Businesses Nationwide Support Methane Regulation

Businesses nationwide are speaking up in favor of climate regulation.  The US Chamber of Commerce often gives the impression that businesses oppose environmental regulation. But across the country, thousands upon thousands of businesses are speaking out and saying that well-crafted regulations of carbon emissions are good for businesses.

There is increasing evidence that fracking for natural gas is harming local communities and substantially increasing climate change.  Today, Green America’s Green Business Network and the American Sustainable Business Council, representing over 200,000 businesses, filed joint comments with the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) in support of proposed regulations of methane emissions from natural gas operations on public and tribal lands.  The regulations are an important first step in addressing rapidly increasing methane emissions from natural gas operations.

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U.S. Department of the Interior
Director (630)
Bureau of Land Management
Mail Stop 2134 LM
1849 C St. NW., Washington, DC 20240

Attention: 1004–AE14

April 21, 2016

Dear Director Kornze,

On behalf of the 3,000 business members of Green America’s Green Business Network and the over 200,000 businesses represented by the American Sustainable Business Council (ASBC), we submit our support for the U.S. Department of the Interior (DOI) Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM) recent proposed standards to reduce methane emissions and wasted gas from venting, flaring, and leaks on federal and tribal lands. The proposed regulations make strong business sense, and are an important step in the right direction in mitigating the adverse effects methane leaks have on the environment, small businesses, and Americans.

Current standards addressing venting, flaring, and leaks do not take into account recent developments in methane mitigation technology and the increasing evidence of methane’s contributions to climate change. Methane is a pollutant more potent than carbon dioxide, and accounts for nine percent of greenhouse gas emissions. In March, Harvard researchers published the study entitled A large increase in U.S. methane emissions over the past decade inferred from satellite data and surface observations in Geophysical Research Letters. The study relied on satellite imaging and found that methane emissions increased by more than 30 percent over the central US between 2002 and 2014. Methane emission increases over the past decade or more are significantly undermining the reductions the US has achieved in CO2 emissions over the same time period.

If strong federal rules are not adopted, methane waste from oil and gas sites will continue to exacerbate the effect climate change has on the economy, including the small businesses sector, which is a principle job creator in the US. Although climate change has more immediate consequences for certain regions – coastal communities and businesses, for instance, are already dealing with rising sea levels – small businesses in general are vulnerable to its impacts, and have less resources to adapt to them. Impacts include disrupting distribution, interrupting farming and production, and rising healthcare costs for employees. Air pollution from methane leaks on public and tribal lands near tourist destinations can also impact small businesses that depend on tourism.

Climate change is likely to have far-reaching and devastating economic impacts. The Risky Business Project, founded to highlight the risks of climate change to the economy, recently published The Economic Risks of Climate Change: An American Prospectus.  The book highlights the greatest economic risks of climate change including: increased mortality; reduction in the hours that people are able to work (particularly in the agriculture, construction, utilities, and manufacturing sectors); and impacts on energy demand, coastal communities, agriculture, and crime. The authors found that the total economic impacts could be three percent of US GDP or higher. Small businesses will be particularly susceptible to such impacts.

That is why it is vitally important that the BLM take steps to lower methane emissions contributing to climate change.  These steps will help protect American small businesses and their communities nationwide.

Adopting the proposed rules will also spur innovation and create jobs in the American clean energy industry, especially within the methane mitigation sector. The majority of existing methane mitigation companies are headquartered in the United States and qualify as small businesses; this rule would allow the American methane mitigation sector to grow, and positions the US to become a global leader in reducing methane emissions.

We greatly appreciate the BLM’s leadership with the proposed rules to reduce methane waste from public and tribal natural gas sites. Although the proposed rules are a positive first step, there is also room to strengthen BLM’s proposal, including:

  • improving leak detection and repair requirements (including quarterly inspections for leak detection and conservative parameters around the proposed alternative compliance programs following the successful examples of Wyoming and Colorado in capturing waste);
  • enacting better standards for production equipment and strengthening flaring regulation (including strengthening control measure around pneumatic controllers and monitoring for leaks); and
  • ensuring enforcement, transparency, and accountability (including increased ability for public comment for ongoing issues).

Finally, it is imperative that BLM finalizes the rules this year as the need for meaningful methane regulation reform is clear: methane leaks and waste fuel climate change and negatively impact human health and businesses nationwide.  Delay will only increase these harms.

The proposed regulations and the steps highlighted above for strengthening them will play a strong role in reducing waste, protecting public health, and addressing the harmful consequences of climate change.  They will help to protect the small business community from climate impacts and provide opportunities for small businesses growth.

Sincerely,

 

Todd Larsen                                                                                       Richard Eidlin

Executive Co-Director                                                                    Vice president of Policy and

Green America                                                                                   Campaigns of ASBC

The Paris Accord: A Major Step Forward for International Cooperation on Climate. Not Enough, On Its Own, to Address Climate Crisis

The Paris Accord: A Major Step Forward for International Cooperation on Climate. Not Enough, On Its Own, to Address Climate Crisis. Yet, in many ways the deal does not go far enough. The key goals of limiting temperature change are aspirational and not legally binding.

The news from Paris this weekend was huge.  Nearly 200 countries agreed to take action on climate to keep temperature increases to 2 degrees Celsius or an even more aspirational goal of 1.5 degrees.  The deal has many positive aspects. Nations will be transparent about their emissions reductions, and that transparency should help to shame laggards.  Rich countries are pledging $100 billion per year in assistance to poorer nations.

Yet, in many ways the deal does not go far enough.  The key goals of limiting temperature change are aspirational and not legally binding.  That is why climate scientist James Hansen has ridiculed the agreement for being insufficient to address the problem at the scale that’s needed. And, developing and poor nations are justifiably concerned that assistance from rich countries will not be enough and isn’t even guaranteed.

Of course, the flaws in the agreement reflect the political realities of the major polluter nations, particularly that of the United States.  The U.S. Congress is under the control of politicians who still question whether climate science is real, favor lavish subsidies for fossil fuels, and fail to adequately support renewable energy development.  As a result, the Obama Administration had to negotiate a deal that did not need Senate approval, and the Paris Accord, with all its strengths and weaknesses, fits the bill.

Since the goals of the Paris Accord are aspirational, it is up to citizens and progressive business leaders worldwide to push for strong measures in their countries to move to a clean energy economy.  This transition needs to protect human rights alongside environmental priorities. An important place to start the transition process is eliminating the vast subsidies for fossil fuels.  Worldwide subsidies for fossil fuels represent an astonishing $10 million per minute, or over $5 trillion per year.  These subsidies are distorting energy markets worldwide, making highly polluting fuels appear to be “cheap,” when they actually have huge environmental and health costs that will be borne by citizens for generations. And, compare subsidies for fossil fuels with those for clean energy – currently only $120 billion per year worldwide. Fossil fuel subsidies are an incredible 125 times greater than clean energy ones.  Despite these imbalances, clean energy is developing quickly around the world, but if there were a level playing field, it would increase even more rapidly, and at the rate we need to address climate emissions.

Here in the U.S., government incentives for clean energy are expiring and failing to be renewed, while fossil fuel subsidies that have been locked in for decades continue without any opportunity for public debate.  Green America is working to correct this issue by promoting Clean Energy Victory Bonds, legislation that would provide $50 billion in dedicated Treasury bonds that support only clean energy and energy efficiency programs in the U.S. This legislation would create over one million good paying jobs in the U.S., and help accelerate wind, solar, and energy efficiency installations across the country. As we work to pass Clean Energy Victory Bonds, Green Americans can take action with us to divest their money from climate polluters and invest in clean energy solutions instead.

It is also essential that the citizens of wealthy countries assist poor countries in adopting clean energy and addressing the impacts of climate change.  It is only fair that the countries that have benefited from over 100 years of unrestricted carbon emissions that helped generate tremendous wealth, agree to help developing countries build their economies with low-carbon technologies.  It is also in the interest of rich countries to do so for their own sake.  For example, if climate change continues on its current path, the United States could experience sea level rises of 10 feet on its East Coast, destroying the homes and businesses of millions of people.

Climate change demonstrates clearly that we are all in this together, and that there is no place for privileging one nation above others.  As the wealthiest country on earth, the U.S. has a special obligation to be a leader, creating a future for its own citizens and people worldwide.  We can all play a role, as consumers, investors, business owners, and voters to ensure that the U.S. is the leader we need it to be.

You Don’t Have to Be a Rockefeller

It’s not often at Green America that we highlight members of the 1% as an example to follow, but recent action by the Rockefeller family now serves as a model for many Americans. The Rockefellers have instructed the Rockefeller Brothers Fund to divest its holdings of fossil fuels, joining a growing list of foundations that are taking this stand against irresponsible fossil-fuel polluters. Since the family’s wealth — much of which is now in charities — was made from Standard Oil (now Exxon), the move is particularly meaningful.

The divestment decision comes after years of the Rockefellers engaging with Exxon and trying to encourage the company to be more sustainable, without much success (for 10 years Green America and its members also put direct pressure on Exxon). Exxon and the other major fossil fuel multinationals have made it clear that they plan to pursue a strategy of increasing the production of fossil fuels for decades. That means increased drilling in fragile ecosystems, with the inevitable major spills on land and seas. That means more fracking and more tar sands fields. It also means pumping way more carbon into the atmosphere and warming the planet to levels it hasn’t experienced in millions of years, creating massive disruptions to civilization as we know it, and speeding the extinction of thousands of species.

ThatFossil Free’s why more and more philanthropies, universities, houses of worship, and individuals are saying “enough is enough” and moving their money out of fossil fuels and reinvesting in a green economy.

You don’t have to be a Rockefeller to take part. Here’s four steps to take action with your money:

  1. Divest from climate polluters and reinvest in clean energy. 
    Green America’s Fossil Free Investment campaign has the most complete resources available.
  2. Break up with your megabank.
    Megabanks continue to invest billions in coal and other fossil fuels, even after pledging to go carbon free.  Green America’s Break Up With Your Megabank Campaign has all the resources you need to move your money to banks and credit unions that invest in local communities and green companies.
  3. Take the Divest/Invest Pledge.
    The Divest/Invest coalition is asking people to take their pledge to divest to demonstrate the growing numbers of individual investors who are saying no to fossil fuels in their portfolios.
  4. Share this information widely.
    Encourage family, friends, your house of worship, school, etc. to divest their money from fossil fuels as well.  The faster the movement grows, the more pressure there will be on polluters.

The People’s Climate March – 400,000 strong – demonstrated that Americans are willing to take action for climate change and are not going to wait for Washington or all Street to take action. We can all take action with our money for the climate. In the 1980’s the divestment movement made a huge impact on ending Apartheid in South Africa. Now, it’s our turn to divest our money from fossil fuels and invest in the clean energy economy we need.

Take action today!

Light Weight = Heavy Impact

Guest blog post and graphic by Allison Stewart of our Better Paper Project. 

I was at a Sustainability in Packaging conference earlier this spring, and it hit home for me that we need better product and packaging development. If we develop products that have no further opportunity for re-use, then we are intentionally making unsustainable products and packages. If we support a circular-based economy – in which products are designed, produced,distributed, collected, sorted, and returned to be recycled and reincorporated into new products – then we can’t continue choosing lightweight but unrecyclable packages (see example below). These lightweight packages sound like great design innovation, but they are ultimately increasing the amount of unrecyclable waste in our landfills.

We are delivering more and more products in disposable, one-time-use, plastic containers and pouches. This trend is a result of lightweighting our packaging to decrease the volume and increase the fill-capacity of packaging. The process of lighweighting is one of the most effective ways to decrease the amount of plastic that is used for packaging.

Lightweighting is seen by most sustainability representatives of companies as the best way to economically invest in sustainability, and most would probably agree to that logic. Lightweighting can increase the amount of packaging that can be produced with the same material, it lowers shipping costs per item, decreases the volume (per item) of packaging going into our landfills, and thus is seen to have a lower environmental impact. The fundamental flaw, however, is that these pouches and containers – regardless of using less resources than previously – are not designed to be recycled or recovered.

I first heard of the idea “Light Weight, Heavy Impact” from McKinsey & Company’s report about the impact of lightweight materials across industries  The variety of flexible and hard plastics, aluminum, and other materials used to create lightweight packages make it impossible to recover. These packages are literally “designed for the dump.”

Waste & recycling facilities, municipalities, and consumers are all wrestling with the new challenge of determining what packages can be recycled. For the past decade, most of our waste has been sent to China where Chinese recycling plants have made a lot of money reprocessing our trash and selling the raw materials. Last year they enacted a policy called the “Green Fence,” rejecting shipments of over-contaminated recyclables that don’t pass inspection. As a result of these demurrage charges and subsequently higher shipping costs, many waste and recycling facilities are looking for alternative solutions. The US now ships to India and other countries that accept it, though this isn’t a sustainable or long-term solution.

As companies continue to designing products and packages without considering the environmental fate, more packaging moves to hard-to-recover, lightweight materials that are designed for the dump. We need to consider the end-of-life of our products from the beginning, and design products with environmental intention. A system built on the idea of Cradle-to-Cradle design would set standards for developing non-toxic, sustainable materials and facilities that design products that can be later reutilized in new products. Biodegradable and compostable packaging will likely play an increasingly important role in a transition to zero-waste.

One strategy frequently discussed for building sustainability into our packaging system is Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR). “EPR is typically understood to involve a shift in responsibility (administratively, financially or physically) from governments or municipalities to producers as well as an encouragement of producers to take environmental considerations into account during the design and manufacture phases of product development.” (Source: Sustainable Management of Resources. Accessed March 12, 2014 via web: http://epr.eu-smr.eu/introduction).

Many organizations are already working to encourage EPR in packaging legislative action, to bring corporate responsibility into the equation. Canada is leading with and Europe already lead by example.

Canada has years of experience implementing EPR at the national and provincial level utilizing a variety of approaches. There is no national EPR authorizing legislation in Canada; instead, each province or territory is able to implement or pass its own authorizing legislation and regulations. Nearly all provinces and territories have their own programs and authorizing legislation.

EPR is widely used in Europe as a means of preventing pollution and minimizing waste. The European Union (EU) possesses the authority to issue legislative acts known as directives and each member state must “transpose” or create its own laws, if necessary, in order to implement these directives. The EU has issued a number of directives aimed at increasing producer responsibility across Europe.  (Examples: https://www.ec.gc.ca/gdd-mw/default.asp?lang=En&n=FB8E9973-1, http://www.eprcanada.ca/, http://www.europen-packaging.eu/policy.html ). And NRDC has awesome infographics that demonstrate how EPR can be an effective strategy in California and other parts of the US: http://www.nrdc.org/recycling/files/green-jobs-ca-recycling-info.pdf.

The Better Paper Project of Green America is participating and working with other non-profits and companies to find sustainable solutions to our packaging challenges here in the US. How we spend our dollars reflects our values, and we tend to overlook the packages that deliver our products. This impact, however, is adding up – and ending up as marine debris and in landfills, as opposed to being recollected for further use. Companies, distributors, consumers, municipalities and government are all involved, and must work together to effectively minimize the environmental footprint of our products and source materials. If you have questions or suggestions about the ways in which consumers can play a part, feel free to share in the comment section below.

Some ideas include: supporting various take-back programs, choosing certified products that are also packaged and produced with end-of-life in mind, encouraging legislative action, working on local zero-waste initiatives, education campaigns, etc.

AllisonsGraphic

Clean Energy Victory Bonds Act of 2014 Introduced by Reps Lofgren & Matsui

Today, US Representatives Zoe Lofgren and Doris Matsui, along with 15 original co-sponsors, introduced the Clean Energy Victory Bonds Act of 2014. The bill is now before the House of Representatives, and not a moment too soon.

ImageThe Clean Energy Victory Bonds Act of 2014, or CEVB for short, is modeled after one of the most successful fundraising efforts in US history. In World War II, millions of Americans purchased over $185 billion (over $2 trillion in today’s dollars) worth of Victory Bonds issued by the United States Treasury, in order to fund the war effort. The bonds allowed citizens to invest directly in the materials and technologies needed to achieve victory in one of the most destructive wars in human history.

Today, however, we face different problems – a rapidly changing climate, rising sea levels, and more intense weather events like Hurricane Sandy put our infrastructure and economy at risk. Our outdated energy systems continue to inefficiently burn fossil fuels, and the extraction of these fuels continues to degrade ecosystems across the planet. Renewable energy and energy efficient technologies are a promising solution to these crises, but a lack of funding makes them unappealing to industrial-scale investors.

The United States also risks losing its position as a clean energy leader.  China, Germany and other nations are outspending the US in the clean energy race and are already seeing the benefits of increased jobs and plentiful clean energy.

Clean Energy Victory Bonds, backed by the full faith and credit of the United States, will allow any American to invest in a clean energy future for as little as $25. The sale of the bonds is projected to raise up to $50 billion, which would leverage an additional $100 billion from private investors. The money raised would fund essential tax credits to renewable sources like wind, solar, and geothermal, as well as energy-efficiency programs. Continued support of these industries will reduce the demand for fossil fuels, reduce the amount of CO2 poured into the atmosphere, and create at least 1 million well-paying jobs that cannot be shipped overseas. With oil companies still receiving massive government subsidies, a fundraising effort of great proportions is needed to level the playing field for clean energy technologies.

If you want to invest in our nation’s energy future by purchasing CEVBs, call your Representative in Congress and tell him or her to co-sponsor the Clean Energy Victory Bonds Act of 2014. With your help, we can transition our economy from one that relies on dirty fossil fuels to a clean energy economy that provides real opportunities for our citizens, all while protecting our homes from catastrophic climate change. For more information, please visit www.cleanenergyvictorybonds.org.

EPA’s Gina McCarthy to Speak at Good Jobs Green Jobs Conference

EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy
EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy

Green America is pleased to serve as a convening organization of the Good Jobs Green Jobs Conference to be held in Washington, DC, Feb. 10-11, 2014.  There will be more than 1,000 participants representing academia, labor, the environmental movement, sustainable business, community organizations, and more!

Exciting news! We just learned that EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy will speak at the conference as well. Ms. McCarthy has worked at the federal, state, and local levels on crucial environmental issues and helped coordinate policies on economic growth, energy, transportation and the environment.

The conference will provide an important opportunity to hear from leaders who are building a green economy, to ask questions about policy and action plans, and to network with people from across the country on a wide range of issues facing our nation and the need to “Repair America” – the 2014 conference theme.

Register for one day or both days!

And be sure to come to the session on February 11th with Green America and our colleagues on the Role of Business in Repairing America and Building a New Economy. We look forward to seeing you there!

Hurricane Sandy raises the issue that is absent from the campaigns

It is only November and we have already experienced five major climatic abnormalities that have been at the forefront of discussion across America. Since the beginning of this year, wildfires have burned through an area the size of Maryland. On August 14th 2012, 25 percent of the land area of the lower 48 states was experiencing extreme or exceptional drought (which in turn knocked off 0.4 percentage points from third quarter GDP growth). Arctic sea ice melted to the lowest levels ever recorded. And most recently, a late season hurricane swept across the East Coast and caused billions of dollars of damage that will take weeks or months to recover from. Unsurprisingly, the problem at the root of these events is related to one simple factor that we have known about for years: a warming climate. The first nine months of the year have been the hottest the United States has ever experienced.

A recent opinion piece in the Washington Post highlights these starting events and notes that while these events are not a direct result of how much CO2 we are emitting this year (which is actually on pace to be the lowest total in 20 years), the fact that we continue to affect the climate with greenhouse gases is making the atmosphere more unstable and prone to natural disasters. Studies have shown that continuing to pollute our atmospheres will make drought and wild fires more frequent and severe. Global sea level is rising, meaning that powerful storms are more likely to cause the intense flooding seen during Hurricane Sandy.

Despite this overwhelming amount of evidence linking greenhouse gas emissions to global warming, and thus extreme weather events, neither political party has done much to address the topic on the campaign trail. The topic of climate change did not surface at any of the debates, despite the presence of these climate-related disasters. The only real mention of energy policy came when both President Obama and Governor Romney boasted that they would expand the US natural gas industry. There were only vague mentions of wind and solar power, with Governor Romney asserting that he will fight for coal, oil and gas, give the EPA less power to regulate coal plants, and bring the Keystone Pipeline in from Canada. And though President Obama has implemented some of the most important energy legislation to date (including fuel efficiency standards and $90 billion for clean energy), he too was notably absent on the topic of greenhouse gases and climate change.

In order to have a real discussion about climate change, we need our political leaders to take a stance and propose solutions. The climatic events seen in 2012 have accelerated the timeline that scientists have given for climate change; dramatic shifts in our climate are happening right now. We need a president and Congress that would be willing to pass legislation like the Clean Energy Victory Bonds Act of 2012 in order to start building an energy future that reduces our reliance on emissions-producing fossil fuels. In order to increase the stability of our climate and remove dangerous heat from our atmosphere, we need to invest in technologies that do not contribute to the warming of the planet. We have more than enough renewable resources throughout the world to meet our power needs with technology that is already available. Getting the public to realize that we need to make the switch as soon as possible will be the most important challenge of the next decade for our climate change leaders and our elected officials – starting with the office of the President.

Blog post by Matt Jennings