Climate 411

How One Utility Is Changing the Clean Energy Business in Brooklyn and Queens

A photo by Alexander Rotker. unsplash.com/photos/-sQ4FsomXEsBy Gabriela B. Zayas del Rio, Tom Graff Diversity Fellow, Clean Energy

The system for supplying electricity in the U.S. was premised on the assumption that utilities would make evermore electricity to sell to customers. But, the global need to reduce carbon emissions from traditional power generation, along with the emergence of distributed energy resources – small, grid-connected devices, like rooftop solar and energy storage – have disrupted demand for electricity produced from traditional power plants.

In May, the New York State Public Service Commission introduced a new way to pay the state’s utilities, one where utilities are compensated not just based on how much electricity they produce, but also for producing environmental benefits aligned with the public good. This approach aligns with Reforming the Energy Vision (REV) – New York’s official plan to make its electric grid cleaner, more efficient, and affordable – and comes at a time of unparalleled population growth in New York. Read More »

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California’s Communities Demand Strong Methane Rules and Regulators Listen

By Irene Burga, Tom Graff Fellow for the Oil and Gas Program

Last month, lifelong Kern County, California resident Felipa Trujillo discussed the health impacts her community, located near oil and gas operations, has experienced. “It’s the most contaminated place in the country. I have witnessed many children getting cancer and asthma, and would like to leave a positive future for my grandkids.”

Trujillo was one of over twenty witnesses that appeared last month before the California Air Resources Board (CARB) to testify on the need for strong statewide rules to reduce methane pollution from the oil and gas industry. During the meeting, Board members heard about the importance of the rules from many powerful witnesses, ranging from concerned mothers and fathers, impacted community members overburdened by poor air quality, nurses who consistently treat asthma patients, industry experts, and air district agents from throughout California.

Several Porter Ranch residents testified on what it was like to endure one of the worst methane leaks in U.S. history right in their backyard. “A month prior [to the Aliso Canyon leak being reported] my daughter Emma, 22 months at the time, began showing signs of asthma. Two months after the gas leak was reported, my daughters were diagnosed with acute exacerbation of asthma,” described Porter Ranch resident, Jaqueline Shroeder, calling on the Board to take swift action in approving strong rules. Read More »

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10 Reasons Why We Love Community Solar

By Jorge Madrid, Campaign Manager, Climate & Energy, and Carlos Mandeville.SunFamily

This year is set to be another record-breaker for solar power: the industry is on pace to nearly double in size by the end of 2016, and there are now more than one million solar installations in the U.S. that generated more new electricity in the first quarter of the year than coal, natural gas, and nuclear combined. This is good news, in part because 2016 is also on track to be the hottest year in recorded history – awash in scorching hot solar rays we can tap for clean, renewable energy.

Unfortunately, solar power is still inaccessible to vast, unreached markets and segments of the U.S. population. The National Renewable Energy Laboratory says only 22 to 27 percent of residential rooftops are capable of hosting a solar system because of structural challenges, tree shading, or “ownership issues” – mainly households who rent, and cannot install solar panels on roofs they don’t own. Likewise, U.S. households who earn less than $40,000 per year (40 percent of the U.S. population) account for less than five percent of all solar installations.

But the solar game is changing. New models are emerging to complement and fill gaps in the market.

Read More »

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Methane Leaks: How Oil and Gas Emissions Pose Widespread Risk to California Communities

By Irene Burga, Tom Graff Fellow,  Oil and Gas program and Jorge Madrid, Campaign Manager, Climate & Energy

We have a problem with methane pollution from the oil and gas industry in California. And it is a problem with the potential to severely damage the environment and the health and safety of all Californians, if this pollutant is allowed to escape unchecked from wells, pipelines, and other equipment.

The good news is there are simple, low-cost solutions to eliminate much of it. But it requires that oil and gas companies routinely inspect for methane leaks, something California regulators exempted operators from with a special exit clause in its newly proposed methane rules.

Aside from its climate impacts – methane packs a warming punch 84 times more powerful than carbon dioxide in the first 20 years – exposure to oil and gas air pollution is linked to a host of serious health impacts, especially for those communities living closest to development. Oil and gas methane emissions are often released along with other harmful pollutants, like benzene, a known carcinogen. Oil and gas activity can also release compounds that contribute to smog, which can aggravate asthma and cause lung diseases.

Impacted communities near oil and gas facilities, like the Porter Ranch residents who dealt with the four-month-long -mega-gas-leak in their backyard, or the residents of University Park who endured a 400 percent spike in oil production in their community, have reported experiencing severe headaches, nausea, and nose-bleeds. These and other related impacts often correlate with a higher number of days missed from school and work, lower educational attainment and income potential, and weakened health overall—impacts which are felt most in low-income communities and communities of color.

In California, over 1.3 million residents, including over 500,000 Latinos and over 120,000 African Americans, live within a half mile from an active oil and gas facility. These same communities in the state have higher than average poverty rates and poor access to healthcare. Additionally, over two-thirds of California’s Latinos live in areas with some of the country’s worst ozone and air quality levels, and nationally, Latino children are 40 percent more likely to die from asthma than non-Latino whites.

Adding to the health impact is the high risk of leaks: California’s extensive oil and gas infrastructure (3rd largest oil producer and the 2nd largest natural gas consumer in the county) is over mostly over 100 years old, and leaks are both common and invisible.

But we have a chance to do something about this public health and environmental problem now.

This week, the California Air Resources Board proposed the third draft of the state’s oil and gas rules, regulating methane emissions from most parts of the oil and natural gas supply chain. The rules represent some of the strongest oil and gas methane standards in the nation by covering both new and existing facilities, unlike recently finalized federal rules, and raise the bar for national action.

The strongest aspects of this rulemaking – provisions addressing leak-prone equipment and storage tanks – directly benefit communities who live near oil and gas production. The rules also will require regular inspections of oil and gas facilities, and they address the highly polluting practice of flaring and venting excess natural gas.

While the rules are a crucial step toward protecting the health and safety of communities, more needs to be done.

Under certain provisions in the current draft, oil and gas operators can reduce the number of inspections they must make every year, and they are not required to use the best technology to detect these leaks. Closing these loopholes in the rules will be vital to effectively catch harmful leaks that damage public health and the environment.

The public comment period that is now open through the summer is a key opportunity for communities impacted by oil and gas to voice their concerns and speak out about the pollution affecting their families and neighbors. Closing current gaps in California’s methane rules are essential so that communities throughout California are properly protected from the dangers of oil and gas pollution.

As we transition California to a clean energy future, we need to make sure we protect the health and safety of all communities currently being impacted by oil and gas production. Add your support for strong rules to reduce air pollution today.

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From Mexico City to San Francisco: A multi-national perspective on water management

By Ana Lucía García Briones, Senior Specialist, CA Groundwater Program

On World Water Day, I am reminded of what brought me to the Environmental Defense Fund: a passion for working on market-based incentive programs to improve groundwater management in California, ultimately benefiting multiple, diverse communities.

Born and raised in Mexico City, I moved to San Francisco to work on drought-related problems in California. It has been a surreal experience, allowing me to help disproportionately im

Ana Lucia Garcia Briones (left) joined colleagues for a visit to the Kern Water Bank in Bakersfield, California, which uses California’s groundwater space to store 1.5 million acre feet of water and retrieve it when account holders need it.

Ana Lucia Garcia Briones (left) joined colleagues for a visit to the Kern Water Bank in Bakersfield, California, which uses California’s groundwater space to store 1.5 million acre feet of water and retrieve it when account holders need it.

pacted communities, many of which are poor Latino communities in the rural Central Valley, where most of the nation’s fruits and vegetables are grown. In this way, I feel a little bit closer to home.

Water security for all

Many people may not realize it, but only about 5 percent of usable water in California is visible; the rest is underground. With access to surface water curtailed because of a five-year drought, many of the state’s biggest water users – farms and cities – have relied on groundwater pumping as a last resort. This has drawn down aquifers to dangerously low levels, and has left some rural communities without any water at all. 

A new law passed in 2014 will require 127 groundwater basins in the state to come up with sustainable groundwater management plans by 2020 or 2022 (depending on how dire the conditions of the basin are). I am helping to give disadvantaged communities a voice in the process. Read More »

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The Sun Belongs to Everyone

By Jorge Madrid, Campaign Manager, Climate & Energy.
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I thought only supervillains like Mr. Burns or Supreme Leader Snoke from Star Wars were bold enough to try snuffing out the sun…I was wrong.

I’ve been writing about solar power and economic equity for eight years now and I still firmly believe the vision that drew me to this issue in the first place: solar and other forms of clean energy hold the potential to be a jobs and economic growth machine for communities who need it the most.

Back in 2008, I joined a collective movement of environmentalists, community and justice activists, and labor and faith groups who coalesced around a vision for the “green collar economy.” The idea of this movement was to fight climate change while also lifting people out of poverty and jails, and helping them transition into promising careers in growing industries.

Since then I’ve seen many great strides in the creation of a clean energy economy that employs hundreds of thousands with well-paying and accessible jobs, propelled by smart policy, innovation, and upstart private and public sector players, all making meaningful investments in communities. Rooftop solar in particular has begun to challenge the status quo by turning people’s homes into mini power plants, cutting into dirty power and the monopoly-dominated, electric grid.

Yet, despite this progress and opportunity, some states – fueled by short-sighted officials, fear-mongering, and the threat of declining profits for big business utilities – want to shut it all down. Read More »

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