. Developing just one of these climate disrupters, the Arctic Ocean, for example would result in two-and-a-half times more pollution than would be saved by the new fuel economy standards.

Already, through administrative actions and by doubling down on clean energy, the Obama administration has done more than any other to reduce carbon pollution. For the first time in 20 years, domestic carbon dioxide emissions are decreasing. An effective climate strategy however, requires that these steps be accompanied by efforts to leave dirty fuels in the ground. Several such pragmatic steps are outlined in the report.

The report calls on the Obama administration to consider climate pollution, like other dangerous air and water pollution, before dirty energy projects move forward. It asks the President to close loopholes that allow the fossil fuel industry to benefit at the cost of Americans’ health, environment and future; and it stresses that new energy projects and leasing should be focused on clean, not dirty, energy.

“Whether they are found beneath our public lands or next to our homes and schools, dirty fuels must be kept in the ground.” said Dan Chu, Senior Director of the Sierra Club’s Our Wild America campaign. “We should be taking advantage of available clean energy options that will create jobs, protect public health and fight climate disruption.”

Read the full report here.

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About the Sierra Club
The Sierra Club is America’s largest and most influential grassroots environmental organization, with more than 2.4 million members and supporters nationwide. In addition to creating opportunities for people of all ages, levels and locations to have meaningful outdoor experiences, the Sierra Club works to safeguard the health of our communities, protect wildlife, and preserve our remaining wild places through grassroots activism, public education, lobbying, and litigation. For more information, visit http://www.sierraclub.org.

 

Sierra Club others tell CPS Energy Board: Take 10 Actions Prior to Proposed October Rate Increase

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Submitted to CPS Energy and San Antonio Mayor during the CPS Rate Case Input Session, Monday, Sept. 9, 2013.

 

The Re-Energize San Antonio Coalition opposes the proposed CPS rate hike because it promotes unsustainable growth, fueled by dirty energy, and unfairly burdens residential ratepayers, especially middle-class and poor San Antonians who have been disproportionately hurt by the Great Recession. Any change in costs to rate-payers must be prefaced – at the very least – by the following conditions and actions. 

Energy Conservation

  • CPS must prioritize energy conservation and efficiency. The rates must create energy-conservation incentives for all users, not just home-owners but also businesses, non-profit organizations, and governmental offices. City policies and CPS internal policies and budgets should prioritize energy conservation and create disincentives for unsustainable growth
  • To that end, CPS’s rate change should set up multiple tiers. For example, the first “x” kilowatt hours used each month (e.g., the minimum amount of electricity necessary for a family of five to maintain a healthy home) should cost less than the current rate. The next “y” kilowatt hours used each month (e.g., an amount between “x” and the current median household usage per month) could be billed at the current rate. The third tier (e.g., from the median – 50th  up to the 75th percentile of the current usage) of kilowatt hours per month could be billed at 105 percent of the current rate, and any usage above the 75th percentile could be billed at 120 percent of the current rate. 
  • Similarly, CPS’s rate change must not unfairly burden residential and small-business rate-payers. There should be no discounted or “wholesale” rates for energy-intensive businesses. If CPS needs to develop new energy-producing facilities, the funds should come from the businesses that use that energy to make their profits. Any rate “breaks” should be based only upon measurable social benefits that the business provides, such as employing large numbers of workers at living wages. Wholesale rates to other communities should be predicated upon their engaging in similar energy conservation efforts, linked with their retail rates for selling that energy. There should be multiple tiers of energy rates for businesses, too, to reward energy efficiency and conservation. Profitable businesses should be willing to invest some of those profits in San Antonio’s future. Already we have many examples of companies taking that “high road,” but CPS needs to embed such investment as a requirement in its rate structure. 
  • Most of the increased income from residential rate changes should be earmarked for extensive and effective programs for improving the energy-efficiency of homes – specifically, those owned by working-class or impoverished families. The remainder of the increased income from residential rate changes could be applied to help small-scale landlords of rental units upgrade the energy efficiency of apartments and houses.  Some of the increased income from business rate changes should be earmarked for investment in city-owned and public/private decentralized local renewable energy-production – to replace non-renewable sources now used, but also to prevent the city from being “captive” to some of the energy-producers from which we now buy wind-generated energy. Another portion could be earmarked for improving the energy-efficiency of not-for-profit institutional buildings, such as schools.
  • Emphasis on co-investment in local solar production should be expanded not reduced. Net metering is an excellent way to promote energy efficiency in homes and businesses and increase the amount of energy being produced in the community. And other models are worth exploring: e.g., encouraging homeowners to buy a share of a solar array located on a school’s roof, and then allowing that share to be sold as part of the value of their house. Community-based decentralized solar programs should be made accessible to all, including low-income families.
  • CPS should support dramatic changes to the city’s building code and other policies so that they require energy-conservation measures, such as solar hot water systems on all new or newly renovated apartment buildings. CPS should support immediate adoption of the 2012 IECC building energy codes for new residential and commercial construction. CPS should be proactive in rapidly implementing the higher energy efficiency goal suggested by the 2004 KEMA study. Furthermore, the KEMA study is almost 10 years old, so it does not take into account advances in technology. CPS should actively encourage a new study of how San Antonio could become even more energy efficient.
  • Existing customers should not shoulder the burden of increasing system growth by paying for the connection of new developments. CPS Energy should revise their interconnection policy and charge much more for large commercial and residential development, so that most of the cost of new growth is borne by those promoting (and profiting from) the growth. These charges could be reduced for development that exceeds the 2012 IECC codes by 20 percent or more.

Pollution and Public Health 

  • CPS must effect the rapid reduction of threats to public health due to its use of dirty or dangerous energy sources. CPS should put in writing its commitment to close the Deely coal-fired power plant by 2018 or earlier. The plant should be shut down as soon as possible, because the public has already paid too much in health costs.
  • CPS should prepare to close STP 1 and 2 (nuclear power plants) at the end of their original operating permits, if not earlier. This facility has been experiencing increasing problems, costs and risks as it ages. In fact, one of the units was inoperative for much of 2012 due to ongoing problems.
  • CPS must plan for decreasing use of natural gas-fueled power production. Although the actual combustion of natural gas may be less polluting than coal or petroleum fuels, the entire process of extraction, especially the use of fracking, is extremely polluting. The people of San Antonio should not have to pay for this relatively cheap non-renewable energy source by enduring air pollution, greenhouse-gas-induced heat waves, and other by-products of this CPS energy source. Until natural gas can be phased out completely as a fuel for CPS energy, CPS should buy gas only from producers following best practices and reducing pollution, waste and water use. By establishing standards to ensure that the gas it purchases, uses and sells is produced with the least polluting technologies all the way back to the well head, CPS can help establish new standards for the industry and reduce smog-forming ozone.
  • CPS must be pro-active in exploring and implementing technologies for genuinely renewable and environmentally friendly energy production to replace old, dirty, and dangerous energy sources. For example, CPS should investigate and procure geothermal energy production as a source of base-load renewable energy to meet the growth needs. Significant deep geothermal resources exist near San Antonio. CPS Energy should help develop these renewable and low-emission sources of energy for its generation portfolio. CPS Energy should update its generation plan and incorporate geothermal energy as part of its renewable contracts along with its large-scale investments in wind and solar energy.

 

The Re-Energize San Antonio Coalition includes Energia Mia, The Esperanza Peace & Justice Center, People’s Power Coalition, the Sustainable Energy and Economic Development (SEED) Coalition, Public Citizen’s Texas office, and Sierra Club.

Teaching Kids to Care

The Beyond Coal project is the top topic in the Lone Star Chapter, and rightfully so. With the Rally for Renewables last Thursday, I had planned on blogging specifically about the Fayette Coal Plant and the potential follow-up options after its future closing. Yeah, sure, why not? It seemed the obvious choice. Until some youngster indicated otherwise.

While filming the rally, I ran into a kid who, despite his fatigue from the heat, readily answered my questions on the state of the environment. I’m afraid that I cannot upload any video here yet, but to provide a quick summary, this little guy said he thought coal is bad for the environment and that people shouldn’t have to breathe the chemicals and ash it pumps into the air. He also said he would want wind and solar energy instead. And he has hardly entered the first grade.

The fact that the kid didn’t have to stop and think about his answers (and that his dad wasn’t prompting him) impressed me most with this interview. His readiness made me recall the importance of raising awareness of the environment in students in primary education. As part of UT Austin’s Club for Environmental Outreach, I have focused on this issue for some time. So, I think the time has come for me to shed some light on this issue.

We at the Sierra Club understand the significance of educating the public on the environment, and we pursue that end tirelessly – just as global conditions tirelessly worsen. The millennials will have the greatest challenge yet in confronting this mounting terror. Should we not focus on involving them in the future of the environment, for their own safety if not for anything else? Many have leapt up in an effort to do this, but not before many sprung up to prevent America’s failing education system from crashing altogether.

I came across a recent NPR article about the popular new “Common Core” standards that have been adopted in 45 states. They might not address scientific educational standards that would include environmental curricula, but these changes at least show some desire to redirect the US education system. It would seem that some hope lay in sight for the nation’s posterity.

But for the generations of future Texans, such hope is about as visible as Rick Perry is credible. Just look to this map of the 45 continental states that have given the green light to Common Core (credit goes to corestandards.org); it probably won’t surprise:

Screen Shot 2013-06-30 at 11.03.29 PM

Yes, Texas stands alone in the South as one of the 5 stubborn states opposing Common Core. Now, I’m not naive enough to believe that a step forward for Texas education will come soon in science, of all things; I still fear that my nephew will ask me for help with drawing a venn diagram comparing Evolution and Creationism (all eyes still on the Texas State BoE).

On the subject of young students, however, I return to the importance of educating future generations about their environment and how to be eco-friendly. Clearly, the public education system at large cannot commit to this, especially in Texas. So, it is the duty of environmentalists – as members of our local and state communities, as teachers, as big brothers and sisters, as parents, aunts, and uncles – to inform future generations of the looming (and melting) obstacles ahead. If we do not, they might run into calamities of titanic proportions.

Still, the full force of environmentalism cannot inform these students if their core educational principles do not change. So let us take a step back: if public schools cannot educate students on such important issues as the environment, what can it do? Well, for a start, it might better learn how to teach future voters how to form a caring opinion. The voter turn out in the US is increasingly deplorable, and that is no secret. Perhaps this stems from the education system’s paranoia of politics and appearing to take a particular stance. Sorry, Everytown ISD – time to grow a backbone.

No need to herald some political leaning or endorse a candidate here. Just teach kids the importance of forming their own opinions - it’s part of teaching citizenship. More importantly, teach students to inform themselves of their own free will. I do realize that environmentalism ideally would not be considered a “political” issue, since it concerns forces that affect all humans and that no government can control or alter. However, with that in mind, the ideal result of teaching students the value of seeking information in earnest would generate general support for environmentalism. Even more ideally, the US Government would run far more smoothly and voter turn-out would improve as citizens rushed to provide their involved, informed consent at the polls.

I salute the aims of Common Core, but the true goal may be missed here: the time has come for the public education system  to start teaching students how to choose and how to inform themselves with care. Once such values are in place, then we environmentalists can truly turn these millennials into little green men and women by involving and informing them. Perhaps then the government that all too often slows the will of the people, would drive us to a more agreeable – and hopefully, greener – future.

- Harry Watson, Conservation Intern

Humans vs. Earth’s Climate: Preparing for Battle

When I first heard the phrase “climate change”, I, like many others, was undecided on the matter and really didn’t have a clue what that phrase was supposed to mean. Should I be scared? I hope the daily climate would change all the time over here in Texas. This confusion led to a trip to the internet, where ignorance is optional, and over time I read a lot about it, trying to avoid opinionated rants while relying on credible sources of information to mold my perception of the truth. I found myself studying the carbon cycle, reading those really long and uninteresting scientific papers, and watching documentaries such as Chasing Ice, where a scientist captures glaciers in motion through time lapsed photography as they recede and disappear. I really dove in. The deeper I dove the more evidence came to support the notion that earth’s climate system is changing and our planet is slowly warming in a way that will likely be detrimental if not dealt with.

the blue marble

Home Sweet Home

What a massive and complex force to have to deal with. Trying to mitigate a change in the Earth’s climate seems like a pretty daunting feet. So, how do we solve this problem? I guess the default answer would be, “to find the solution.” However, I believe “the solution” needs to be rephrased with “many solutions, collaboratively recognized and implemented worldwide.” A major part of this solution needs to face one of the most influential causes of climate change, such as our current escalated contribution of greenhouse gases (GHG’s), namely carbon dioxide and methane, to the atmosphere.

Explanation of Green House Gases (GHG’s):

GHG’s, when in higher concentration in the atmosphere, cause the atmosphere to trap more and more of the sun’s energy, resulting in the warming of our planet.

Nasa's explanation of GHG's

Nasa’s explanation of GHG’s

This process becomes worrisome when you consider that the carbon dioxide concentration in our atmosphere has increased by more than 35% since 1975 and is at an 800,000 year high. Even more worrisome is the fact that, according to the National Research Council, “the average temperature of Earth’s surface increased by about 1.4 degrees Fahrenheit  over the past one hundred years with 1 degree of this warming occurring over just the past three decades.”

So if this is really happening, how do we stop it? Well, one could start with the major source of this greenhouse gas concentration increase, which can be attributed primarily to the growth in carbon dioxide emissions from rapid expansion of fossil fuel burning. Other attributing factors include deforestation and land use and land cover changes.

Explanation of fossil fuel burning’s role in the carbon cycle:

Previous plant and animal remains trapped within geological structures in places all over the world, along with millions of years of heat and pressure, have created reservoirs of natural gas, oil, and coal. These reservoirs, in the form of hydrocarbons (long chains of Hydrogen and Carbon), have been stored sources of Carbon for a great amount of time. When these reservoirs are extracted and undergo a combustion reaction, they produce energy in the form of heat with new chemical species being formed, such as carbon dioxide (a green house gas).

I’m fascinated by our capability to discover these remains of ancient life forms and even more so at our ability to use them to meet the present day needs of our energy-reliant society. However, with a global oil production of 83.6 million barrels a day in 2011, this Carbon which has been stored underground for an extremely long amount of time is now being released into our system at a rapid rate… so would the statement, “too much of a good thing, is a bad thing” apply here?

I understand that the burning of fossil fuels is integral to our way of life and energy needs. The intricacy and complications of making rapid emission cuts would have great impacts for our infrastructure and societies. However, the likely effects of climate change/global warming could have even greater, more damaging, impacts on our infrastructure and societies. This is why it is necessary to confront this issue now and progress towards a greater reliance on renewable energy for our present and future energy needs.

This progression is much easier said than done and will undoubtedly be met with great opposition, especially by those involved in fossil fuel energy production (people like my mom). However, I like to perceive it as simply as one of my favorite environmental quotes, “if you get to the cliff, you can take one step forward or turn 180 degrees and take a step forward”.

For one, we’ve already discovered, engineered, and implemented many new means of capturing energy (wind, solar, hydroelectric, geothermal, biomass), all of which are readily available in specific regions, produce nearly no emissions, and are, except for hydroelectric, far less water intensive. We already have a large part of the solution, all we need is implementation. More positive progression was initiated this week as President Obama, leader of a nation that ranks as a close second place behind China in GHG emissions and energy consumption, made a speech that presented some bold, progressive goals: using full authority of the clean air act of 1970 to reduce carbon emissions from power plants, accelerating the implementation of more renewable energy that will “power 6 million homes by 2020″, and reducing energy waste through new energy efficiency. He also is trying to push congress to end the tax breaks for big oil companies to invest in  “the clean energy economies that will fuel our future” and is calling for initiatives to prepare for the inevitable future effects of climate change.

Implementation of these plans will take time, will require governmental initiatives to speed up the process, and will require specific measures to alleviate the negative impacts such change will have on certain individuals. An example of governmental measures to take would be to reduce the massive amount of money that is used to subsidize fossil fuel production and to allocate that money to renewable energy implementation. To alleviate this energy production shift on individuals, retiring fossil fuel companies will need to provide a just transition for its employees: examples include a large preliminary warning, new training, and good retirement packages.

It’s very exciting that the willingness and need to change has been stated by one of the world’s most influential people, but the battle has only yet to begin and many other solutions will need to be presented and implemented if we hope to come out on top. However, optimism is reborn from the depressing ashes of climate change talk as I reflect on how incredibly smart we are as a human race, how much we already know about the issue, and our amazing problem-solving abilities and can’t help but think, this is going to be a good fight.

Written by: Chase Cobb

Video

Everything That’s Wrong with Coal — and Right about Clean Energy– in Two Minutes

http://sc.org/coal101

Today the Sierra Club released a new video highlighting the dangers of mining, burning and disposing coal. This short video offers a helpful resource for explaining the problems with coal-powered dirty fuels, the benefits of clean energy, and the need to move the country beyond coal.