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Keep It Under the Sea

November 19, 2015

Niel Lawrence, Senior Attorney / Alaska Director, Pacific Northwest

Wow. That just happened. President Obama rejected the "inevitable" Keystone XL pipeline. He stood up to some powerful interests--and he made the right call. The stuff TransCanada wanted to pump through Keystone was about the dirtiest oil out there. Federal permits shouldn't help that kind of pollution move to market.

Unpacking his decision, the President explained "we're going to have to keep some fossil fuels in the ground rather than burn them and release more dangerous pollution into the sky."

That's a game changer. Until now, Mr. Obama has focused solely on reducing carbon emissions by promoting clean fuels and energy efficiency--greenhouse gas standards for vehicles, for instance. Vital efforts, because without alternatives to fossil fuel consumption, we'll wreck the planet.

He's not, however, dealt with excess oil and coal production that cuts against those initiatives. We've already discovered four to seven times the fossil fuel deposits we can burn, to avoid really bad climate impacts. Flooding the market with more promotes pollution over greener options. And sinking investment into expensive carbon extraction infrastructure locks in production and emissions far into the future, long after we have to finish kicking the fossil fuel habit.

So it's critical to ramp down long-range fossil fuel commitments in tandem with ramping up sustainable fuels and efficiency. Critical to keep some fossil fuels in the ground. And critical to have the most prominent, successful climate leader in the world explain that. Explain it's time to synch our policies on fossil fuel supply with our policies on reducing fossil fuel demand.

A great place to start synching is our Arctic Ocean. It has to be the worst place on Earth to drill for oil. It's remote, unspoiled, fragile, and battered by climate change. Ice floes and storms mean you can forget about meaningful spill response. Imperiled species like walruses, polar bears, whales, and ice seals abound. Drilling there sends the world a terrible signal: we'll go anywhere for more dirty oil.

Today, we have an extraordinary chance to end that folly. Oil companies have retreated, driven by setbacks in the field, massive public opposition, precautionary rules--enforced by environmentalists when the feds wouldn't, and huge costs. Plus, the Obama administration has just pulled the plug on all scheduled oil auctions there. And said "no" to extending existing leases.

That sets the stage to move U.S. energy supply policy out of the region for good. The President has that power. He can, with the stroke of a pen, withdraw the entire U.S. Arctic Ocean from any future oil leasing.

What a message to the world: "Join us putting the Arctic Ocean off limits to drilling that we can't safely do, for oil we can't safely burn."

NRDC and its partners are campaigning for President Obama to take that visionary step, as he prepares for the global climate summit next month. You can join our effort here. Tell the President, the first place to start keeping U.S. oil in the ground is under the sea.

How to Flunk a Clean Power Plan Study, Starring EVA

November 18, 2015

Starla Yeh, Senior Policy Analyst, Climate and Clean Air Program, New York

Energy Ventures Analysis (EVA), widely recognized for their biased views and industry-influenced reports, just released a new assessment of the Clean Power Plan with the National Mining Association (NMA) yesterday. EVA also conducted an analysis for NMA last year on the proposed Clean Power Plan, claiming that the nation's first-ever carbon pollution standards for power plants would raise electricity bills and lead to economic destruction. It doesn't take much to identify some major faults discrediting the 2014 analysis. In response to recent criticism of the CPP highlighting last year's study, we'll look at some of the most glaring inadequacies.

Here's an overview of the shortcomings we can identify:

EVA's deficient analysis of the proposed Clean Power Plan standards is biased and implausible

EVA's November 2014 paper assessing the impacts of the proposed Clean Power Plan suffers from the same lack of transparency as the new report does, but it contained some details that made it possible for us to identify these inadequacies:

(1) The study is missing a Reference Case forecast.

(2) Faulty, outdated assumptions and artificial constraints on resource types severely limit the integrity of the analysis.

(3) EVA neglects to examine cases containing different ranges of assumptions for variables like gas prices and renewable deployment.

(4) EVA assumes gas demand, and corresponding prices, increase in tandem across all sectors and demand centers, but this is not how the markets work.

(5) EVA neglects to account for the value of the economic, health and environmental benefits of reducing harmful carbon pollution from power plants, and inflates its cost estimates by accumulating them over the period.


1. The study is missing a Reference Case forecast.

The EVA analysis lacks the fundamental basis necessary for analyzing the impacts of a policy: a reference case or base case forecast that excludes assumptions for the policy in question. This is essential to being able to measure the changes in the policy case compared with what would have happened without the policy. EVA simply compared its projections to 2012, citing it as the "EPA base year." This is indeed the data vintage the EPA relied on in establishing the standards, but in its analysis of the policy, it measures the cost and price impacts of the proposed standards from the Reference Case forecast. EVA has distorted comparisons by benchmarking to 2012 and has invalidated its own analysis by neglecting to establish a base case forecast. This completely conflates the impacts of the policy with what would happen anyways under business as usual.

2. Faulty, outdated assumptions and artificial constraints on resource types severely limit the integrity of the analysis

EVA does not disclose many of the critical assumptions it developed for both the 2014 and 2015 analyses. In the 2014 paper, EVA calls them "proprietary," but goes on to provide some clues that indicate that these data points are inconsistent with current forecasts. For example, EVA describes a "proprietary econometric multiple regression model" it employed to derive its initial demand forecast, and offers that the compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of electricity demand between 2020 and 2030 was 0.9% in its analysis. Compared with the 0.8% in the same period in the EPA's 2014 Reference Case, and -0.1% in the EPA's cases analyzing Clean Power Plan cases, EVA concludes that its demand forecast is similar to the EPA's with the exception of the demand reduction the EPA calculates for energy efficiency. This is misleading, however, because EVA uses an even more moderate energy efficiency forecast than the EPA does, which results in a demand forecast in the EVA "Clean Power Plan case" that is at least 0.5% to 0.6% (in terms of absolute value) greater than the EPA's over 2020 to 2030.

EVA also relies on proprietary methodology for its data and assumptions for natural gas supply and demand, coal supply and demand, and renewable energy growth. Without any transparency around these parts of the analysis, it is a challenge to determine what could be driving the outcomes.

Additionally, EVA limits compliance almost exclusively to natural gas fuel switching by artificially imposing very limiting constraints on clean energy and services like energy efficiency and renewable energy. This extremely limited scenario is far from what is expected to occur under Clean Power Plan compliance, as states have enormous flexibility and autonomy to determine the most efficient and cost-effective pathways for compliance.

3. EVA neglects to examine cases containing different ranges of assumptions for variables like gas prices and renewable deployment.

EVA had the opportunity to enhance its analysis and redeem its flawed assumptions with sensitivity runs to demonstrate the range of outcomes given more practical assumptions for energy efficiency and renewables, as well as the static characterization of natural gas markets. Instead, EVA failed to study these effects with respect to any of its assumptions. The result is that EVA's analysis is incomplete at best, as it offers a limited (and unrealistic) view of the available possibilities for Clean Power Plan compliance.

4. EVA assumes gas prices increase in tandem across all sectors and demand centers, but this is not how it would work in the real world.

One of the biggest flaws in the November 2014 EVA analysis is how it chooses to misrepresent supply, demand, and resulting prices for natural gas. It claimed that three of the largest natural gas demand centers would grow in tandem without demonstrating the effects that the changes have on these and other demand centers, including the power sector. For example, EVA assumes that the U.S. will significantly increase its LNG exports - this would drive up natural gas prices, presumably lowering demand from the power sector, but EVA's model does not attempt to capture these dynamics. Essentially, EVA artificially drives up natural gas prices without including the dynamics of how the markets would respond - demand for natural gas is held constant. EVA thus fails to capture the effects of trends in the various demand centers for natural gas, leading to a presupposed result and an inadequate characterization of how the policy would affect natural gas markets and prices.

5. EVA neglects to account for the value of economic, health and environmental benefits of reducing harmful carbon pollution from power plants, and inflates its cost estimates by accumulating them over the entire compliance period.

EVA does not address the economic value of the public health and climate benefits of reducing power plant pollution. In its analysis on the proposed rule, the EPA estimated $49 - $84 billion in net benefits in 2030. EVA has left out a critical piece in analyzing the impacts of a policy - how the benefits compare with the costs of the program.

The EPA estimated that the incremental compliance cost for the electric power sector (the amount the power sector would invest to implement the program) of the proposed Clean Power Plan would be between $7.3 and $8.8 billion in 2030. EVA does not present a direct comparison in its analysis, instead focusing on various other costs across multiple sectors. What is more, EVA's calculated costs are not limited to implementation of the proposed Clean Power Plan. They also include the effects of other environmental standards (including MATS) and the "market effects" that were forced into the model. EVA does not describe in detail the calculation of the costs reported in the study, and worse, erroneously compares them directly to the cost assessment in the EPA's analysis.


It's clear from these analytical errors that with this analysis, and others like it, EVA is spreading skewed projections based on arbitrarily fabricated assumptions. EVA shows us time and time again how not to conduct an analysis. Any time you come across shocking suggestions about the Clean Power Plan costing the sector hundreds of billions ($284 billion in the proposed rule, $214 billion in the final rule) check on the source. If it leads you back to EVA, you'll know that none of the claims are remotely credible. And, if it is not EVA and is NERA, we have offered our thoughts on that study too.

Thanks to my colleagues, Kevin Steinberger and Amanda Levin for the contributions to this post.

No Room to Roam - New Top Ten Report Highlights the Isolation of Yellowstone Grizzly Bears

November 18, 2015

Sylvia Fallon, Senior Scientist, Washington, DC

Each year the Endangered Species Coalition issues a Top Ten Report highlighting an emerging conservation concern. This year's report focuses on the increasingly fragmented and disconnected habitats that leave species with 'No Room to Roam.' Among the top candidates of isolated species is the Yellowstone population of Grizzly Bears.

Grizzly bears used to occupy much of the western United States - from California to the central plains and from Canada down to Mexico. But by the beginning of the 1900s, grizzly bears had been eliminated from nearly their entire range in the lower 48 states. Only a small population survived in and around Yellowstone National Park with most remaining bears occurring along the Canadian border to the north. By the 1980s the bears in Yellowstone National Park had been isolated from any other population of grizzly bears for around a century.

Now, 40 years after grizzly bears were added to the endangered species list, the Yellowstone population remains isolated. There has been no documentation of any bear making its way north to connect with grizzlies from the Northern Continental Divide Ecosystem around Glacier. Nor do we know of any bear making its way south into Yellowstone from that northern population. Any wildlife population of only several hundred individuals in isolation is at risk of losing genetic diversity, which is critically important for its continued survival and ability to adapt. And yet, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is poised to propose lifting Endangered Species Act protections for the Yellowstone grizzly bears and declaring them 'recovered.'

Credit: USGS

On top of the issue of isolation, the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem has undergone dramatic changes in the last decade or so with the loss of critical food sources for the grizzly bears such as the collapse of whitebark pine trees. Additionally, this past year state officials say the berry crop failed, meaning that bears had even fewer options for food. These changes are causing grizzly bears to use the landscape differently - foraging at lower elevations where they are more likely to come into conflicts with humans. This year alone has seen a high number of dead grizzly bears in the Yellowstone region. And the most recent population count of 714 bears is down 6% from last year.

The federal scientists in charge of Yellowstone's grizzlies will tell you there is nothing to worry about - that the bears will eat anything so the loss of food sources is not a problem, that the increased conflicts are because the population is doing so well (not so poorly), that the decline in the population count is due to variation and doesn't signify an actual downward trend. They will also tell you that if the Yellowstone grizzly population never connects to other populations of grizzlies they will simply capture some bears up north and truck them down to Yellowstone. Problem solved.

But you don't have to be a scientist to understand that all of these things raise some serious questions about whether grizzly bears in the Yellowstone region have fully recovered. A truly recovered population would have a secure future with a diversity of food sources and an effective plan to help people and bears avoid conflicts. And, above all, a recovered population would be interconnected with a network of other grizzly bear populations. To achieve that, Yellowstone grizzlies are going to need room to roam.

Credit: National Park Service

EVA Botches Another Clean Power Plan Study

November 18, 2015

Starla Yeh, Senior Policy Analyst, Climate and Clean Air Program, New York

Fossil industry mouthpiece Energy Ventures Analysis (EVA) has a long track record of shoddy analysis performed in support of big polluters' agendas, and it has kept with its pattern of substandard assessment of the Clean Power Plan with the National Mining Association (NMA) release yesterday. About a year ago, EVA conducted an analysis on behalf of NMA on the proposed Clean Power Plan, suggesting that the nation's first-ever carbon pollution standards for power plants would raise electricity bills and lead to economic destruction.

Today, NMA and EVA claim the Clean Power Plan will increase "wholesale electricity prices" by $214 billion by 2030 with increases in nearly all states, and require $64 billion of spending in the electricity sector. Any credible analysis should provide readers with its methodology and the full set of assumptions used. Instead, EVA provides the reader with an appendix that, after providing the most basic details of how the Clean Power Plan works, only goes on to describe that EVA did not factor in all of litigation uncertainty facing the rule. (Un)helpful. Since the most recent materials lack the necessary background information on the modeling and analytical methodology for us to fully analyze, for now we will review some highlights.

Here are EVA's summary bullet points (on page 2):

Going down to page 4, EVA shows this graph depicting "cumulative wholesale electicity [sic] prices":

Ignoring the fact that two of the five full words in the title are misspelled, let's look at EVA's explanation for this chart:

"This analysis found that the impacts of the rule on electricity costs will be significant, with consumers paying an additional $214 billion for electricity between 2022 and 2030 compared to the same period without the CPP. The CPP cost premium begins in 2022 at $15 billion"

Now the question: how does the graph even remotely reflect what EVA has described?

(1) The "cost premium" certainly does not start at $15 billion according to this graph. In 2022, the base case "cost" (an undefined one, but presumably based on wholesale power prices) is $150 billion. The CPP case "cost" (see note above) is over $300 billion. That means over $150 billion in the first year!

(2) Just roughly, let's say this graph shows an additional $150 billion between the CPP line and the base case line in each of these years. The shaded area represents $1.35 trillion between 2022 and 2030.

(3) It's hard to even see how this graph (however flawed) can be justified as showing costs. When we pay for electricity, we pay our bills, not our prices! Bills are based on the price and the quantity, and we've seen that clean energy services and resources like energy efficiency and renewables can decrease our bills by cutting energy waste and fuel costs.

If this isn't enough to give you a sense of the quality of this study, we'll continue to the next two bullet points.

Double digit wholesale electricity price increases in 46 states. $64 billion to replace lost power capacity serving 24 million homes. $64 billion is purportedly the amount the electricity sector would need to spend in order to make the generation mix changes to bring itself into compliance with the Clean Power Plan limits. But EVA provides no further details on how it gets to those results. What is the resulting generation mix? How much new capacity was built, and how much was retired? Did EVA take into account the rapidly declining costs of renewable energy? It's phantom math, at least until EVA can provide more details. Even then, it's hard to see how investments in cleaner energy would give rise to increases in wholesale prices as dramatic as EVA claims they will be. In fact, energy efficiency and renewable energy technologies are capital-intensive investments that then require little or no operating costs (such as fuel) - which is why study after study, from Ohio to Texas to California, has shown that these clean energy investments result in lower wholesale prices.

And, customers pay electricity bills - not retail rates, and certainly not wholesale prices. By making smart investments in energy efficiency, we can lower pollution simply by cutting energy waste, saving customers money in the process!

Lastly, EVA makes no mention of how it is accounting for allowance costs - a line item that NERA recently used to artificially inflate costs. In reality, although allowances (which represent a permit to emit 1 ton of CO2) do raise the wholesale price of electricity, that value ultimately belongs to the state. States can choose to give allowances away freely to generator, resulting in windfall profits for the industry, or states can instead require that polluters pay for the allowances - note that this does not have any impact on wholesale prices - and reinvest the revenues for customer benefit.

In the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), over 95% of the revenues from the program have been reinvested in energy efficiency and other customer benefits. As a result, a comprehensive analysis has demonstrated that customers have saved $1.5 billion on their utility bills, and the program has brought in $2.9 billion in additional economic benefit to the region! EVA's conclusions fly in the face of three well-documented relationships in the electricity sector­­­­­­­­:

(1) All else equal, investments in energy efficiency and renewable energy result in lower wholesale prices

(2) To the extent that wholesale prices do rise as a result of the program (due to redispatching from coal to gas, or due to allowance costs, for example), investments in energy efficiency can still result in bill savings for customers

(3) Auction revenues in a mass-based program can be reinvested for customer benefits, driving bill savings for customers and economic growth

Unfortunately, EVA does not provide us with even the first level of details regarding how they reach these conclusions. With all of these glaring errors, we would guess that EVA is likely drawing heavily upon the analysis they put together on the Clean Power Plan proposal. We cover that analysis in a separate post. For now, it's safe to say that the latest NMA/EVA work is a masterpiece of nonsense.

Thanks to my colleagues, Kevin Steinberger and Amanda Levin for their contributions to this post.

Making Sense of the Clean Water Rule is Easy

November 18, 2015

Jon Devine, Senior Attorney, Washington, D.C.

One of the most often-repeated attacks from politicians who don't support the Clean Water Rule - the initiative finalized this summer that enhances pollution protections for streams, wetlands, and ponds around the country - is that it is supposedly too complex. For instance, Senator Joni Ernst of Iowa recently wrote:

EPA's change in the definition of what constitutes a water of the U.S has resulted in a rule that is so complex and vague that farmers in my state are concerned that a grass waterway, a ditch or standing water in their fields after a rainstorm could now be regulated by the EPA. Some Iowans have even told me they may need to hire a lawyer to help them sift through the 300 page rule to see if they are in compliance.

Hogwash. I freely admit that the rule doesn't answer every possible future question about where the Clean Water Act applies to polluting activities -- that would be impossible, given the variety of water features around the country. But this action significantly clarifies the rules of the road, and I think the primary reason that some people are concerned about the rule and its implementation is that opponents like Senator Ernst have waged a misinformation campaign about what it does and doesn't do.

In response to these exaggerated charges, NRDC developed an infographic to explain the rule in two -- count 'em, two -- pages. Click on the images below to see them enlarged, or if you would like a version of your very own to trade with friends, you can download it here: CWR_both pages_FINAL.pdf

As you may have noticed, the Clean Water Rule actually addresses the bogeymen about which Senator Ernst claims to be concerned. It responds to suggestions that the rule covers puddles (that is, "standing water in their fields after a rainstorm") by exempting them explicitly. Similarly, the rule identifies a host of additional water features - including a variety of grassed waterways, ponds, ornamental features and ditches - that are not covered.

What you won't hear Senator Ernst and other opponents of this initiative talk about much, if at all, are the kinds of water bodies most at issue in the rule - tributary streams and wetlands that the science shows to have tons of critical impacts on water quality downstream. But as you can see from the infographic, those are what the Clean Water Rule is all about. And if you have any question about the benefits that come from protecting those kinds of water bodies from pollution, please check out these summaries of the importance of these resources for public health, hunting and angling, and small business.

A Just Transition in Southeast Chicago

November 18, 2015

Rhea Suh, President, New York City

Community activists are leading a shift from dirty fuels and heavy industry to clean energy and sustainable business.

On a warm day last August, as family and friends gathered in Mari Barboza's backyard for a birthday cookout, afternoon winds whipped up a toxic torrent of jet-black dust that swept across her community on Chicago's Southeast Side. Blown from a nearby mountain of grit called petroleum coke, or petcoke,the vile fog choked the life out of the party. Mari scurried to cover food she'd prepared while neighbors scrambled to herd children inside to flee the pollution, which irritates throats and lungs and worsens asthma and other respiratory ills.

"We can't even be outdoors, we can't even open our windows," Mari explained to me last week. "We're like prisoners in our own houses," she said, as huge dump trucks rumbled past the piles of petcoke, a harmful by-product of oil refining. "We can't even have a good time in our own backyards."

For people living in southeast Chicago's aging industrial corridor between the Calumet River and Lake Michigan, toxic petcoke dust, abandoned steel mills, blighted lots, and heavily polluted waterways are all part of a sorry legacy that undercuts health, environmental quality, and economic opportunity. What's needed now, for Mari's community and many others like it across much of our industrial heartland, is a deliberate shift from the heavy industry and dirty fuels of the past to a new generation of economic growth based on the clean energy and sustainable business models of the future.

"We are part of an old industrial economy and we're looking for a just transition to a low-carbon economy, but we still have the burden of the old high-carbon economy," says Thomas Frank, an activist with the Southeast Environmental Task Force, standing up for communities along the Calumet industrial corridor. "We're locked into the economic patterns and land-use patterns of the old industries."

The community is held hostage by its need for good jobs, while trapped by its history as an aging industrial, waste disposal, and fossil fuel sacrifice zone. "It's slowly dying," says Peggy Salazar, executive director of the Task Force. "That's what happens when you don't invest in a community."

The community, though, refuses to die, in part because of the heroic stand that people like Mari, Thomas, and Peggy are taking to fight for a brighter tomorrow. "We want job creation, but we want it to be correctly done from the beginning and be sustainable for the environment and the future," Peggy says. "We see the opportunity for us to change the conversation and the potential for renewable energy sources, moving away from fossil fuels to renewables."

The community is determined to play its role in the shift to a clean energy future. For most of the 19th and 20th centuries, the Calumet industrial corridor was a center of heavy industry that helped to define American enterprise and might. The community made steel for the railroads and bridges that formed the sinew and spine of American commerce. With access to the river and Lake Michigan alongside junctions of highways and railroads, the region provided an unparalleled transportation hub for shipping U.S. products -- across the country and around the world. And it produced basic materials for the automobiles that moved the nation and the tanks that helped secure our freedom.

The region held a central place in the organized-labor movement and hosted major ethnic communities that brought their own sets of skills and cultural contributions, while the area's natural lakes, rivers, and wetlands nourished a rich and vibrant web of wildlife.

The residents are rightly proud of their heritage and eager to be partners in the new economy that's remaking our country once again. They want to help build the wind turbines, solar panels, and hybrid and all-electric cars that can move the country forward.

"We make things in this neighborhood. We're union workers," says Olga Bautista, a mother of two who heads up the Chicago South East Side Coalition to Ban Petcoke. "We want this area to be a model for the rest of the world of what a sustainable and green economy can look like."

That's far more than a pipe dream. Through a plan called the Calumet Area Vision, the coalition has outlined a promising way to pull together the region's natural, cultural, historical, and economic assets into a cohesive and viable whole.

"This is one of the oldest and largest industrial complexes in the world," says Frank. "To be able to reposition it in a new, greener economy would be a great win."

It would be a win for all of us.

That's why NRDC is standing with these community leaders, helping to provide such expertise as we can, while learning from the experiences these community leaders share and the example of assertive activism they set.

L to R: Olga Bautista, Mari Barboza (obscured), Isra Pananon, Henry Henderson, Elizabeth Corr, Rhea Suh.

We're working together to get rid of the mountains of petcoke that threaten the health of residents and loom over the Calumet River like some toxic omen of doom. We're challenging other misguided projects that seek to perpetuate land uses that would sentence the future of the region to the depredations of the past and reinforce its role as a sacrifice zone. And we're working to advance the Calumet Area Vision as a way to leverage the region's unique character and strengths to create a future of promise and hope.

It starts by recognizing the past glory and true potential of this special corridor of people and place. As Thomas Frank puts it, "We have to get this place labeled 'Too big to fail.'"

Canadian ban on tankers to kill Northern Gateway tar sands pipeline and tar sands by rail to British Columbia

November 17, 2015

Anthony Swift, Canada Project Director, International Program, Washington, DC

Just one week after President Obama rejected Keystone XL, Canadian Prime Minister Trudeau announced a policy that spells the effective end of another major tar sands pipeline proposal - Enbridge's Northern Gateway pipeline. Northern Gateway would have carried more than half a million barrels of tar sands crude daily through mountains and across critical salmon rivers and coastal rainforests, where it would have been transported by tanker through sensitive marine waters to refineries in California and elsewhere. Trudeau put the final nail in Northern Gateway's coffin last week when he ordered his Minister of Transport to formalize crude oil tanker ban in British Columbia's north coast. Without the ability to load tar sands by tanker in British Columbia's north coastal waters, neither Northern Gateway nor the primary crude by rail route through British Columbia are feasible, eliminating 1.1 million barrels per day of tar sands expansion capacity.

The demise of Northern Gateway - long pitched as an alternative for Keystone XL - demonstrates the fact that the tar sands industry's reckless expansion plan, and all the environmental impacts associated with it, is not inevitable. In fact, Northern Gateway is just the latest example of communities throughout North America standing up to stop tar sands expansion and call for a transition to clean energy.

By announcing a crude oil tanker ban in British Columbia's north coast, Trudeau has brought an end to a battle over a pipeline that lasted even longer that the Keystone XL fight. Enbridge proposed the concept for the Northern Gateway pipeline in 2002 and formally announced the project in 2005. Over 130 First Nations, who depend on the lands and waters of the region through which Northern Gateway and the tankers would have passed for their culture, the health of their communities and their livelihoods, opposed the project.

"Our Nations are the wall this pipeline will not break through. Our lands and waters are not for sale, not at any price. We want no part of Enbridge's project and their offers are worthless to us when compared to the importance of keeping our lands, rivers and the coast free of crude oil spills. What Enbridge is offering is the destruction of our lands to build their project, and the risk of oil spills for decades to come which could hurt everyone's kids and grandkids." -- Chief Larry Nooski, Nadleh Whut'en First Nation, member Nation of the Yinka Dene Alliance, 2011

In March 2010, the Coastal First Nations, an alliance of First Nations on the North and Central Coast of British Columbia and Haida Gwaii, declared their opposition to tanker traffic stating:

" upholding our ancestral laws, rights and responsibilities, we declare that oil tankers carrying crude oil from the Alberta Tar Sands will not be allowed to transit our lands and waters."

Enbridge's position further deteriorated when corrosion on its Line 6B tar sands pipeline led to a tar sands spill into Michigan's Kalamazoo River in 2010. The 840,000 gallons spill revealed the substantial challenges associated with cleaning up tar sands spilled into water. Emergency responders were surprised to find that the tar sands spilled into the river sank, evading spill response measures that relied on oil floating in water. Costing over $1 billion to clean over the course of over four years, the Enbridge spill would become the most expensive onshore oil spill in U.S. history. Moreover, the Kalamazoo River, which is still contaminated with tar sands, would be a stark reminder of the limitations of cleaning up the heavy oil once it contaminated a water body.

In the aftermath of the Kalamazoo spill, federal regulators found that Enbridge had violated two dozen pipeline safety regulations. In its investigation, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) found that the failure represented a fundamental disregard for safety in the organization, with one Board Member noting:

"It's evident that this accident did not just occur because of corrosion in a pipeline. What this investigation has shown is that this accident was the result of corrosion throughout many vital safety aspects of the Enbridge organization." Robert Sumwalt, NTSB Board Member

In response to the NTSB investigation, British Columbia's Premier Christy Clark condemned Enbridge for its handling of Kalamazoo - adding yet another nail in the coffin of this troubled proposal.

"I think the company should be deeply embarrassed about what unfolded, we saw that in the report. If they think they're going to operate like that in British Columbia - forget it." Christy Clark, British Columbia Premier

In May 2013, the British Columbia government formally opposed the project in comments to the federal review panel. Polling shows that more than two-thirds of British Columbians oppose the Northern Gateway project. In 2014 the port town of Kitimat, the Pacific Coast terminus of Northern Gateway, voted overwhelmingly in opposition to the project in a referendum.

While the Canadian federal government - under then Prime Minister Harper - approved Northern Gateway in June 2014 contingent on 209 conditions, many commentators believed the project was untenable in the face of staunch First Nations opposition - who filed eighteen lawsuits against the project - and as well as general disapproval throughout British Columbia.

Trudeau's ban on oil tanker traffic puts an end to a controversy over Northern Gateway that has lasted nearly fifteen years. Without the use of oil tankers, Enbridge's pipeline to Kitimat is unworkable. It also spells the end of the only proposed only crude-by-rail route for tar sands through British Columbia - Nexen's proposed 550,000 bpd crude by rail terminal in Prince Rupert, one of the only routes where tar sands by rail would have been potentially feasible on a large scale. This is a tremendous victory for First Nations who have been fighting for their communities, livelihoods and way of life. On the heels of the Keystone XL decision, the end of both Northern Gateway and Nexen's Prince Rupert terminal demonstrates the fatal flaw in the argument that tar sands expansion is inevitable. In the face of mounting public opposition, the tar sands industry hasn't succeeded in getting approval for a major pipeline across the border or to the coast since 2008. Communities throughout the U.S. and Canada are asking for a cleaner, healthier future and saying no to tar sands expansion.

Upshot from Pediatricians: Curb overuse of antibiotics in animal agriculture

November 17, 2015

David Wallinga, MD, Senior Health Officer, San Francisco

With a landmark new law in California, and new commitments from Subway - the world's largest restaurant chain - the momentum seems to be shifting in the decades-old struggle to rein in enormous antibiotic overuse in factory-style livestock production.

With today's publication of a report and plea in the December issue of Pediatrics, the nation's largest group of children's physicians adds its voice to the chorus. "Animal antibiotics threatens kids' health", read a headline in the medical press. And they do.

Antibiotic overuse drives the problem of resistance. And a large majority of the nation's penicillines, tetracyclines, cephalospporins and other human drugs are given to food animals, not sick people. As the AAP report surmises: Antibiotic use in animals must be addressed because more antibiotics by tonnage are used in animals than in people.

Says report's co-author Dr. Jerry Paulson, "Because of the link between antibiotic use in food-producing animals and the occurrence of antibiotic-resistant infections in humans, antibiotic agents should be used in food-producing animals only to treat and control infectious diseases and not to promote growth or to prevent disease routinely," the report concludes.

From the CDC's Director to the Chief Medical Officer of the UK, physicians have long warned our antibiotics are losing their effectiveness. At risk is not only our ability to treat infections, but also to perform life-saving procedures on kids and adults with cancer or kidney failure, like chemotherapy, dialysis and bone marrow transplants. Without working antibiotics, these procedures can't be done safely, since complications with bacterial infections are an ever-present risk.

Yet until now medical organizations have been slow to demand that American meat and pharmaceutical companies stop overusing antibiotics. In fact, the vast majority of antibiotics of human importance are given to chickens, turkeys, pigs or cattle - typically for reasons that have nothing to do with treating a diagnosed disease. Instead, they are routinely put into animal feed or water for purposes like promoting growth, or as a temporary band-aid for animals that are being raised under sub-optimal, infection-promoting conditions.

Sadly, actions of the Food and Drug Administration to date likely will do little to address this situation. Indeed, the FDA has been clear that its approach leaves in place the practice of routinely feeding human antibiotics to livestock and poultry, just so long as a veterinarian (often in the employ of the meat industry) has signed off on it.

Moreover, Congress has been slow to appropriate money asked for by President Obama to implement a new national action plan to combat antibiotic resistant bacteria.

That's why issuance of this new report from the American Academy of Pediatrics is such a big deal. Basically, it's saying business as usual in factory-style livestock production is no longer acceptable because of the threat it poses to the health and welfare of our children (and the rest of us, I might add).

Bravo, I say. Will the nation's top organizations of internists, surgeons and women's health now be emboldened to speak out on behalf of their adult patients, as well? I sure hope so.

The Double Standard of Oil and Gas Vs. Clean Energy Development in Ohio: Do Lawmakers Really Care About Your Property Rights?

November 17, 2015

Samantha Williams, Staff Attorney, Chicago

Right now in Ohio there's a debate happening around property rights and energy development, and if lawmakers have anything to do with it, clean energy will lose.

Just last year, the Ohio General Assembly delivered a one-two-punch to the state's growing clean energy industry with dual bills: SB 310 imposed a two-year freeze on energy efficiency and renewable energy requirements, and HB 483 nearly tripled the setback distance for wind turbines from property lines. These bills dealt a devastating blow to renewable energy development in Ohio, but for wind in particular; the setback requirement has effectively halted future commercial-scale wind development in the state.

Lawmakers opposed to wind claim the new setback law protects private property rights. But is this concern real, or merely a justification for a coordinated effort to undermine Ohio's wind industry?

When you look closely, it appears to be the latter.

One key example of the state's double-standard when it comes to energy development and property rights is Ohio's "unitization" program. It allows fossil fuel developers to gain control over a common pool of oil or natural gas, giving them an upper hand over even unwilling landowners to access (and frack) these resources beneath their land. Some form of unitization is allowed in 39 other states.

Unfortunately, it would appear that Ohio's lawmakers are bending over backwards to accommodate this practice for the oil and gas industry. About a year after the state effectively zoned out wind turbines, the House passed new legislation (HB 8) broadening the already-permissive unitization program.

No such favors are being done for wind companies. It's even difficult to move policies forward--HB 190--that would give local counties the power to decide for themselves how far wind turbines should be set back from property lines.

Property Rights and Energy Development in Ohio

But how does unitization work, and why is it shifting the balance in favor of fossil fuel development, at a time when Ohio should be focusing on developing cleaner sources of energy like wind and solar?

Imagine you live on a rural, 1-acre lot in eastern Ohio and get a notice in the mail that a natural gas company wants to drill on your neighbor's property and make your land part of their "unit." But you oppose fracking, and believe it's a polluting practice that threatens public health--and, more to the point, your health if you have to live next door to it. Since it's your land they want to absorb into this unit you think to yourself, "I'll surely get a chance to say 'no way.' After all, I've got rights as a property owner."

Right? Think again.

Under Ohio's unitization program, if you show up and try to put a stop to all this by asserting your property rights, you'll be in for a nasty surprise.

This is how it works: a company identifies a pool of oil or natural gas that it would like to extract that lies beneath, for example, 1,000 acres of land. Under Ohio law, the company only has to obtain 65% (or 650 acres) of the mineral rights upfront via ownership or leasing, at which point the unitization process kicks in to fill in the blanks. The company files an application to "unitize" the multiple drilling units that sit over the common "resource pool" and thus secure the rights to extract the resources that flow under the remaining 350 acres. A notification and hearing process begins. If the company succeeds--which it almost invariably does--it becomes the de facto lessee of the mineral rights beneath that remaining acreage, essentially forcing the landowners in the unit to accept drilling on their land.

This means that landowners who are ideologically opposed to oil and gas development, or who just don't want this on their land, no longer have the power to stop it.

Unitization Wasn't Always a Dirty Word--Until Recently

Historically, oil and gas companies drilled vertical holes into a single parcel and if they struck a reserve, the oil or gas would flow up. Just like Daniel Day Lewis's oilman in the movie There Will be Blood, a company could "drink the milkshake" of neighboring landowners without (technically) encroaching on their rights.

Unitization (and its close cousin - "mandatory pooling") came on the scene in the midst of this practice to protect property rights and promote more effective natural resource development. It ensured that as much of the resource pool would be extracted as possible, without depressurizing the resource and ultimately decreasing the recoverable amount. Unitization also (at least initially) helped protect property values by preventing surface destruction of an owner's land.

But with the advent of hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling, all bets are off.

A company can now drill 4 or 5 wells with "legs" that extend like octopus legs far beneath the surface, covering vastly more ground than during the era of vertical drilling. Instead of one parcel, a modern oil or natural gas project is a patchwork of many, sometimes dozens, of separately-owned properties.

Complementing this new technology, unitization has made the oil and gas game iterative. It's now easier for companies to extract more and more natural resources from unwilling landowners. Unitization's legal cudgel is every bit as necessary to Ohio's shale boom as is horizontal technology.

But for landowners, risks abound.

The newfound drilling could affect a homeowner's insurance premiums or even render the property uninsurable. A growing number of banks won't give new mortgage loans on homes with gas leases because they don't meet secondary mortgage market guidelines. Property values could be impacted. If contamination of any groundwater on the property occurs, a landowner's home may not sell.

Lawmakers Care About Your Property Rights--Until They Don't

This should be a bitter pill to swallow for those concerned about preserving private property rights in Ohio.'s not.

Unfortunately lawmakers continue to grease the tracks for the oil and gas industry, but throw roadblocks in the way of clean energy developers.

That unitization bill (HB 8) from last Spring? It's a Trojan Horse for fossil fuel developers. While it does contain a provision that appears to protect "unitized" owners' surface rights, it also appears to undermine a landowner's ability to negotiate for favorable lease terms and it end-runs the Administration's de facto ban on fracking on public lands.

Thankfully, the local control bill for wind--HB 190--is getting a hearing this week in the House Public Utilities Committee. If it progresses, counties will be in a better position to decide for themselves how to zone wind developments.

In the meantime, the state should reconsider the expansion of its unitization program and remove the current barriers to responsible wind farm development. At a time when clean energy development is so critical to Ohio's economic and environmental wellbeing, we can no longer afford to keep this double standard in place.

Thank you to my colleagues Dan Raichel and Ann Alexander for helping inform and shape this piece.

Attorney General Bill Schuette and the Clean Power Plan: Wrong on the Facts, Wrong on the Law, Wrong for Michigan

November 17, 2015

Ariana Gonzalez, Energy Policy Analyst, Midwest, Chicago Office

The latest evidence that Attorney General Bill Schuette is more interested in self-promotion than serving the people of Michigan is found in the court filings challenging the Clean Power Plan. The first page of the lawsuit lists 24 states and one individual -- Bill Schuette. Not exactly who you want chairing the Republican Attorney General Association, but as of today that is precisely the case.

Schuette is wrong to sue on the Clean Power Plan and this is the second time he has done so. Like the first suit, which was dismissed, his current motion for stay is likely to fail because it would require an extraordinary circumstance. Not liking the Clean Power Plan, at least to me, is hardly an extraordinary circumstance. But you don't have to take my word for it, the Supreme Court has already ruled that we can and should regulate harmful emissions and the lawsuit will likely be tossed out like the other seven failed attempts.

Schuette is wrong about the Clean Power Plan causing the price of electricity to increase. In truth, a strong Clean Power Plan could save Michigan families and businesses over $1 billion on their electric bills. Increases in energy efficiency alone will drive electric bills down by $7 per month. Michigan has already benefited from growth in clean power through Michigan's Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS), which has driven more than $2.9 billion in new investments for the state and created new clean energy jobs.

Schuette is wrong about the Clean Power Plan placing jobs at risk. The Clean Power Plan can drive good high paying jobs in the clean tech sector and Michiganders are positioned to earn thousands of those jobs. In fact, Michigan's clean economy is helping power the state's recovery, employing more than 76,000 workers, with an average annual wage of $40,558. As Michigan expands its clean energy production, the renewable energy industry could support nearly 21,000 jobs in manufacturing alone by 2020, if the industry sources components from local manufacturers.

Schuette is wrong about the Clean Power Plan costing Michigan families more. The Clean Power Plan will have tremendous economic and public health benefits for Michigan families. According to the U.S. EPA, it will significantly reduce exposure to particle pollution and ozone which could avoid; 3,600 premature deaths, 90,000 asthma attacks in children, 1700 heart attacks, and 300,000 missed school and work days. For every dollar invested through the Clean Power Plan, families can see up to $4 in health benefits. According to the Centers for Disease Control, 11.5 percent of Michigan's adult population and 10.9 percent of Michigan's children in the state suffer from asthma and those Michiganders will see significant health benefits.

With these kinds of numbers, it's easy to see why 64% of Michiganders support the Clean Power Plan and further limits on dangerous carbon pollution. If we fail to tackle the problem of carbon pollution, Michigan families will lose more of their hard earned dollars, valuable jobs and the health benefits of cleaner air - which is priceless.

Schuette is wrong to side with special interests and polluters. Instead, he should be putting his energy into create good jobs, cleaner air, and cheaper electric bills for the people of Michigan. Standing in the way of a solution by fighting a losing legal battle is just plain wrong for the people of Michigan and for future generations.

Shifting to Ultra High-Def TVs Could Add $1 Billion to Viewers' Annual Energy Bills Unless Efficiency Improves

November 17, 2015

Noah Horowitz, Senior Scientist and Director of the Center for Energy Efficiency, San Francisco, CA

A shift to the next generation of televisions known as Ultra High-Definition (UHD), and sometimes 4K, could cost U.S. consumers an additional $1 billion annually unless further energy efficiency improvements are made, according to our new report out today.

In fact, that energy waste could add up to an additional 8 Terawatt-hours of electricity a year nationally - enough to power all the homes in San Francisco for three years. But the good news is that while UHD televisions use an average 30 percent more energy to operate than similar sized High-Definition (HD) televisions, that doesn't have to be the case. Our new report shows that some of the best UHD models on the market today are dramatically more energy efficient than the typical UHD television, using little to no more energy than the equivalent HD TV it would replace.

Here are some of the highlights from our study, The Big Picture: Ultra High-Definition Televisions Could Add $1 Billion to Viewers' Annual Electric Bills, which included testing by our consultant, Ecos Research, of a cross-section of 21 of the latest UHD TV models on the market.

What exactly is UHD TV? - The TV industry is heavily promoting its latest generation of televisions being marketed under the umbrella term UHD. These televisions provide higher resolution and in some cases, a wider range of colors and enhanced contrast. Their higher resolution screens have at least 8 million pixels, which is four times greater than HD televisions, and are sometimes called 4K TVs. In order to fully benefit from the higher screen resolutions, a really big 4K TV is needed.

50 is the new 32 - Much to our surprise, about one in three televisions sold today has a screen 50 inches and greater. In general, energy use increases with larger screen sizes. One doesn't have to look too far back to remember when 32 inches was considered a large television.

Wide range of UHD TV efficiency - During our analysis of manufacturer-reported energy use, we observed an almost three-fold range in the electricity consumption of similar-sized UHD televisions. This means that while there are some real energy hogs out there, with the worst consuming more electricity annually than a new mid-sized refrigerator, there are some really efficient models, too. The challenge is how to ensure the industry shifts toward the more efficient designs quickly before many of today's 300 million televisions are replaced by UHD TVs.

Settings really matter - Most, but not all, of today's new TVs come with a setting called Automatic Brightness Control (ABC) that automatically adjusts television screen brightness in response to changes in room light levels. From our laboratory testing of 50-inch to 55-inch televisions, we found that when enabled, ABC cuts energy consumption by a huge amount. On average, TVs with ABC off use 50% more electricity than when ABC is turned on. Curiously, some manufacturers include ABC technology in their televisions, but choose not to ship their TVs with this feature enabled. (If they did, more would qualify for the highly coveted ENERGY STAR® label indicating they are among the most energy efficient models.) We recommend consumers dig into the menu to look for, and select, the ABC feature to save money.

Beware the energy impact of HDR - The latest and greatest type of content that will be offered to viewers in the future is called High Dynamic Range (HDR), which promises more colors, brighter scenes, and blacker blacks. Prior to our study there was no published data on HDR's incremental energy use. We obtained two movies produced in 4K HDR format and measured the power use during viewing on an UHD HDR television capable of playing it. On average, the HDR content on this TV caused the power use to increase on average by 47 percent compared to the 4K (non-HDR) version of the same movie. As shown in the figure below, the power use during playback varied dramatically, spiking during the very bright scenes. We were only able to perform this test on one TV so we can't extrapolate the results to all HDR-capable televisions, but these findings should serve as a loud wake-up call and catalyst for additional measurements and updates to the U.S. Department of Energy's (DOE) test method, which currently only uses HD content to determine television energy consumption.

Smart TVs are usually, but not always, so smart - Most new televisions include Internet connectivity, which allows consumers to stream content from the web from applications like Netflix and YouTube without the need for a computer or supplemental device like Apple TV or a Roku box. While most of the Internet-connected televisions we tested had very low power levels (less than one-half watt in standby and fast reboot times of below 10 seconds), some were much slower. Those TVs generally included a Quick Start feature, which if selected causes the television to transition much faster from standby to full power. Unfortunately, having this Quick Start feature enabled caused some models to use 20 to 30 watts of standby power even though the viewer had "turned off" the television. Unless absolutely necessary, consumers should avoid selecting Quick Start on your new television.

Where to from here? - It's increasingly clear that UHD TV will likely be the dominant type of television sold in the next few years and more bells and whistles are coming. To avoid an upsurge in television energy use and the related higher energy bills and power plant emissions that come from having to generate more electricity, we need TV manufacturers and their suppliers to continue to focus on improving the energy efficiency of their new TVs.

And on the policy front we encourage:

  • DOE to update its test method for measuring TV energy use to make sure the latest content and its potentially higher energy use is captured;
  • EPA to reduce the size of the adder it provides for high resolution TVs in its next specification, Version 8;
  • Utilities to offer rebates for the most energy efficient models; and
  • Regulators to consider setting minimum state or national energy efficiency standards to remove the least efficient new TVs from the market.

Catastrophic Mining Disaster in Brazil: The Tragic Aftermath Confirms Worst Fears about the Proposed Pebble Mine

November 16, 2015

Taryn Kiekow Heimer, Senior Policy Analyst, Marine Mammal Protection Project, Santa Monica, California

Nine people are confirmed dead and 19 remain missing after what's been described as a "slow-motion environmental catastrophe" in Brazil following the collapse of two mining dams.

Tailings dam failures at an iron-ore mine owned by Samarco Mineração SA - a joint venture between two of the world's biggest mining companies, Australian BHP Billiton and Brazilian Vale SA - resulted in a toxic mudslide that swept away the entire town of Bento Rodrigues. The sludge - filled with arsenic, zinc, copper and mercury - has polluted the river and water supply of hundreds of thousands of residents.

The result: a dead-zone. "Much of the aquatic life along a 500km stretch of the river" is gone.

President Dilma Rousseff described the mining failure as "possibly the biggest environmental disaster to have impacted one of the major regions of our country."

Comparing the damage to the 2010 oil spill by BP in the Gulf of Mexico, Brazil's Environment Minister Izabella Teixeira called it an "environmental catastrophe."

And Marilene Ramos, president of Brazil's federal environmental agency, described it as "a tragedy of enormous proportions" with "thousands of hectares of protected areas destroyed and the total extinction of all the biodiversity along this stretch of the river."

"Environmental catastrophe," "biggest environmental disaster," "tragedy," and "total extinction of all the biodiversity": these are the worst fears of those opposed to the massive Pebble Mine, proposed at the salmon-rich headwaters of Bristol Bay, Alaska.

President Obama described Bristol Bay as "one of America's greatest national treasures." It is home to the world's largest wild salmon fishery - a sustainable industry that produces half of the world's supply of sockeye salmon, $1.5 billion annually, and 14,000 jobs.

The salmon are both the economic and ecological linchpin of the region, supporting Alaska Native subsistence culture that has thrived for millennia. The salmon also support a wide array of wildlife, from bears and eagles to seals and whales.

Threatening these pristine salmon-rich waters is the proposed Pebble Mine - a giant gold and copper mine that would produce up to 10 billion tons of mining waste, which would need to be stored forever at the headwaters of Bristol Bay's famous salmon runs. Giant earthen dams - some over 700 feet tall - would store Pebble Mine's toxic waste... all in an active earthquake zone.


Not according to the Pebble Partnership, which claims it can build a safe mine with "modern engineering."

But as the Brazilian mining tragedy confirms, modern engineering is not fail-safe and accidents do happen.

The result - "environmental catastrophe," "disaster" and "tragedy" - are not just worst-case scenarios. It is a matter of certainty according to the EPA, which conducted a three-year, twice-peer reviewed scientific study of potential large-scale mining impacts on the Bristol Bay watershed and concluded that a tailings dam failure in Bristol Bay would be "catastrophic."

Let's learn from our mistakes.

There are some places too special to mine. Bristol Bay is one of them.

Bristol Bay is the wrong place to risk catastrophe and tragedy, and it is the wrong place for the Pebble Mine.

Click here to stop the Pebble Mine.

Highlights of Commute Santa Monica - Lessons from Gamification to Influence Transportation Behavior

November 16, 2015

Fernando Cazares, LA Regional Coordinator (Urban Solutions) & Policy Advocate, Washington, D.C.

Guest blog by Ma'ayan Dembo - CommuteSM Program Manager

Earlier this year, in collaboration with the City of Santa Monica, CommuteSM launched Santa Monica's first-ever Commuter Challenge. This challenge encouraged residents and employees in Santa Monica to bike, carpool/vanpool, ride transit, or walk to work, instead of driving alone.

But what is CommuteSM, besides a catchy, free online resource? CommuteSM is a recognized Transportation Management Association formed pro bono in 2012 by RideAmigos, a Santa Monica-based technology company specializing in transportation demand management (TDM). This partnership between RideAmigos and the City of Santa Monica addresses, coordinates, and helps implement cost effective TDM programs for large employers to ease traffic congestion, meet clean air requirements, and improve Santa Monica's access.

So, back to the Commuter Challenge. The challenge began on April 1st and went through August 30th. April incentivized general trip logging, while each month thereafter showcased a different travel mode: biking in May, carpooling/vanpooling in June, public transportation in July, and walking in August. With every logged trip, participants automatically entered weekly drawings for prizes, such as gift cards to local merchants. In addition, at the conclusion of each month individuals with the highest CO2 reductions from the monthly mode were recognized, along with the company having the greatest rate of employee participation.

During the May Biking month, 13 different company teams competed by logging their trips. The team structure created more camaraderie and fostered friendly competition. These riders logged 791 trips and collectively rode 4,000 miles. They saved a total of 1.6 tons of CO2, $2,262.73, and burned nearly 200,000 calories through their efforts. Most riders came from the Santa Monica/ Venice area, and the most dedicated rider biked from Calabasas. Interestingly, half of the riders participating in the Biking month were regular, everyday bicycle commuters, while the other half rode a few days a week, and drove alone the other days. For some of those "every so often" riders, the Bike Month incentivized them to increase the frequency of their riding, and cemented this habit, such that they continued riding often even after the Bike Challenge ended!

In June, we focused on Carpooling, as CommuteSM provides an easy-to-use direct carpool matching service for its users. Although we did not achieve as poignant success (only 800 miles worth of logged carpool trips), we did more traffic in site usage-- illustrating the interest in ridesharing within Santa Monica.

Throughout the month, 159 new users were created, increasing total accounts by 48 percent, and 13 new company networks joined the platform as well. There was a 21 percent increase in Trip Searches, as more people browsed potential ridesharing matches in their areas, and a 40 percent increase in direct Carpool Messages between people trying to start a new carpools.

The Challenge encouraged Public Transit use during July. Each week we awarded one pre-loaded $17.50 TAP card, allowing users to utilize this money on the local Big Blue Bus, county-wide systems, and other regional agencies. At the end of the month the user with the greatest CO2 savings received 2 passes for the acclaimed 2015 FYF Fest, with smaller prizes going to second and third place winners. In addition, 2 randomly selected winners received movie passes to American Cinematheque theaters, encouraging individuals to try transit (and log their trip) at least once during the month to be eligible for a prize.

August was the final month of the challenge, added after the program's conception due to popular demand for a Walking month. In August the Challenge shifted to a health benefits angle in all marketing and promotion, and instead of solely encouraging alternate commutes, the Challenge invited individuals to add walking into their lives for any trip-- lunch time strolls, errands, and even hikes. Throughout the month, participants logged 502 trips and traveled 730 miles. Individuals burned a whopping 72,118 calories, the equivalent of 239 Whopper Cheeseburgers. At the end of August, we celebrated our results with a group walk through Santa Monica, sharing historic anecdotes and facets to the neighborhood.

In total, the challenge ended with 1,770 trips logged, and 3.362 tons of CO2 saved. 73 total participants traveled 10,717.8 miles, burned 272,256 calories, and saved $3,502 by taking alternate modes of travel instead of driving alone. In October, we were honored to be recognized as this year's Innovative Transportation Program by the South Coast Air Quality Management District.

So, what have been some of the lessons learned from this pilot program in the City of Santa Monica? For one, the program was executed and results were garnered with a very small budget. CommuteSM solicited local businesses and received nearly $3,000 worth of donated prizes from the Los Angeles and Santa Monica communities, and is incredibly grateful for these business's generous support. In contrast, using the same RideAmigos technology, Salt Lake City created a similar challenge last year with 6,800 participants logging 2,199,978 alternative trip miles, and eliminating 651 tons of CO2 emissions from their atmosphere. Salt Lake City's challenge had significantly more support from the Utah Department of Transportation and other transportation funders within the state.

With increased funding and financial support, and a running Expo line, it is easy to imagine the large-scale positive impacts next year's Santa Monica Commuter Challenge can have on an ever-growing region.

CommuteSM is incredibly grateful for its local partners and sponsors: RideAmigos, Urban Trans, Paradise Consulting, the City of Santa Monica, Metro, The Big Blue Bus, FYF Music Festival, KIND Snacks, Laemmle Theaters, McCabe's Guitar Shop, Magicopolis, American Cinematheque, The Massage Palace, Lemonade, Dethrone Basecamp, Dogtown Coffee, Starbucks Coffee & Tea, Donut King, IZIP Store, the Santa Monica Bike Center, SM Spoke, Bike Attack, Pedego Santa Monica, Cynergy Cycles, Zone 3 Multisport, Helen's Cycles, and Downtown LA Bikes. For more information on the Commuter Challenge, visit

How California's Unprecedented Law to Measure Building Energy Use Can Yield Even More Benefits for Customers

November 16, 2015

Maria Stamas, Attorney, Energy & Climate, San Francisco

First in a Two-Part Series

When Governor Jerry Brown signed AB 802 in early October, California became the first state in the nation with a mandate to provide energy usage data to owners of commercial and multi-family properties so they can measure--or benchmark--the energy use of their buildings over time.

Although California has had a benchmarking law on the books for commercial buildings for over seven years, it has faced major implementation challenges, largely due to owners' inability to access their buildings' total energy consumption data. AB 802 not only addresses the previous law's largest barrier (access to whole-building energy consumption information), it expands benchmarking to multi-family residential buildings.

Keep reading for the facts on what this new law means and why it's good for Californians. This blog focuses on the law's whole-building data sharing provisions. Part 2 will focus on new changes to California's statewide public benchmarking program.

Why Was New Legislation Necessary?

Compliance with the previous benchmarking law had been exceedingly low because building owners that had separate meters for each of their tenants were unable to access their buildings' total energy usage data. By requiring utilities to provide whole-building data to owners, the new legislation corrects this problem. It also gives utilities time to automate their data sharing processes. Previously, utilities could not easily determine the location of each customer's utility meter (they only had information on the account number associated with each meter), which made providing a whole-building total difficult. With AB 802 signed, utilities are now in the process of mapping individual building meters to each building's location, which will vastly expedite the process for owners.

When Will the New Data Provisions and Benchmarking Program Be Implemented?

The California Energy Commission (CEC) has already launched a rulemaking to address the law's many details so that it can be put into practice no later than January 1, 2017. In the meantime, building owners can continue to benchmark properties on their own, or if required to do so by local ordinances--this is what would have occurred if AB 802 had not passed.

Providing Energy Usage Data to Owners Provides Significant Clean Energy Benefits Independent of Benchmarking Compliance

Many have focused on AB 802 for its statewide benchmarking provisions (which do offer great value for the building market). But enabling building owners to access their whole-building energy usage provides significant standalone benefits. For example, whole-building information enables:

  • Assessment and Financing of Efficiency and Solar Investments. Owners require basic information on their buildings' energy consumption to assess prospective investments in more efficient equipment or to properly size solar panels. This information also facilitates procuring financing to make these outlays, as banks need to understand the return on investment for prospective loans related to energy use. For owners with large portfolios, whole-building data enables them to target buildings most in need of upgrades.
  • Participation in Grant and Incentive Programs, Especially for Affordable Building Owners. For affordable building owners and U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) properties, energy usage data is a prerequisite to participating in financing, grant, and incentive programs. The information also enables owners of affordable properties to make holistic weatherization investments for their tenants.
  • Accurately Calculating Utility Allowances for Affordable Properties. Whole-building data enables affordable housing owners and government agencies to set accurate utility allowances to offset costs for subsidized housing residents. For this reason, the U.S. HUD secretary wrote an open letter urging utilities to improve access to aggregated usage information in order to save taxpayer funds and give owners more incentives to invest in efficiency repairs.
  • Tracking and Verifying Energy Savings. With access to energy usage information over time, owners and efficiency program implementers can determine whether expected energy (and bill) savings have materialized. If the savings haven't materialized, energy usage information will help them know where to look and how to address needed adjustments.
  • Promoting Behavior Change. Consumers and building owners who have access to their energy consumption information can choose to use energy more efficiently. Some building owners and efficiency programs show consumers how their energy use compares with average users to motivate efficiency and conservation. Others may provide incentives or even competitions to further encourage behavior change. Tenant-specific information can also help building owners identify any units that may require individual upgrades or where equipment is malfunctioning.
The Specifics: What AB 802 Means for the Provision of Whole-Building Data to Owners

As of January 1, 2017, every utility in California will be required to provide a year's worth of monthly energy consumption for an entire building to an owner (or owner's agent) upon request, provided that building consists of three or more commercial utility accounts or five or more accounts, if any are residential. A utility will have four weeks to respond to a request and provide the information directly to the owner or upload it to the owner's Energy Star Portfolio Manager account. Portfolio Manager is an EPA created online tool that enables owners to benchmark their properties in a secure online environment.

Because this information does not disclose information about any individual customer (or tenant), building owners may use it to better manage their properties. The legislation requires no further regulations on this provision, however the California Energy Commission may provide additional direction on the delivery mechanism (e.g. via Portfolio Manager or excel file) or level of automation (i.e. electronic as opposed to paper request forms).

Owners of buildings that don't have three commercial or five accounts, if any are residential accounts, will need to obtain customer permission to obtain the whole building total just as if they were getting usage data for individual tenant units. The new legislation also provides the Commission authority to define a more efficient process for this.

Whole-building Data for Buildings That Fall Below the Aggregation Threshold

For buildings that don't meet the account number threshold, owners will be required to obtain electronic or written consent from tenants to receive a monthly total (either for the whole-building or for individual tenant units). With the passage of AB 802, if utilities do not further expedite the process, the CEC now has the authority to issue regulations that require it.

Prior to AB 802 and in the absence of regulation, some utilities had provided information in PDF format, required numerous resubmittals of written tenant consent forms, and took months (or even over a year) before providing the data. Now the CEC can step in to require that utilities provide the information in Excel format or directly to EPA Portfolio Manager. This will enable owners to analyze the information or import it into other existing benchmarking tools that provide valuable analytical support and visually represent data in an engaging format, such as WeGoWise or Energy Scorecard.

The CEC could also require utilities to accept the consent provided in pre-approved rental agreements or utility service contracts.

Tenant-Specific Data for All Building Owners

Even prior to AB 802, a utility customer could always give a building owner (or any other party) permission to obtain his or her utility information. This tenant-specific information enables owners to identify new in-unit efficiency investments or malfunctioning equipment. It also enables them to adopt behavioral and awareness programs for their tenants.

However, as mentioned earlier, the process for receiving this information from the utility--even after tenant consent was procured--has been challenging, if not impossible, for owners. With AB 802, the CEC now has authority to issue regulations to standardize and expedite this process as well.


Thanks to AB 802, utilities and building owners will be better positioned to improve energy efficiency, and with better information, building owners can now take the lead in making their properties cleaner and healthier for their tenants. Next: the specifics on what California's law means for its new, improved statewide public benchmarking program.

Supporters of the Clean Power Plan Urge Senators to Oppose its Repeal

November 16, 2015

Pete Altman, Climate and Clean Air Campaign Director, Washington, D.C.

Senator Mitch McConnell has been itching for nearly two years to dismantle the Clean Power Plan with an extreme and rarely-used law called the Congressional Review Act. Now that the Clean Power Plan is final, McConnell and his allies are finally able to vote on "resolutions of disapproval" that would permanently block the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency from limiting dangerous carbon pollution from power plants.

That doesn't sit well with the parents, faith leaders, business owners, communities of color, and others who care about keeping our kids and communities safe from climate change. Across the country, diverse voices are calling on their Senators to stand with the majority of Americans who want action on climate. The Clean Power Plan has already earned support from a diverse array of organizations representing millions of Americans from all walks of life.

Now that McConnell's reckless attempt to repeal the Clean Power Plan is expected to get a vote early this week, many groups are once again reminding Congress why they support the Clean Power Plan.

Take the 750,000-member Evangelical Environmental Network, for example, which last week launched a radio ad calling on Senator Mark Kirk to support the EPA's Clean Power Plan. As Rev. Mitchell Hescox put it:

How Senator Kirk decides to vote will be critical for children, local communities, and the unborn. I can't see any reason to vote against Illinois families and undermine a clean energy future for America. As pro-life Christians, we believe that pollution profoundly impacts human life.

Speaking of the profound impacts of pollution on human life, health and medical organizations condemned the resolutions as "excessive attacks on public health protections," saying in an open letter:

Climate change is impacting air pollution, which can cause asthma attacks, cardiovascular disease and premature death, and fostering extreme weather patterns, such as heat and severe storms, droughts, wildfires and flooding, that can harm low-income communities disproportionately. Bold action is needed to protect public health, which is why our organizations support the Clean Power Plan.

Twenty-four organizations representing millions of Latinos nationwide reminded Senators that they should be keeping children and families safe, not putting them at risk:

Poll after poll reiterates the fact that the Latino community strongly supports action on climate change. Latinos have expressed support for the Clean Power Plan's commonsense limits on power plant carbon pollution and have vowed to support states adopting and strengthening the plan. Blocking these commonsense safeguards puts polluter profits before the health of our children.

Consumer groups working to protect Americans from high energy prices and other economic harms called on Senators to vote "no" on the resolutions, writing:

Opponents of the Clean Power Plan often argue that they are protecting consumers, but they are mistaken. The Clean Power Plan is good for consumers because it will mitigate climate change and can lower household electricity costs ... The Clean Power Plan is likely to lower consumer costs, not raise them, because it will spur improvements in energy efficiency.

And then there's this from Environmental Entrepreneurs and the American Sustainable Business Council, which rightly points out that "History shows that smart clean energy policies are good for our environment, our economy, and businesses."

Finally, let's hear from ActionAid USA, WE ACT for Environmental Justice, Protect Our Winters, and more than 110 other diverse organizations whose letter to Senators call the Clean Power Plan the "single biggest step we have ever taken to tackle climate change" and in which they "strongly urge" Senators to "oppose these resolutions that put the health of our children and families at risk, threaten the quality of our air, and strip the EPA of the tools to address dangerous carbon pollution."

While President Obama is expected to veto any Congressional attempts to repeal the Clean Power Plan, its good to know that all these groups - and most Americans - stand behind his efforts to take climate action.

Latin America Green News: Colombia ill-prepared for effects of climate change, Mexico issues first green bond, Don Diego threatens to cause international conflict

November 6, 2015

Maria Martinez, Program Assistant, Director of Programs & Latin America Project, Washington, D.C.

Latin America Green News is a selection of weekly news highlights about environmental and energy issues in Latin America.

We will resume posting NRDC's Latin America Green News after the Thanksgiving holiday.

October 31st - November 6th, 2015

Climate Change

A new investigation led by Colombia's Attorney General's Office found that 85 percent of the country's municipalities are not prepared to deal with natural disasters and 70 have not conducted studies on the impact of climate change in their region. The Delegate Attorney for Environmental and Agricultural Affairs determined that 99 percent of these municipalities suffered environmental emergencies between 2010 and 2013; 71 percent (666 municipalities) reported past forest fires, 79 percent (741) landslides, and 74 percent (693) floods. Eighty-five percent of the municipalities in the study also do not have a system in place to alert people in a timely manner of natural disasters. In light of the results, the Attorney General's Office warned that is necessary to incorporate climate adaptation measures in all municipalities that account for factors such as population, geography and local economy. The Public Ministry concluded the survey provided a realistic look at how prepared the country is to deal with the consequences of climate change. They expect the report will help design better national, regional, municipal and sectoral public policies in this area. (Ambiente y Sociedad 11/04/2015)

Peru's Ministry of Women and Vulnerable Populations and the Ministry of Environment will work together to create the Gender and Climate Change Action Plan (PAGCC-Peru). This plan fulfils a commitment the country made at last year's COP20 in Peru to produce this document and will be introduced at the COP21 in Paris next month. Peru is the first country in South America and the 19th in the world to take on this type of initiative. The plan establishes eight priority areas: forests, water resources, energy, food security, solid waste, health, education and risk management. Since September, Peruvian citizens have been invited participate and provide their own perceptions of the PAGCC-Peru. The PAGCC-Peru is also part of the country's effort to become a member of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). (El Peruano 11/02/2015)

In a forum organized by the Institute of Latin American Studies (ILDEA), Panama's minister of the environment, Mirei Endara, discussed the country's plan to decrease emissions. The forum covered numerous topics including urban mobility, emission trading, reforestation and forest degradation. According to Endara, reforestation is the most economical way to mitigate climate change.. She added that the effects of climate change impact the population, ecosystems and all of the productive sectors of the Panamanian economy. The country's national strategy against climate change will be based on three main areas: adaptation, capacity building and development of low-emission technology. Adaptation includes: food and water security, marine and the establishment of resilient districts. The plan for water security will focus on five main priorities: universal access to quality water and sanitation services, availability of water to all sectors of the national economy, risk management of water, the establishment of watersheds with healthy ecosystems and actions to prevent conflict over water. (La Estrella 11/03/2015)


At the Second Binational Cabinet Meeting earlier this week, Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos and Peruvian President Ollanta Humala announced the creation of a regional program to protect the Amazon. With the help of Brazil, the project will have a $600 million fund, of which $113 million will come from the Global Environment Fund. Santos said that the border regions will focus on an integrated management of water resources, protected areas and the fight against illicit trafficking of wildlife, which he says will "translate the accords into real advances." According to the mandate, "A big part of our border lies in our Amazon and we are committed to protecting it." The accord aims to defend the biodiversity of the Amazon and mitigate the effects of climate change. (La Estrella 10/31/15)


In a joint statement this week, the Center for Biological Diversity, the Mexican Center for Environmental Law (CEMDA) and WiLDCOAST, warned the Don Diego seafloor phosphate mining project, which entails digging into 91 million hectares of the coast of Mexico's Baja California peninsula, poses both an environmental hazard and the potential for international conflict. According to the groups, a government official from Baja California Sur noted the area being proposed for this project (Gulf of Ulloa) is already facing scrutiny from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) for failing to adopt a regulatory program to address the bycatch of yellow turtles and the mining project could further exacerbate the situation. The groups warn that Mexico's Secretariat of Environment and Natural Resources (SEMARNAT) should follow international lead and apply the precautionary principle in this case not only because it's the first project of it's kind but also because the Environmental Impact Statement is inadequate and "Mexico should not allow itself to become grounds for experimentation." (Center for Biological Diversity 11/4/2015)


In Mexico, the development bank Nacional Financiera (Nafin), has issued the first green bond in the country. Mexico is the third country in Latin America to issue a green bond, but is the first to gain Climate Bond Certification by the Climate Bonds Standard Board. Proceeds from the bonds will be used exclusively on wind energy projects. The $500 million bond has a 5-year tenure, and a 3.14 yield to maturity. Registered demand for the bond has reached over $2.5 billion, five times its total designated amount. "With this transaction," said Treasurer of Nafin, Pedro Guerra, "Nafin positions itself as a strategic development bank to meet the environmental goals of the Federal Government." The CEO of Climate Bonds Initiative, Sean Kidney, added that this move sends "a positive signal throughout Latin America and internationally that green bonds can be a valuable source of development capital for a range of low carbon projects." (Investor Ideas 11/5/2015)

In a two-day visit to Germany this week, Bolivian President Evo Morales and German Chancellor Angela Merkel agreed to step-up cooperation on renewable energy is the future, in particular he welcomed German-Bolivian cooperation on wind power. Chancellor Merkel underlined Bolivia's efforts saying "Bolivia would like to invest very strongly in wind power, and has already begun to put in place the necessary framework." There is thus to be "close cooperation with companies producing wind power plants," she said. In the past, Bolivia and Germany have signed agreements of financial and technical cooperation concerning renewable energy, as well as water and basic sanitation and democracy. The second major project of discussion is the development of a salt plant in Uyuni. As part of a $4.8 million contract, the German company K-UTEC AG Salt Technologies is set to provide by June of next year, its plans to install the lithium carbonate plant. Bolivia plans to invest up to $950 million in the salt project by the year 2020. (German Federal Govenrment 11/04/2015, Mexiko Travel News 11/02/2015)

As part of Mexico's new energy reform, the country's Ministry of Energy (SENER) granted the subsidiary of Grupo Dragon, Grupo Salinas, its first concession for geothermal energy. The head of SENER, Pedro Joaquin Coldwell, said the project counts on an investment of about $154 million and will create 650 new jobs. The plant will be built in San Pedro Lagunillas, Nayarit. This project will make Mexico the third largest producer of geothermal energy in the world. The head of the Federal Electricity Commission (CFE), Enrique Ochoa Reza, said that up until now, Grupo Dragon counts on 100 MW of renewable energy in Mexico. (Forbes 11/03/2015)

In Chile, the new Law for Energy Efficiency is set to take effect in the beginning of 2016. The government hopes that the law will help Chile reduce energy consumption 20 percent by 2025. Under the new law, it's expected that companies will embrace more energy efficient practices, as well as incentivize professionals to become experts in the energy efficiency sector. According to a study conducted by the NGO Entorno in 2012, 49 out of 452 careers and programs in Chile include energy efficiency in their curriculum. (Pulso, 11/01/2015)

On Monday, Chile's Council of Ministers made a decision to uphold the Resolution of Environmental Qualification (RCA), which gives the green light to the 210 MW Mediterráneo hydroelectric project in Patagonia. The Mediterráneo project would be the largest hydroelectric development in Patagonia, requiring a 40-mile path into the Andes Mountains. The Council of Ministers rejected all 27 oppositions to the $400 million project, a decision criticized by opponents to the dam who are prepared to challenge it in Chile's environmental court. (EcoWatch, 11/05/2015)

This week's blog was completed with the help of contributions from Andrea Becerra.

For more news on the issues we care about visit our Latin America Green News archive or read our other International blogs.

INDIA GREEN NEWS: Modi Aide Says Climate Change is Top Threat to India's Economy; SunEdison to Supply Cheapest Solar Power to India; Delhi Starts "Pollution Toll" for Trucks

November 6, 2015

Ariel Cooper, Program Assistant, San Francisco

India Green News is a selection of news highlights about environmental and energy issues in India.

November 1-6, 2015


Climate Change Is Top Threat to India's Economy, Modi Aide Says

Climate change is the top threat to the world's fastest growing major economy as erratic monsoon rains cause distress in a sector that employs more than half of India's billion-plus population, the country's junior finance minister said.

"The number one risk we face is global climate change because we are still very dependent on the monsoon," Jayant Sinha, a Harvard Business School graduate who formerly worked with McKinsey, said in an interview. "The age-old patterns are changing, which is affecting our farming and creating a lot of agricultural distress."

Prime Minister Narendra Modi is grappling with how to fight off the harmful effects of climate change while still providing jobs and electricity to a growing population....

(Bloomberg - November 1, 2015)

Four Indian companies take lead in disclosing climate change related information to investors

New Delhi: four Indian companies - ITC Ltd, Tata Steel, Tech Mahindra and Wipro Ltd - have attained a perfect 100 Carbon Disclosure Project (CDP) score and topped the Climate Disclosure Leadership Index (CDLI) for the quality of climate change related information that they have disclosed to investors and the global marketplace through CDP India, the not-for-profit organisation that drives sustainable economies.

These disclosures from the large listed companies reveal the extent to which the corporations have shifted their strategies over the past five years to become part of the solution to the climate challenge....

(Times of India - November 4, 2015)


SunEdison to supply cheapest solar power in India

US-based SunEdison has won a bid to sell solar power in India at a record low tariff, which could boost the appeal of the renewable source

US-based SunEdison has won a bid to sell solar power in India at a record low tariff, which could boost the appeal of the renewable source at a time when Prime Minister Narendra Modi is pushing for clean energy to combat climate change.

Solar energy still has a long way to go before it can effectively compete with coal, given questions over consistent supply and transmission. But falling rates could unlock more government support for solar and wind energy.

Modi's government expects clean energy to yield business worth $160 billion in India in the next five years, and established U.S. companies like SunEdison and First Solar Inc are likely to be the biggest beneficiaries....

(Business Standard - October 4, 2015)

New bailout plan for state power utilities

As part of Ujwal Discom Assurance Yojna, or UDAY, adoption of which is optional, the states will have to take over 75% of the debt of discoms

New Delhi: The National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government has offered a bailout plan for state government-owned electricity distribution companies (discoms) in a move that could fundamentally change India's power sector and also reduce the stress on books of banks that have loaned money to these financially unsound utilities.

The plan approved by the Union cabinet on Thursday has a better chance of succeeding than two previous ones as it also aims to enforce financial discipline on the states. The plan also comes in the backdrop of at least 10 states going to polls over the next two years....

(Livemint - November 6, 2015)

Solar energy to become main pillar in India's renewables

Solar will account for around 18% of India's power by 2030, compared with only 1% at present

New Delhi: Though coal will continue to be India's main source of power, solar power will account for around 18% of it by 2030 compared with only 1% at present.

India estimates 175,000 MW of renewable power by 2022 which it aims to ramp up to 250 GW by 2030. According to government officials, who did not wish to be identified, solar energy will become the main pillar in India's target to achieving 40% installed power capacity from renewable energy by 2030.

Ahead of the global climate summit at Paris starting 30 November, India last month submitted its Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDC) where it committed to achieve 40% power installed capacity from renewable power....

(Livemint - November 6, 2015)

Indian Railways, UNDP to Hold Efficient Energy Technology Summit

BENGALURU: Indian Railways said it will partner with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) to organise an international energy efficient technology summit.

"It is first of its kind initiative that the ministry of railways is partnering with the UNDP to explore the latest energy efficiency solutions and technology that it can reduce energy bills and facilitate sustainable development. The international summit is a step in this direction," the ministry said in a statement.

The ministry elaborated that Railway Minister Suresh Prabhu has given a lot of emphasis on energy conservations and energy saving programmes which he outlined in the railway budget speech 2015-16....

(Silicon India - November 3, 2015)


Second Car-Free Day to be held in Dwarka on November 22

New Delhi: A successful CarFree Day last month has prompted the Delhi government to go ahead with the next one, scheduled on November 22. The second car-Free Day will be observed in Dwarka, and sources claimed, the route has almost been finalized. The carfree route is tentatively set between Sectors 7 and 13, with the duration likely to be from 8am to 4pm.

Government officials, however, said that the route is still being planned. A spot inspection of the tentative route has been done by the departments concerned, including the transport department, DTC and the Delhi traffic police. Officials said the route will be similar to the one earmarked for Raahgiri events. The route for the cycle rally has also been decided, said officials. This could be along Sectors 7-9 and 13-3, an official said....

(The Times of India - November 5, 2015)

Delhi starts 'pollution toll' for trucks

Last month, the Supreme Court approved a four-month trial plan to charge light commercial vehicles an extra Rs700 and large trucks Rs1,300 to enter Delhi

New Delhi: Delhi on Sunday introduced a toll for all trucks and commercial vehicles in an attempt to improve air quality in the world's most polluted capital ahead of Diwali celebrations.

Trucks are banned from entering the Indian capital during the day, but every night after 8pm more than 50,000 pour in, according to the Delhi-based Centre for Science and Environment (CSE).

The independent centre says lorries account for nearly a third of the pollution in Delhi, adding to a toxic mix of industrial fumes and dust from construction sites to produce hazardous levels of smog...

(Livemint - November 6, 2015)

Centre Asks States to Curb Crop-Burning; Cause of Heavy Pollution

New Delhi: Taking note of non-implementation of two advisories issued to curb burning of crop residues which was leading to smog in NCR region including Delhi, the Centre on Tuesday asked four states to take stringent measures to prevent such practices.

Environment Ministry has written letters to Haryana, Punjab, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh and urged them to launch an intensive monitoring including through satellite based remote sensing technology to monitor crop residue management.

"I request you to launch an intensive monitoring in your state including through satellite based remote sensing technologies to monitor crop residue management....

(NDTV - November 4, 2015)

Note: The linked articles and excerpts in this post are provided for informational puposes only and do not necessarily reflect the views or positions of the India Initiative or of the Natural Resources Defense Council.

The Oasis of an HFC Amendment: Not a Mirage, But Still a Dune or Two Away

November 6, 2015

David Doniger, Director, Climate and Clean Air Program, Washington, D.C.

At the close of a week's negotiations in Dubai, countries have made progress toward the oasis of an HFC phase-down amendment to the Montreal Protocol. If they keep driving their camels, there's hope they can reach the oasis in 2016.

The first proposals to use the highly successful Montreal treaty to phase down the super heat-trapping hydrofluorocarbons were made six years ago. Now there are four proposed HFC amendments sponsored by more than 40 countries, with support from a broad majority of the world's nations.

A steadily dwindling band of opponents has posed one objection after another, however. It has often seemed like climbing up and down an endless series of sand dunes. You can trace the journey in my blogs over the years.

Coming into Dubai, there was hope that we might achieve a breakthrough agreement on an HFC amendment at this annual ministerial-level meeting, as a lead-in to the Paris climate talks in December. You could see the oasis in the distance. We did not reach it this week, but countries made enough progress to convince me that it is not a mirage.

As the week began, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Pakistan, Argentina, and a few others dropped objections to forming an HFC "contact group" to begin negotiating an amendment. The contact group met intensively through the week, and though the discussion had its ups and downs, on the whole parties reduced their posturing and productively addressed real challenges and effective solutions.

The U.S. delegation, led by EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy, worked hard outside the room, in bilaterals with other ministers and delegation heads. McCarthy's direct involvement recalls the key role of her predecessors Lee Thomas and Bill Reilly in achieving the CFC phase-out almost three decades ago. It demonstrates the Obama administration's strong commitment to curb HFCs under the Montreal Protocol as part of its broader push for global climate progress in Paris and climate action at home.

While many details remain to be worked out, the general outline of solutions is not new. It follows the Montreal Protocol's proven formula for success: Both developed and developing countries would agree to limit HFCs, with developing countries given more time and funding to cover transition costs. The parties would use the existing Multilateral Fund to administer transitional funding. They would use the Technical and Economic Assessment Panel to periodically asses the pace of technology development. They would allow temporary exemptions if necessary, for example, to perfect alternatives for air conditioning in very hot climates.

Not every problem has been solved. There is still a large gap between the parties on how long developing countries should have to freeze and reduce HFCs. The Indian proposal, for example, would impose no limits until 2031, while the other three proposals - from North America, the island states, and the European Union - envision HFC curbs beginning much sooner. (The proposals are compared here and here.) India is also demanding more expansive funding assistance than has been provided in controlling prior chemicals, as well as broad concessions on patent rights.

Early Friday morning, the Dubai meeting closed with an agreement to "work within the Montreal Protocol to an HFC amendment in 2016," and to intensify the pace of negotiations on remaining issues with a series of extra meetings, including an "extraordinary meeting of the parties" - an extra, ministerial-level, decision-making meeting that has been held only twice before in the Protocol's nearly 30 year history.

We are not at the oasis, but my camel can smell the water.

Brazilian Tailings Dam Failure Highlights Pebble Mine's Risk to Bristol Bay

November 6, 2015

Taryn Kiekow Heimer, Senior Policy Analyst, Marine Mammal Protection Project, Santa Monica, California

A tailings dam at the Germano open-pit iron ore mine in Brazil burst yesterday, washing away an entire neighboring community. Tragically, there are at least two confirmed deaths and over a dozen people still missing.

It's being called the country's worst dam breach. And it was caused when a tailings dam owned by two of the world's biggest mining companies - Australian BHP Billiton and Brazilian Vale SA - unexpectedly failed.

The Germano mine began operations in 1977 and is not your grandfather's mine. Touted as "innovative" by the mining industry, recent "achievements" include the "rehabilitation" of the existing tailings dam with the construction of a buttressing dam meant to further stabilize the existing dam and its mining waste.

BHP Billiton and Vale are two of the biggest mining companies in the world. They have the resources and wherewithal to do it right. Yet the dam and its reengineered buttress failed. The result - though unintentional - is death and destruction.

The backers of the proposed Pebble Mine in Bristol Bay, Alaska tout the marvels of "modern mining." The Pebble Limited Partnership website brushes off "concerns" about a tailings dam failure because "we're confident we can build a structure to withstand the test of time... due to modern engineering and technical design."

The Pebble Limited Partnership also claimed that mining and fish could co-exist in Bristol Bay, as in the Fraser River. But that was before the tailings dam at the Mount Polley mine breached last year, dumping billions of gallons of mining sludge and threatening the runs of Fraser River salmon.

Accidents happen, and dams unintentionally fail. Even with modern engineering.

The result of a tailings dam failure at the proposed Pebble Mine would be "catastrophic" to Bristol Bay's $1.5 billion commercial fishing industry that supports 14,000 jobs, according to a three-year, twice-peer reviewed scientific study by the EPA . The salmon in Bristol Bay are the lifeblood of the region, supporting commercial and sports fishing industries, wildlife, and Alaska Native communities who have relied on the salmon for millennia.

The danger is clear. Mining is an inherently risky business, and Bristol Bay is too precious of a resource to risk.

We've seen enough mining disasters to say NO now to the Pebble Mine.

Not In Our National Interest

November 6, 2015

Rhea Suh, President, New York City

President Obama took a big leap forward in the fight against climate change by rejecting the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline.

From the moment permission was sought to run the Keystone XL dirty tar sands pipeline through the heartland of America, there has been one question before President Obama: Is this in our national interest?

It's not, as the president made emphatic today in a decision that serves the national interest in three essential ways.

It sends a message that the breadbasket of America is not up for grabs to foreign oil companies that want to bully our ranchers, farmers, and community leaders into exposing the fertile lands of our forebears' toil to the potential pipeline blowouts, disasters, and pollution that put our families, waters, and crops at risk.

It helps to protect one of the last truly wild places left on earth from one of the most destructive industrial processes ever devised, the tar sands mining that is forever destroying vast tracts of Canada's boreal forest and bringing widespread ruin to the lives of countless native people who live there.

And it strikes a needed blow against the central environmental challenge of our time by averting the climate-disrupting carbon pollution from the dirty tar sands crude the pipeline would have shipped.

From the time it's drilled, steamed, and gouged out of the ground until it's refined and burned, tar sands fuel generates at least 17 percent more climate-disrupting carbon pollution than fuels from conventional crude oil. The U.S. State Department calculated that the incremental carbon pollution from crude shipped in the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline would be as much as putting up to 5.7 million additional cars on the road -- about as many as are in the state of Pennsylvania.

The last thing we need to do is to lock our children and grandchildren into more of the dangerous carbon pollution that's driving climate change. There is a better way.

We can create jobs and do more with less waste by investing in efficiency. We can set the table for generations of prosperity by building, in this country, the best all-electric and hybrid cars anywhere. And we can drive American innovation and industry by getting more clean power from the wind and sun.

That's the path to opportunity and progress: turning away from the dirty fossil fuels of the past and moving toward the clean energy solutions we know can power us forward into the 21st century.

There may be no higher purpose a president can serve than to stand up for our people, our resources, and our future. That's what Obama did today in protecting the country from a reckless venture that would have put oil profits first and put the rest of us at risk.

This project was never about helping our country. It was a plan to send some of the dirtiest oil on the planet through the American heartland, crossing 1,073 of our waterways, from the great Yellowstone River in Montana to the Platte River of Nebraska, along with tens of thousands of acres of wetlands.

It would have exposed those waterways -- and the hundreds of thousands of ranches, communities, and farms that depend on them for clean drinking water and irrigation -- to the kinds of pipeline failures we've seen time and again, from the Santa Barbara beachfront last May to the Canadian province of Alberta just last summer.

And for what? A project that would have created 35 permanent jobs and sent crude to refineries in Houston and Port Arthur, Texas, facilities that last year shipped more than 60 percent of their refined product overseas.

No wonder this project drew grassroots opposition from the very communities it threatened most. Those grassroots voices -- from ranchers, farmers, community leaders, and others all across the American heartland -- spoke for all of us in demanding this misguided project be stopped.

Tar sands mining has already destroyed enough of the boreal forest to cover the city of Chicago. Toxic tar sands waste pits near the mining sites cover an area larger than Washington, D.C., contaminating Alberta waters with three million gallons of contaminated waste every day, threatening the health and livelihood of indigenous people.

Killing the Keystone XL pipeline won't end this destruction, but it will dramatically curtail its expansion. In a little more than a year, in fact, the oil industry itself has canceled more than 1.5 million barrels a day of tar sands production expansion, citing, in large part, a lack of pipeline capacity to get tar sands crude out of the forest.

In saying no to the tar sands pipeline, the president put the brakes on efforts to expand this epically destructive industrial practice. Looking to the future. Preparing our people for progress. Striking a blow against climate change. That's what the president did today.

The president, though, did one thing more. He stood up to the special interests that think they can buy our government with enough campaign contributions and political arm-twisting.

Remember, in just the two years leading up to last November's midterm elections, the fossil fuel industry spent more than $720 million to support its allies and agenda in Congress. And remember, too, that when House Speaker John Boehner, R-OH, and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-KY, took control of both houses of Congress in January, the very first order of business on their agenda was to pass a bill to force approval of the dirty tar sands pipeline.

Obama's response to the big polluters and their political front men was as clear as it was courageous. He vetoed the bill. Now he's killed the pipeline. That's what it means to stand up to special interests and stand up for the national interest.

Future generations won't wonder why Obama took the action he took today. They'll be grateful he had the vision to grasp the stakes in this call, the wisdom to discern the best course for the country, and the tenacity to stand up for our children.

That's what we elect presidents to do in this country. This is what it looks like when they get it right.