Pages tagged "cleanenergy"

The True Cost of Coal

(Photo: Emrah Gurel, AP) This week a double tragedy has struck the coal mining industry.

On Monday night in West Virginia, a coal outburst at a Patriot-operated mine killed two miners. And on Tuesday an explosion and fire at a coal mine in Western Turkey  killed at least 245, with hundreds more still missing.

Our hearts and minds are with the miners and their families.

These disasters underscore the horrific cost of “cheap” and dirty energy.  Miners’ deaths such as these are preventable. We call on coal companies to immediately improve labor conditions, and on the governments of Turkey and the United States to strengthen their regulatory oversight of the coal industry.

At the same time, here at Rainforest Action Network, we are reflecting on the less noticed human cost of coal.  Every year, more than one million people die of the air pollution that comes from burning coal. 150,000 more die from the extreme weather events aggravated by climate change–and coal is the single biggest driver of global warming.

All of this points to an obvious conclusion. We must not continue to make these sacrifices in order to produce energy from such a dirty and unsustainable source. Coal is a dangerous and outdated fuel, and in the 21st century we should not be using it to power our homes, schools, hospitals and businesses. It is past time for us to shift our energy production to clean, safe renewable power.

Bank of America's New Corporate Social Responsibility Report Defends Business-as-Usual on Coal

This morning, Bank of America released its 2012 Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) report, which falls well short of committing to the serious action we need from banks on climate change. Just ahead of the president’s climate speech tomorrow, which is anticipated to set reductions for emissions from existing power plants, it is disappointing to find that the bank is unwilling to take a leadership position on coal. At its shareholder meeting last month, BofA faced a chorus of criticism from members of communities impacted by mountaintop removal coal mining in Appalachia, proposed coal export terminals in the Pacific Northwest, and air pollution from coal-fired power plants in Charlotte. So what did the bank say today in response to concerns about the devastating impacts of coal? Very, very, little. Unfortunately, Bank of America’s statements on coal in its CSR do not add up to a coherent strategy for addressing the environmental and health impacts of its coal financing.

Bank of America did, however, devote a full page in its CSR report to answering questions about its coal financing. For those who want to dig deep into BofA’s CSR report, our responses to their answers are below: I. Why is Bank of America continuing to finance coal? Bank of America’s Answer: “If large financial institutions were to unilaterally discontinue financing the coal industry, it would have negative consequences for the U.S. and global economies. We have strongly supported policies to help transition to renewable, alternative and other low carbon solutions. We also are committing more money than any other financial institution to reduce energy consumption and support renewable and alternative energies — $70 billion. And, we’re working with our clients in the fossil fuel value chain to help them transition to a lower-carbon economy.” RAN’s response: There are several cost-effective pathways to transition the U.S. away from fossil fuel-fired electric power, but Bank of America’s ongoing financing relationships with the coal industry perpetuates a dangerous and unsustainable status quo. Furthermore, Bank of America’s engagement with coal sector clients has not been effective, as several of its clients have moved in the wrong direction on coal last year. For example, Arch Coal continues to apply for new permits to blow up mountains, and the Tennessee Valley Authority is seeking to extend the life of its aging coal fleet. The future of the US energy mix is up for grabs, and without transparent targets and deadlines for phasing out its coal financing, Bank of America will continue to put U.S. communities and the climate at risk. Bank of America’s renewable energy lending commitment, though a step in the right direction, falls well short of a comprehensive strategy for addressing the carbon impacts of its lending and financing. II. Does Bank of America bank with companies who engage in mountaintop removal? Bank of America’s Answer: “In 2008, we assessed the regulatory and legal framework related to MTR and determined it presented risk to clients who were significantly engaged in the practice. We implemented a policy to phase out relationships with clients whose business was predominantly focused on MTR mining. Since then, regulators have put better permitting and monitoring practices in place, and industry consolidation has lowered client exposure to MTR. We continue to work with all stakeholders on this issue.” RAN’s response: The short and clear answer is, YES. Even with its MTR commitment (which sets a limit on a client company’s MTR involvement at 50% of total coal production—a threshold high enough to be effectively meaningless), Bank of America provided more than $1.3 billion to companies that engage in the practice in 2012. RAN has provided Bank of America’s environmental team with compilations of peer-reviewed studies that demonstrate that the idea of “better” MTR mining is a myth. Members of several communities in Appalachia have also spoken directly to the bank’s CEO at several shareholder meetings about the health and environmental impacts of Bank of America’s MTR clients on their communities. Yet Bank of America’s coal policy claims—without any supporting evidence—that MTR “can be conducted in a way that minimizes environmental impacts in certain geographies.” Nor is there evidence that what the bank characterizes as “better permitting and monitoring practices” are reducing the documented environmental and health impacts associated with the practice. In reality, mounting evidence has linked MTR to health impacts ranging from cancer to birth defects; state regulators have systematically failed to enforce environmental regulations at MTR sites; and a United Nations delegation has called for investigations into potential human rights violations by MTR companies related to the right to health and the right to water.  III. What is Bank of America doing to influence public policy in this area? Bank of America’s Answer: “We are engaged with policy makers, clients and environmental advocates on these issues. We supported federal cap and trade legislation when it was under consideration a few years ago. When the prospects of federal legislation dimmed, we turned efforts to the states and regions. We still fundamentally believe that to effectively address climate change, there needs to be a cost to emitting carbon pollution.” RAN’s response: Political gridlock does not excuse Bank of America’s irresponsible lending choices, which provide a financial lifeline to the struggling coal industry. Climate science demands that Bank of America rapidly phase out financing of coal-fired energy. According to the International Energy Agency, if investment in fossil fuel-powered energy infrastructure continues on its current course through 2017, the world will be locked into a path towards catastrophic and irreversible climate change.

The "Revolt of the Golden Toads" Bay Area Tour!

goldentoad300x300A guest blog post by Reverend Billy, leader of the Church of Stop Shopping, an activist performance group based in New York City The Church of Stop Shopping returns to New York now, after a week in the Bay Area.  A highlight:  we launched the "Extinction Resurrection" campaign at the front doors and inside the big banks that finance climate disruption. Then, each evening we went indoors to a concert stage--and direct activism spiced up the prayers, songs, and shouts of "Earthalujah!" In "The Revolt of the Golden Toads" tour, we concentrated our crawling and hopping on JPMorgan Chase and Bank of America--which move billions into coal-fired power plants. We believe that the Golden Toad was forced into extinction 25 years ago by drought conditions in their cloud forest home--destruction that was funded by these banks. Our impact this week in San Francisco? It is impossible to make Nielsen Ratings from activism. Clearly more and more people know they must now be Earth radicals. Put some URGENCY in the EMERGENCY. Our post-big-daddy-god church, with the wonderful music, tries to activate direct action. In nine Bay Area performance events we had something short of 2000 individuals in our audiences. Our media coverage was good and in our interviews we tried to be guided by the Extinction Resurrection theme, which is surreal and funny--but people get it.  It's about survival. We're not celebrities. Celebrities don't "Stop Shop." So we have to land the message manually. During "Toads" we went at it non-stop for 6 days and 6 nights. The upside for the non-celebrity approach is this: it builds communities. (We call people who join our church--the citizens of "Earthalujahville."  For instance, we were fed, transported, and offered beds by Earthalujahville citizens as we zig-zagged around the Bay.) Everyone in the Stop Shopping Church experienced Hurricane Sandy--and the super storm created our new songs and put us into the masks of extinct beings. Last November we were left thinking that Earth is destroying consumerism on purpose. Earth is interrupting the sale. Why? Because consumerism keeps us a bunch of little apex predators and that adds up to a horrific Super Devil. Then again, anything that distracts us from this Eco-pocalypse is the Devil and must be cast out. Extinction Resurrection. The Dark and the Light. Honest assessment of the current environmental movement leaves us feeling dark. But the ecstatic release of a good direct action raises us to the light. Darker and Brighter. Extinction and Resurrection. It's the up and down and up of Evolution. We felt the darkness when we performed at Oakland City Hall and felt the memory of police violence there during Occupy. But moments later we unloaded some happy toad gospel at the Chase Bank across the street. They closed the bank and locked the doors after our first song. So they had to seal off the hushed high church of the bank. So we sang on the sidewalk and sent happy curses up into the surveillance system. Eventually we'll be naked animals hopping on Jamie Dimon's desk. Earthalujah! We wish to thank RAN for posting these reports. Now the toad hops back to NYC, then over the Atlantic. To be updated with Rev. Billy and The Church of Stop Shopping tour dates, click here for tour dates. Photo Credit: Steve Rhodes

Extreme Investments: 2013 Coal Finance Report Card

coalreport_300x300Today, RAN, Sierra Club, and BankTrack launched our 2013 Coal Finance Report Card. This year’s report, entitled “Extreme Investments: U.S. Banks and the Coal Industry” evaluates the largest U.S. banks in terms of their financing of companies engaged in coal extraction, transport, and combustion. As our title indicates, coal has become an extreme investment. Long touted as a cheap and abundant fuel, coal’s environmental and public health costs are becoming increasingly acute: A 2011 Harvard School of Public Health study found that coal mining and combustion in the U.S. imposes between a third to over one half of a trillion dollars in externalized environmental and health costs each year. Despite mounting evidence of the extreme impacts of the coal industry on the climate and human health, in 2012, US bank financing practices have failed to address the acute risks and impacts of the financing the "worst of the worst" companies in the coal industry. Even as U.S. coal consumption for power generation fell 11 percent in 2012, the top three U.S. financiers of the coal industry (Bank of America, Citigroup, and JPMorgan Chase) collectively financed an estimated $9 billion for mountaintop removal mining companies and the most coal-intensive power utilities last year. The report card also finds that the broader banking sector remains deeply exposed to the coal industry, providing $20.8 billion in financing for these companies in 2012. With few exceptions, bank lending and financing policies for the coal sector for this year’s report card received disappointingly low grades. Although Wells Fargo improved to a “C” for taking steps to improve its mountaintop removal mining lending practices and HSBC North America received a “C-“ for policies covering its lending to coal-fired power, grades for the rest of the U.S. banking sector showed almost no improvement from last year. The long-term financial outlook for companies involved with coal mining, transportation, and combustion remains highly uncertain. As we note in one of our report’s case studies, Patriot Coal, a coal mining company with major MTR operations filed for bankruptcy last year and agreed to phase out its MTR operations. Of the 12 other MTR companies profiled in the report, only one had an S&P credit rating above ‘junk.' Last month, investors scrapped a controversial plan to export coal through Coos Bay, Oregon. And on April 16th, the Texas power company Energy Future Holdings (formerly TXU) announced plans to file for bankruptcy due in part to the deteriorating financial picture for the company’s fleet of coal-fired power plants. Last year, even with the coal industry’s bankruptcies, risky proposals for coal plant upgrades, and coal export terminals, Wall Street doubled down on its exposure to the industry, despite its incredibly uncertain future. Unfortunately, they’re not just gambling with their own money. Bad investments can be written off, but coal’s impacts on human health and the environment are severe, permanent, and irreversible.

Live Update: Nine Activists Shutdown Four Bank of America Branches in Coal Protest

Pat Moore locks down a BofA branchThis morning, nine activists interrupted business as usual at four Bank of America branches across the city of Charlotte, NC. The activists, most of whom were Charlotte locals, were there to protest the bank’s massive financing of the U.S. coal industry. The day ended with nine arrests, a swarm of media attention and hundreds of people showing their support with phone calls directly to key decision makers at Bank of America. Today’s inspiring and complex action was deployed seamlessly by a passionate and peaceful crew of activists determined to send BofA a loud and clear message that the bank bears responsibility for the disastrous impacts of its coal funding. Coal is the largest source of climate change pollution in the U.S., and a major cause of air pollution and asthma. Local grandmothers Patricia Moore and Beth Henry were among those arrested today after locking themselves to 55-gallon barrels in front of an Uptown Charlotte BofA branch. Pat spoke to the gathering crowd with dignity and deep emotion about her concern for her granddaughter who suffers from chronic asthma after growing up in close proximity to five coal-fired power plants that surround the city of Charlotte. As fire engines roared into place and police and television helicopters gathered overhead, protest particpants—residents of Charlotte, Asheville, West Virginia and beyond—sat firm, blockading the doors of BofA’s bank branches to calmly but firmly make their case to the media and bank employees. Some of today’s arrestees live in communities directly impacted by the devastating practice of mountaintop removal coal mining in Appalachia. Others pointed to the massive damage recently caused by super storm Sandy as urgent evidence that climate change is already directly affecting our lives and time is running out to take action for future generations. Today’s action showed that standing up to protect our families, our homes, our climate requires bold acts. What we saw today was a group of people from wide ranging backgrounds come together to use the power of creative innovation and dignified resistance--what we saw, was a group of nine people able to get the attention of one of the world’s largest banks. You can join those in Charlotte by calling Bank of America right now. Thank you to all of those who put their bodies on the line today to ring the alarm bell that BofA must change its ways for the sake of us all and future generations. It is time for BofA to realize that the climate movement is only growing. More and more people of conscience will be inspired to take action until the bank stops funding dirty and dangerous coal and starts funding a clean energy future.

EPA Rejects Palm Oil: Good News for Indonesian Rainforests

Before I started doing environmental work, I'd assumed that biofuel use would have a positive effect on the climate. It turns out the truth about biofuels is much more complex than I'd originally thought. Not every biofuel on the market today has a positive impact on the environment, and some actually pose a major threat. [caption id="attachment_17733" align="alignleft" width="300" caption="Palm oil day laborer in Sumatra, Photo by David Gilbert/RAN"]Palm oil day laborer in Sumatra[/caption] Fortunately the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) took into consideration the complexity of the issue in its latest ruling about biofuels derived from palm oil. Late last week, the EPA excluded palm oil biodiesel from the U.S. renewable fuel standard—a small yet significant reprieve for Indonesia’s rainforests, where palm oil plantations are a major cause of rainforest destruction. The EPA found that biofuels derived from palm oil aren't a good choice for the climate because, once the carbon footprint of palm oil production is factored in, they can no longer meet the 20% emissions-reduction standard for biofuels. It's encouraging that the EPA sees the terrible toll the industrial production of palm oil biodiesel has on the environment. Indonesia is already the world’s third largest emitter of greenhouse gases, after China and the U.S. Some 85% of Indonesia's emissions result from clearing rainforests and draining carbon-rich peatlands, activities driven heavily by the rapid expansion of the palm oil industry. Widely considered a “clean” agrofuel, palm oil has more environmental implications to consider than just the emissions it produces when burned. According to the Center for International Forestry Research, biodiesel from palm oil grown on peat has a 200 year carbon debt. This means it would take 200 years of production for these palm oil plantations to replace the carbon lost from land conversion. And once you consider the amount of fuel used for palm oil cultivation and transcontinental shipping, palm oil can be one of the worst fuel sources for the climate. Looking at the harsh and immediate realities of today's climate science, it's clear that a 200-year turnaround is 200 years too late. There are already too many demands on Indonesia's rainforests coming from the palm oil industry.

Energy Co-Ops: Generating All Kinds of Green for Local Communities

With all of the panic surrounding stocks, I’m clearly not the only one wondering where I should put my money for the long term. I want to know that my money will support the good, not just pad a CEO’s already fat pocket. I think I’ve found a solution, nestled in northern England. The Baywind Energy Co-operative is pioneering an incredibly smart model. Local residents invest money in a locally run renewable energy company, putting money right back into their community while ending their reliance on polluting fossil fuels. Talk about improved quality of life. Baywind's wind farm co-operative started in 1996, when they offered shares to community members, with a low minimum stock purchase to make it financially feasible for as many as possible. Using the capital they raised from 1,350 shareholders (approx. 2 million pounds), the Baywind co-op purchased their first three wind turbines. A board of directors, elected by the shareholders, runs the day-to day operations. Hyper-focused on community involvement, Baywind uses only local contractors for site development, maintenance, and support. Hurray for local green jobs! Baywind Energy Co-Op As for the investment part, shareholders receive annual dividends amounting to 5-10%. The industry average is 9%. Though co-op members may receive a few less annual dividends, they get clean energy that keeps their air and water free of pollutants while keeping their investment in their community. This sort of ROI goes beyond dollars and cents. The leadership at Baywind also focuses heavily on education, which they see as absolutely key for progress. They invite local schools and adults alike to visit the wind farm and read their educational materials. Think about how inspiring it is for a young child to see the possibilities of renewable energy right in their backyard! Through Baywind's development organization, Energy4All, communities can have assistance with recreating this type of renewable energy co-op in their own parts of the world. Energy4All assists communities in planning, building and maintening a wind farm co-op. Over the past nine years, Energy4All has succeeded in sharing their model with seven different communities throughout England and Scotland. Let's hope this renewable energy co-op model spreads far and wide, so that all of us can participate in locally-run, clean, sustainable energy generation that keep jobs, revenue and resources right where they belong.

VIDEO: Danes And The Third Industrial Revolution

Wind_mills_in_fanoe_Island_july_29_2009_by_fotos_de_jctopfotoRAN has been ramping up the dialogue against coal, calling for an end to new coal-fired power plants and for existing coal plants to be retired (these currently make up over 45% of total US energy generation). The coal industry argues that coal technology is already available while renewable energy technology is a pipe-dream that hasn’t yet been developed enough to supply energy en masse. Well, let’s not forget an important point — renewable energy is already being utilized. And not only on a small scale. Take, for example, the Thisted municipality in Denmark, which uses 100% renewable resources for its electricity demands and 85% renewable energy for heating demands to supply over 46,000 residents. Thisted’s success can largely be attributed to the community's focus on the local economic benefits of shifts to renewable energy, the constant re-evaluation of its programs to achieve continual improvement, and inclusion of local leadership. [vimeo 1754867 550] Thisted is situated in Northern Jutland, an ideal location for utilizing windmills because of its strong, constant wind almost year round. Thisted has 226 windmills throughout the municipality that generate 103 GwH hours of energy each year. Thisted is also home to Denmark’s first geothermal facility, which produces another 10% of electricity needs. Another significant source of Thisted’s electricity is provided by biomass — a combination of landfill incineration (which RAN acknowledges can have detrimental impacts on local communities, see GAIA to learn more) and straw burning plants. As an example of the constant inclusion of locals and an expanding business plan, the municipality purchases the 8700 tons of straw it burns each year from the farmers, who otherwise would have discarded the straw as waste. Since Thisted’s switch to lower carbon energy sources, customers have seen their energy bills fall by two-thirds. Movements such as Thisted’s are being referred to as the “Third Industrial Revolution,” the transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy sources. Community-led initiatives offer a better environment to live in by leaving nature in tact as much as possible, while always keeping sight of the financial benefits for the local society. The people of Thisted did not wait for large grants, corporations, or subsidies to start their conversion. Thisted wants to keep the bar of energy achievement high. The municipality has pledged to further reduce their greenhouse gas emissions by 3% each year, until 2025. The largest project being considered is a network that will connect district farmers who are producing more than enough energy to run their respective farms, to a municipal grid where the farmers can sell their surplus energy. Thisted is a reminder that small steps, perseverance, and local commitment can lead to larger, sustainable change. Their commitment to forward thinking and proactive measures are a beautiful example of community action and decision-making.

A New Kind Of Co-Op: Ending Dependence On Nuclear Power (VIDEO)

[caption id="attachment_14215" align="alignleft" width="300" caption="Image: Goldman Environmental Prize"]Ursula Sladek[/caption]Communities around the globe are taking control of their power and switching off dirty energy to clean renewable sources instead. Here's the first in a series of posts to share these inspiring stories. One mother’s dedication can make a difference. Ursula Sladek was spurred into action after the Chernobyl disaster in 1986. A mother of five small children from Germany’s Black Forest region, Ursula was alarmed by the detected radiation in local produce and even on neighborhood playgrounds. Her concerns for her children’s health and the safety of their daily activities inspired her to seek out alternative sources of energy. Germany was, and still is, largely dependent on nuclear energy. But, the good news is that the country just last month passed a law which will close all of their nuclear plants down by 2022. Initially, Ursula focused on behavior-changing practices piloted within her own home, then spread the changes by educating her neighbors throughout the farmlands of Schoenau, a small town in Black Forest, Germany. Ursula recalls seeing her son turn off a light even with his cut finger before he was whisked away to the hospital for stitches after a run in with a kitchen knife. Conserving energy was ingrained into her children’s brains. Eventually, Ursula took her energy independence goals a step further and started installing solar panels on her own home and some others within her community. Ursula worked with her neighbors as a group to urge the local power company, KWR, to increase their renewable energy sources, but KWR wasn’t keen on the proposals and refused to budge. [caption id="attachment_14216" align="alignright" width="300" caption="Image: Goldman Environmental Prize"]EWS Power Company[/caption] So the group took matters into their own hands. They formed Schoenau Power Supply (EWS), and vied for the license to operate the power grid when KWR’s license went up for renewal in 1991. KWR requested an inflated price, but Sladek’s group raised the exorbitant purchasing cost and took the license in 1998. They even sued KWR for illegal price fixing, after the fact. Today, Schoenau Power Supply is collectively owned by 1000 citizens. Schoenau’s energy sources are 100% green, primarily hydropower, but also sourced from solar panels, wind turbines, and co-generation plants. Residents have individual units that power their own homes, but can also sell surplus energy to the grid. In total, EWS provides over 400 million KwH to 100,000+ customers. (For a quick comparison, Pepsi Bottling Group uses 426 million KWh annually) Ursula Sladek focuses on the big picture as well — she educates her customers on how to conserve energy, build their own solar plants and co-generators, and provides financial support and incentives. EWS is another inspiring example of combining community, business, and green initiative to provide a better future. Sladek’s success is a testament to the fact that huge corporations don’t always have to win, and they certainly aren’t the only answer. [youtube oz4XpBkR7tM 550]

An ordinary man taking on extraordinary tasks

This post was written by Henia Belalia and originally appeared on the Peaceful Uprising blog. Salt Lake City protest with Tim DechristopherA few words about my friend, Tim DeChristopher: he is not a hero. He is a bright, inspiring and magnetic presence, but Tim is also human — a man with his own set of fears, insecurities and weaknesses. And idolizing him only serves to alienate him on a cold, lonely pedestal — a veneration that in reality troubles him. Viewing him that way is also critically disempowering to our movement. It gives us the green light to remain stagnant. “I could never be so brave, nor measure up to his actions.” Let us not forget that in December 2008, at the time he waltzed into the federal auction, Tim was void of any formal training. He acted spontaneously, from a very vulnerable and inexperienced position. In fact, the first thing he did after being questioned by a federal agent was to call a friend for help. By neglecting to embrace his ordinariness, we are silencing his deep desire that everyday people take bold, non-violent action. Equally as disconcerting is overhearing people say: “Tim, you’re truly extraordinary — good luck in there.” Have we accepted the plausible scenario of a 2, 5, or perhaps even an 8-year-prison sentence being imposed for peacefully raising a bidder paddle? Can we sit idly by as our judicial system clearly sends out the message that activists either take plea bargains or mentally prepare themselves to sit behind bars for x amount of time for acts of peaceful civil disobedience? Unacceptable, that these should be our options. One of the traditions this nation holds dear to its heart is that of civil disobedience — individuals challenging the status quo to better our society. I’ve heard your anger at the unfair nature of Tim’s recent trial — your outrage as he was denied a comprehensive defense, your disappointment as jury members were kept from hearing the whole story and hence stripped of their power to be their community’s conscience. And your deep pain when the guilty verdict was announced. As our brother, one of our leaders, prepares himself for what will potentially be the most intense experience of his life, we have to ask ourselves: How will each of us respond to this injustice? We are not asking for presidential pardons or the grace of the courts, as we have nothing to ask forgiveness for. We simply cannot, will not, compromise on fundamental human rights and a livable future. As willing and ready as Tim may be to pay this price, I wonder how our movement can afford to have one of our own behind bars when the climate science undeniably gives us very little time to act. How will we respond as an empowered and unified movement? How will we galvanize our efforts to generate a national network of support for Tim, for each other, and for all future waves of activists? We have two things to ask of you, Climate Justice Movement — activists old and new. On June 23rd, find a federal courthouse near you and make a statement. Demonstrate peacefully and speak to the absurdity of imprisoning bright, capable young people. To my knowledge, no climate activist has served more than 6 months for taking part in a peaceful action. Hence, my stance is that anything more than 24 weeks is inadmissible. My second ask is that you take a stand — beyond Tim’s particular case. Be creative, spontaneous and vulnerable. Embrace your ordinariness and inexperience. And act. You have an entire movement standing behind you.

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