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Earth Day Message: Turn, Don't Burn

On Tuesday the Sierra Club announced the beginning of a Campaign for Renewable Energy in New York State to “Turn, Don’t Burn.” Events, ads, and billboards are being launched in Buffalo, Rochester, Binghamton, and Auburn urging Governor Andrew Cuomo to make New York a national leader in clean energy. Specifically, we’re asking Cuomo to take administrative action to meet and extend the state’s renewable energy goal of 30 percent by 2015, and to develop new renewable energy sources like wind and solar instead of any continued investment in fossil fuels.

We appreciate the pledge to invest $1.5 billion in solar energy through the NY Sun Initiative, but much more is needed to keep pace with other states like Iowa and South Dakota, which are already getting 20 percent of their electricity from wind power. The US Energy Information Administration reports that New York currently receives 23.4 percent of its energy from renewables, but 18.4 percent of that is hydro, an energy source we’ve been using for over 50 years. It is calculated that we are receiving less than two percent from solar and wind.

Why do renewables? The New York State Energy Research and Development Authority reports that achieving 30 percent by 2015 could create more than $6 billion in direct economic benefits to New York, and it is well established that investment in renewables creates more three times the number of jobs as similar investment in fossil fuels. In Western New York, we want jobs.

And oh yes, there’s climate change. We don’t want any more Superstorm Sandy’s, or hurricanes like Isaac, or droughts. And there is a simple solution to all of these extreme weather events—stop using fossil fuels. And now. This is not something we can wait another 10-20 years to do, because controlling carbon and methane in the atmosphere now is the only thing that will mitigate the impacts of climate change.

Here is some recent climate news:

• Australia’s weather service had to add to new colors to its chart because of extremely hot temperatures.

• New data showed that 80 percent of the Arctic sea ice has disappeared.

• Exxon CEO Rex Tillerson proclaims that by 2040, only one percent of energy will be renewables! What planet does he live on?

• Obama’s proposed Department of Energy head is Ernest Moniz of MIT, who is in favor of hydrofracking and fossil fuels. And this is the head of the MIT Energy Initiative, a research group that has received $125 million in pledges from the oil and gas industry since 2006. Inspire confidence.

But there is some good news as well:

• The Sierra Club Atlantic Chapter has endorsed a goal of 100 percent renewables by 2030 and will work to make it so.

• The latest Energy Infrastructure Update report from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission reports that renewable energy sources accounted for 82 percent of all new domestic electrical generating capacity since January 2013, with wind leading the way.

• A recent poll by George Mason University reports that 62 percent of Republicans and independents leaning toward Republicans think we should take steps to address climate change. And more than three quarters of those say we should use more renewable energy sources. This is a major victory, one we couldn’t have thought possible only a year ago. The question now is not whether there is climate change, but how we are going to address it.

A recently released report, “Examining the feasibility of converting New York State’s all-purpose energy infrastructure to one using wind, water, and sunlight,” demonstrates that in New York State, renewables are doable! By 2030!

To that end, the Sierra Club Niagara Group has been working over a year with labor and other partners to institute a feed-in tariff (FIT) regionally and/or statewide. This policy has been tried and tested in more than 80 jurisdictions worldwide, including Germany, Japan, Los Angeles, and Long Island. This policy levels the playing field between fossil fuels and renewables by creating a stable market. Ontario has created 20,000 jobs and $20 billion in investment since they initiated their FIT in 2009. This is one of the policies we strongly urge the governor to implement, which he could do through the New York State Power Authority.

Many stand with Sierra Club members across the state on this campaign, including the Clean Air Coalition, WNY Drilling Defense, WNY Peace Center, Riverside Salem, UCC, PUSH, Partnership for the Public Good, Wind Action Group, WNYCOSH, Re-Energize Buffalo, Residents for Responsible Government, and the Working Families Party.

Our message to Governor Cuomo for the Renewable Energy Campaign is this: We, who stand on this earth today, and we who will come in future generations, ask that you consider life on earth in the next 25, 50, 100 years. And that you, through the good graces of your office, set us on a path toward renewable energy now—an act that will be remembered by all of us, and all who follow, as a courageous, generous, economically brilliant, and life-giving act.

- Lynda Schneekloth, Chair, Sierra Club Niagara Group

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