Environment America Releases New "Shining Cities 2016" Report

Sixty-four major American cities are now home to almost as much solar capacity as the entire country had installed at the end of the 2010. According to Environment America's new report, Shining Cities 2016, co-authored by Frontier Group, ranks America’s major cities for their solar power.

The top cities for solar per capita:

  1. Honolulu
  2. Indianapolis
  3. San Jose
  4. San Diego
  5. Albuquerque
  6. Phoenix
  7. Las Vegas
  8. New Orleans
  9. Riverside, CA
  10. San Antonio

Environment America released the report Wednesday with quotes from the mayors of Honolulu, Dallas, San Diego and Los Angeles. The team held media events in Phoenix, San Antonio, D.C., and Minneapolis; and released the report in Honolulu and Jacksonville, with more releases planned.

Howard County's Small Donor Amendment Heads To Ballot

This week, the Howard County Council in Maryland voted 4-1 to pass a resolution that would amend the County Charter to establish a citizen's election fund in the county. Voters will vote to authorize the fund through a ballot initiative in November. Maryland PIRG has been working for months to build support for the measure, which, if passed, would be the second county-wide, small-donor program in the state.

After the council's vote, Organizer Pam Clough got to work planning the next phase of the campaign with volunteers. A dozen volunteers turned out for a meeting Tuesday night where they planned their launch event, public education program, and organizing plans for outreach to community groups, businesses, and faith leaders. 

CALPIRG Pushes For Government Transparancy

This week, lawmakers advanced CALPIRG-backed bills to make government agencies more transparent about lobbying and campaign contributions. Read the Los Angeles Times article here.

Aspen Goes 100% Renewable

Great news: Aspen, Colo., announced it's going 100% renewable.

Burning oil, gas and coal has not only polluted our air, water and land for decades. Now it’s changing our climate even faster than scientists feared it would. We can have healthier communities right now and a livable future for kids growing up today. But to get there, we need to transform the way we produce and consume energy.

That's why Environment America is calling for a nationwide commitment to 100% renewable power.

It’s a big, bold goal, one that would make America a world leader in the race toward a cleaner, healthier future — and it’s a goal that’s 100% possible.

Read more about the campaign here.

Green Corps Organizer Takes On Junk Food Marketing

Green Corps Organizer Taylor Billings rallied volunteers in Houston earlier this week to call on Texas Children’s Hospital to cut ties with McDonald's — where there's even one in the hospital — and stand up to aggressive junk food marketing to children. 

Oregon Passes Historic Clean Energy Legislation

On Wednesday, the Clean Electricity and Coal Transition Bill (SB 1547) passed the Oregon State Senate and is headed to Gov. Kate Brown’s desk for an expected signature. Environment Oregon worked hard to pass this bill, and they were the key architects behind the community solar provision of the legislation.

In short, it includes three key elements:

  • No more coal in Oregon’s electricity mix: This means no coal-energy from Oregon, Montana, Utah, or anywhere else. We have severed our ties with this dirty energy of the past and will have coal-free electricity by 2030.
  • 50% renewable energy: By 2040, Oregon’s two largest utility companies will be powered by 50% clean energy. In addition to the hydropower we currently generate, this will make Oregon’s energy over 80% carbon emission-free.
  • Community Solar: Environment Oregon made sure the bill included a community solar program, which will help the nearly 3 out of 4 Oregonians who cannot put solar panels on their own roofs. Individuals and businesses will be able to subscribe to a solar array somewhere else in state and receive the same benefit on their utility bill as if the panels were on their roof.

The Clean Electricity and Coal Transition Bill was supported by a diverse coalition of rural counties, utilities, consumer groups, businesses, health, faith, low-income and environmental groups.

In response, Environment Oregon State Director Rikki Seguin released the following statement:

“Today is a historic day for Oregon – our lawmakers have stepped up to the plate and put Oregon on a plan to shift away from fossil fuels and tap into the power of the wind and sun. This is a significant victory for Oregon’s environment, and for the health of our planet.

"It’s becoming clearer than ever that climate change is a real threat to the health of Oregon communities and families across the state, whether due to more intense and frequent forest fires or extreme summer drought. Coal-fired power plants are the leading source of global warming pollution in the country, and today Oregon showed that we are serious about combatting this problem. The Clean Electricity and Coal Transition Bill leads the way forward by eliminating coal from Oregon’s electricity mix.

"In addition to the already impressive job of removing coal from the electricity mix and increasing the Renewable Portfolio Standard to 50%, SB 1547 also includes language to create a community solar program for Oregon, the rulemaking for which must be completed by July 1, 2017. Community solar projects will help the nearly 3 out of 4 Oregonians who lack the ability to install solar panels on their own roof. The program will allow individuals and businesses to purchase solar panels located in a solar array elsewhere in the state and get the same energy savings on their utility bill as if the panels were located on their roof.

"Beyond the environmental benefits, opening the market for clean energy resources like wind and solar also has the potential to bring stable and safe clean energy jobs to our state. The solar industry, for example, already provides more than 2,100 jobs in installation, manufacturing, and other related fields across Oregon. Instead of sending billions of dollars out-of-state to continue to purchase dirty power, we can now work to keep our dollars in Oregon and build our own clean energy economy.

"The passage of the Clean Electricity and Coal Transition Bill is a huge victory for our environment, our health, and our future.”

Students Join U.S. PIRG In D.C. For Day Of Training And Advocacy

Student leaders from our Student PIRGs' campus chapters joined U.S. PIRG advocates in D.C. this week for a day of training, meetings, and advocacy. Students attended a meeting with four top White House officials, including President Obama's top strategy director, presenting our work to save the effectiveness of antibiotics, promote clean energy, and advocate for textbook affordability. Students also held more than a dozen hill meetings to inform lawmakers about the potential of open textbooks to save students billions. U.S. PIRG Higher Education Advocate Ethan Senack will be on a panel on the Hill briefing legislators about open education on March 1.

Environment New York Advocates For More Wind Power

Heather Leibowitz, director of Environment New York, published an op-ed through CityLimits.org on Wednesday, writing about how wind power can be a key element of our clean energy future.

Heather writes, "A rapid expansion in wind power is both feasible and affordable. The cost of wind energy is now at or below the cost of new natural gas power plants in regions like ours, where wind resources are abundant. More than a dozen reports by utilities, independent grid operators, the U.S. Department of Energy, and other experts have found that the electric grid can accommodate much more wind energy than we currently generate.

"Wind power can move us to a future in which we are setting records for increasing amounts of pollution-free energy, instead of setting high temperature records. However, in order to accelerate our deployment of wind energy, we need our leaders to act."

To read the full op-ed, click here.

New Evidence Against VW Could Mean Larger EPA Settlement

Internal memos from VW company executives suggest that company executives may have willingly delayed action to correct their cheating devices after the initial discovery in 2014 that the diesel vehicles were emitting more pollutants than allowed. PIRG is working to hold Volkswagen accountable to consumers through our "Make VW Pay" campaign.

These documents raise the probability that Martin Winterkron, VW’s chief executive officer at the time, knew about the cheating mechanisms before the company admitted to using them. VW publicly admitted to having the so-called defeat devices in September 2015, but documents show that a confidant of Mr. Winterkorn may have corresponded with him about the devices as early as May 2014.

The financial and legal stakes for Volkswagen would rise significantly if the Justice Department can prove that top managers knew of the cheating prior to late-2015. The company could face higher fines for violating U.S. environmental laws, as well as larger settlements with Volkswagen owners who have sued in the U.S. after the value of their cars fell. Higher fines would help increase the chance of a better settlement with a larger Supplemental Environmental Program to mitigate the effects of VW’s diesel pollution.

"America's Next Big Polluter"

An Environment America report recently found that Tyson Foods dumped more pollution into our waterways in 2014 than ExxonMobil. This fact caught the attention of ThinkProgress, who interviewed Environment America Senior Attorney John Rumpler about the report.

“In the public’s mind, if you were to ask who are the big polluters, they would say Exxon, Dow, Dupont,” said Rumpler.

But factory farm operations like Tyson Foods are releasing much more pollution than most people realize. Manure, fertilizer, and processing waste contribute substantial amounts of nitrates to our waterways, causing algal blooms and dead zones. And Tyson has a long history of pollution violations and legal settlements. We need to demand that Tyson and other giant agribusinesses limit their pollution in order to protect our clean water.

Check out Environment America's interactive map of Tyson's 2014 pollution.

Super PACs Have Raised Nearly $350 Million So Far

According to new data published by the Federal Election Commission, Super PACs have raised nearly $350 million so far this election cycle. PIRG crunched the numbers, and found that this is more than seven times the amount Super PACs had collected at this point in 2012. 

These numbers are highlighted in a USA Today story and U.S. PIRG's Dan Smith is quoted saying, "Super PACs funded by wealthy donors and special-interest groups have more influence in our elections today than they have at any time in recent memory, and their influence is growing.”

Read the full story here

Keep Our Shores Safe From Drilling

On Feb. 3, Environment America joined Greenpeace, 350.org, Alaska Wilderness League, and many others to represent the more than 3 million comments advocacy groups have collected over the past year in opposition to arctic and atlantic drilling to CEQ officials. 

Back in September, Environment America released a letter signed by more than 350 businesses against atlantic offshore drilling. Two weeks from now, we will be joining Surfrider and SACE who have also been focused on mobilizing the coastal tourism community, to announce more than 1,000 small businesses in opposition to offshore drilling. This is on top of the more than 100 coastal communities, 500+ local electeds, and 100+ members of congress who oppose the plan.

Victory For Solar In California

The California Public Utilities Commission voted to protect net metering, the crucial policy that has allowed rooftop solar to expand across the state by requiring utilities to pay consumers fairly for the solar electricity they generate.

U.S PIRG Celebrates A Victory Against Boondoggles

Thanks in part to WashPIRG's efforts, plans to expand the I-5 are no longer moving forward. Although this is just one section of a three-legged project, the expansion of the Puget Sound Gateway, it is nonetheless a victory and a step in the right direction.

This boondoggle was one that was highlighted in this year's Highway Boondoggles report that U.S. PIRG Education Fund released.

You can read about the other boondoggles that U.S. PIRG is working to stop across the country here.

Rob Sargent Talks 100% Renewable In Think Progress

How will we get to 100% renewable energy? Rob Sargent, Environment America's energy program director, talked to Think Progress about our 100% renewable campaign, and the importance of cities moving toward clean energy.

"In general, cities have always driven sustainability,” Sargent said. “People see firsthand that solar panels are being put on local schools and businesses, so they can picture it and see that the economic benefit is real.”

Read the full article here

PIRG State Directors Testify For Congress On Antibiotics Overuse

As part of a series of Capitol Hill briefings on antibiotics by Rep. Slaughter (NY), Dave Rosenfeld, executive director of OSPIRG, and Emily Scarr, director of Maryland PIRG, joined a number of partners in discussing the connection between food production, antibiotic overuse and the rise of bacteria resistant to antibiotics. Michael Berger, founding member and vice president of supply for Elevation Burger, Russ Kremer, farmer/owner of Heritage Farms and Mae Wu, and NRDC Senior Staff Attorney also testified.

The speakers discussed legislation in California, Oregon and Maryland that addresses antibiotic misuse, and how companies and farmers are moving away from routine antibiotic use and are thriving in the marketplace. Approximately 25 Hill staffers, many of whom from Congressional offices of House Agriculture Committee members, attended the briefing.

Victory For Clean Power Plan

The D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals delivered a major win Thursday for the centerpiece of President Barack Obama’s plan to tackle climate change, announcing it will leave carbon pollution limits on new power plants in place while it hears lawsuits from polluters and their allies in state government who want to kill the rule. Anna Aurilio, director of Environment America’s Global Warming Solutions program, issued this statement:

“On the heels of scientists confirming that 2015 was by far the hottest year on record, this good news from the court couldn’t be more timely. The Clean Power Plan stands on solid legal ground, and we’re thrilled this centerpiece of the president’s climate action agenda has survived its first legal hurdle. This is a big win for the majority of Americans who support carbon pollution limits on power plants and great news for our kids’ future.”

U.S. House Votes Against Clean Water, Again

The U.S. House voted to block the Obama administration’s Clean Water Rule, the joint regulation issued by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers that restores Clean Water Act protections to 2 million miles of streams and millions of acres of wetlands. The measure passed the Senate last year, but neither chamber secured enough votes to overcome President Obama’s promised veto.

The House action comes on the heels of governors in multiple states declaring emergencies due to flooding from the Mississippi River.

John Rumpler, senior attorney for Environment America, issued the following statement:

“Just weeks after states of emergency were declared due to flooding from the Mississippi River, the House has voted to strip protections from wetlands, our best natural safeguard against floods. What's more, the Clean Water Rule protects our streams and the drinking water for 1 in 3 Americans. Agribusinesses, coal companies, and their congressional allies don't want to take “no pollution” for an answer. But with hundreds of thousands of Americans, local elected officials, farmers, small businesses and the president standing strongly behind this rule; ultimately, clean water will win.”

"Make VW Pay" Campaign Hits The Road

On Thursday, CoPIRG Director Danny Katz helped two Volkswagen owners, Marcus and Elisabeth, kick off their cross-country road trip to Volkswagen headquarters in Virginia to make VW pay for misleading consumers and polluting our air.

Marcus and Elisabeth own one of the 567,000 diesel vehicles in the U.S. that Volkswagen sold as “clean” but was secretly designed with a “defeat device” to emit as much as 40 times the legal limit for smog-forming pollutants. Like many of these “clean diesel” owners, Marcus and Elisabeth put a lot of thought into purchasing their vehicle. Their top priority was emissions and the environment – they founded a non-profit that does climate change work around the world. They chose their VW Jetta thinking it was the cleanest on the market and drove it proudly for six years until they found out they were deceived. 

Over the last few months they have partnered with us to call on VW to pay, doing a media event at Volkswagen dealership and writing opinion pieces in the local media. 

The two are taking petitions and their defective car to the VW headquarters in Virginia, where they will call on VW to pay. Along the way we're organizing events for them to stop at in Austin, Chicago, Detroit, New York City and Washington, D.C. At each event we’ll be recruiting additional VW owners, local coalition partners, and elected officials to speak to the media about our MakeVWpay campaign.

In the coming days you can follow their route through our blog at makevwpay.org

30 Days To Renew Critical N.M. Solar Tax Credit

The New Mexico Legislative Session in Santa Fe is about to begin. Starting on Jan. 19 and lasting for a mere 30 calendar days, Environment New Mexico will work with legislators and coalition partners to renew the state solar tax credit — a tax credit that has played an important role in the growth and development of rooftop solar and has expanded the income range for which going solar is affordable.

Because the legislative session is so brief, and because the tax credit is set to expire at the end of 2016, Environment New Mexico has taken a number of steps to ensure the bill makes its way to the governor’s desk as quickly as possible. In addition to pre-filing the bill in both Houses before the commencement of the session, Environment New Mexico and our coalition partners have worked to strategically lobby legislators in key committees in advance of the session.

in preparation, we hosted a Citizen Lobby Training, where we trained our members to effectively make the case for the solar bill when the session opens.