July 26, 2011

Year After Oil Spill, Green Groups Urge Upton, Walberg to Put Residents First, End Attacks on EPA

Year After Oil Spill, Green Groups Urge Upton, Walberg
to Put Residents First, End Attacks on EPA

EPA is critical to protecting air, water and must be allowed to do its job

GALESBURG 26 July 2011 – Michigan’s top environmental groups today recognized the one-year mark of the massive oil spill in the Kalamazoo River by calling on Congressmen Fred Upton (R-St. Joseph) and Tim Walberg (R-Tipton) to do everything in their power to prevent future spills and support the Environmental Protection Agency in its mission to protect and clean up our water, air and land. Representatives of Clean Water Action, the Sierra Club and the National Wildlife Federation held a media event today at River Oaks County Park alongside a closed section of the Kalamazoo River that is still undergoing clean-up efforts.

"The fact of the matter is that Congressmen Upton and Walberg should know better than anyone in Congress that the EPA is critical to protecting the water we drink and the air that we breathe," said Cyndi Roper, Michigan director of Clean Water Action. "Instead, they are working to weaken the EPA at the expense of the public health. The oil spill last year left people ill, destroyed property values and damaged our natural resources in ways that will be felt for years to come. It is a devastating reminder that the EPA plays a critical role in protecting our land, air and water."

The oil spill spewed nearly 850,000 gallons of crude oil into the Kalamazoo Watershed. Clean up is still going on, with the river remaining closed to the public. The pipeline owned by Enbridge Inc. was transporting raw tar sands oil when it ruptured a year ago. Tar sands oil is also known as diluted bitumen, which is a highly corrosive, toxic and unstable blend of crude from Alberta, Canada. In a press call last held last week, the EPA revealed that heavy metals have been found in the Kalamazoo River, and that clean-up may take much longer than first anticipated.

Upton and Walberg voted on July 13 for H.R. 2018, legislation that threatens the water quality in our lakes and rivers and the safety of our drinking water sources. The legislation would roll back key enforcement provisions of the Clean Water Act, provisions that allow the EPA to act to protect our waters and our public health. H.R. 2018 passed the House of Representatives by a vote of 239 to 184. In addition to voting for the bill, Upton and Walberg voted against an amendment that would have ensured continued protection of municipal drinking water sources. In short, the bill would threaten the progress the nation has made since the 1972 Clean Water Act gave the federal government the primary role in cleaning up the nation’s waters.

"It’s difficult to imagine how the oil spill would have been managed without the EPA overseeing the cleanup," said Rita Chapman, the clean water program director for the Sierra Club Michigan Chapter. "As incomplete as the cleanup still is today, it would have been far worse without the EPA. People want our lakes and rivers to be safe for swimming, fishing and boating, and certainly we all expect to have clean sources of drinking water. It’s outrageous that Representatives Walberg and Upton would limit clean water protections, especially with the effects of last year’s oil spill still being felt so acutely by the very people they represent in Congress."

Upton, who chairs the House Energy and Commerce Committee, also is working to accelerate the construction of another tar sands pipeline that will run from Alberta, Canada, to the Gulf Coast – a span of more than 2,000 miles. TransCanada, a Canadian pipeline company, has proposed a pipeline called Keystone XL, which would carry up to 900,000 barrels per day of tar sands oil right through the Ogallala Aquifer and six American heartland states, including Montana, South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma, and Texas.

"Before any pipeline project gains approval, like the Keystone XL, we need to fully understand what happened with the Enbridge tar sands pipeline and the dozens of other pipeline spills that have happened in the last year," said Beth Wallace, Community Outreach Regional Coordinator for the National Wildlife Federation’s Great Lakes Regional Center. "Congress needs to focus on increased pipeline safety to ensure that our communities, natural resources and wildlife will never face another oil spill disaster like the one in the Kalamazoo River. We call on Congressman Upton and Congressman Walberg to put the health and safety of Michigan residents first, rather than Big Oil special interests."

July 21, 2011

Bloomberg Philanthropies commits $50 million to Sierra Club's Beyond Coal Campaign to move America toward cleaner energy

July 21, 2011

Bloomberg Philanthropies commits $50 million
to Sierra Club's Beyond Coal Campaign
to move America toward cleaner energy

Grant a 'game changer' that will effectively retire one-third of the nation's aging coal fleet by 2020 

Alexandria, VA. Today the Sierra Club announced a partnership with Bloomberg Philanthropies that will effectively retire one-third of the nation's aging coal fleet by 2020, replacing it with clean energy. The partnership includes a $50 million commitment over four years to the Beyond Coal Campaign that will fuel the Sierra Club's effort to clean the air, end the coal era, and accelerate the transition to cleaner, cost-effective energy sources.

Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune was joined for today’s announcement by Michael R. Bloomberg. They appeared outside a coal-fired plant in Alexandria, Virginia.

In the U.S., coal is the leading cause of greenhouse-gas emissions, and coal’s pollution contributes to four out of the five leading causes of mortality -- heart disease, cancer, stroke, and respiratory illness. Coal emits almost half of all U.S. mercury pollution, which causes developmental problems in babies and young children, as well as being a major contributor to asthma attacks. Coal pollution causes $100 billion in health costs annually.

"If we are going to get serious about reducing our carbon footprint in the United States, we have to get serious about coal. Ending coal power production is the right thing to do, because, while it may seem to be an inexpensive energy source, the impact on our environment and the impact on public health is significant," said Bloomberg. "Coal is a self-inflicted public health risk, polluting the air we breathe, adding mercury to our water, and the leading cause of climate disruption."

Bloomberg added: "The Beyond Coal Campaign has had great success in stopping more than 150 new coal-fired power plants over the past few years and is empowering local communities to lead from the front while Congress continues to watch from the back. That is why I'm pleased to support the Sierra Club and its allies, and I encourage others to do the same."

The $50 million grant will fill a significant portion of the campaign's projected $150 million four-year budget and will have a significant impact in advancing the efforts of the Beyond Coal campaign.

The partnership will play a key role in helping the Sierra Club achieve their impact goals of:
  • Cutting 30% of coal production by 2020
  • Reducing mercury pollution from coal by 90% by 2020
  • Replacing a majority of coal with clean energy
From an organizational perspective it will:
  • Increase the number of Sierra Club campaign states from 15 to 45
  • Increase the active member and supporter base from 1.4 million to 2.4 million people
  • Double the size of full-time Sierra Club staff working on the campaign from 100 to 200
Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune thanked Bloomberg for the grant, calling it a "game changer" in the fight against coal. He also praised Bloomber's farsighted vision and understanding of how protecting public health, developing innovative energy sources, and addressing climate change are all inextricably linked. He also welcomed his business savvy and track record for success to the campaign.

"This partnership will help the Sierra Club to work with communities nationwide as they tell one coal plant after another that inflicting asthma and other diseases on their children is unacceptable and that they will not accept coal pollution in their neighborhoods.

"Coal relentlessly dirties our water, air, and lungs and fixing the problem cannot be left to Washington," said Brune. "Nor can coal's contributions to climate disruption be left to international bodies. Mike Bloomberg's strong clean air agenda as Mayor of New York, and his Chairmanship of the C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group, shows that he understands that actions are being taken, and that the most significant ongoing successes will be won city by city, by dedicated people across America."

Beyond Coal campaign successes to date include:
  • The campaign has stopped 153 new coal-fired power plants from being built, preserving market space for clean energy.
  • Nearly 10% of the current coal fleet is now slated for retirement.
  • New mountaintop removal mining permits have slowed to a trickle.
  • Victories at 16 colleges and universities, where Sierra Student Coalition members have won fights to shut down coal plants on their campuses.
  • Hundreds of thousands of people mobilized in support of strong clean air and water protections
  • The biggest clean air agreement in the history of the Southeast with the TVA settlement.
Studies show that replacing coal's pollution with clean energy is possible and as coal prices are going up, wind and solar are coming down. Iowa already gets more than 15% of its energy from wind power, and San Antonio recently decided to shut down one of its dirty coal plants and install over 400 MW of solar power, what will be one of the largest solar installations in the world. Meanwhile, the green job sector is growing -- the wind industry already provides more jobs in the U.S. than the coal industry.

The Sierra Club's Beyond Coal campaign started as a three-person campaign in 2002 and has quickly grown into a powerhouse effort that is changing the way America produces energy. In 2001, the Administration at the time met with coal industry representatives as part of a closed-door energy task force, to craft plans for a new "coal rush" -- the construction of 150 new coal-fired power plants. Had the industry prevailed in building these plants, the nation would have been locked into the use of 19th-century dirty fuels for the foreseeable future. The potential for entrepreneurs to develop wind, solar and other clean technologies would have been crippled. Working with local people in neighborhoods across the country, Sierra Club organizers began fighting Big Coal’s efforts to push through these plants. Together, they achieved one victory after another.

Mary Anne Hitt, Director of the Beyond Coal Campaign, called coal "an outdated fuel that is making our kids sick and has no place in a modern energy economy."

"We're already winning in cities across the country. Community by community, people are standing up and saying no to coal, saying that they are ready for the clean energy economy. Now we’re ready to take this campaign to a whole new level."

This is the second major climate initiative by Bloomberg Philanthropies following the recent involvement and investment in the C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group (C40). Bloomberg Philanthropies is focused on climate action, taking a realistic view that progress will come not from national governments and international bodies, but instead by driving action at the city and local level. 
Note: The press conference took place today on the Potomac River in front of the GenOn coal-fired power plant in Alexandria, Virginia. The Alexandria community has rallied around the need to end the plant’s burning of coal and is one of many localities across the country that are active partners in the Beyond Coal Campaign.

Michael Brune - Executive Director, Sierra Club
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