Tag Archives: Climate change

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.

 

Speak out at the EPA Hearing in Dallas!

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Tired of not having a say about the carbon emissions companies are putting into the air that’s affecting our climate? Frustrated because you never have opportunities to tell the government how you feel about current environmental policy?

 

Texas is the country’s leading coal consumer and has some of the dirtiest coal-powered plants in the nation. Emissions that are released by coal power plants have a significant impact on changes in climate. Even a 1 or 2 degree change could reduce current crops by 5-15% through droughts, increase flooding by up to 10%, decrease stream flows by 5-10% in river basins, and increase wildfires by up to 4 times! 

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With climate change influencing our daily lives, it’s time to speak up!

 

The Environmental Protection Agency will be holding a public hearing on November 7th, 2013 in Dallas to discuss carbon pollution regulation standards for power plants. This hearing will take place on the first floor of the J. Erik Jonsson Central Library at 1515 Young Street from 10 am to 3 pm.

 

A total of 11 public hearings like the one in Dallas place were scheduled all over the country to gain public feedback, but 2 in Boston and Philadelphia were cancelled due to the government shut down. This public feedback from the hearings will be taken into consideration as the EPA prepares its proposal that is scheduled to be ready by June 2014.

 

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Registration for this event can be found at:

http://www2.epa.gov/carbon-pollution-standards/public-listening-session-registration

 

This is your chance to tell the government and others your opinion on climate change disruption, and how we should be addressing carbon pollution standards. The Listening Session at the EPA hearing will allow you to tell the EPA how you want to take action on carbon pollution. Take a stand, speak up, sign up, and then head on over to Dallas!

Oil & Gas and Water

Safe Climate Caucus Forum, 10 am, September 17, 2013:  

Hugh Fitzsimons, Carrizo Springs, TX

My name is Hugh Fitzsimons. I ranch in Dimmit County, Texas, a hundred and fifty miles southwest of San Antonio and nine miles east of the Rio Grande River. We are dead on the 100th meridian, the historic dividing line between wet and dry. The Spanish maps from the early 18th century labeled this country the “despoblado” …. “no man’s land.” No one wanted it, save for the native Coahuiltecans, who fit with a land forever on the edge of drought. It’s long been a land of environmental extremes – feast or famine – but a reckoning now seems at hand.
My grandfather bought the ranch in 1932 for two things a cattleman needs:
abundant native grasses and good, clean, underground water. He came to it after roping wild steers on the prairies and river bottoms of Gonzales County, Texas. But he had an itch to get rich, so in 1901 he hung up his rope to head for Texas’ thriving oil field: Spindletop. That oil field ushered in the internal combustion engine.
By the 1930’s, tired of the oil business, grandfather started life anew. For twenty five years, he raised registered Hereford and Angus cattle and summered steers in the flint hills of Kansas, selling them grass fat to the U.S. Army.
But in 1951, we began what has been called the “drought of record” — a seven year stretch without moisture. One day, on the front porch of the bunkhouse, my grandfather declared: “I am leaving this ranch, and I am not coming back till it rains.” He never came back, and we had no significant rain for another three years. My father recognized the signs. For the next thirty years, he ran a Hereford and Red Brahma cow calf operation – and leased land for hunting and for exploration of oil and gas.
After a career teaching Texas history, I moved back to the ranch fifteen years ago, in 1998, to work with nature, not against her. I settled on two avenues of production.
For the first, I chose the American Buffalo or bison, an indigenous animal with the means to survive. Here was a low-maintenance, self-sustaining herbivore, whose 10,000-year evolution prepared it for what climate change was sending my way.
For the second, I chose honey. I contracted with beekeepers to harvest the nectar of our native guajillo bush. All that was required was water, bees, and the guajillo blooms. In a normal year, we will make fifty to one hundred pounds per colony of bees.
Thirteen years ago, in 2000, things changed: less rainfall, milder winters and blazing hot summers. The wake-up call came in 2011 –the single worst drought year in Texas history. We had plummeting water wells,the desiccation of our rivers and surface water, and a punishing summer of over 100 degrees for three solid months. The bison were getting worried; the bees were starving to death.
By April of last year, when we should have seen seventy to one hundred baby bison calves nursing their mothers, but we had a grand total of: seven. It was so dry, the female bison wouldn’t go into estrus. I had to cull over two thirds of the herd. We burned pear for the remainder, and the remaining bison ate mesquite beans from July to September.
And while a normal honey crop for me is around seventy-five barrels, by this spring, I made a grand total of: two. The fall without rain last year dried up the moisture the guajillo needed to set a bloom– something no regional beekeeper had ever seen. There is always at least some bloom. Not any more.
At the same time, one of the largest oil and gas plays in the world has landed in Dimmit County. Fracking in the Eagle Ford shale has wrought more change in two years than the past two hundred. Our tax revenue, population, and public school enrollment are surging like a runaway eighteen-wheeler. Oil and gas production are up 134% over a year ago. Most of the oil workers are imports from East Texas. The price of a rental house is now out of reach for most citizens of Dimmit County.
But the hard facts are these: 1/3 of our available groundwater in Dimmit County per year is being lost to fracking. Because the water used to inject the chemicals is absorbed by the formation, this process is 100% consumptive, unless the 20% that returns as flowback water is recycled, all that water is lost. Unlike agricultural irrigation, fracking wastewater is lost completely. In short, we have a new, man-made water crisis etched atop the man-made crisis of climate change that produced the drought.
For years our normal rainfall was around 21 inches a year. A hydrologist tells me that unless we get between 15 to 17 inches of rain a year,there is no recharge. So we are now using up 1/3 of our groundwater a year, when we’ve had virtually no recharge for three years. We’re running on empty. The forecast under climate change, is for 12 to 15 inches of rain a year. In short, our water is being drained to produce the oil and gas that have produced a worldwide climate crisis.

There are moments in life that turn you. Mine came in spring a year ago, when I flipped on the switch for my irrigation pump and got half the water I’d been producing before.
From my irrigation pump, I could see no fewer than four drilling rigs, each of them sucking 3-5 million gallons of fresh water per frack. My fresh water was being drained, and there seemed nothing I could do about it.
My anger made me run for office as a director of the Wintergarden Water Conservation District. Somehow, I prevailed and started to learn water law, rule of capture, and how to start the energy companies conserving water. The problem is, in our district, oil and gas are exempt from the permitting process. In other words, we, the designated water authorities, are nearly powerless to conserve and protect the water on which all of life depends.
Dimmitt County, as you may have gathered, has never been well off. Now, we face two new threats. First, is the vacuuming up of our water for fracking, and removing it from the hydrologic cycle. The second threat is just as serious. Because the riches of oil and gas production are falling like manna from heaven, no one wants to talk about our water – least of all, state regulators — even if our water’s disappearing.
To explain: in order to dispose of toxic wastewater from fracking, wells are injected deep into the earth. If the wells are correctly constructed and in the right geologic formation, they’re reasonably safe. The problem is: there are from 10,000 to 100,000 abandoned oil and gas wells in the state, and Texas regulators have no idea where and how many there are. But if an injection well for fracking wastewater is drilled near an abandoned old well, and its well casing or cement job gives way, toxic waste from the disposal can migrate to the old well, flow up the pipe, and contaminate the groundwater.
Our water district has made protesting these injection wells a top priority. But when I last appeared this summer before state regulators, they didn’t want to hear about it, The examiner and judge labeled our hydrologist’s questions “hearsay,” and my invoking those questions was stricken from the record. In other words, denial is not just a river in Egypt. It was one thing to have the disposal well company ignore our questions. When the judge declared the disposal well company didn’t have to answer our questions because the law didn’t require it, it became clear that the denial in our state is as deep as the injection wells.
One subject I feel fairly comfortable with is Texas history. From that history, it’s clear the oil business is here to stay. For the time being, so am I.
What we need is hydrocarbon extraction, under responsible rules and regulation that protect our vanishing groundwater. Without it, over-extraction will become the epitaph of the American West. As the poet Gary Snyder once said: “Just remember, nature bats last.”

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

Concerned San Antonio Residents Call for Plastic Bag Ban

Plastic bag banning reusable bag picSan Antonio’s economy has remained steady and prosperous by successfully attracting new businesses and helping existing companies grow. The City has focused on creating new employment opportunities in 21st century industries, maintaining a great quality of life, and facilitating business growth at the local and international level.  This is a city working to improve itself. San Antonio has made great strides in terms of supporting clean energy, investing in the SA River Improvements Project (SARIP), and expanding its public transit system. However City officials are lagging behind when it comes to protecting the city’s beauty by fighting plastic bag pollution. 

One very serious and expensive environmental problem that San Antonio is facing at the moment is pollution from plastic bags.  Single-use checkout bags have harmful impacts on the environment and drain tax dollars as well.  Even more, San Antonio residents use more than 1.6 billion plastic bags every single year.  At least 80% of these end up in landfills or as litter. While stores don’t charge for the bags, city taxpayers pay for a variety of pollution impacts. They cause damage to recycling facilities, and despite the fact that they are about 1% of the waste stream they cost recyclers as much as 30% of their labor time. They cost local residents as much as 1.3 million a year to control their pollution, and they disproportionately affect low income communities who have fewer resources for pollution control, less recycling and more fragile infrastructure. That 1.3 million could be helping lower income neighborhoods, but instead is being wasted on plastic bag pollution. Even more money is spent on state and federal clean-up efforts, and it is impossible to put a dollar value on the impacts to wildlife killed by plastic bags. It’s clear that convenient plastic bags are not worth the damage that comes with them.

San Antonio’s City Council is now considering a ban on plastic bags at retail checkouts. Several cities across the state have already taken action against single-use bags. The cities of Brownsville, Fort Stockton, Austin, South Padre, and three others in Texas have seen dramatic decreases in bag litter since they passed local ordinances on checkout bags. Because of this supporters and members of the Sierra Club Alamo Group, Texas Campaign for the Environment, and Environment Texas joined with residents of San Antonio to soundly express support for a full ban on single-use plastic bags in San Antonio.   Residents testified during the “Citizen’s to be Heard” portion of the June 12th City Council meeting, and no action was taken by council.   However efforts are still being made, on June 21st the Blacknote Galleria showed a screening of “Bag It!”, an insightful documentary on the overuse of plastic, to help increase awareness and support for the issue.  Here at the Sierra Club we are asking supporters of a ban to contact their city council members and to express their support of a ban at City Council meetings. The City Council Governance Committee will likely hear the issue sometime in August or September, so be sure to contact your council person before then.  San Antonio residents deserve a clean city and so they must press their City Council to pass an ordinance ensuring that action is taken to solve this problem.

Plastic bags are a hot topic, not just in Texas but all over the country and in a few others. The main topic of conversation seems to be the paper vs. plastic debate.  There are a lot of interesting sides to the argument but I believe this one has a winning conclusion. Ultimately the real fight isn’t against plastic bags but rather doing what is right for the environment. Banning plastic bags is one step towards protecting the environment and protecting our future. It’s rare that we recognize a problem from the very start. Rivers used to be dumpsters until we realized that polluting was harmful to our drinking water.  Fields used to be ours for the taking until we realized over-farming was damaging to the integrity of soil. And plastic bags will be used for our convenience until we realize they are hurting our environment.

Written By:  Christina Farrell

Rally for Renewables in Austin

SIerra Club members and volunteers outside AUstin CIty Hall on Thursday June 20th.

SIerra Club members and volunteers outside Austin CIty Hall on Thursday June 20th.

Last week, members and volunteers with Sierra Club showed their support at the Rally for Renewables outside of Austin’s City Hall. The event was part of the Beyond Coal Campaign to reduce dependence upon coal burning and increase utilization of wind and solar energy. Why are dirty coal plants a continuing issue in the 21st century? The focus, or heart,  of the rally is to encourage Austin’s mayor and city council to retire the Fayette Power Project and be coal free. The emphasis here is on retire vs selling the plant off and “greenwash” the city into a state of coal free energy. Retiring the plant would ensure the end of the devastating effects the burning of coal from this plant has on our environment. Below are some quick facts to help everyone understand the importance of relieving us of our dependence upon burning coal.

Coal plants are our nation’s top source of carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions. Burning coal is also a leading cause of smog, acid rain, and toxic air pollution. These emissions of toxins into our environment leads to various forms of climate change.  Various forms of pollution includes: Mercury, Sulfur Dioxide, Nitrogen Oxides, and Ash.

Toxic Mercury  is released into our atmosphere and then returns to the surface via rain and enters our streams and rivers. Prolonged exposure to Mercury can lead to numerous neurological and heart damaging conditions. An uncontrolled power plant can emit approximately 170 pounds of Mercury ash per year.

Coal plants are the leading source of Sulfur Dioxide (SO2) pollution. An uncontrolled power plant can produce up to 14,000 tons of SO2 per year. SO2 accumulation in the atmosphere causes acid rain which leads to the destruction of crops, forests,  and soils, and acidifies our lakes and streams.

Nitrogen Oxide causes ground level smog. An uncontrolled plant can emit over 10,000 tons of Nitrogen Oxides per year. This pollutant is naturally found in the atmosphere, however, human activities such as agriculture, transportation, and industries have been steadily increasing the amount found in the atmosphere.

U.S. Nitrous Oxide Emissions, By Source:

In the US alone, we produce no less than 140 million tons of coal ash pollution. All of that ash has to go somewhere, and in most cases it is dumped in the backyard of these coal plants. This ash can be put into open-air pits or into man-made ponds. Unregulated dump sites can leach these pollutants into the ground and potentially into our ground water systems, by way of aquifers.

Overall, The Rally for Renewables was a success! Numerous volunteers came out to show their support for the cause. The event lasted for nearly 2 hours with many different community members making appearances. This event, just like any like it, is an important demonstration to our local governments. As citizens of this earth, we have the right to have our voices heard, just as they were last week.

Written by: Courtney Dunphy

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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