The US embassy pollution index in Beijing produces an Air Quality Index, which measures six pollutants.
According to the index, which follows US Environmental Protection Agency guidelines, an air quality level of more than 100 is “unhealthy for sensitive groups”.
More than 150 is “unhealthy”, and more than 300 is considered “hazardous”, the index reveals.
At one point last year Beijing’s smog was measured at more than 750.
A coal power station generates smoke in Beijing, China.Source: AP
And while Beijing’s bold move may sound like bad news for Australia’s economy, our coal industry thinks exports to China will actually continue to grow.
The Minerals Council of Australia said Beijing was simply moving its coal-fired electricity generation, not banning or stopping it.
According to the council’s executive director of coal, Greg Evans, Beijing’s decision had been flagged for some time.
“It reflects Chinese policy to replace existing coal-fired plants with new, larger, more efficient coal-fired plants in provinces further west and transmit electricity from these plants to the coastal provinces via ultra-high-voltage transmission lines,” he said in a statement provided to news.com.au.
Air pollution is a massive concern for Beijing residents.Source: AFP
In a groundbreaking settlement with Footprint Power on its proposed natural gas facility in Salem, MA, the plant developers agreed to emissions limits and a future shutdown date to comply with Massachusetts mandates. The settlement ensures that, for the first time ever, a proposed natural-gas-fired plant must comply with conditions aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions and over-reliance on fossil fuels.
Our press release about the settlement is below. Look for more analysis about this settlement in future blog posts.
BOSTON, MA February 18, 2014 – Conservation Law Foundation (CLF) today announced that the organization has reached a groundbreaking settlement ensuring that for the first time, a proposed natural gas-fired power plant must comply with conditions aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions and over-reliance on fossil fuels, including enforceable annually declining emissions limits and a date certain for future plant retirement. The agreement between CLF and the developers of the natural gas-fired Footprint Power Plant proposed at the site of a retiring coal-fired plant in Salem, Mass., has been filed for final review and approval with Massachusetts state authorities.
“At a time when many across the nation and the world see unrestricted growth of natural gas as a climate solution, this is the first settlement providing a pathway for new natural gas infrastructure to help enable rather than undermine a clean energy future,” said CLF President John Kassel. “By recognizing the need to limit greenhouse gas emissions from natural gas-fired plants, this agreement reaffirms that natural gas and other fossil fuel projects must comply with state climate mandates, and has important implications for similar projects in the region and nationally.”
Since summer 2012, the proposed Footprint plant has been at the center of legal battles over concerns raised by CLF and residents of Salem and surrounding communities, on the grounds that neither the plant’s developers nor the Commonwealth of Massachusetts had demonstrated how the proposed facility could be consistent with the deep emissions reductions established by the Massachusetts Global Warming Solutions Act signed into law by Governor Deval Patrick in 2008, requiring emissions to be cut at least 25% below 1990 levels by 2020 and at least 80% below 1990 levels by 2050.
Under the settlement announced today, the developers of the Footprint plant agreed to the first ever set of binding conditions for a natural gas plant that establish decreasing annual emissions limits and a retirement date of no later than January 1, 2050. These conditions will help to ensure that the new plant will not hinder Massachusetts’ progress toward reducing emissions. In addition, in connection with the settlement, the Patrick Administration has committed to provide support to municipalities with active or retired coal plants with up to $2 million in funding to build renewable energy facilities and transition to clean energy rather than relying on new fossil fuel plants.
“This agreement shows how natural gas can be a tool for reducing greenhouse emissions if it is appropriately conditioned and constrained in a manner that is consistent with the need to decarbonize our energy system,” said Shanna Cleveland, attorney for CLF. “Natural gas is often viewed as a bridge to the clean energy future; this settlement ensures that there is an end to that bridge. CLF will continue to advocate for sound legal frameworks around energy projects for the benefit of the citizens, communities, economy, and environment of Massachusetts and the entire region.”
The settlement will only take effect if the Siting Board incorporates the entirety of the agreement into the Final Decision as a condition of the approval that the Siting Board is proposing to issue for Footprint Power’s plant. A public meeting will be held at the Siting Board at 10 a.m. at One South Station, Fifth Floor, Hearing Room A in Boston, Massachusetts on Thursday, February 20.
Conservation Law Foundation (CLF) protects New England’s environment for the benefit of all people. Using the law, science and the market, CLF creates solutions that conserve our natural resources, build healthy communities, and sustain a vibrant economy region-wide. Founded in 1966, CLF is a nonprofit, member-supported organization with offices in Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island and Vermont.
Brayton Point Power Station is featured in the film. From Conservation Law Foundation:
“On Monday, Conservation Law Foundation cheered the news that New England’s largest coal plant, Brayton Point Station in Somerset, Massachusetts, will shut down by 2017. Brayton Point has loomed over Somerset and neighboring environmental justice communities on the South Shore for nearly 50 years, belching pollution into the air and destroying wildlife in Mt. Hope Bay.
Many organizations have protested the plant over the years, and many are claiming victory as well as credit for its decision to shut down. We thought you would like to know the leading role CLF has played on the long path to this outcome.
For over 20 years, CLF has held Brayton Point’s owners accountable for cleaning up the air and water pollution it causes. CLF’s legal pressure forced Brayton Point to install modern pollution controls that significantly reduced toxic emissions into the air and their dire health impacts, and ended the dumping of billions of gallons of superheated water into Mt. Hope Bay every year.
In February 2013, CLF, along with our community organizing partners Toxics Action Center and Clean Water Action, sued its then owner Dominion for ongoing violations of the Clean Air Act. Despite the upgrades to the plant, it continues to pollute the air. A report issued last August estimated that even in 2012, Brayton Point’s emissions were responsible for a myriad of health problems from asthma attacks to as many as 39 premature deaths. The litigation is ongoing.
Also in February, 2013, CLF released a report exposing Brayton Point’s financial vulnerability. Entitled Dark Days Ahead, the report showed that a perfect storm of factors – including low natural gas prices – spelled imminent doom for the plant. The report sent a warning signal to prospective buyers of the plant, which was purchased by private equity firm Energy Capital Partners in March.
CLF, Toxics Action Center and Clean Water Action, have been working closely with members of the Somerset community to plan for a future without Brayton Point. No plant closing can be truly celebrated without a viable plan to ensure a just transition to a healthier future.
The End of Coal in New England
Brayton Point’s decision to shut down by 2017 is a harbinger of things to come in New England’s aging coal fleet. As the region’s biggest and most modern coal plant, with the lowest cost of production, it’s safe to say that if Brayton Point can’t survive, then none of its older, less efficient counterparts can.
One by one, our region’s oldest and biggest polluters are succumbing to the market and the march of technology:
Somerset Station, Somerset, MA, SHUT DOWN
AES Thames, Montville, CT, SHUT DOWN
Salem Harbor Station, Salem, MA, Will SHUT DOWN in 2014
Brayton Point, Somerset, MA, Will SHUT DOWN by 2017
Mt. Tom Station, Holyoke, MA, Expected to SHUT DOWN by 2016
Bridgeport Harbor Station, Bridgeport, CT, Running at 4% capacity
Schiller Station, Portsmouth, NH, Running at 12% capacity
Merrimack Station, Bow, NH, Running at 35% capacity*
CLF is on the case on all of New England’s remaining coal plants. Our advocacy calls upon a portfolio of highly effective strategies, from targeted litigation to hold coal plant owners’ feet to the fire to control illegal emissions, to robust participation in the Public Utilities Commissions’ decision-making processes, to a seat at the table in planning for the future of our electric grid. As we have for decades, CLF is applying pressure at the right times and in all the right places to achieve our goal of a Coal Free New England by 2020 – or sooner, with your help.
New England’s remaining coal plants are on the brink. Please consider making a gift today to continue our quest for a Coal Free New England as we pursue a clean energy future. Together, we can end coal’s dirty legacy for good.
N. Jonathan Peress
VP, Director, Clean Energy and Climate Change”
The coal sector is in its death throes, thanks to cheaper alternatives and a growing distaste for what is the worst of the global-warming fuels. The latest casualties: two coal-burning power plants in Pennsylvania that will pump their last energy into the grid, and cough their last pollution in to the air, this weekend.
Officials with FirstEnergy Generation told state lawmakers on Thursday that their 370-megawatt plant in Washington County and its monster, 1,710-megawatt facility in Greene County will shutter next week, with little to no hope of them being sold or reopened.
“Those plants are losing money today and will lose money in the future. Our plans are not to run those units again,” said James Lash, FirstEnergy’s president, according to a report in the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review:
Lash painted a grim future for coal-fired power plants, saying electricity is priced too low in a market where demand for power has dropped and the capital investment needed to meet environmental regulations is too high. Electricity prices have dropped 10 percent from summer to fall, while the cost of natural gas — which also is used as a fuel for power generation — remains at historic low levels because of the abundance of gas from supplies such as the Marcellus shale reserves, Lash said.
It would take another $270 million investment to make the two plants compliant with environmental regulations, including the pending Mercury and Air Toxic Standards rule, which would result in the plants being greater money losers if the company were to make those investments, Lash said.
The previous owner of the plants, Allegheny Energy of Greensburg, spent $715 million in 2009 to install scrubbers at Hatfield’s Ferry.
While the plants’ closure is good news for the climate, it will mean a lot of pain for workers. An estimated 380 union jobs will be lost. Here’s hoping those workers can find better, more healthful jobs in the fast-growing renewable energy sector, which is being supported in Pennsylvania with nine-year-old renewable energy standards that include what the NRDC describes as one of the most ambitious solar provisions in the eastern United States.
Hundreds of protesters Sunday called upon Governor Deval Patrick to close an electricity-generating power plant in Somerset, and about 44 of them were arrested for trespassing on the plant’s grounds, according to Somerset Police Chief Joseph C. Ferreira.
Ferreira estimated about 350 protesters had shown up for a demonstration arranged by climate change organization 350 Massachusetts outside the Brayton Point Power Station.
The plant’s owner, Dominion, described Brayton Point on its website as one of the largest electricity generating plants in New England, using a combination of low-sulfur coal, natural gas, or oil and diesel fuel to generate 1,528 megawatts of electricity.
Many protesters wore red shirts Sunday to indicate they were willing to be arrested. Law enforcement marked a line with police tape and traffic cones, and arrests were made when they crossed the line, according to Ferreira.
“They set themselves apart from the rest of the people,” Ferreira said. “They knew they were trespassing and they were peacefully arrested.”
Before the arrests, protesters marched from a nearby park to the plant, according to Adam Greenberg, a member of 350 Massachusetts and a spokesman at Sunday’s event.
Greenberg said protesters erected mock wind turbines and held out solar panels to stress alternatives to coal and fossil fuels processed at Brayton Point.
Greenberg said the demonstrators contend that Brayton Point should be closed because they believe it poses a health risk to locals and impacts the climate. He said one goal was to encourage Massachusetts to take a leading role in exploring other energy options.
Ferreira said around 100 members of law enforcement were on the scene from the Somerset Police Department, Massachusetts State Police, the Massachusetts Environmental Police, the Southeastern Massachusetts Law Enforcement Council, and the Bristol County sheriff’s office.
Those arrested were taken to a makeshift jail set up by the sheriff’s office at a National Guard armory in Fall River, Ferreira said. Police said one of those arrested was taken to Charlton Memorial Hospital in Fall River to be treated for dehydration.
Representatives of the protesters and the police had met in the weeks leading up to the rally, and police had proposed alternatives to the voluntary arrests. Greenberg said that 350 Massachusetts believed that the arrests would make a bigger statement. “People have been working to shut this plant down for decades,’’ he said. “All the other avenues have been attempted multiple times.’’
In March, Dominion announced that it would sell the station to Energy Capital Partners, a private equity firm based in New Jersey and California, according to a release on Dominion’s website.
by CECIL ROBERTS, President of United Mine Workers of America (UMWA); VAN JONES, President of Rebuild the Dream and a CNN contributor; and PHAEDRA ELLIS-LAMKINS, CEO of Green for All
You don’t often read headlines about environmentalists joining forces with coal miners. Environmentalists want to shut down coal plants that pollute our air and water, while miners understandably fight to keep and defend the jobs that the coal industry provides. Between these two forces, there sometimes appears to be little common ground.
But the events leading up to the Chapter 11 bankruptcy of Patriot Coal are so outrageous that the seemingly impossible has occurred – greens and coal miners are united in a common fight for fairness.
At issue: roughly 10,000 retired coal miners, 2,000 active miners and their families who may get the rug pulled out from under them by Patriot. As a result of an outrageous court filing earlier this month, the retirement health benefits they earned through years of service to their employers—Peabody Energy, Arch Coal, and Patriot Coal—may vanish into thin air.
Companies declare bankruptcy every day. But Patriot Coal’s bankruptcy is different. It appears to be part of a cynical plot by Peabody and Arch—a scheme choreographed to maximize profits at the expense of their own workers.
Peabody Energy and Arch Coal created the companies that became today’s Patriot Coal mainly for the purpose of shirking their obligations to coal miners, retirees and widows. Peabody and Arch used Patriot as a “dummy” vehicle to shed responsibility for retirement benefits they owed their employees, most of whom are active and retired members of the United Mine Workers of America (UMWA).
In other words: Patriot’s bankruptcy petition last year was not the result of a failed business plan. Bankruptcy WAS the business plan, all along. Now Chapter 11 may allow the company to slip out of its health care obligations to thousands of coal mining families, while shielding and maintaining the massive profits of Peabody Energy and Arch Coal.
If this is true, we are witnessing the calculated and brazen abuse of America’s bankruptcy process, for the sole purpose of cheating America’s most heroic workers: men and women who have already risked their lives, limbs and lungs to help keep the lights turned on in our country.
It is hard to imagine anything more unpatriotic than what Patriot Coal and its founding companies are doing. All of us should feel a moral obligation to demand that our leaders in government, in business, and in the court system protect these workers and their families.
Another sad irony: most who would be without healthcare never even worked for Patriot Coal. They had retired from Peabody and Arch before Patriot was created.
Consider the case of Joe T. Brown. For 32 years, he worked as a miner for a subsidiary of Peabody. Today, he suffers from black lung, which blocks 15 percent of his breathing capacity. In the years that Mr. Brown dedicated to the coal industry, he earned a good pension and lifelong healthcare. But now, as a result of Patriot’s bankruptcy, he is facing a bleak future without healthcare. If a person gives 30 back-breaking years of his life in service to a company, he should be able to retire securely. He should have the security of knowing that the company will hold up its end of the bargain and make good on the promises it made. He should be able to count on America’s courts to see the difference between a legitimate bankruptcy petition and a fraudulent Ponzi scheme.
This kind of misbehavior represents the worst of what American corporations can be. But by working together to fight this injustice, environmentalists and coal miners may have an opportunity to build bridges to address our mutual concerns and shared vision.
One of the major causes of contention between coal miners and greens has been resolving the difficult issue of jobs vs. protecting the environment. But we don’t have to limit ourselves to picking one or the other. Americans deserve good jobs, secure retirements and a healthy environment. We do not need to accept a false choice between our pressing economic needs and our legitimate environmental concerns.
The truth of the matter is, environmentalists and workers in our energy sector have more in common than we often acknowledge. We all want good jobs to feed our children – and a clean environment so that our kids, and our grand-kids, can thrive. We all want our kids and grandkids to breathe clean air and drink clean water and lead healthy, prosperous lives.
It’s that common vision that has driven our independent actions toward it. For years, the UMWA has worked to reduce emissions at American coal-fired power plants and has advocated for ways to encourage the same around the world. Similarly, environmentalists have called for a transition to a cleaner energy economy which also ensures that coal, oil, and gas workers and their families are protected, that the retirement benefits they have earned are secure, and that there will be opportunities for good jobs in a reinvented fossil fuel industry and an expanded renewable energy sector.
What we’ve done separately, it’s time to now do together.
It might not be easy to lead our nation toward good jobs and a healthy environment, but it is possible. And securing fairness for Patriot workers and retirees is a first step on the path to getting there.
Last summer, clean-air activists celebrated theshutdown of Chicago’s notorious Fisk and Crawford coal power plants, which ended the Windy City’s distinction as the only U.S. metropolis to house two operating coal facilities. The victory came thanks to a dogged grassroots battle waged by residents of Little Village and Pilsen, the predominantly Latino, working-class neighborhoods bearing the brunt of the plants’ pollution. Today, the woman who spearheaded that battle, lifelong Little Village resident Kimberly Wasserman, becomes North America’s recipient of the Goldman Environmental Prize, one of the highest honors in the world for grassroots green activism.
Wasserman was 21 when her infant son suffered his first asthma attack. She had just started working for the Little Village Environmental Justice Organization (LVEJO), doing door-to-door surveys gauging neighbors’ environmental concerns, so she started asking around about asthma and respiratory issues, which turned out to be common problems in the community. Soon after, a Harvard School of Public Health study confirmed LVEJO’s suspicions that the coal plants might have something to do with the high rates of asthma in the neighborhood, and Wasserman started organizing.
We got a chance to talk with Wasserman about what it took to kick Big Coal to the curb.
Q. Tell me about what motivated you to take on this issue. How long had you lived in Little Village, and how aware were you of environmental health issues before?
A. I was born and raised in Little Village. I’ve lived here 32 out of the 36 years that I’ve been on this lovely planet. I didn’t know a whole lot about air quality or environmental issues before entering this job [at LVEJO]. [When] my baby was about two months old, he had his first asthma attack. I started focusing my door-to-door conversations to try to understand how many other people had family members with respiratory issues. We found that an alarming number of people in our neighborhood had asthma. So we started to look at, what is in our neighborhood? We found the coal power plants. A lot of folks didn’t know what they did there; the smoke was white and very unassuming, and so a lot of young people called it the cloud factory because they thought that’s where clouds came from.
It made us want to understand, well, how do you burn coal? The more we researched, we were surprised that our local government would allow such dirty and outdated technology. In 2000, Harvard School of Public Health released a study about coal power plants in Illinois, and the information about the Crawford and Fisk plant[s] was very astounding. There were over 3,000 asthma attacks, 1,500 emergency room visits, and 41 deaths a year attributed to these coal power plants. And then on top of that, we found out the coal power plant didn’t supply electricity to the city of Chicago or the state of Illinois.
Q.How did you share what you’d found out with the neighborhood and organize people to fight for change?
A. We shared this door-to-door. We had block meetings in which we would talk about what is asthma and how do you develop it and what are some of the contributing factors. [People aren’t] just dealing with a child or an adult or a senior with illness, they’re also having to miss work, people are missing school, and all those [things] have an impact on the community. People were upset when they found out that the city wasn’t willing to do anything about it. Why is it that our community is being sacrificed for the sake of making money for this industry? It was on us to make sure that we funneled that anger and resentment in a positive way.
At first we sent a letter to city hall and requested a meeting, and nobody wanted to talk to us. Our young people wanted to show what this meant in real life. So they did an action on the fifth floor of city hall, in front of former Mayor Daley’s office. Forty-one young people laid on the floor and zipped themselves up in body bags and put inhalers in their mouths. We got a phone call from the mayor’s media office that basically yelled at me and said, you embarrassed the mayor, this is not appropriate. And our response was, well, this coal power plant in our neighborhood is not appropriate. So we knew that we struck a chord.
Q.How did the culture and sense of community in Little Village contribute to your campaign?
A. A lot of what helped us was looking at the history of where our people come from. Taking the lessons we learned from both Mexican and Mexican-American history, and looking at movement building and murals and art and street theater, and how all of those things played into communication of a struggle and a solution — we tried to incorporate posters and art and murals. We did street theater; we held clean-power elections where we would have folks on one corner with wind and solar power, and on the other corner we had coal barons dressed to the nines in tuxedos. It helped us educate people in nontraditional ways, but ways that have been shown in our history and culture to be very effective.
Q. What was the turning point that led to your eventual success?
A. In creation of the [clean power coalition, a partnership with big green groups], we were able to leverage a lot of resources that organizations like ours don’t have. Greenpeace scaled the smokestack in Pilsen and camped there for two days, which is amazing because our community members are like, I can’t afford to get arrested, I have no papers.
The second thing was that Mayor Daley announced that he was retiring and would not be seeking reelection. The opportunity to make this part of the election campaign was instrumental. Every time there was a debate or an interview, we tried our best to get this issue included in that conversation. So when Rahm Emanuel won, we were able to hold him to his promise of saying if I win, I’m going to deal with the issue. A year into office he was like, all right, you guys have garnered enough support. He let [the coal plants] know what was happening and gave them 90 days [to either comply with required upgrades and lower their emissions or shut down]. Ninety days later they came back and said we’re going to voluntarily shut down.
Q. Mainstream green groups like the Sierra Club often get criticized for not working well with grassroots organizations. Why do you think that is? What was your experience building the clean power coalition?
A. Unfortunately I think a lot of it has to do with money and power. [Environmental justice] organizations get less than 5 percent of environmental funding out there. There has to be pushback on that, but there also has to be a conversation. When we came together as a coalition, one of the first things we did was have a conversation on power, on race, on class. It’s the communities of color that are being impacted [by climate change and pollution]. We created a memorandum of understanding to make sure that we as smaller organizations weren’t thrown under the bus, that we weren’t excluded from negotiations.
Luckily, both the Illinois chapter of the Sierra Club and the local Greenpeace office were willing to [agree]. I think the staff they have are young people who understand the privilege they come from and are willing to humble themselves enough to have these difficult conversations and find authentic ways to work together. That’s the reality of doing this work — you have to have these uncomfortable conversations.
Q.What are you tackling next, now that the coal plants have been shut down?
A. We have brownfield legacies in our community, and we don’t want another one. We don’t want to be looking at an abandoned coal power plant for the next 20 years. So we’re looking at the remediation and redevelopment of that.
While we were struggling to shut down the coal power plant for 12 years, we were also advocating for a new park to be built in our community. We won that victory as well last year. We’ve been working with the community to develop a design for the park, and make sure that adequate funding is given to this park, being that it’s going to be the first one built in our neighborhood in over 75 years.
And then the last thing that we’re working on is our public transit campaign. We find ourselves in a public-transit desert in our neighborhood. You have to go about a mile north to get the train; it used to go three miles south before you could find a bus. Last year, we won the installation of a new bus line in our neighborhood, so now we have a bus smack-dab in the middle of that three-mile gap. They only gave us a third of the full route we wanted, so we’re going to be advocating for the rest of the route until we get it.
Q.What’s your advice for other communities facing similar battles?
A. Definitely don’t give up. And definitely arm yourself with as much research as possible. There is tons of capacity in our communities to do research, to do surveys, to collect and analyze data. We have to be arming our young people to be thinking about careers in math and science and engineering to be able to bring those skills back and help us tackle some of these environmental-justice issues. When our campaign started, some of our young people were in first or second grade, and those young people are now in college, getting their masters in environmental justice, because this had such a resonating effect on them.
Read more about this year’s other Goldman winners here.
Hey everyone, recently I’ve had the privilege of working with a bunch of terrific media-makers from Worcester to create a new film festival, the CENTRAL MASS FILM FESTIVAL. The full festival will take place sometime in the Spring of 2013, but in the meantime we’re having one-night “teaser” events to introduce the festival and ourselves to the Worcester and MA communities.
We’ve had one very successful “teaser” event so far and our second one is fast approaching!
THE DIRTY TRUTH ABOUT COALwill screen on November 17 at Cantina Bar & Grill, 385 Main Street, Worcester, MA as part of a evening focussing on environmental issues. Another film, AGROFUELS, about the negative side of biofuels, will also be screening. Both films are 30mins each. Check out the film festival’s website (above) for more info., as well as the poster below.
It’s going to be a GREAT event, and the panel will feature many local clean air and clean water activists including attorney SHANNA CLEVELAND, of Conservation Law Foundation who is the key interview in THE DIRTY TRUTH ABOUT COAL.