10 Environmental Victories of 2012

© James B. Dougherty / Sierra Club
Protesters rally in Washington, D.C. against the Keystone XL Pipeline.

For me, the holidays are a time to reflect on what we’ve achieved over the past year and look ahead to the challenges and possibilities the New Year holds in store. 2012 was a quite a year. Besides the obvious big story – the reelection of President Obama – here’s a list of my ten favorite stories of the year.

1. Coal Plant Retirements
The Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal campaign won scores of victories that will save lives, clean our air and water, and help solve the climate crisis. From the start of 2010 until now, we have helped seal the retirement of 126 coal plants, accounting for tens of thousands of megawatts of dirty energy that pollutes communities. Coal provided just 37 percent of our power this year, down from 50 percent just a few short years ago. In contrast, wind energy hit a historic milestone of 50,000 megawatts.

2. New Coal Protections
Despite the best attempts by coal lobbyists, the Environmental Protection Agency delivered the country’s first safeguards on mercury pollution and carbon limits for new power plants. Sierra Club supporters turned out in force at numerous public hearings and submitted over two million comments in support of these life-saving new standards.

3. I Love L.A.
The country’s second-largest city this past spring approved a 150 megawatt solar cash-back (a.k.a. “feed-in tariff”) program. The program will create an estimated 4,500 jobs, spur $500 million in economic development, and provide clean power for 34,000 homes. The city wrapped up the year by announcing a deal with Nevada's Moapa Band of Paiutes to power 105,000 Los Angeles homes with solar.

4. Pacific Northwest
From Seattle to Spokane and Portland to Bellingham, tens of thousands of Pacific Northwesterners have appeared at public hearings and written decision-makers, opposing proposals to build a series of coal export terminals on the coast, transport the coal through Pacific Northwest communities in open train cars, and ship hundreds of millions of tons of coal per year to Asia. Working with the Power Past Coal coalition, business owners, health advocates, faith leaders, mayors, and families from all backgrounds, the Sierra Club has mobilized to defeat this crazy idea.

5. New CAFE Standards
In August, EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson and Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood announced final fuel efficiency and climate standards for cars sold between 2017 and 2025 that would decrease greenhouse gas emissions by nearly 10 percent of today’s levels by 2030. It will save millions of barrels of oil every day. It was the single biggest action taken by any presidential administration to combat the climate crisis.

6. Monumental
When President Obama designated Fort Ord National Monument in California, it recognized the services of more than a million troops who have trained on these lands. Fort Ord’s 14,000 acres contain 86 miles of trails through some of the most important remaining open space in the Monterey Bay area. The president also designated the Fort Monroe, Chimney Rock, and Cesar Chavez national monuments in Virginia, Colorado, and California. Additionally, a million acres surrounding the Grand Canyon was protected and put off-limits to uranium mining for 20 years. The Sierra Club is now mobilizing support for the designation of more landmarks, including in the San Juan Islands in Washington State.

7. New Natural Gas Rules
With a nascent unregulated industry that showed no respect for families’ drinking water and people’s property rights, the EPA finalized air quality standards for new natural gas production wells. However, these standards have only scratched the surface of an industry run amok.

8. Victory Overseas
The Sierra Club’s International Climate Program achieved remarkable success in 2012. We spearheaded efforts to suspend support from the United Nations Clean Development Mechanism for new coal plants in China and India. Under the old rules, these subsidies would have provided roughly $500 million in windfall profits per year to new coal plants. Once the new rules are finalized, few if any of the 40-plus coal projects in the pipeline will be eligible for CDM support. The Club also successfully pressured the U.S. Export Import Bank to triple its clean-energy lending to nearly $1 billion annually.

9. Children's Outdoor Bill of Rights
To combat the widening disconnect between our children and our public lands, the Sierra Club led efforts to get more kids moving outdoors with the passage of New Mexico’s Children’s Outdoor Bill of Rights in the state legislature. Volunteers and activists hope the move will inspire outdoor enthusiasts in other states to connect the next generation with our country’s natural heritage.

10. Defeating Bad Ideas
Environmental groups enjoyed success after success in fighting off a series of congressional attacks on pollution protections and open spaces. The EPA was under constant assault by the House of Representatives, which passed dozens of bills meant to delay, weaken, or repeal standards designed to protect public health. Our biggest victory was the defeat of a resolution written by climate denier Senator Inhofe that would have repealed President Obama’s mercury and air toxics standard for power plants and blocked the EPA from issuing mercury reduction standards in the future. Inhofe employed a radical legislative tactic that forced the vote directly onto the floor, limiting debate and preventing the use of a filibuster by Senate Clean Air allies. Nevertheless, Inhofe’s attack on the mercury protections was soundly defeated and only strengthened the resolve of legislators who were committed to putting families and the environment first.

And, as an early holiday gift, on December 20 the White House announced that President Obama would add nearly 3,000 square miles to the National Marine Sanctuary system, almost tripling its size. This latest designation, covering a stretch along the Sonoma and Mendocino County coasts in Northern California, will protect this biologically rich area from offshore oil and gas drilling. Sierra Club California has been working to protect this area for many years.

So, as 2012 draws to a close, we can give ourselves a pat on the back for a job well done. But as ever, environmental victories must be won again, and again, and yet again. I look forward to taking up the challenges ahead with all of you in 2013!

P.S. Don’t forget to mark February 17-18—the big President’s Day weekend Climate Legacy/Keystone XL rally in Washington, D.C.—on your calendar.

Tags: Air Pollution | Alternative Energy | Clean Energy | Environmental Justice | Environmental Policy | Oil | Pollution | Tar Sands | Tar Sands Action

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