Tag Archives: Obama

Sierra Club Lone Star Chapter Statement on President Obama’s Climate Plan

obama-may-2013

For Immediate Release:
June 25, 2013

Contact:  Scheleen Walker, office: (512) 477-1729, ext. 115; mobile: (512) 481-1448

Sierra Club Lone Star Chapter Statement on President Obama’s Climate Plan

AUSTIN, TX –  Today President Barack Obama announced his administration’s next steps for building a legacy of action to fight the climate crisis. The plan includes new energy efficiency standards for federal buildings and appliances, scales up responsible clean energy production on public lands with an ambitious new commitment to power 6 million homes by 2020, and uses the full authority of the Clean Air Act to cut dangerous carbon pollution from power plants.

Sierra Club Lone Star Chapter Director Scheleen Walker released the following statement in response:

“This is the change Texans struggling with drought and pollution have been waiting for on climate.

“President Obama is putting action behind his words, which is exactly what the Lone Star Chapter, our thousands of Texas members and supporters, and coalition partners have worked mightily to achieve.  Today, we applaud him for taking a giant step forward toward meeting that goal. As the largest emitter of greenhouse gases in the country, Texas has a special responsibility to rapidly tackle carbon pollution.

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“Texas farmers, ranchers, and cities have been suffering through year after year of drought. Scientists at Texas universities are telling us that over time climate change is going to make the drought even longer and more severe. By committing to implement new energy efficiency standards, increase responsible clean energy production, and most importantly using the full authority of the Clean Air Act to cut dangerous carbon pollution from power plants, the President is stepping up to reduce the climate-disrupting pollution that is destabilizing our climate and threatening our agricultural economy and growing cities.

“The first step in the Presidents’ climate legacy were the clean car rules. Today he committed to tackle existing power plant emissions. To complete his legacy, we look forward to a day when the Administration takes the final step, and recognizes that natural gas and tar sands crude are dangerous fuels. Nevertheless, the President’s plan gives us hope that he will cement his climate legacy and protect future generations by ending destructive oil drilling in the Arctic, rejecting dangerous nukes, phasing out dirty fossil fuels in favor of clean energy – and by making the critically important decision to reject the dirty and dangerous Keystone XL pipeline.”

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Trade Rules Undermine Transition to Clean Energy

TPP - Green Trade

(This article was cross-posted from http://sierraclub.typepad.com/compass/)

By Ilana Solomon, Sierra Club Trade Reprsentative

Responsible trade can help countries develop sustainably, foster a healthy environment, and expand the use of clean energy. But when used irresponsibly, trade and investment agreements do more harm than good. They can encourage production of goods in places with weak environmental laws and policies, increase carbon pollution by expanding long-distance trade, and accelerate pressure on scarce natural resources. And, by offering corporations broad rights to challenge environmental and other public interest policies, trade and investment rules can undermine one of the most urgent challenges of our time: the transition to a clean energy future.

Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster of 2011 demonstrated the human and environmental costs of nuclear energy. With tens of thousands of individuals internally displaced, the contamination of land and water, and the dangerous health impacts associated with the nuclear meltdown, the disaster in Japan led a number of governments to turn their backs on nuclear and change course.

Explosions at Fukushima Daiichi nuclear facility in Japan

Explosions at Fukushima Daiichi nuclear facility in Japan

Germany, for example, initiated a phase-out of nuclear power after the disaster in Japan and committed to transitioning to cleaner, greener, renewable energy sources. Reasonable, right?

Not according to Vattenfall, the Swedish energy firm that is suing the government of Germany because it initiated the nuclear energy phase-out. Vattenfall claims that Germany’s decision to phase-out nuclear energy production violates its right as an investor in nuclear energy in Germany by diminishing its profits. While the case filing has not been publically released, reports show that the corporation is seeking U.S. $4.6 billion in damages from Germany.

Vattenfall is using the Energy Charter Treaty, a trade and investment treaty for the energy sector signed by 51 states, including the European Union, to bring its lawsuit to a private tribunal at the World Bank in Washington, D.C.Clearly, this case is an example of how trade and investment rules can threaten the environment and the health of communities.

As another example, just a couple of months ago, an American oil and gas firm notified Canada of its intent to launch a similarly outlandish case at the same World Bank trade tribunal used by Vattenfall. The Delaware-incorporated Lone Pine Resources noted its intent to sue Canada for $250 million under the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) over Quebec’s moratorium on fracking — the violent process of extracting natural gas from shale rock buried deep underground. The people and government of Quebec merely wanted to have time to study the environmental impacts associated with fracking.

The firm is using the rules in NAFTA—rules similar to those that Vattenfall likely used under the Energy Charter Treaty against Germany—that give corporations the right to sue a government over nearly any law or policy that the corporation argues is hurting its profit. In the Quebec case, the firm is willing to threaten safe drinking water and the health of communities in Canada by opening the dangerous floodgates of fracking.

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Governments must be able to put in place clean energy and other policies that protect communities and the environment without trade rules getting in the way. Yet, the United States is currently negotiating a new trade pact with ten other countries, the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement, which would virtually replicate the same flawed rules used in the cases described above and leave the door wide open to attacks like the ones on Canada’s fracking moratorium and Germany’s nuclear phase-out.With climate disruption reaching its tipping point, the transition to a clean energy economy has never been more critical. In order for our trade system to support this transition, our elected officials must stop drafting trade pacts that empower the fossil fuel industry at the expense of communities and the environment. We can and must change course.

–Ilana Solomon, Sierra Club Trade Representative

New Fuel Economy (CAFE) Standards!

The EPA and USDOT have announced a proposal to establish stronger fuel economy and emissions reductions for cars and light duty trucks for model year 2017-2025.  This proposal also includes a number of incentive programs to promote early adoption and advanced technologies, such as hybridization for pickup trucks.

For those keeping score at home, here’s the timeline for fuel efficiency standards. The fleet average must achieve:

  • 35.5 miles per hour by 2016
  • 54.5 miles per gallon by 2025.

This proposal saves Americans $1.7 trillion, reduces oil consumption by 2.2 million barrels per day by 2025, and slashes greenhouse gas emissions by 6 billion metric tons from 2011-2025.

But what about fuel economy if you can’t afford to buy a new, more fuel efficient vehicle?

Here are some gas saving tips from the Sierra Club.

The Department of Energy has a website dedicated to gas mileage tips.

There’s even an app to help!

For those who don’t feel like following the links, the best advice is to drive responsibly.

Maintain your car with regular tune ups and filter changes. Check your tire pressure. Don’t accelerate rapidly or drive (too much) over the speed limit. If you’ve ever taken a defensive driving class, this should sound familiar.

To avoid traffic jams, plan alternate routes, try to vary your commute times, and keep your cool in the car. How much idle time can you save by not switching lanes and sneaking along the shoulder? Try 30%. A detailed explanation (with a cool video showing how too many cars cause a traffic jam) is on the Scientific American blog.

Or, frankly, take transit! You knew I’d have to say that eventually.

Kari Banta, Transportation Associate

Will Obama Bring the “Dirtiest Oil on Earth” to Texas?

Lower Rio Grand Valley Sierra Club members at the rally against the Keystone XL pipeline at the White House

By Stefanie Herweck

In the coming weeks President Obama will make one of the most fateful decisions of his presidency: whether or not to approve the Keystone XL pipeline project.  The pipeline would transport liquefied tar sands across the United States for export on the Texas Gulf Coast.

On Sunday protesters formed a human chain around the White House in an effort to remind the president of his own words on the campaign trail: “Let’s be the generation that frees itself from the tyranny of oil.”

Tar sands oil is the dirtiest oil on Earth,” says Michael Brune, executive director of the Sierra Club, and it is hard to imagine how mining, transporting, and burning it will help bring to life Obama’s words.  It is also hard to think of a project with more terrible consequences for Texas, and for the world.

A Canadian corporation, Transcanada, wants to build the 1,980 mile long pipeline from the tar sands oil mines in Alberta, Canada across the American heartland to the Texas Gulf Coast.  Because the pipeline crosses the U.S. – Canada border, it is up to President Obama and Secretary of State Clinton to approve or reject it.

The tar sands underlie 54,000 square miles of boreal forest that is prized for its biodiversity.  Every spring more than half of North America’s birds flock there to nest.  As a boreal forest, it is also uniquely suited to absorb carbon emissions, and it stores twice as much carbon as a tropical forest.

Since the tar sands lie near the surface, these forests are completely obliterated during the mining process.  As these forests are destroyed, critical habitat is lost and stored carbon is released into the atmosphere.  Where the forest once stood, companies dig massive open pit mines and create toxic tailing ponds so big they can be seen from space.  As of June 2009, 32,000 square miles of boreal forest had been leased to companies for tar sands extraction.

In the ground tar sands are a mixture of 90 percent sand, clay and water and 10 percent bitumen, a thick hydrocarbon liquid.  Steam is used to extract the bitumen, which requires 4 barrels of water and a significant amount of natural gas for every barrel of oil.  The lakes of waste water left over from this process cover 22 percent of the mined land and are so toxic that they have killed entire flocks of birds that were unlucky enough to land on them.

Because the bitumen is so thick – the consistency of peanut butter – it must be diluted with volatile natural gas compounds in order to make it flow through a pipeline.  It is heavier and more corrosive than conventional oil, so the Keystone XL pipeline would be far more likely subject to leak.  In fact, the first stage of the Keystone tar sands pipeline had 14 accidents in its first year of operation.

The pipeline’s path across the Ogallala aquifer makes the potential for leaks especially alarming.  More than a quarter of the water for crops grown in the United States comes from this aquifer, and millions depend on it for drinking water.  Nebraska’s Republican Governor, Dave Heineman, has called upon the State Department to deny Transcanada’s permit request out of fear that spills of tar sands oil could prove catastrophic for the state’s water supply.

The proposed path of the pipeline will also cross hundreds of heartland farms.  Transcanada is already suing landowners in Nebraska, South Dakota, Oklahoma, and Texas under eminent domain, even though the project has not been approved.  Many have questioned whether a foreign corporation can use eminent domain against U.S. citizens, but the flurry of lawsuits has not slowed.

When tar sands oil arrives at a refinery it is laden with toxic chemicals like benzene, toluene, and metals like mercury, lead, nickel and vanadium.  Refineries in Port Arthur that process tar sands will therefore produce, and release, much more hazardous waste than conventional oil refineries.

According to the EPA, the entire process of extracting and refining tar sands oil from well to gas tank produces 82 percent more greenhouse gas emissions than conventional oil.  Transporting and burning the Keystone XL pipeline’s tar sands would add 27 million tons of greenhouse gases to the atmosphere per year.

Beyond this, the sheer scope of the tar sands deposits make Obama’s pipeline decision a grave one indeed.  The tar sands are the second largest pool of carbon on the planet.  If we begin tapping them rather than switching to renewable energy sources, it would mean, in the words of James Hansen, the director of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies, “essentially game-over” for all hope of reversing climate change.

Thanks to the drought, we already have a taste about what out-of-control climate change could do to Texas.  Most climate projections show a continued decline in precipitation for Texas and an increase in temperatures.  This is likely to have serious economic impacts in a state with a $100 billion agricultural sector that employs 1 out of 7 workers.

Warming temperatures and thermal expansion of the ocean led to a tripling of sea level rise during the 20th century.  If greenhouse gas emissions continue to escalate, Gulf Coast waters could rise as much as 1 meter by 2100, a rise that could submerge Texas coastal communities and make others far more vulnerable to storms.  One study of the Houston-Galveston area found that sea level rise could displace 100,000 people over the next 100 years and mean a loss of $12 billion in infrastructure.  The beaches of South Padre Island could disappear beneath the waves.

Potential Inundation Along the Texas Coast from Sea Level Rise

Some are claiming that in these tough economic times, we should sacrifice the environment for energy security and economic benefits.  Unfortunately, the Keystone XL pipeline provides neither.

Reducing America’s reliance on Middle-eastern oil is one argument that Transcanada has repeatedly put forward.  Though they have denied that Keystone XL is an export pipeline, analysts have determined that the diesel fuel most easily refined from tar sands oil will only find lucrative markets in Europe and Latin America.  In fact, the published business model for the Valero refinery at the end of the pipeline explicitly states that the diesel would be exported to foreign markets, rather than put into U.S. gas tanks.

The United States won’t derive significant tax revenue from the tar sands oil before it heads overseas because the refineries at the pipeline’s end are located in Port Arthur, Texas.  Port Arthur’s designation as a foreign trade zone means that the refined diesel can be exported tax-free.  The benzene and other pollutants released by the refining process are all that will stay in Port Arthur.

Transcanada has claimed that 100,000 jobs would be created by its pipeline.  As pressure on the Obama administration to stop the pipeline has gone up, Transcanada’s job estimate has soared to as high as 250,000.  The American Petroleum Institute, which lobbies on behalf of oil corporations, has gone so far as to claim that, “U.S. jobs supported by Canadian oil sands development could grow from 21,000 jobs today to 465,000 jobs by 2035.”  Of course, these rapidly inflating numbers all come from the company who stands to reap huge profits from exporting tar sands oil oversees without paying any export taxes if they can sell the administration on their pipeline.

For those of us who do not serve on the board of directors of Transcanada or Valero, any economic benefits from the pipeline will be minimal.  An independent analysis of the economic impacts of the pipeline estimated that nationwide there would be between 500 and 1,400 temporary construction jobs would come from building the pipeline.  Once the pipeline is up and running those jobs would evaporate, and it would take as few as 50 full time employees maintain it.

While those 50 people may be happy to receive a paycheck, their side of the balance sheet is far outweighed by the health costs of those who will be exposed to toxic chemicals in Canada and Texas, not to mention the millions of coastal residents around the world whose homes and communities will be threatened by rising seas.

This is why the Lower Rio Grande Valley Sierra Group is supporting protesters from the Rio Grande Valley who boarded the Rio Bravo Wildlife Institute’s vegetable-oil powered bus for the long drive to Washington DC.  They  joined thousands of other Americans to demand that President Obama uphold the vision and the promises that got him elected.

The ultimate decision will be President Obama’s.  Will he cave in to corporate pressure and approve the Keystone XL pipeline, or will he stand with the American people, and people around the world, who will suffer the terrible consequences if this pipeline is built?  This is not a political question to be decided by poll numbers and the next election.  President Obama’s decision will have a real impact on human lives, on human health, and on the world that our children grow up in.  This may be the most important decision that President Obama makes, and it is up to all of us to ensure that he makes the right choice.

Stefanie Herweck is chair of the Lower Rio Grande Valley Sierra Group.  She lives in McAllen.  This article originally appeared in the Rio Grande Guardian.

Some lawyers and a laptop go up against Big Oil

Well.  That’s not quite all it takes to sue Shell, Chevron, and Exxon for illegal pollution at their gas refineries and chemical plants on Houston’s ship channel.  But it makes a great story on Houston’s KHOU-TV.

What it really takes is neighbors around the refineries standing up for their communities and for their rights to breathe as guaranteed under the Clean Air Act.  What it really takes is partnership — this one between Sierra Club and Environment Texas working together with a damn fine Boston law firm the National Environmental Law Center.  So what — these lawyers are Yankees.  We love ‘em!!!  Plus we got some damn fine Texas lawyers helping out, too — Phil Hilders and Kelly Haragan.  So in this David and Goliath story, David is a team.

A team going up against the State of Texas. 

The whole problem is wrong-thinking in Texas leadership that would fight against our right to clean air.  Texas Governor Rick Perry, Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott and the Commissioners of the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality are trying to buck the Clean Air Act — the law of our land that is there to protect public health.  

Sierra Club and our friends are not standing by and allowing that.  No damn way.

– Donna Hoffman, Communication Coordinator, Lone Star Chapter, Sierra Club

PS  I saw the Molly Ivins play recently so I had to say damn enough times in this post.