Last summer, President Obama delivered a major climate speech in which he laid out his plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 17 percent by 2020. He also committed to deciding the fate of the Keystone XL pipeline based on its climate impacts, stating unequivocally: "The net effects of the pipeline’s impact on our climate will be absolutely critical to determining whether this project is allowed to go forward."
While the evidence (PDF) shows that Keystone XL would result in significant greenhouse gas emissions and should be denied in its own right, it is only one of many proposed tar sands pipelines on the Obama administration’s desk. The State Department is currently preparing an environmental impact statement (EIS) for an expansion of Enbridge's Alberta Clipper pipeline, which would increase its capacity to over 800,000 barrels per day (bpd) - roughly the same size as Keystone XL. An expansion of Enbridge's Line 3 would transport up to 760,000 bpd of tar sands crude through the Great Lakes region; and a reversal of the Portland-Montreal Pipeline could bring up to 600,000 bpd through New England.
Because the tar sands deposits are landlocked in Alberta, the oil industry needs these pipelines to carry tar sands crude to U.S. refineries and overseas markets. Each one is a key part of the industry's plan to triple tar sands development to around six million bpd by 2030. Without these pipelines, much of the high-carbon tar sands would stay in the ground.
Last week, the Sierra Club and allies urged (PDF) the State Department to evaluate the cumulative climate impacts of these pipelines as part of its Alberta Clipper EIS. The National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) requires an analysis of the cumulative environmental impacts of a proposed project combined with other past, present, and reasonably foreseeable projects. Federal courts recognize that "the impact of greenhouse gas emissions on climate change is precisely the kind of cumulative impacts analysis that NEPA requires."
Hundreds of concerned residents from port communities along the Gulf Coast packed an Environmental Protection Agency hearing in Houston this week to call for stronger pollution controls near oil refineries.
"In Louisiana and Texas, communities around refineries have for too long lived with exposure without knowing what was in the air," said Darryl Malek-Wiley, a Sierra Club environmental justice organizer in Louisiana.
The EPA is proposing additional pollution control requirements for storage tanks, flares, and coking units at petroleum refineries. The EPA is also proposing to require monitoring of air concentrations at the fenceline of refinery facilities to ensure proposed standards are being met and that neighboring communities are not being exposed to unintended emissions.
Exposure to toxic air pollutants can cause respiratory problems and other serious health issues, and can increase the risk of developing cancer.
The Sierra Club, EarthJustice and coalition partners helped bus in residents from neighborhoods near refineries in Louisiana to speak at the Houston hearing. Affected residents from around the U.S. were also at the hearing to testity. From the AP story:
Theresa Landrum traveled to Texas from Detroit to testify about the "toxic soup" she said she and her neighbors are exposed to from living alongside a refinery. A cancer survivor, Landrum said she lost her mother, father and brother to cancer she believes was caused by refinery emissions.
"The fenceline monitoring will help us determine what is coming out of those stacks," she said.
Adan Vazquez said that in winter, "snow flurries look like ash" because of a refinery near the Houston Ship Channel less than a mile from his Pasadena, Texas, home.
Leslie Fields, director of the Environmental Justice and Community Partnerships program for the Sierra Club, testified at the hearing as well, calling on EPA to create the strongest standard possible and enforce it. This EPA standard at refineries would reduce toxic emissions, improving air quality and protecting public health in communities surrounding these facilities.
"We support the proposed standard -- it's long overdue for these affected communities," said Fields. "We also are advocating for real time fenceline monitoring and more hearings in the Midwest and along the East Coast on this standard," said Fields. "The EPA also needs to create an environmental justice analysis for this rule."
But Fields and Malek-Wiley also think the standard could go even farther.
"The EPA needs to look at more chemicals from these refineries, require more monitoring, and we also want to make sure that all that information is easily accessible to communities," said Malek-Wiley.
"Also, some have said it's too expensive for industry. Well, for one example, I looked at the first quarter of 2014, and Marathon Oil made $540 million. If they don't have enough money now, when will they ever have enough money to do comprehensive real-time monitoring of their pollution?"
(L to R) Mary Willams of the Deep South Center for Environmental Justice, Jane Williams of Sierra Club California, Monique Harden of Advocates for Environmental Human Rights, Jesse Marquez of the Coalition for Safe Environment, Lisa Garcia of Earthjustice, Hilton Kelley, Leslie Fields, Margie Richard, Dr. Robert Bullard.
Also testifying at this week's hearing in Houston were 2011 Goldman Environmental Prize winner and long-time Port Arthur environmental justice activist Hilton Kelley and Dr. Robert Bullard, the winner of the 2013 Sierra Club John Muir Award and known as the father of environmental justice. Dr. Bullard is the dean of the Barbara Jordan-Mickey Leland Public Policy School at Texas Southern University.
Powerful testimony also came from Dr. Beverly Wright, director Deep South Center for Environmental Justice at Dillard University in New Orleans, Willy Fontenot, the conservation chair of the Delta Chapter Sierra Club in Baton Rouge, Neil Carman, Clean Air Director of the Lone Star chapter, Jane Williams, chair of the Sierra Club Toxics Committee, 2004 Goldman Environmental Prize winner Margie Richard, and Dorothy Felix of Mossville Environmental Action Now in Louisiana.
TAKE ACTION: Tell the EPA you want strong pollution standards and enforcement for oil refineries!
I've been struck by Pepsi’s "Live for Now" advertising theme. "Now" is good, but I keep wondering: what about tomorrow? PepsiCo, which owns Pepsi, Gatorade, Quaker Oats, Frito-Lay, and dozens of other brands, is one of the largest companies in the world and has a tremendous impact on people and the planet. For example, the company uses toxic tar sands fuel in its massive fleet of delivery trucks. By "living for now," is the company saying it could care less about tomorrow?
I know we can expect more from PepsiCo. Why? I've met the CEO, Indra Nooyi.
I had the opportunity to meet Nooyi at the PepsiCo shareholder meeting in June when I was there to speak on behalf of the tens of thousands of people who had signed a petition urging the company to stop using fuel made from tar sands in its trucks. Before the meeting started, Nooyi and I connected over the fact that both of us are mothers to two daughters. As mothers, both of us want the best for our kids.
During the meeting, when Nooyi responded to my remarks in front of the shareholders and board of directors, she emphasized that because she has two daughters, and I have two daughters, we share the same values and commitment to the future.
Recently, dozens of major organizations signed a letter to companies like PepsiCo urging them to avoid tar sands fuel because it's "among the most environmentally-destructive sources of oil on the planet in terms of climate and water pollution, forest destruction, public health impacts, and the destruction of ancestral First Nations lands."
In a letter in PepsiCo's 2012 Sustainability Report, Nooyi says: "Business does not operate in a vacuum -- it operates under a license from society. We recognized…when we transform our business to deliver for our consumers [and] protect our environment...we achieve sustained value."
Companies like Walgreens, Trader Joe's, and many others have committed to working with their fuel and transportation providers to avoid tar sands fuel. Why hasn't PepsiCo made this commitment?
Given that we connected over our children and the future we're leaving them, I'm making this appeal directly to Indra Nooyi:
For our daughters, for all of today's and tomorrow's children, please commit your company to clean up its delivery trucks, which make up one of the largest private carrier fleets in North America with tens of thousands of vehicles driving millions of miles each year. You can make a major difference by having PepsiCo avoid tar sands fuel, an extreme source of oil that is destroying forests, poisoning water, and hastening climate change.
Oil makes up about 40 percent of U.S. carbon emissions, so reducing oil consumption is essential if we're going to have any possibility of avoiding the worst effects of climate change. Please also ensure that PepsiCo invests in more than just a few hundred electric vehicles, so that it can take a serious swipe at its oil use.
Today, Sierra Club is asking people (like you, dear readers!) to show Indra Nooyi and PepsiCo's other executives who we’re living for -- now and for tomorrow: children who deserve a safe planet with clean air and water and no extreme and dangerous fuels.
Do you have children, grandchildren, nieces, nephews, or other kids in your life? Upload their photos here like I just did (those are my daughters on the first day of school last fall). We're hoping each picture is worth a thousand words, and that the full collage shows Indra Nooyi that we're rooting for her to commit PepsiCo to tomorrow.
-- Gina Coplon-Newfield is director of the Sierra Club's Future Fleet & Electric Vehicles Initiative
Oil companies seem to think they have the most to gain by denying climate disruption. Just look at the lengths that the oil-rich Koch brothers have gone to in order to suppress climate action, spending and saying anything to derail any policy tackling the climate crisis.
Why? Well, carbon pollution caused by burning fossil fuels is a key cause of the climate crisis -- and without action, they’ll be free to drill, extract, frack, refine, transport, and burn oil as much as they want. Apparently, it’s easy for them to ignore the cascade of problems their polluting behavior creates when they’ve got profits to be made. But, as it happens, such irresponsible, deeply flawed logic eventually comes full circle.
In Delaware, severe storms are eroding the shoreline and affecting homes and businesses up and down the coast - including the business of an oil refinery. The functioning of the Delaware City Refining Company property just south of New Castle, a division of PBF Energy, is threatened by increasing extreme weather. In other words, climate disruption is hitting the doorstep of its source.
The refinery has tried to get help, submitting an application with the Coastal Zone Management Act seeking shoreline protections due to “tidal encroachment” -- which is one way of saying sea level rise.
“The extent of the shoreline erosion has reached a point where facility infrastructure is at risk,” says the permit application from the company.
You read that right -- an oil company feels jeopardized by sea level rise. And they’re asking for assistance. That’’s like a cigarette company asking for help paying for ventilators for it’s executives after they’ve pedalled tobacco for decades.
Today, leading environmental groups and corporate campaigning organizations released an open letter to major corporations -- the biggest consumers of tar sands, the dirtiest oil on the planet -- calling on the corporations to take responsibility for the disastrous effect that lax to non-existent corporate purchasing policies are having on the climate. Check out the letter here.
Unless a company has a specific policy in place not to purchase tar sands oil, the company is in practice supporting the destructive tar sands mining industry that is polluting our water, air, communities, and climate. The letter puts companies on notice that it's time to do the right thing.
Over the past year, corporations have come under increasing public pressure to stop using tar sands oil. PepsiCo and Coca-Cola were the first among them, due to the amount of tar sands oil used to fuel the companies' massive vehicle fleets. Just Monday, people began asking the question across social media: "How much water is poisoned to produce one barrel of tar sands? Just ask Pepsi."
"Tar sands crude is the dirtiest oil on the planet. Nineteen major companies have already adopted policies not to purchase oil from tar sands, so it's high time that the rest of America's corporations follow suit," said Michael Bosse of the Sierra Club's Beyond Oil campaign. "This letter puts the biggest corporate consumers of oil on notice that there's no excuse not to invest in cleaner, more efficient fleets, and that it's simply wrong to source oil from the tar sands, which is fouling the land and water in communities across the country, from Maine to Kalamazoo to Utah."
Amanda Starbuck, the Climate Program Director at Rainforest Action Network, put it this way: "Many big corporations that sell commodities far removed from oil extraction are nonetheless enabling the nightmarish expansion of the tar sands by refusing to purge tar sands oil from their fuel supply chains. Huge companies with massive operating budgets have ample resources to ensure they are not contributing to the worst environmental disaster on Earth, and until they do so, we will consider them complicit."
With this letter, it should be clearer than ever to America's corporations that they need to take note, take a look at how PepsiCo has been dragged into the spotlight over its use of tar sands, and take action. It's time for America's corporations to step up to the plate, say no to tar sands, and move beyond oil.
-- Rachel Rye Butler, Sierra Club Beyond Oil Campaign
Over the last year, activists have been pushing PepsiCo and other companies using tar sands in their massive corporate vehicle fleets to do the right thing and stop using this dirty source of fuel that's poisoning our water, our climate, and our communities.
You might remember when activists unveiled a Pepsi can re-design in the hottest spots of San Francisco and New York City to highlight the company's use of tar sands.
You might remember when a no tar sands protest showed up outside the door of an environmental conference for the food and beverage industry that PepsiCo sponsored.
You might remember when we showed up at PepsiCo's annual shareholder meeting to speak in front of the board and share firsthand the impacts of tar sands on refinery communities.
You might remember when a team of activists pulled a nighttime operation to make sure that attendees at the corporate Sustainable Brands conference knew that Pepsi and Coke are making climate change worse by using tar sands.
You might remember all of these actions - and many others - because you helped make them happen. Over the last year, tens of thousands of activists have called on the PepsiCo CEO Indra Nooyi and on the company to stop using tar sands and slash oil use in their vehicle fleets.
While all this was happening, we've been working hard behind the scenes with the company to help them step up and do the right thing -- and it's the hard work of activists that has brought PepsiCo to the negotiating table.
Sadly, though, despite tens of thousands of people speaking up and taking action, despite the commitments that 19 other big companies have made around tar sands, PepsiCo hasn't made enough progress towards making the commitment to say no to this dirty fuel source. Conversations have been happening, but we know that conversations aren't enough. We know that using tar sands is not acceptable for the climate, for our communities, or for our water.
So, it's time to step up the game.
Over the next month, activists will be bringing the heat and getting serious with Pepsi, asking questions like this one: "How much water is poisoned to produce one barrel of tar sands? Just ask Pepsi." You can help out by sharing the graphic featured in this blog post on your social media pages and by posting it to Pepsi's Facebook wall.
We've been asking nicely. Earlier this year, we released a report and sent it right to the PepsiCo Board of Directors highlighting the effects of tar sands on water, an issue that PepsiCo publically says it cares a lot about. But now's the time to ask the hard questions.
We're ready to step up, Pepsi. Are you?
-- Rachel Rye Butler, Sierra Club Beyond Oil Campaign
By Rachel Rye Butler
Tomorrow, Saturday June 12, activists from affected communities in the Bay Area refinery corridor and along crude by rail blast zones will come together for the last of four Refinery Healing Walks, which have traced a path of pollution from oil refinery to oil refinery across the northeast San Francisco Bay.
Saturday's walk will start at the Phillips 66 refinery in Rodeo, California, and proceed 13 miles to the Chevron Refinery in Richmond -- the same refinery that made news not long ago for an explosion that sent more than 15,000 people to local hospitals.
The communities along this corridor have long faced health impacts and pollution from these refineries, and the pollution is only getting worse as the refineries accept and process tar sands crude, which exposes residents to even greater levels of toxic chemicals, particulate matter, sulfur dioxide, lead, carbon dioxide, and other harmful pollutants.
But these communities and many, many more across North America -- including those affected by tar sands refining, pipelines, and rail transportation, and people living at the source of tar sands extraction in Canada -- are standing up and calling for an end to the pipelines, the rail terminals, and the tar sands mining that harms our health, our water, our land, and our climate.
One of the previous Healing Walks toured Martinez, California (pictured above and below), home to two refineries that process oil and tar sands crude -- and also home to a strong resistance among residents who are fighting for the health of their community.
Between the explosive crude being shipped by rail through their communities -- and many others across the country -- and the pollution burden from refineries, residents are saying that enough is enough.
They're saying it through events like the Healing Walks, by pressuring their local decision-makers to protect the communities rather than cow to industry, and by speaking directly to the biggest single consumers of tar sands: corporations like PepsiCo that use tar sands in their massive vehicle fleets.
Tamhas Griffith, a founder of the Martinez Environmental Group, one of the community organizations in the Northeast Bay Area, traveled to the PepsiCo shareholder meeting earlier this year to deliver this message:
"People in our communities have had enough of paying for oil industry record profits with the health of our families. We are organizing to hold oil companies and their corporate consumers accountable for their impact on our lives."
That's Griffith below, with Sierra Club Future Fleet campaign director Gina Coplon-Newfield, at the PepsiCo shareholder meeting.
The Healing Walk on Saturday is another step that communities are taking to fight back against big oil and fight for a clean and just energy future, and it's just one of many events taking place this week across the country. The resistance is growing, and it's not going to stop.
This week the University of Dayton made news when it announced that "it will begin divesting coal and fossil fuels from its $670 million investment pool." UD joins a growing list of universities choosing to divest endowments due to concerns about climate disruption and sustainability. But what's unique about UD's case is that it is the first Catholic school to take this step.
"This action, which is a significant step in a long-term process, is consistent with Catholic social teachings, our Marianist values, and comprehensive campuswide sustainability initiatives and commitments under the American College and University Presidents' Climate Commitment," University of Dayton President Daniel J. Curran said.
"We cannot ignore the negative consequences of climate change, which disproportionately impact the world's most vulnerable people. Our Marianist values of leadership and service to humanity call upon us to act on these principles and serve as a catalyst for civil discussion and positive change that benefits our planet."
UPDATE: We've got more major divestment news from over the weekend! The Unitarian Universalists voted to divest at their national meeting Saturday, June 28!
Christian denominations nationwide are divesting or considering divestment. Last year the United Church of Christ (UCC) made the news when it approved a divestment resolution brought forward by many of its member churches
Full disclosure - I'm a member of a UCC church and helped with that resolution and a quote from one of the resolution's writers - the Rev. Jim Antal of the Massachusetts Conference of the UCC has stuck with me since he and I first connected on divestment: "If we believe it is morally wrong to wreck the planet, then it follows that it's also morally wrong to profit from wrecking the planet."
Christian fossil fuel divestment has made other news this summer: Earlier this month the Presbyterian Church (USA) discussed a divestment resolution at its general meeting, although it was referred back to a committee for further consideration. Several United Methodist Church conferences are pushing it as well.
Meanwhile, many individual churches are divesting as well - for example, the Unitarian Society of Northampton and Florence just voted to divest.
The divestment movement is catching fire, so to speak, amongst religious organizations. I thought these words from Green Faith director Fletcher Harper explained the movement well: "(t)he fossil fuel divestment movement is advancing because it is small and unafraid. We need the courage and conviction of our faith that is not just limited to legislative or incremental gain. The audacity of faith in God and the power of God's love will make the creation and God's people whole."
-- Heather Moyer, Sierra Club
The proposed Chuitna coal mine in Alaska is the largest climate fight you've never heard of, says Laura Comer of Alaska Beyond Coal.
If allowed, the mine would produce more carbon pollution than the proposed Keystone XL tar sands pipeline. And beyond that shocking statistic, it would also set another dangerous precedent.
"It would be the first mine ever allowed to mine through an active salmon stream," says Laura. "The Chuitna River is one of the few streams left in Alaska that is home to all five species of wild Pacific salmon."
The site for the mine is roughly 40 miles west of Anchorage, and is near a native Alaskan tribe that uses the river for subsistence.
Laura says that most Alaskans haven't heard of the plan because so much attention is paid to the fight over the Pebble gold and copper mine proposed for the Bristol Bay watershed.
"This project won't benefit Alaska: This whole Chuitna mine is solely for coal exports. It would have its own eight-mile-long conveyor belt to its own export facility on an island in the Cook Inlet -- home to the endangered Cook Inlet Beluga Whale," Laura says.
So Laura and Alaska Beyond Coal are busy educating residents about this destructive proposal. Laura just spent a week with a coalition partner and a Sierra Student Coalition volunteer camping and canvassing door-to-door in Juneau to get Alaskans to take action against the Chuitna mine. That trip alone garnered 226 petition signatures.
"Any Alaskan who knows about Chuitna adamantly opposes it," says Laura. "Salmon is our #1 resource and our #1 source of jobs. We'll be trading away those jobs, tourism, restaurant industry for coal mine jobs for people flown in from out of state. We're joining a local group called Alaskans First to visit fishing communities this summer to broaden the fight against the mine."
Laura says unfortunately state officials have been no help against the mine, but rather are encouraging its construction. From the Department of Fish and Game, to the Department of Natural Resources, to the Department of Environmental Conservation - all are giving the green light to it. "The state hopes that opening this would open up even more coal mines in these areas," Laura says.
Alaska Beyond Coal activists have helped defeat bills (written by the Governor!) that would help the mine get built by eliminating residents’ water rights, but the fight is far from over.
"This is a national issue," says Laura. "Think about the fishing, restaurant, and seafood jobs across the country that depend on Alaska's fish. And now we’re set to deliver the blow that could tip salmon populations from surviving to disappearing. The idea that we would trade that salmon for coal mining and exporting -- which will then be burned in Asia and return to us in the form of air pollution and mercury, which further harms our salmon -- is not the direction Alaska should be headed. "
Alaska Beyond Coal and coalition partners will hold a salmon day of action August 23rd to continue to raise awareness and fight the mine.
For now, you can help stop the Chuitna coal mine by taking action here.
-- Heather Moyer, Sierra Club
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