April 9, 2014
by Larry Levine
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To Maintain a “Competitive Advantage” on Water Supply, New York Must Step-Up Its Game on Water Conservation

Larry Levine, Senior Attorney, New York
Less than three years ago, when Governor Cuomo signed into law new state water conservation standards, he said:

The preservation and protection of New York’s water resources is vital to the state… Continue reading

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April 9, 2014
by Deron Lovaas
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Driving Into an Age of Increasing Oil Freedom

Deron Lovaas, Federal Transportation Policy Director, Washington, D.C.

Photo by Nayu Kim, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

We are living in exciting times when it comes to the nation’s oil and energy dependence. You could call thi… Continue reading

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April 7, 2014
by Pierre Bull
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Through Solar Jobs, Veterans Find a Continuation in Mission to Serve Nation and Environment

Pierre Bull, Policy Analyst, Air & Energy, New York City

Liz Perez’s dad served in the first Gulf War. And after she enlisted in the Navy and found herself in the second one, “it made me ask a lot of questions about why we were here in the Gulf again.”

In her role as a logistics officer, she bought a lot of fuel. She saw air conditioning units in the desert powered by gas-guzzling generators. “When I got back in 2006,” she says, “I knew something needed to change and I wanted to be part of the solution.”

Like an increasing number of veterans, she got into solar power. In fact, veterans make up 9.2 percent of the almost 143,000-member workforce, compared to their 7.6 percent of the workforce nationwide, according to a new report released about a month ago by the Truman Project’s Operation Free and the Solar Foundation.

Federal energy policy and the U.S. solar industry

The U.S. solar industry has grown dramatically across the country in recent years, creating tens thousands of new jobs along the way. The Solar Energy Industries Association 2013 year end statistics show that the U.S. installed 4,751 MW of solar PV in 2013, up 41% over 2012 and nearly fifteen times the amount installed in 2008. Twenty-nine percent of all new electricity generation capacity added this year in the U.S. came from solar — with seven states getting 100% of their new generation from solar. 

This strong industry growth is a direct result of a federal policy known as the solar Investment Tax Credit (ITC), which is one of the most important policy mechanisms to support the deployment of solar energy in the U.S. The ITC works by providing a 30 percent tax credit for solar systems on residential and commercial properties. The long-term stability of the ITC is a key policy tenet that NRDC and a wide-ranging group of industry, labor, and investor voices successfully advocated for in 2008. It has provided business certainty to project developers and investors that has in turn scaled up the industry and reduced costs to make solar a competitive energy supply option for utilities, consumers and “pro-sumers”. We are now six years into the multi-year ITC extension with an expiration date that’s closer than you might think: 2016 to be exact or only about 2 ½ years from now.

U.S. solar energy potential and major solar projects through 2013

In addition to the impressive U.S. domestic solar market growth and newly created jobs thanks in large measure to the ITC, it is solar energy’s contribution toward solving our global climate disruption crisis and enhance domestic energy security and resiliency that makes it especially attractive to veterans.

We talked to veterans working at all levels of the solar industry and here’s what they told us:

1) Veterans view climate change as a threat to national security. Working in solar is one way for them to continue in their service as defenders of our nation.

Every veteran we interviewed saw things that way. “Anything we can do to curtail global warming is absolutely in the interest of every person in the United States and every person in the world,” says Geoff Harjo, an Army veteran deployed once in Iraq and twice in Afghanistan. He now works as a Mission Continues fellow at GRID Alternatives, a great nonprofit organization that puts solar panels on low-income families’ homes. (The Mission Continues is a similiarly great nonprofit that helps vets re-adjust to civilian life through “innovative and action-oriented [community] programs.”)

 Veterans installing solar on a rooftop in Southern California Photo credit: Geoff Harjo (in blue shirt on the right)

2) Energy independence—especially a reliance on clean, domestic sources of power—is vital for our country’s security.

“With solar energy and energy conservation, we don’t have to go to war over resources,” explains Perez, owner of GC Green, a renewable energy and energy efficiency contracting and consulting firm in San Diego. Ted O’Shea, an ROTC grad and former Army artillery officer who now heads up the solar program at ABM’s Energy Business, concurs. “To develop a sustainable, renewable, clean form of energy allows us to be independent from these fossil-fuel nations,” he says.

3) Working in solar allows veterans to continue their powerful experiences of service to the nation.

While in the military, many active duty personnel experienced a sense of calling. “You feel like you’re an ambassador for your nation,” says Harjo. But after leaving active duty, “Who are you now?” he asks.

Solar helps remedy the loss. “I know this sounds corny,” says Scott Wiater, President of the Rockville, Maryland-based solar developer Standard Solar, “but in the military I felt I was doing something to improve the greater good. I lost that when I left. But now I get that feel-good sense every day when I come to work, because I feel like I’m doing something good for the planet and fighting climate change.”

Harjo adds, “I wouldn’t want to be that touchy-feely about it, but working in solar does fill the hole in your heart.”

               Veterans using voltage meters

               Photo credit: Geoff Harjo (in blue shirt, center)

4) Solar and veterans are a good fit, because many of the skills vets learned in the military are just the skills they need to thrive in the solar industry.

Chris Turek, Director of Online and Educational Services at Solar Energy International, a Carbondale, Colorado education and training provider, spent eight years in the military, including time in an M1A1 armored tank division. He calls veterans and solar “a natural fit.”

Many of the skills the military cultivates are important for work in the solar field, he says: “You work in teams. You collaborate on projects. You have a sense of responsibility in dealing with very expensive equipment.”

Every veteran we interviewed shared that view. “If a woman veteran is considering getting into the solar field,” says Perez, the Navy vet—and, sadly, women are poorly represented in solar, making up only 19 percent of the workforce—“I tell her it’s just like what we did in the military. We’re trained to get a lot of information in a short amount of time and go out and perform.”

               Geoff Harjo

               Photo credit: Geoff Harjo

Available opportunities for veterans interested in solar power

To begin with, training in the solar field is increasingly available through the post-9/11 GI bill. At Veterans Administration-approved programs, it can cover as much as 100 percent of the cost of tuition, books and housing. Moreover, there’s some talk in the industry of creating a web platform that can link veterans interested in solar with employers who can benefit from their skills and sense of mission.

Solar power job opportunities are threatened if Congress doesn’t act to expand ITC eligibility rules

A bi-partisan proposal was recently brought forth by U.S. Senators Michael Bennett (D-CO) Dean Heller (R-NV) to revise the eligibility requirements for solar projects using the ITC from the point at which the project concludes construction to commencement of construction. Because the timelines for solar projects vary and can be uncertain, this policy change is critical to solar developers who are worried their projects will not be completed by the time the credit expires. The Solar Energy Industries Association estimates that the commence construction change would help drive an additional 4,000 megawatts of solar capacity in 2017 and 2018, and would create tens of thousands of additional new domestic jobs.

With any luck, the fast-growing solar field will continue to serve as a haven and a springboard to success for America’s veterans. They face high unemployment rates and other challenges as they return to civilian life. And they bring with them the important perspectives they learned during their years of military service—perspectives we should heed as we assess our nation’s security and our energy future. 

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April 7, 2014
by Joel Reynolds
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Thank You Rio Tinto: British Mining Giant Divests from Pebble Mine, Gives its Stake in the Project to Alaska Charities

Joel Reynolds, Western Director, Senior Attorney, Santa Monica, CA
Rio Tinto, one of the largest mining companies in the world, announced today that it is abandoning once and for all the giant Pebble Mine proposed for the Bristol Bay re… Continue reading

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April 7, 2014
by Elizabeth Shope
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More than 100 scientists and economists call for rejection of Keystone XL tar sands pipeline

Elizabeth Shope, Advocate, Washington, D.C.
Today, more than 100 scientists and economists called on President Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry to reject the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline that would bring some of the world&rsquo… Continue reading

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April 4, 2014
by Kristina Johnson
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India Green News: India’s consumers prefer energy efficient products and India considers upgrade to fuel quality standards.

Kristina Johnson, Program Assistant, Food and Agriculture, India Initiative, Urban, San Francisco
March 27th-April 4th, 2014
India Green News is a selection of news highlights about environmental and energy issues in India
 Energy … Continue reading

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April 3, 2014
by Linda Escalante
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LA City overwhelmingly supports adoption of Zero Waste plan for apartment and commercial buildings

Linda Escalante, Policy Advocate, California and Latino Advocacy programs, Santa Monica

All change is local.  Earlier this week, the City Council of Los Angeles voted to transform the waste hauling system for apartment and commercial buildings and set the second largest city in the nation on a path towards achieving sustainability through a robust set of Zero Waste policies.

After years of exhaustive city-wide debate and stakeholder input that included the vibrant and committed participation of Don’t Waste LA– a coalition of environmental, environmental justice, public health, labor, and small business advocates–the City Council voted to approve the Department of Sanitation’s proposed Zero Waste LA Commercial and Multifamily Franchise Hauling system to achieve the highest recycling rates and best standards of environmental protection and working conditions.

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Currently, the multi-family and commercial building sectors are contributing about 70% (or 3-4 million tons/year) of the waste the City of LA sends to landfills. Meanwhile, our existing landfill space is reaching maximum capacity, as the closure of the Puente Hills Landfill in October 2013 illustrated.  So it’s time  to change course and join the other 55 cities in LA County and 31 cities in Orange County who’ve implemented similar systems to meet the state and city goals that set our recycling targets at 75% by 2020 and 90% by 2025.

Landfilling or burning million tons of trash subject our residents and our environment to a distressing assault.  Landfills and poorly regulated facilities disproportionately impact low income communities of color—as these communities are either employed or housed in close proximity and overexposed to the emissions and traffic caused by a constant waves of trash trucks collapsing onto their neighborhoods.   

mixed waste.jpg

Fortunately, one of the most obvious changes, as the policy becomes fully implemented in 2017, will be in the seen in the fleets of trash hauling trucks—we can expect them to be less damaging to our family’s lungs and street pavement.  Currently, most haulers use their most aged and poorly maintained dirty-fueled trucks to transport trash in LA because they are not subject to regional air quality standards. To add insult to injury, they move through a grid of inefficient routes where trucks overlap throughout the city spewing diesel particulates and leachate into the neighborhoods. Each truck burns approximately 8,400 gallons of fuels per year–a dismal 3 miles to the gallon. The fact that they cause 9,000 times the damage to pavement as an SUV, also spreads the misery of poor gas mileage to other drivers thanks to the potholes and congestion.

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Another environmental gain thanks to this exclusive franchise Zero Waste system will be the reduction in greenhouse gases emitted by burying or burning trash, now that we won’t be relying much on that ancient and outdated waste management practice. According to the City of LA, a Zero Waste system will help it achieve 23 percent of its goal to reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 18.9 million metric tons by 2030, equivalent to removing 40 percent of the City’s two million passenger vehicles from the road. 

Furthermore, failure to divert landfill waste poses a contamination threat to our precious groundwater resources since this waste turns into a toxic chemical and biological soup that can percolate far into the ground. It should be welcomed news for those working in LA to build its resiliency against drought and global warming impacts that we are safeguarding our local water supply sources like the San Fernando Valley groundwater basin from further crippling pollution. Moreover, this new Zero Waste system will require competitive haulers to include an organic waste composting pilot program in their bids, so that this  otherwise rotting resource can be turned into organic and nontoxic soil and fertilizer.

Lastly, it is also a win for our economy.  The blue-green alliance that stood steadfastly behind this policy was held together by the shared value that environmental protections and job creation are not mutually exclusive.  It is particularly timely that we can talk about new green jobs as LA receives dire news of persistently stagnant job growth.  Zero Waste can help us create much needed good green jobs because for every one job at a landfill, 10 jobs could be created at a recycling sorting facility if that waste were sorted rather than buried. It is estimated that nationally, a 75% recycling goal would create 1.1 million jobs by 2030. In CA, a recent NRDC report found that recycling could create 110,000 jobs across the state. In LA, our comprehensive zero waste goals are projected to create 5,000 new green jobs in refurbishing, recycling and processing, and remanufacturing. 

The waste hauling market in LA is valued at $250 million per year. This is a hefty carrot that will be offered to the companies who can implement the best environmental and labor practices because only through an exclusive franchise with Zero Waste goals can competitive bidders enjoy the economies of scale, efficiencies, and incentives to invest in a gold standard materials recovery and remanufacturing system for the future.

Alas, it is a proud moment for those who care about the environment, communities, and workers in Los Angeles.  

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LA Times coverage on historical City Council vote 

For more on this long and worthwhile fight read Adrian Martinez’ blog

Follow Don’t Waste Coalition in Facebook

(Photos: Courtesy of LAANE, Breathe LA)

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April 3, 2014
by Anthony Swift
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Ukraine doesn’t bolster case for Keystone XL tar sands pipeline

Anthony Swift, Attorney, International Program, Washington, DC
After their argument that Keystone XL would be a national job creator has been widely debunked, promoters of the embattled tar sands pipeline are now turning to the internat… Continue reading

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April 3, 2014
by Kaid Benfield
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LA’s Little Tokyo strengthens its identity by planning a “cultural eco-district” (written with Thomas Yee)

Kaid Benfield, Special Counsel for Urban Solutions, Washington, DC
 
The Little Tokyo neighborhood in Los Angeles is one of the country’s most important Asian-American communities.  Comprising roughly five large city bl… Continue reading

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April 3, 2014
by Vignesh Gowrishankar
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Catalyzing the oil and gas industry to clean up its act

Vignesh Gowrishankar, Staff Scientist (Sustainable Energy), New York
The oil and gas industry leaks a significant amount of natural gas into the atmosphere. Most of this leaked gas is methane, a powerful greenhouse gas pollutant. This l… Continue reading

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April 2, 2014
by Meg Waltner
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New Senate Bill Would Provide Important Incentives for Energy Efficiency

Meg Waltner, Manager, Building Energy Policy, San Francisco, CA
The Energy Efficiency Tax Incentives Act, S. 2189, introduced late yesterday by three Democratic senators, would improve the efficiency of our homes, workplaces, and indust… Continue reading

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April 2, 2014
by Deron Lovaas
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Measuring Suburban Sprawl

Deron Lovaas, Federal Transportation Policy Director, Washington, D.C.
Growth is good. Or so we’ve always been taught. But what if growth is poorly managed, so that it creates serious problems too? In an urban context, that’s what we ca… Continue reading

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April 1, 2014
by Franz Matzner
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Tax Code of Honor: Congress Must Choose a Clean Energy Future

Franz Matzner, Associate Director of Government Affairs, Washington, D.C.
Senate Finance Committee Chairman Wyden has officially begun consideration of legislation to reinstate a suite of tax credits that big polluters and their allies … Continue reading

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April 1, 2014
by Jake Schmidt
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International Climate News Mar ’14: deforestation progress, 2013 global clean energy data, & more

Jake Schmidt, International Climate Policy Director, Washington, DC
Below is a compilation of climate change and clean energy news from around the world. This compilation includes stories from March 2014. You can sign-up to re… Continue reading

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March 31, 2014
by Anthony Swift
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Business leaders urge rejection of Keystone XL tar sands pipeline

Anthony Swift, Attorney, International Program, Washington, DC

As the Obama administration considers the proposed Keystone XL tar sands pipeline, hundreds of business leaders across the nation are urging Secretary of State John Kerry a… Continue reading

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March 31, 2014
by Kaid Benfield
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Your neighborhood (or mine, or anyone’s) after nature’s jungle takes over

Kaid Benfield, Special Counsel for Urban Solutions, Washington, DC
 
Remember that book from a few years ago, The World Without Us?  It depicted the post-apocalyptic ruins of civilization once the buildings and infrastructure… Continue reading

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March 31, 2014
by Doug Obegi
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Doing the Math on California Water Solutions: Dams Can’t Compete with 21st Century Options

Doug Obegi, Staff Attorney, Western Water Project, San Francisco
The Department of Water Resources upcoming announcement of dismal April 1 snow survey results, an important measure of available water supply for the coming year, will con… Continue reading

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March 28, 2014
by Vignesh Gowrishankar
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White House Attacks Heat-Trapping Methane, Second Biggest Climate Pollutant

Vignesh Gowrishankar, Staff Scientist (Sustainable Energy), New York
[This post written with David Doniger and Meleah Geertsma.]
The White House today released its long-awaited Strategy to Reduce Methane Emissions. Promised in Pres… Continue reading

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March 28, 2014
by Kaid Benfield
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Helping neighbors plan their own communities’ future: a model for inclusive revitalization

Kaid Benfield, Special Counsel for Urban Solutions, Washington, DC
 
Sustainable neighborhoods are the building blocks of sustainable cities.  Neighborhoods are where development decisions are made and where increments of cha… Continue reading

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March 28, 2014
by Greenlaw from NRDC China
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China Environmental News Alert

Greenlaw from NRDC China, NRDC China Program, Beijing
NRDC has been working in China for over fifteen years on such issues as energy efficiency, green buildings, clean energy technologies, environmental law, and green supply chain issue… Continue reading

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