#Katrina10: Climate Change and a Renewed Call for Justice

At the Climate Justice Convergence at Dillard University on the occasion of the 10th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, a who’s who of environmental justice “marathoners” addressed a new generation of environmental justice leaders. This powerful event was part of the #GulfSouthRising commemorative events I was fortunate to attend.

In a compelling presentation, Dr. Robert Bullard, known as the “father of environmental justice,” explained why people of color are most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change in the South. With a series of maps, he connected the South’s history of segregation and Jim Crow laws with the growing population of people of color, the noticeable trend of ill health in Southern states, the concentration of high utility bills in the region, the disproportionate number of billion-dollar natural disasters here, and the lag in policy to adapt to and address climate change. Dr. Bullard pointed to the past work of environmental justice leaders as one of the foundations for the #blacklivesmatter movement, and the current urgency for young leaders of color, especially Historically Black College and University (HBCU) students, to step up for climate justice.

“There’s a propaganda incubator in this country that’s going around saying that climate change is invented, black people shouldn’t get involved… it’s funded by the industries that are poisoning our people,” said Dr. Bullard.

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EPA’s Huge Water Pollution Decision and Why They Need to Get it Right

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has an enormously impactful decision to make. By the end of September 2015, EPA is set to update its 30-year-old guidelines for how much pollution states can permit power plants to dump into our water, called effluent limitation guidelines or the ELG rule. EPA could issue a weak, ineffective rule or a powerful rule that could be a major turning point for public health and water quality. Please urge the Obama Administration and EPA to issue a strong ELG rule!

Several options for regulating these toxic discharges were proposed by EPA and are currently under consideration by the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB). SACE brought a delegation of water advocates from the Southeast to meet with OMB staff last week.

The problem
Every day, power plants across the country are using our public waters like an open sewer. Power plants dump 5.5 billion pounds of contaminated wastewater directly into our rivers, lakes, and bays every single year. They discharge more toxic waste than the next nine most polluting industries combined and create 50% of all toxic pollution dumped into our waterways. 40% of this pollution is within five miles of public drinking water supply intakes. Read more…

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EPA Expands the Role of Renewable Energy in the Final Clean Power Plan

This guest post was written by Jeff Deyette, Assistant Director of Research and Analysis for Clean Energy with the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS). The original posting can be found here.

On August 3, the EPA finalized the Clean Power Plan, placing limits on carbon emissions from our nation’s power plants for the first time. Undervalued as carbon-curbing technologies in the proposed draft, the EPA took several steps to strengthen the role that renewables can play in the final rule. That means wind, solar, and other renewable energy sources are well positioned to help states meet their emission reduction targets and accelerate our nation’s transition to a clean, low-carbon economy.

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EPA’s Clean Power Plan: A Positive Step Towards Energy Equity

With President Obama’s announcement of the Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Power Plan (CPP), supporters of Georgia’s low-income communities stand together under the banner of the Just Energy Circle (JEC) in applauding and supporting the regulations. JEC members are eager to work with state leaders to ensure Georgia’s implementation plan equitably balances the social, environmental and economic interests of all communities, and especially its most vulnerable ones.

JEC also supports the new proposed “early credit program” for energy efficiency savings achieved in 2020 and 2021 by low-income communities. The CPP also clarifies the broad range of energy efficiency savings that can be counted, increasing the likelihood that states will include energy efficiency in their implementation plans. JEC appreciates the Administration’s attention to the energy needs of vulnerable communities and encourages full implementation of the proposed clean energy incentive program, as well as outreach and engagement with low-income stakeholders. JEC remains concerned about the environmental impacts on low-income communities near power plants.

“We don’t always think about where we get our energy, but it really has a huge impact on all of us, from our monthly bills to pollution that sends our kids to the hospital with asthma, to the availability of local jobs,” said Nathaniel Smith, Founder and Chief Equity Officer of Partnership for Southern Equity. “The Clean Power Plan  provides an opportunity for Georgians to learn about our energy choices, and to get involved in supporting more sustainable forms of energy  that work for everyone.”

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Is TVA’s New Integrated Resource Plan a Wise Path Forward?

My staff and I very much appreciated the opportunity to engage closely with TVA staff throughout the development of TVA’s 2015 Integrated Resource Plan. Not only did TVA engage stakeholders and its customers as required by law, but it went well beyond that requirement in many important respects with a spirit of dialogue and candor.

In reflecting on the Tennessee Valley Authority’s (TVA) 2015 Integrated Resource Plan (IRP) in a recent blog, our research director pointed out that ”TVA’s 20-year plan looks at the ground we stand on, sketches some ideas for tomorrow, but does not really scan future horizons.” So, what should TVA’s Board do to take this plan from sketches to concrete action?

At the upcoming meeting of the TVA Board of Directors’ on August 21st, the Board will likely approve TVA’s 2015 Integrated Resource Plan and set its FY 2016 budget. These two actions create the opportunity for TVA’s Board to immediately take action in response to the new IRP. Accordingly, we have four recommendations for the members of TVA’s Board.

The IRP recommends an increase in the size of energy efficiency programs in TVA’s “target power supply.” In response to this recommendation, the TVA Board should (1) increase the current energy efficiency budget by at least 50% and (2) develop a more robust energy efficiency planning process, including meaningful stakeholder engagement. Substantial investments in renewable energy are also included in the IRP’s recommendations. To optimize these investments, TVA should (3) create an informed and robust Renewable Energy Development Plan. Lastly, analysis within the IRP found that the mothballed Bellefonte nuclear site is not needed to meet any resource planning strategy TVA contemplated in its new plan, under any of the future scenarios studied by TVA. Given this finding, TVA should (4) cut the approximately $65 million in annual spending on “preserving” this site and instead reallocate these monies to the energy efficiency budget.

We expect TVA’s pattern of effective stakeholder engagement to continue throughout the implementation of the 2015 IRP. For that reason, we explain our recommendations in more detail below in order to inform both TVA decision makers and customers on how to navigate a wise path forward.

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Oh Say Can You See? Air Pollution and the Smoky Mountains

Back in 1990, average visibility in the Smoky Mountains was just 25 miles. Since then, reductions in air pollution have made it possible for visitors to see as far as 46 miles. In the absence of any air pollution, however, visitors to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park would be able to see a whopping 112 miles!

This work in progress was recently documented by the National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA) in its “Polluted Parks” report. As we look forward to new, health-based air pollution regulations on the horizon, we are likely to see continued improvement in air quality in and around the Smokies. Read more…

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Washington takes action to stop leaks – of natural gas

It's not just fracking that causes methane leaks. This image, from a study of satellite measurements of methane covering 2003-09, shows that natural gas wells in a New Mexico coal field produced the highest concentration of methane in the US.

Today, the US Environmental Protection Agency announced a proposed rule to control methane leaks from oil and gas facilities. This action follows a multi-year effort to better understand how methane was being leaked from natural gas wells, both conventional and fracked, as well as the pipelines and processing facilities that lie between users and wells. Notably, the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) deserves a huge share of the credit for leading this national research effort that supports these smart new regulatory proposals.

Until these proposed rules are adopted and enforced, we remain dependent on the voluntary efforts of oil and gas companies to find and plug leaks. Even though these leaks are wasting valuable products, we know that voluntary action isn’t enough: the oil and gas industry is carelessly wasting millions of tons of gas and leaking toxic chemicals into the air. This “invisible oil spill” happens every day, and can cause serious health problems, including cancer, to workers and, often disadvantaged people, living nearby.

Cutting methane emissions is also the single fastest way to curb climate change. America’s Natural Gas Alliance points to industry self-reported data that shows that natural gas production is up, and methane emissions are down. But EDF counters that ANGA is misreading the data, and that the EPA data likely underestimate actual emissions.

That’s why we agree that there must be no delay in adopting and enforcing EPA’s new Methane Pollution Standard. It’s a low-cost strategy, uses proven technology, and will ensure that those natural gas companies who have already done the right thing won’t be undercut by companies who are cutting corners and letting the methane leak. Read more…

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If TVA Reinvented its Fire

One of the questions I often get asked is what it would take for the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA),  or any other large utility, to move to 100% renewable energy and energy efficiency. That question comes up more and more often as people learn about TVA’s  2015 Integrated Resource Plan (IRP). Even though TVA’s IRP is a 20-year plan, I don’t feel that the plan represents a long-term vision for supplying electricity to the Tennessee Valley.

That’s not as much of a critique of the plan as it first might seem. What might be termed “ground rules” for an IRP include constraints on looking forward. For example, except for Small Modular Reactors, TVA restricted its planning process to today’s commercially available technologies and conventional business models. Even known trends in technical performance of energy efficiency and wind technologies, in particular, were excluded from the planning process. Like many other utility IRPs, TVA’s 20-year plan looks at the ground we stand on, sketches some ideas for tomorrow, but does not really scan future horizons.

There’s no doubt that we are confronted with big choices in our energy future. Amory Lovins and the Rocky Mountain Institute published Reinventing Fire just two years ago, and the TVA IRP is a perfect example of how choices about our energy future are being made in real time. Reinventing Fire describes four different futures, three of which reduce carbon emissions significantly:

  • Maintain – “Business-as-usual” (coal, gas, nuclear and some renewable energy and energy efficiency)
  • Migrate – Adopt lower carbon generation, with a focus on nuclear, coal with carbon capture, and gas
  • Renew – Renewables, mostly at utility scale, supply 80% of national energy, in combination with energy efficiency and demand response
  • Transform – Aggressive energy efficiency and distributed resources become leading energy resources

TVA’s IRP studied futures that remained well within the “Maintain” and “Migrate” future scenarios for the most part, although TVA’s consideration of solar does represent a more ambitious evaluation than might be expected.

What would it take for TVA to reinvent its fire? Dramatic changes are possible with technology that’s available or on the way. It’s not just RMI, the National Renewable Energy Laboratory suggests that the entire U.S. could get to 80-90% renewable energy by 2050. With today’s technology, that would be pretty challenging! We are keeping our focus on technology that could be deployed over the next five to ten years and have assembled detailed data to study the reliability of wind and solar energy in the Southeast. With these data, we developed a very simple model to understand what it could take for TVA to “Reinvent its Fire” and use renewable energy to meet more than two-thirds of customer needs!

If TVA pursued RMI’s “Renew” future, it could supply at least 68% of customer electricity demand with renewable energy if the wind was blowing and the sun was shining. But of course that isn’t always happening (otherwise this blog would be over now!) so we need some additional resources. For this blog, I’m going to keep it simple and just use natural gas power plants to fill in the gaps. And for renewable energy, I’m relying on the two highest performing resources available to TVA: wind imported from the Great Plains via HVDC transmission and utility-scale solar systems (with single-axis tracking).

Here’s the bottom line: though a 100% renewable energy and energy efficiency solution is difficult to imagine today, TVA could study using renewable energy for two-thirds of its generation, without compromising reliability. This future could be achieved more easily if TVA, its state governments and others partnered to help every energy user become efficient. And it could be made more flexible with adoption of a range of technologies. But, as RMI acknowledges, there are significant obstacles to reinventing TVA’s fire. Read on for the details …

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Buenos Dias, D.C. — Una Introducción a los Peligros de las Cenizas de Carbón (an Introduction to the Dangers of Coal Ash)

Este estanque de cenizas de carbón en la instalación de Cape Fear de Duke Energy ha funcionado como deposito de cenizas y toxinas desde 1985


Este artículo fue publicado originalmente por Earthjustice. Betsy López-Wagner es secretaria de prensa bilingüe en Earthjustice. Trabaja en la oficina en San Francisco, California. Es periodista y consumada experta de comunicaciones, Betsy tiene una  amplia experiencia en medios de comunicación, tanto en inglés como en español.

Mira el video aquí

Las cenizas tóxicas de carbón son un problema a nivel nacional y son responsables en gran medida de la contaminación del agua potable y del aire, constituyendo en general una amenaza para la salud pública. El 28 de julio, Andrea Delgado, representante legislativa de Earthjustice, fue invitada a “Buenos Días, D.C.”, un programa de Univisión en Washington, D.C., para hablar con Néstor Bravo y explicar que son las cenizas de carbón, que industrias las producen, por qué necesitamos normas para proteger a las comunidades y la oposición que tales normas enfrentan en el Congreso. Casi el 70 por ciento de estas represas de cenizas se encuentran en comunidades habitadas por comunidades minoritarias y de bajos ingresos. Mira el video aquí.

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Wind power prices continue to PLUMMET

Wind power prices continue to plummet in 2014 - Lawrence Berkeley National Lab

Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBNL) has released its 2014 Wind Technologies Market Report. This annual report highlights important achievements for the wind industry. Wind power purchase agreement prices have hit record lows. That’s good news for the South, where wind energy is beginning to make inroads. The National Renewable Energy Lab previously found that new innovative turbines, with taller towers and longer blades, open up billions of dollars worth of wind energy opportunity in the South. Listed below are a few highlights from LBNL’s most recent report.

  • Average wind power purchase agreement prices have reached $23.5/MWh, 66% lower than the average wind power prices in 2009.
  • Wind turbine technology continues to advance. Hub heights, generating capacity as well as blade length continues to expand, rapidly improving performance and dropping prices.
  • Average price for installed projects reached $1,710/kW, or a 34% decline since turbine prices peaked in 2009.
  • Iowa is now generating more than 28% of all of its electricity with wind energy. By 2020, the state could generate 40% of its power from wind energy.
  • Wind energy installations in the United States grew by 4,858 megawatts last year, representing $8.3 billion in investments. For each megawatt of wind power, enough electricity can be generated for 300 average homes, annually.
  • The United States exported $488 million worth of wind turbine components in 2014.
  • China has claimed the top spot as global wind energy superpower, with more than 114,000 megawatts of wind power installed; compared to the United States’ 65,877 megawatts.

With new low-cost, high performance wind turbines, the South has become the new frontier for the wind industry. In July, Iberdrola renewables announced its plans to construct North Carolina’s first wind farm. Wind farms have been proposed all across the region, and smart utilities are taking note. Already, over 3,000 megawatts of wind power are currently or are planned to be purchased from southern electric utility companies. With such low-cost wind energy resources, wind farm development, and purchases by utilities, are an inevitability.

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