5 Reasons Why Congress Should Pass Biden’s 100% Clean Electricity Standard Now

Change, real change, toward a clean-energy future is within our sight. President Biden has committed to a government-wide approach to tackling the climate crisis, while also promising to address environmental justice and stimulate the economy.

But we have to act now to make this future a reality. 

Last week, alongside five other major regional groups fighting climate change, we signed a letter asking Congress to pass President Biden’s proposal for 100% clean electricity nationwide by 2035. Here are five reasons why Congress should act now to pass legislation solidifying the clean electricity commitment Biden made during his campaign.

1. We need it now more than ever

Each year, we experience more and more climate disasters in our country firsthand — from last year’s catastrophic wildfire season on the West Coast to this winter’s massive freeze in Texas. The scale of the climate crisis is clear, and so is the need to act now.

To prevent the worst effects of climate change, scientists say we must limit warming to 1.5℃. And to get there, we must reduce global emissions by at least 7.6% every year until 2030

That’s why this decade is so crucial. Without ambitious action on a national level, we won’t reach our goal of a safer planet, cleaner environment and more secure future for all. The power to fight back is in our hands, we just have to make it happen.

2. It’s an issue of public health

This legislation isn’t just about protecting the environment. It’s about protecting our health and saving lives.

Greenhouse gas emissions cause a needless amount of deaths — in the U.S. alone, more than 100,000 people die every year from pollution-related lung cancer, heart attacks, or respiratory diseases. A 63% cut in U.S. energy emissions would prevent an estimated 175,000 deaths by 2030.

And what we’re asking Biden to pass (100% clean electricity) would save even more lives and lead to an overall 70-80 percent reduction in US greenhouse gas emissions economy-wide, further limiting the negative health impacts of pollution. 

3. It would create jobs

Making this legislation a reality wouldn’t just transform our environment, but it would also boost our country’s workforce at a time when it is much needed. 

The energy transition resulting from a national clean energy standard could create as many as 15 million jobs in the next 10 years. For some perspective, 6.4 million people were employed in energy jobs in 2019.

At CCAN, we’ve seen firsthand the transformational power of clean energy standards. For nearly two decades, we’ve used similar policy efforts to work toward decarbonizing the power sector on a regional level, and efforts across the country have created 2.5 million jobs from New England to the Pacific Northwest and from the Chesapeake Bay to the Rocky Mountains. 

4. It’s an opportunity to invest in our communities of color

This legislation gives us an opportunity to rebuild our country in yet another way — pursuing equity. It’s a chance to work toward a better future by investing in our country’s communities of color. 

In our letter, we’re calling on Congress to follow Biden’s overarching commitment to environmental justice and ensure that 40% of all investments and benefits in this transition accrue to historically disadvantaged communities and communities of color.

These communities, along with areas of rural poverty, have carried the brunt of our country’s negative environmental impacts for far too long — from poor air quality to high energy burdens. 

It’s why we must commit to equity in every part of our work toward a climate-focused future.

5. We know it’s possible!

Most importantly, we know the tools, ambition and willpower to successfully pass this legislation and make it a reality are within our reach.

Every day in our work at CCAN, we’re inspired by the passion the organizers, activists, leaders and supporters we work with have toward building a safer, cleaner planet. We’re all in this together, to fight toward a more just future for all. 

We’ve shown we can create change on a regional level. Now, let’s make it happen on a national level. 

Stop the Ban on Land-based Solar Power In Montgomery County, MD. “Progressive” Councilmembers Will Jawando, Gabe Albornoz, and others could harm regional progress on clean energy

I’ve been a climate activist for 20 years in this region. Google Mike Tidwell and “clean energy” and you’ll see what I stand for. 

In 20 years, I’ve learned to push aggressively for strong climate policies — but to seek legislative compromise when that’s what it takes to move public policy forward. From the small city council of Takoma Park to the Governor’s office in Richmond to Senate committees in Annapolis to legislative efforts on Capitol Hill, I’m proud to have been part of balanced but ambitious agreements that advance clean energy.

Which is why, as a fellow Montgomery County, MD resident, it pains me to tell you I’ve never seen such a total ABSENCE of compromise – and such a scale of misguided energy policy – quite like the vote that six members of the Montgomery County Council are apparently prepared to make tomorrow. They are about to effectively ban land-based solar power development in our county. 

Our County Council is doing amazing work protecting us from the worst impacts of the Covid-19. And I know their intentions are well-meaning on the environment. But the solar vote they are about to make will not only harm our county, it will likely have negative consequences for solar throughout our state and region. I’m not exaggerating. This view is shared by the Montgomery County Sierra Club, the Chesapeake Climate Action Network, and key environmental legislators in Annapolis, including veteran Delegate Kumar Barve who sent the Council this remarkable protest letter last week.

I’m presenting an unusually long argument in this email. So bear with me – if you can — till the end. It’s that important. 

Tell MoCo Councilmembers Will Jawando, Gabe Albornoz and others: Don’t land-based ban solar  

For the record, the legislators who are on the wrong side of this solar issue and who have resisted a reasonable compromise so far are: Councilmembers Andrew Friedson, Gabe Albornoz, Nancy Navarro, Sidney Katz, Craig Rice, and Will Jawando. The two leaders who probably need to hear from you most are Will Jawando and Gabe Albornoz.

To repeat, our ask of them now is to simply withdraw the amended solar bill. Withdraw it so we can start over and create a lasting and positive solar policy for our county. Meanwhile, the PRO solar councilmembers who’ve already done all they can to achieve a balanced solar policy are Hans Riemer, Evan Glass, and Council President Tom Hucker. Their work is greatly appreciated.

Solar power in the Agricultural Reserve: A controversy?

Chances are you’ve heard something about the idea of placing a limited amount of solar production in the MoCo Agricultural Reserve. Unfortunately, as often happens in public debates, opponents have often been noisier and more extreme in their claims than those of us seeking a truly balanced solution. Indeed, opponents have accused solar companies of greed and “over reach” while saying community solar on farmland would economically harm the farmers themselves, destroy our local food base, and lead to widespread deforestation and harm to the Bay — from solar!! None of this is true. Some critics have even claimed environmental groups like Sierra Club and CCAN are pushing solar for their own financial benefit – which is utterly false.

Now these same critics claim a “compromise” has been reached on the issue. They are asking the MoCo Council to give final passage to the Zoning Text Amendment 20-01 tomorrow. Why? Because that bill, as I mentioned above, has been amended into a de facto ban of land-based solar. Again, I’ve spent 20 years reaching real compromises on clean energy across this region — and this is no compromise. It’s a policy failure.

In the beginning: We had a good solar bill

A good solar policy was in fact proposed last year by MoCo Councilmember Hans Riemer (D-at large). It would have permitted farmers to harvest sunlight on no more than 1800 acres of land in the Ag Reserve (out of 93,000 acres) through a process called “community solar” development. Much of the solar would have benefitted up to 50,000 households, including many low- and moderate-income households and earned nearly $15 million in tax revenue for our cash-strapped county and state. The bill would have allowed a modest 300 megawatts or so of solar. Yet even that modest amount would have lowered total greenhouse gas emissions in the county while lowering the price of electricity for ratepayers and generating a healthy $83 million in local net economic spending. Virtually no tree loss would have been permitted and pollinator-friendly native grasses would have been required to be planted under and around the panels. It was a carefully crafted and balanced compromise bill supported, again, by the County’s two largest environmental groups — Sierra Club and CCAN — and group’s like Poolesville Green and farmers like Doug Boucher. 

But on January 26th, this good bill was amended into a bad bill, one that now stands as a de facto ban on land-based solar power. To repeat, the Council Members who voted for one or both of the bad amendments are Friedson, Albernoz, Navarro, Rice, Katz, and Jawando. 

Again, I cannot urge you strongly enough to REJECT the claims of council members and others when they tell you this amended solar ZTA is a “compromise.” They’ll tell you the amendments simply ban solar on “class two” soils and subject all solar projects to “conditional use.” But it’s a near-total ban. One MoCo solar company has already announced it will cease operations in the county due to the January 26th amendments vote. The two major regional organizations representing the solar industry have confirmed that their members will find it impossible to build projects in Montgomery County under the ZTA as now amended. Unless the bill is withdrawn tomorrow without final passage, more solar jobs will leave our county and we’ll have almost no chance of meeting our renewable energy goals during a full-blown climate emergency.

Tell MoCo Councilmembers Will Jawando, Gabe Albornoz and others: Don’t land-based ban solar

How did we get here? Clean energy confusion in liberal MoCo

Last week, a WAMU radio reporter wrote that an activist in rural Montgomery County considered solar development an EXISTENTIAL THREAT to the Ag Reserve. The activist wasn’t quoted as saying climate change was an existential threat. There was no mention of sod farming as an existential threat – where topsoil and non-native grasses are peeled off of the land and shipped off to golf courses and suburban homes. (More land in the MoCo Ag Reserve produces sod grass than table food for humans). There was no mention of livestock as a threat, where a majority of the Ag Reserve land is used for raising feed crops for the region’s unsustainable livestock industry, venting net greenhouse gas emissions from most of those acres. 

No, the existential threat to the Ag Reserve is apparently solar energy, in the minds of critics. That pretty much sums up the tragically misguided anti-solar movement in our county. Many of the critics of the proposed policy of putting a VERY LIMITED amount of “community solar” production in the AR, will tell you they strongly support clean energy. Some have solar panels on the roofs of their homes. But they don’t want to see farmers harvest solar energy. They describe it as “industrial” solar that will harm the rural character of the reserve. Again, sod farming is apparently okay. Corn fields for pigs are okay. But solar is an existential threat. They want solar in MoCo to be on rooftops and “brownfields” — not as part of a farmer’s mix of operations.

There aren’t enough rooftops and brownfields in MoCo

The problem is there is no way we can reach our county and state clean energy goals with rooftop solar alone or on qualifying brownfield areas left by former industrial sites. These areas are still relatively expensive to develop and, as for stable, non-shaded rooftops, there just aren’t enough qualifying roof areas. We have to put a limited amount of solar on land surfaces. Meanwhile, our farmers are increasingly hammered by extreme floods and droughts from climate change and many of them need the option of harvesting sunlight as a small but supplemental income stream that allows them to hang on to their family farms. 

So last year Councilmember Hans Riemer (D-at large) proposed a sensible policy idea. Let’s change the zoning law to allow a very limited – but needed – amount of solar in the Ag Reserve. No more than 2% of the reserve could be solar – and pollinator-friendly native grasses that sequester carbon into soils would have to be planted under and around the solar panels. Better yet, the energy would have to be produced under the state’s “community solar” program with much of it dedicated to low- and moderate-income families. It was a great compromise bill that was passed twice by a joint committee of the MoCo Council.

But then, on January 26th, before the full council, all pretense of compromise was stripped away. The bill was amended into a ban on agricultural solar. Again, council members will tell you it’s not so! The amendments represent a balanced compromise, they say. But years from now when no solar is built and the county loses tens of millions of dollars in taxes and investments, and vulnerable families have no access to cheaper power – and sod farming continues to flourish in the reserve – then we will all will see the solar ban for what it is.

Right now the Council must be persuaded to simply withdraw the bill and start over. If the bill goes forward as is, it will harm more than Montgomery County. 

The regional harm of a bad MoCo Council vote on solar

Clean energy has to go somewhere. Tragically, even as sea-level rise accelerates worldwide, the mayor of Ocean City and some business leaders there have strenuously objected to offshore wind power even though the turbines would be tiny images 17 miles offshore. And in western Maryland, land-based wind farms are opposed by some Marylanders even if the windmills are placed on ridgetops already strip-mined for coal and gravel. And now, in Montgomery County, solar is fine as long as it’s not on any farmland. 

If the MoCo Council passes the amended solar ZTA, it will set a terrible example for the entire region on clean energy development. If liberal Montgomery County can’t reach a sensible compromise policy, imagine the push back from Republican county and state elected leaders who think climate change is a hoax anyway. Why not ban solar in every rural county in Maryland and Virginia? Clean energy activists like me will be forced to explain the MoCo solar “hypocrisy” every time a clean energy vote comes up anywhere, especially as the years go by and – as intended – no solar farm projects get developed in our environmentally chest-beating county. 

This is doubly unfortunate when recent polling shows nearly 70 percent of Montgomery County voters support a balance of solar production on farm land in the county. And, again, by banning such solar, the Council is denying the county badly needed tax revenue and green investments over the next ten years.

Was a ban on solar the goal all along? 

Montgomery County Executive Marc Elrich has told me personally that some residents of the Ag Reserve came to him last year and asked him to support a total ban on land-based solar projects in the Reserve. He told them he would not support a ban like that. 

Many of those same residents then moved on to the full council, trying to achieve a ban through other means. The January 26th amendments dramatically shrink the amount of qualifying acreage in the Reserve by banning Class Two soils. Then any solar projects that do somehow find a few scraps of qualifying land will be subjected to potentially endless legal challenges through a second passed amendment, one that requires a permitting process called “conditional use.” Again, as we’ve seen above, these amendments are already driving solar investments OUT of our county ahead of a possible final vote on the bill tomorrow. 

Does the MoCo Council really care about climate change? 

In December 2017, the Council voted unanimously to declare a “climate emergency” and to commit the county to an 80% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions countywide by 2027. Since then, three long years later, the Council has passed no major legislation to actually cut emissions significantly. Only in December did County Executive Marc Elrich release a long-awaited Climate Action Plan, produced by consultants using $400,000 of taxpayer money. Yet the 230-page report itself endorses no specific concrete legislation and sets no specific timelines for meaningful policy implementation. Watch this video.

Honestly, all of this makes voters wonder whether our county government is really serious about climate change at all, even as extreme weather events become more frequent here and nationwide. 

Think about it. If we can’t even compromise on land-based solar, then how will we ever eventually pass county legislation banning gas hookups for new homes and buildings while investing real county dollars in electric vehicle infrastructure and all the other things climate scientists say we MUST do in the next ten years? 

I wish I could be more optimistic. But right now, things are so bad that the withdrawal of a bad solar ZTA bill would actually constitute a victory in our county. So let’s begin with that. 

Tell MoCo Councilmembers Will Jawando, Gabe Albornoz and others: Don’t land-based ban solar

Hopefully, they’ll hear us – and we can actually move forward with the real work that needs to be done to fight climate change right where we live. 

Sincerely, 

Mike Tidwell

Director, Chesapeake Climate Action Network and CCAN Action Fund

CCAN Statement: They broke windows. They broke laws. They didn’t break us.

At the height of the Capitol insurrection yesterday, members of the U.S. House of Representatives lay on the floor in fear for their lives. As police drew weapons at rioters banging on the barred door, lawmakers were reportedly advised to remove the pins on their lapels that identified them as House members. This was to help them avoid being identified, beaten, and possibly murdered in the very place they make laws. 

Our team at CCAN today grieves with you over the horrifying and shocking events of yesterday. Our thoughts go to those injured and traumatized while defending our Capitol building from the ignorant and violent mob incited by President Trump. And we grieve with black and brown Americans who once again watched blatant white supremacy play out in Washington, DC. 

We also grieve over the efforts of rioters to break more than just windows and the Capitol’s trespassing laws. They tried to break the very system of debate and lawmaking that allows social change – and social change groups like CCAN – to exist.

CCAN was founded 18 years ago on the understanding that this is a nation of laws. If you want to change this nation, we believe, you must change the nation’s laws. Historically, that applies to racial justice, health care, immigration – and certainly climate change and clean energy.

So when rioters attack the lawmakers themselves, the very fabric of social change is set ablaze. Donald Trump and his followers – who will not go away even after January 20th – yesterday achieved the logical endpoint of their four years of destruction, where not only facts and evidence are thrown out the window but lawmakers themselves are forced to throw themselves under desks out of fear for their lives.

But during this dark moment, I also think of the great strides our region and our nation have made in the last 18 years to elect new leaders who reflect a rising American electorate, one that seeks justice and inclusion. I think of US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Virginia House Speaker Eileen Filler-Corn, and Maryland House Speaker Adrienne Jones – all three of whom care deeply about climate change and whom I’ve had the honor of personally lobbying on clean energy issues.

These are the brave leaders who will now lead us as we move past Trumpism and toward a more perfect union of greater care for human rights and climate justice.

But they cannot do it alone. We must all speak up and speak out – not just for our own issues – but for the restoration and preservation of a safe and truth-based system of lawmaking itself, where legislators and advocates, and the very system of legislative debate and change, are possible. 

For these reasons, CCAN joins so many of our colleagues in the nonprofit world in utterly condemning President Trump and his despicable followers for their actions yesterday. We join in the call for the full prosecution of every person who broke laws and engaged in violent behavior. 

And we ask you – our members — not to give up hope, no matter how disturbing and disheartening the images of yesterday were. Remember, we defeated Trump at the ballot box in November. And our new President – Joe Biden – appears utterly sincere in his commitment to heal our nation and our Earth. 

Yet hope can be hard to come by after a day like yesterday, we know. So we ask you to consider the words of Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg, who reminds us that hope flows from action. When you take action – on climate, race, and health care – hope flows inexorably through the action taker. More action, with more people, means more hope. 

It’s a formula that’s worked for me for 18 years as founder and director of CCAN. As I type these final words, I feel more hopeful than when I started writing this message. The whole CCAN staff and I are ready to fight with you – to take action — for a safer country and climate in 2021. We will rise up from the sad ruins of the Trump era and the vandalism of January 6th. 

Sincerely, 

Mike Tidwell
CCAN Director

PS: Learn more about CCAN’s clean-energy campaigns in VirginiaMarylandDC, and at the federal level. Join us in changing our regional and national laws for a safer world.

Letter from the Director: Closing Out 2020

hands up in celebration

Dear friends, 

Have you finished exhaling yet? Joe Biden won! Donald Trump lost! The US Senate runoff races in Georgia won’t wrap up till January 5th, I know. But HOLY COW, the biggest victory is complete. The “climate arsonist” Donald Trump is on his way out. 

Across this nation, we know time is almost up for a swift and transformative clean-energy revolution. But here’s what gives me hope. In the middle of a pandemic, with a hate-spewing President explicitly trying to push disruptive chaos into the process, our country at every level and in every state conducted an incredibly smooth and fair election with record turnout. The Chesapeake Climate Action Network is proud to have played our role, both regionally and nationally, in the climate movement with several major victories. As the year comes to an end, won’t you make a gift to keep us going? 

Another four years of Donald Trump would have wrecked our global atmosphere — period. Now our next President, Joe Biden, can quickly rejoin the Paris climate agreement, rebuild the US EPA, end all drilling on federal lands, and bring science back to policy. 

But Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris can’t do it alone. They need the help of the states. The Biden climate platform was amazing. It included a call for 100-percent clean electricity nationwide by 2035 with net zero emissions by 2050. And it put equity for disadvantaged communities at the center of all climate policies. 

So here’s what you’ll see CCAN doing in 2021 to begin a down payment on those goals:

Nationally, we’ll use our geographic proximity and sizeable connections to the Biden administration to pressure the White House to keep its promises on all executive actions on climate. We’ll also work even harder on Capitol Hill to hold climate polluters accountable for past denial and current deceptive practices.

In Virginia, we’ll insist state lawmakers pass a clean cars bill to open a floodgate of electric vehicles in the state. The bill will help move us toward a net zero economy while, separately, we work on affordable, equitable public transit for all Virginians. And of course we’ll follow our huge victory in July of stopping the Atlantic Coast Pipeline by keeping up the fight against the Mountain Valley Pipeline.

In Maryland, we’ll push for the “Climate Solutions Now Act” to plant five million trees, cut climate pollution 60 percent by 2030, and incentivize solar. And speaking of pipelines, we’re not done fighting the absurd “Eastern Shore Pipeline” for fracked gas. Plus, we’ll push for a fair and equitable “price on carbon” in the state.

In DC, we’ll make sure the DC government stays on course for 100% clean electricity by 2032. And we’ll insist that electric vehicle charging stations spread quickly in the city while we work to “de-gasify” all the city’s buildings.

So yes, despite four years of Trump, Americans can still come together to do great things against long odds for the common good. We did it in November by preserving our democracy. 

Now let’s do it across our region and nation to preserve our planet. 

On we go,
Mike Tidwell
Executive Director
Chesapeake Climate Action Network & CCAN Action Fund

Photo at the top from Markus Spiske on Unsplash

Letter from the Director

It was the worst of times. It was the worst of times. 

Or so it seems lately in our country. Covid-19. Police brutality. The recession. And, in case anyone has forgotten, the climate keeps changing faster and faster. The temperature reached nearly 101 degrees Fahrenheit in Siberia last week, inside the Arctic Circle. That just flat out scares me. 

And, like most of you, CCAN has been very busy on many fronts this spring and summer. In April, thanks to a Zoom comedy show, we raised nearly $3,000 for the Capital Area Food Bank. In June, we joined the Movement for Black Lives to fight against runaway police budgets and abuse against Black and Brown communities. And all the while we’ve maintained the fight against climate change in the Chesapeake region and nationwide while protecting our staff through work-at-home practices and safe protesting in the streets. 

But here’s the thing: The only long-term solution to all of these problems is to elect competent leaders at the polls. And, you may have heard, there’s an election coming up in November – the most important in our lives. Which is why our sister organization, CCAN Action Fund, has launched a campaign to fight voter suppression everywhere and get everyone to vote. Won’t you join us by signing the “Fight to Vote” pledge?

Meanwhile, again, we’ve been busy on the climate front. In Virginia, we worked with an incredible coalition to help pass the Clean Economy Act, a bill that sets the state on a pathway toward 100% clean electricity while mandating the shutdown of all the states dirty fossil fuel power plants. 

In Maryland, we’ve joined wind and solar advocates in asking the Public Service Commission to speed up development of offshore wind farms, land-based wind, and utility-scale solar projects. We were pleased when the PSC voted in June to approve the long-delayed Dan’s Mountain wind farm in Western Maryland. Now the commission must do more, especially for solar power.

Finally, in DC, we cheered on the filing of a historic lawsuit. On June 23rd, the Attorney General of the District of Columbia Karl Racine filed a consumer protection suit against ExxonMobil and several other oil giants. The suit demands the oil companies financially compensate DC residents for the harmful climate change impacts already underway. The flooding and heatwaves we’re seeing now were effectively created by decades of tobacco-like denial of the science on the part of the polluters. Similar cases have been filed nationwide. The tide is turning. We’ll keep you posted.

And before I go, I want to give a shout out to a new book by former CCAN employee and climate legend Ted Glick. His book “Burglar for Peace” chronicles his dramatic efforts during the Vietnam War to destroy selective service draft records, including his own draft card, and the subsequent trials and time in prison he spent for this righteous activism. It’s an amazing read with lessons for modern-day activists fighting against the violence of climate change and for the peace of clean power. Check it out. 

Meanwhile, stay safe and well. And sign the pledge to get everyone to the polls in November. 

Sincerely, 

Mike Tidwell

This Earth Month: Take these 4 local steps while you “think globally”

By Mike Tidwell

I used to be a globe-hopping environmental activist. I went to climate change conferences in Montreal and Copenhagen. I travelled regionally, too, to Richmond and Annapolis, to harangue legislators. The travel made me part of the pollution problem, of course. But I bought “carbon offsets” to compensate, saving Amazon rainforests. 

Now, like you, I’m quarantined. On the 50th anniversary of Earth Month, I occupy a roughly 10-square-block universe around my house. Yet I’ve discovered four new activities that give me the power to act locally – and I mean inside my house and neighborhood – while keeping global climate change at the center of my activist life. 

So cue the drum roll. Here’s a summary of four cool activities I’m taking this Earth Month, followed by more details below. 1) I’m saving hundreds of local trees with my bare hands; 2) I’m writing hundreds of letters to out-of-state swing voters; 3) I’m riding a bike to protest Big Oil companies; and 4) – perhaps most important – I’m laughing a lot. I seek out laughter more than ever. My comedian friend Robert Mac reminds me that jokes can go viral too and that laughter is contagious. So we’re organizing the first-ever zoom comedy show to celebrate Earth Month and support a local food bank. Buy tickets here.

Now, in more depth, here are the four things that keep me sane and busy – and that might help you too: 

EARTH MONTH ACTION #1: Saving hundreds of trees in my neighborhood – Every day I keep at least one tree, and sometimes as many as ten, from falling to the ground, decomposing, and making global warming worse.

It began with the biggest tree in my neighborhood, about 10 blocks from my house. That tree is at least 150 years old, a tulip poplar. I first noticed it from atop a high-rise office building where I live in Takoma Park, MD. The tree hovered in the distance, twice as tall as the rest of the urban canopy in my neighborhood, which overlaps Maryland and Washington, DC. It’s a magical tree, a giant at least 90 feet tall. 

I set off one recent morning to see the tree up close. I take more walks in this world of social distancing. When I arrived at the corner of 6th and Butternut Streets, NW, I was both amazed and horrified. The tree’s trunk – 14 feet in circumference – was supporting a vast network of titanic branches shading much of the block. 

But then I noticed the tragedy. The tree was being strangled to death. Half of its massive, godlike body was covered in, and choking from, English Ivy

Multiple studies show that rising CO2 levels worldwide act as a “super fertilizer” to noxious weeds and vines like English Ivy and wisteria. But it took a viral pandemic to get me walking more and seeing the mass death these vines are bringing to my own neighborhood – and yours. 

A few days later, my son Sasha and I needed only about 20 minutes to save the 150-year-old tree. With the permission of the homeowner (friendly but ivy “blind”) we used garden clippers and a simple pruning saw to remove a thick matt of ivy vines at the base of the tree, thus dooming the climbing vines above us. Twenty minutes to save a tree that’s been growing for one and a half centuries!!

Now I’m obsessed with saving trees from ivy. I hand out this educational flier at every house I see on my morning walks where trees are being choked. I estimate there are at least one thousand – one THOUSAND – trees dying from noxious weeds within ten blocks for my house, each of which can be rescued within a few minutes. My goal, this Earth Month, is to personally save 100 of them and to recruit my neighbors to save the rest. 

That’s a total of 1000 tons of carbon dioxide sequestered over the lifetime of those trees, by the way – a ton per tree. My 100 trees alone offset my personal carbon footprint for about 10 years! I know we need to plant trees by the billions worldwide to help fight climate change. But we’ve got to save what we already have too. Won’t you join me during your own pandemic morning walks? Learn more here and here.

EARTH MONTH ACTION #2: Writing letters to potential voters in swing-state Pennsylvania – So this one’s a no-brainer. A nonprofit called Vote Forward allows you to personally write voters in several key states and encourage them to vote. Vote Forward targets folks in Democrat-leaning districts who historically have not voted. The process is super simple. You sign up. They send you as many letters as you want to write, with the voter’s name and address already displayed. You hand write your encouraging letter. Then you sit on the letters until October and mail them in. I’m in the process of writing 100 letters now to residents of Pennsylvania. Will you join me? You can also pick other target swing states like North Carolina and Texas.

EARTH MONTH ACTION #3: Riding a bike to draw attention to oily banks and dirty companies – Okay, for this one I’ve got to leave my neighborhood to get political. On April 30th, my friends at #ShutdownDC are planning a safe and creative bicycle action as part of their “Earth Day to May Day” series of activities. We’ll be keeping our distance, riding in pairs or solo, as we swing by the offices of some of the world’s worst climate criminals in Washington, DC. Sign up for more information on the bike ride here. If you just want to take in the activities by zoom, sign up here

EARTH MONTH ACTION #4: Laughing and laughing. The first-ever CCAN comedy show to raise money for a local food bank — Now, more than ever, we need the medicine of laughter as we save Mother Earth. Every day, I find myself going out of my way to try to find humor in the world and share it with others. That’s why the Chesapeake Climate Action Network is so excited to sponsor DC-area comic Robert Mac and his hilarious show “Comedy Night for Earth Day.” It’s a one-hour Zoom comedy special that will premiere on Thursday, April 30th, 8 pm. Tickets are just $10. Proceeds go to the Capital Area Food Bank.

Robert Mac has a skill for bringing humor even to the topic of climate change, with laugh-out-loud results. Did you know, for example, that by switching to the metric system we can reduce future global warming in the U.S. from 7 degrees to 2 degrees? Overnight! Mac has been a grand prize winner of Comedy Central’s Laugh Riots and has been featured at the prestigious Just for Laughs festival in Montreal — among other honors. He is one of the best “environmental comics” in the nation. You can check out some of his “50 Ways” tips here. For every $10 ticket sale we donate, the Capital Area Food Bank will be able to feed 25 people in this time of need. So RSVP now and tell all your friends. CCAN is proud to host this first-ever online comic show devoted to climate humor and virus justice.

EARTH MONTH WRAP UP: So there you have it. Four ways to keep you busy fighting climate change super close to home during a global pandemic. And here’s a PS: On April 24th at noon ET, CCAN is also hosting a cool hour-long program of music, yoga, and activism via zoom as part of the Earth Day Live event streaming worldwide. Sign up for our program here. Learn more about Earth Day Live here

In the meantime, stay safe, stay sane, stay active, and laugh whenever you can. 

Cross-posted from CCAN Action Fund with permission and recompense.

Virginia Clean Economy Act: A Big Step Forward on Climate Policy

House and Senate Pass “Virginia Clean Economy Act” on Tuesday, Feb 11

By Mike Tidwell

When it comes to clean energy policy, environmental activists nationwide commonly think of the Chesapeake Climate Action Network as true “climate hawks.” We sue polluters. We picket against companies like Dominion Energy. And when the time is right, our lobbying arm CCAN Action Fund, pushes HARD for transformative clean energy laws. Our collective actions over the past 18 years have led Bill McKibben of 350.org to call CCAN “the best regional grassroots climate group in the world.” 

So when I tell you we strongly support the Virginia Clean Economy Act, it’s for one reason: It’s a strong and transformative bill. This legislation, which passed in both the House of Delegates and the Senate on Tuesday, February 11th, will now cross over to be heard in the opposite chamber. The goal is to get it to the Governor’s desk as soon as possible, where he says he wants to sign it.

CUTTING TO THE CHASE: This bill shuts down Dominion’s coal-fired power plants in a HURRY. It brings a tidal wave of wind and solar power to Virginia. And it protects low-income ratepayers with ironclad provisions.

Both House and Senate versions of the VCEA would effectively shut down ALL of Dominion’s coal plants by 2030. All of Virginia’s utility-owned gas plants – all of them – would shut down by 2045,  but probably much sooner under this legislation. At the same time, the House and Senate bills will midwife the largest offshore wind farms in the nation and turbo charge the spread of both distributed rooftop solar power and properly sited solar farms. Both bills invest half a BILLION dollars in energy efficiency gains for low-income households over the next decade. And they cap the electric bills of low-income families at a guaranteed sustainable level, a game-changing move. Finally, despite the understandable suspicion (given history) that Dominion would only agree to a bill that gouges ratepayers, these bills contain bill-lowering competition for solar and wind projects that will keep prices down. The House bill, meanwhile, has even stronger mandates for energy efficiency gains to protect consumers. 

WHO SUPPORTS THE BILL?

Before digging into the bill in greater depth, keep in mind that the Virginia Clean Economy Act is supported by the biggest clean energy coalition ever assembled not just in Virginia but perhaps in the nation. I say this from experience working across the mid-Atlantic and in much of the rest of the country. It is a sign of the times and a sign of the extraordinary work done in Virginia that virtually every major environmental group in the state, all the wind and solar companies operating in the state, and yes the main electricity polluters – Dominion and Appalachian Power Company – support either the Senate version of the bill or the House version. (Both bills make strong progress and will have a hearing in the opposite chamber soon). The supporters are too many to name here but they include Sierra Club, Virginia Interfaith Power and Light, CCAN Action Fund, Southern Environmental Law Center, Sigora Solar, Orsted wind, and many progressively run corporations in the state like the Mars candy company and Akamai Technologies. This type of coalition is unprecedented in a southern coal state, for sure, but virtually unheard of anywhere in the country. Again, for critics who suspect Dominion is just gaming the system with another anti-consumer bad energy bill, you would have to believe that all of the groups – including mine – have been deceived after weeks of negotiations and careful bill writing. The truth: these groups support the bill because the net positive effect is tremendous for Virginia.

lobby day rally

250 people came to Richmond to lobby for the VCEA in January.

A DEEPER DIVE INTO WHAT THE VCEA DOES: 

Creates New Ratepayer Protections to Keep Bills Low

The Virginia Clean Economy Act would provide half a billion dollars in home weatherization funds for low-income households. It requires half of the funds from the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative to help low-income residents invest in efficiency to keep bills low. The other half will go towards flooding assistance, with about $250 million earmarked for low-income communities. 

The VCEA also creates Virginia’s first binding energy efficiency savings targets. Now, Dominion Energy will have to prove that their customers are using 5% less energy over a 2019 baseline by 2025. The savings target for ApCo is 2% of current load by 2025. 

It also includes additional provisions to keep bills low for clean energy projects. On offshore wind, the bill requires Dominion to hold a competitive bidding process to find the company that will build the turbines for the best price. There’s also a cost ceiling to keep the cost of electricity low. 

On solar, the bill will allow for up to 35% of the solar required in this bill to be owned by third party companies (i.e., not Dominion). This will allow for more competitive pricing on electricity from solar power. It also would utilize the “Percentage of Income Payment Plan” (PIPP) to cap energy bills for low-income ratepayers at a guaranteed affordable level. 

Creates a Renewable Portfolio Standard

A Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS) is a state law that requires utilities to deliver a specified amount of renewable energy such as wind and solar to their customers. The VCEA requires 100% clean electricity by 2045 for Dominion Energy and 2050 for Appalachian Power Company (ApCo), with a benchmark of 30% renewable by 2030. Renewable energy is defined as electricity from wind, solar, falling water, and other in-state resources. For Dominion, 75% of all renewable energy must come from the Commonwealth in 2025 and beyond.

This bill creates the only mandatory RPS with a target of 100% clean energy in the South and one of the stronger versions of the law of any state in the country, putting the state within shouting distance of leading states like Maryland. 

Expands Wind and Solar Energy

The VCEA would launch the largest offshore wind farms in America while turbo-charging the state’s solar industry. It establishes offshore wind as a substantial portion of the RPS as offshore wind comes online, and deploys 5,200MW by 2034, making Virginia a leader in offshore wind. It also includes labor provisions to require the use of local labor.

For distributed solar, it establishes rooftop solar as a portion of the RPS up to 1% annually beginning in 2021. It increases the cap on power purchase agreements to 500MW in Dominion territory and 40MW in ApCo service territories. It expands net metering by increasing the net metering cap to 6%, including 1% specifically set aside for low-to-moderate income communities, and allows larger projects to net meter. It also requires utilities to develop more than 16,000MW of renewable energy by 2035, equivalent to enough electricity for 3 million homes.

Key to the success of offshore wind and solar power is energy storage. The VCEA sets targets for energy storage of 3,100MW by 2035, including 2,700MW for Dominion and 400MW for ApCo. It also requires 10% of energy storage projects to be deployed directly “behind the meter” for power backups at hospitals, government facilities, and more.

Ends Fossil Fuel Emissions 

The Virginia Clean Economy Act would shut down virtually all of Dominion’s coal-fired power plants by 2030, all biomass facilities by December 31, 2028 and the rest of the state’s fossil fuel power plants by 2045. This makes us the only state in the South with a mandate to shut down all fossil fuels. 

While this House Bill does not create an outright moratorium on new fossil fuel development, it serves as a de facto moratorium on carbon-intensive electricity in Virginia by mandating a carbon-free grid by 2045 with exceptional interim goals by 2030. It also requires the Secretaries of Natural Resources and Commerce & Trade to report recommendations on how to achieve 100% carbon free electricity and fossil-fuel retirements. It bars the State Corporation Commission (SCC) from issuing new permits for power plants powered by fossil fuels until that study is received by the General Assembly.

Finally, it deters any utility spending on projects that do not help lower energy usage. Dominion will have to prove that they are meeting energy efficiency targets to lower overall energy usage before they are allowed to construct any new power plants powered by fossil fuels. 

Advance Environmental Justice 

Justice is incorporated into every aspect of the VCEA.  

The ratepayer protection provisions were laid out above. Further, the bill requires the Virginia Department of Mines, Minerals and Energy and the Environmental Justice council to prepare a report to ensure VCEA doesn’t disproportionately burden minority and historically-disadvantaged communities. It includes language to ensure reliability is protected. And it sets the policy of the Commonwealth to consider low-income areas & historically disadvantaged communities when considering new renewable projects, energy programs, and job training. Finally, it requires utilities to consult with the Clean Energy Advisory Board on how best to inform low-income customers about their solar options.

Summary: 

This bill is not the end for the climate fight. We will have to come back for transportation, agriculture, and more, until every sector of the economy is in line with the science. But the facts speak for themselves: This bill will hold Dominion dramatically accountable on rates and fossil fuels emissions. This is the best first step on climate a state has ever taken.

Happy CCAN Virginia team after the bill passed the House.

 

Letter from the Director: A World in Shock

Dear friends, 

The year 2019 began with the world in shock. Scientists said we had barely 10 years to cut carbon emissions in half if we wanted to avoid a full-on climate catastrophe. Then, just 12 months later, the year ended with Swedish schoolgirl and climate activist – Greta Thunberg – being named Time Magazine’s “person of the year.” 

A lot happened in between. And the Chesapeake Climate Action Network is proud to have played our role, both regionally and nationally, in the climate movement with several major victories. As the year comes to an end, won’t you make a gift to keep us going? Honestly, we’re tired but inspired and soon-to-be-recharged to fight for more wins in the new year.

It’s clear that climate has now become a global issue. In 2019, the Sunrise Movement really took off, calling for a Green New Deal. Then climate activists in the UK shut down roads and airports to protest inaction there, declaring themselves the “Extinction Rebellion.” Their movement quickly spread to America. And throughout this year, Thunberg led students worldwide in “Fridays For Future” strikes, culminating in upwards of 8 million strikers across the world on September 20. 

Our movement is BIG now. A full 76 percent of the US public believes climate change is a major problem, according to a recent Washington Post poll. 

Now, what do we do about it? Well, in 2019, CCAN joined the mayor of Washington, DC in passing a 100% clean energy bill that will power Congress and the White House with wind and solar power by 2032. We passed the sweeping “Clean Energy Jobs Act” in Maryland. And we continued to work successfully to stop two major fracked-gas pipelines in Virginia. 

Not to mention, we worked with U.S. Representatives Jamie Raskin (D-MD) and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) in grilling former ExxonMobil scientists in a hearing focused on the company’s 30-year effort to deny climate change and harm the public.

What’s next for us in 2020? A lot. Stay tuned for new campaigns for radical carbon reduction policies regionally and nationally. Plus more work to hold Exxon accountable. 

But we need you. None of our work is possible without the financial support of people like you. Please make a generous donation today so we can continue our inspired climate leadership tomorrow. And the next day. And the day after that. 

On we go, 

Mike Tidwell
Executive Director
Chesapeake Climate Action Network & CCAN Action Fund

Photo at the top from Markus Spiske on Unsplash

Fifty Years Later: The Moon Landing and Our Overheating Earth Back Home

For all I know, the old yellow mailbox was there on the porch on July 20th, 1969. The Takoma Park homeowners must have gotten letters from relatives and friends afterwards, everyone explaining where they were when astronauts first walked on the moon in black-and-white TV glory.

When I moved into the house in 1991, the aged, free-standing mailbox was still there, at the top of the porch stairs. For nearly two decades it remained. Then, about ten years ago, something odd happened. Bigger and bigger storms – including the 2011 Derecho — kept blowing the unattached mailbox (and lawn chairs) right off the porch. I put a stone in the back of the mailbox but the winds got stronger still. Last year I finally gave up and screwed in a new mailbox directly into the porch wall. 

As extreme weather stories go, I’m lucky. I don’t have the surprise cascades of water flooding my basement or trees pancaking whole rooms like many Washingtonians. But here’s the truth: We all have climate stories now. 

And so this week, as we mark the 50th anniversary of the first moonwalk, many people are thinking much more about the planet Earth than the faraway moon. So much has changed here at home since those first “Earthrise” photos appeared from Apollo. The massive, white polar ice caps, seen in the late 1960s through wispy clouds on an otherwise blue planet, have substantially disappeared. “It’s like looking at your ‘60s high school yearbook photo compared to who you are now,” says author and activist Bill McKibben. “That old Earth is long gone.”

What a leap of sci-fi imagination it would have taken for those 1969 Americans, so full of optimism and technological hope, to see us now: Washingtonians in July 2019 scrambling to the roofs of their cars to avoid drowning after six inches of rain fell in some places in one hour. The same city experiencing a heat index approaching 115 degrees by the end of July. Shopkeepers, meanwhile, in Annapolis and Norfolk and worldwide, boarding up waterside shops because those same blue oceans – so serene from space – are now massively swelling and crashing into continents.  And across the DC area, beginning about ten years ago, varieties of the heat-loving Palmetto tree are now able to grow year round.

The same scientific method that got us to the moon has, for the past 50 years, been telling us the planet will warm and unravel if we keep using fossil fuels. Yet here we are today, still with no inspired national strategy – no 10-year moonshot plan — to solve the problem in the few years scientists say we have left to try. 

Core blame, of course, rests with the oil companies like ExxonMobil who have funded climate-denying politicians and think thanks to confuse and lie to the public. But one day soon, to the sound of investigative gavels pounding on Capitol Hill, those same companies will wish they were the tobacco industry based on the staggering health implications and legal liabilities of their deception.

More immediately and locally, I worry about the media coverage of this crisis. Climate-enhanced Lyme disease is skyrocketing (I’ve suffered for ten years). Local vinyards are shutting down due to devastating early blooms. And, god, the flash flood warnings – beeping and flashing — blow up our phones almost daily. And yet the coverage in the Washington Post and elsewhere – while growing – is patently insufficient in volume and in connect-the-dots context. Yes, Post cartoonist Tom Toles’ keeps it real with his near-weekly focus on the irony and urgency of climate disruption. But shouldn’t every reporter and nearly every columnist be covering the issue with Tolesian frequency and urgency? Baltimore Sun columnist Dan Rodricks, a lifelong fisherman who has seen his favorite rivers and bays physically changed by global warming, recently pledged that one-third of all his columns will henceforth relate to climate change in some way. “What story is bigger than this?” Rodricks asks.

Finally and sadly on this moon walk anniversary, here’s a message for Washington Post owner Jeff Bezos: stop investing in space travel. Bezos’ quixotic company Blue Origin won’t be colonizing space anytime soon if that fragile, original experiment with organized life shuts down on the only blue planet we know. Better to put those billions of dollars into expanded Post coverage of the climate crisis and into direct financial investments in a moon-shot plan to electrify the Earthly economy with wind and solar power within the decade. 

Finally, finally: If I could write a hopeful letter to the 2069 inhabitants of my home – both the Takoma Park ones and the planetary occupants – what would I say? Here’s what: “Happy 100th anniversary of the moon walk. Thank god we learned the right lesson – in time.” 

Mike Tidwell is director of the Chesapeake Climate Action Network

Letter from the Director: Numbers Don't Lie.

Dear Friends,
Did you know that one in five Americans now live in a city or a state that is legally committed to reaching 100% clean energy in the next few years?
Let that sink in for a moment. There’s been a total sea change of support for climate action across the country. And much of that action is taking place right here in Maryland, Virginia, and Washington DC. Thanks to CCAN supporters like you, we helped pass two transformative clean energy policies just within less than six months. Now, as the new CCAN fiscal year kicks off, I hope you’ll consider making a donation so we can keep fighting for policies that match the urgency of the climate crisis.
Most recently, on April 8th, the Maryland Clean Energy Jobs Act became law. This policy will convert half of the state’s electrical grid to renewable power by 2030 and create a pathway to 100% clean power soon after that. This happened just four months after elected leaders in the District of Columbia passed a local bill mandating 100% renewable electricity by 2032.
Both states are now aligning themselves with the goals set by the world’s top climate scientists to reduce carbon emissions. And CCAN is now building the momentum to pass a strong carbon cap in Virginia, and setting the stage for a groundbreaking clean electricity policy in that state too.
At the federal level this year, we worked with US Senator Chris Van Hollen of Maryland and Congressman Don Beyer of Virginia to re-introduce the Healthy Climate and Family Security Act. We are also working with Representatives Jamie Raskin (MD) and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (NY) to increasingly draw attention to the role of oil companies in historically denying climate change science.
Through all of this, one thing remains clear. As long as President Donald Trump blocks climate action at the federal level, states will continue to have to take the lead, and we are proud to be a part of this exciting movement of state climate action.
The situation, meanwhile, could not be more urgent. Here are some more big numbers for you:

  • 415 ppm: In mid-May, atmospheric carbon dioxide levels reached 415 parts per million, a level never seen in human history.
  • 1 million species: A recent United Nations report stated that 1 million species globally are at risk of extinction, many within the next couple of decades.
  • 11 years: We have 11 years left to cut global greenhouse gas emissions in half.

While we are reading these gloomy headlines, it is important to also acknowledge the positives. New polling shows that Americans are waking up to the climate crisis, with climate change moving higher on their radar for the 2020 election — and candidates are taking notice. Some have already released their climate change strategies, a stark difference from 2016.
No matter what, know that CCAN will continue to push for change and to take back the driver’s seat from utility and oil companies. All of our work would not be possible without your support, so thank you for all that you do for CCAN, our region, and our planet.
Sincerely,
Mike Tidwell