BlueGreen Alliance

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Posts About Infrastructure

The following blog is from Rob McCulloch Director, Infrastructure Programs at theBlueGreen Alliance and Melanie Houston, Director of Oil and Gas Policy for the Ohio Environmental Council.

On April 8, labor and environmental advocates hosted Senator Brown and local union members and  elected officials for a roundtable discussion about the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) new methane standards for the oil and gas industry. The discussion focused on how we can create critically needed jobs and improve working conditions for workers while also providing important environmental protections for Ohio’s at risk communities. Most in the room agreed that this can be accomplished by fixing leaks and reducing methane emissions in the oil and gas sector. The roundtable was held at the Noble County Health Department in Caldwell, Ohio.

The EPA’s proposed Emission Standard for New and Modified Sources for the Oil and Natural Gas Sector represents a huge step towards tackling methane leaks. We are hearing that this standard will get the final stamp of approval by EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy in the coming weeks. Stakeholders at the meeting took the opportunity to emphasize to the Senator how important it is to expand these guidelines to oil and gas equipment currently operating. These “existing sources” are estimated to account for up to 90 percent of oil and gas sector leaks and emissions by 2018.

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While the energy sector has made strides to increase the efficiency of our natural gas systems in recent years, leaking methane continues to harm communities and the environment. Leaking pipes and systems are a continuing hazard for workers and communities as methane comes packaged with health-harming air toxics. Leaks also waste valuable energy resources. Pound for pound, atmospheric methane is orders of magnitude more potent than carbon dioxide and is the second largest contributor to climate change (estimated at 10 percent of total U.S. greenhouse gas emissions).

Leaks are sometimes due to accidental releases, but often they can be attributed to outmoded practices and obsolete technology. This lost and leaking natural gas costs billions of dollars' every year— nationwide these upstream activities waste the amount of gas it takes to heat nearly 8 million homes. Ohio’s oil and gas sector wastes an estimated 13,000 metric tons of natural gas from leaks. That’s the equivalent to the amount of natural gas needed to heat 8,500 Ohio homes!

Low-cost solutions already exist to plug these industrial gas leaks and power more homes and businesses, and some companies have made the investment to deploy durable, less leak-prone systems in order to improve efficiency. However, only 1 percent of the industry has adopted these practices. This is exactly why voluntary measures aren’t enough.

Studies show that the energy sector could cut their emissions and leaks, using off-the-shelf technology, by up to half in five  years at a cost of less than 1 cent per thousand cubic feet of natural gas (mcf)—a fraction of a percent of market prices.

Ohio has 12 companies operating 16 facilities across the state producing leak reduction technologies that can make these energy activities safer and more efficient, ranking 9th among states. The potential benefits of the methane standard may be even better than we think.

Low-cost solutions already exist to plug these industrial gas leaks and power more homes and businesses, and some companies have made the investment to deploy durable, less leak-prone systems in order to improve efficiency. However, only 1 percent of the industry has adopted these practices. This is exactly why voluntary measures aren’t enough.

Upgrading industry practices and outdated technology means better working conditions and stronger job opportunities for frontline oil and gas workers. Unionized workers are eminently qualified to identify and repair leaks and implement methane-reducing technologies. They have strong training and qualification programs that ensure upgrades and repairs are done safely and effectively.

These common-sense methane standards will benefit workers and our communities. We applaud Senator Brown for taking a good part of his day to discuss why reducing methane leaks are important from the perspective of those workers and public interest advocates. Ultimately, we hope he will become an ally in efforts to establish strong rules to rein in unnecessary methane pollution from the oil and gas industry.

Posted In: Infrastructure, Climate Change
Cities in the United States are struggling with aging and failing infrastructure systems—ones that will likely be unable to withstand the severe impacts of climate change. We’ve seen this with Hurricane Sandy, and in Duluth, Minnesota, where the roads were washed away several years ago by the worst flood in Duluth’s history.
 
This problem is observed in today’s Star Tribune, with an editorial outlining what the mayors of two of the state’s major cities say is the biggest problem they have yet to fix: the cities’ aging infrastructure for street, sewer and related systems.
 
Building smarter cities will not only improve our infrastructure and make our cities more efficient, it can have a significant impact in the fight against climate change.
 
A new working paper from the Global Commission on the Economy and Climate outlines the importance of building smarter cities as a strategy for reducing greenhouse gas emissions. In "Accelerating Low-Carbon Development in the World’s Cities," the Commission says that two-thirds of the global population will live in urban areas by 2050, and recommends that cities “commit to developing and implementing low-carbon urban development strategies by 2020,” calling for an aid package of $1 billion to unleash $5-10 billion in private investment. 
 
As reported by The Guardian:
 
“Putting cities on a course of smart growth – with expanded public transit, energy-saving buildings, and better waste management - could save as much as $22tn and avoid the equivalent in carbon pollution of India’s entire annual output of greenhouse gasses, according to leading economists.”
 
The report comes just a few months ahead of critical negotiations in Paris around a global agreement to fight climate change. The report’s contributors say that this strategy could help close the gap between currently committed reductions in greenhouse gases and that which is needed to limit the world’s global temperature increase to 2° C.
 
Building smarter cities seems like a no brainer. Building efficiency, transit, renewable energy and waste management are all strategies worth pursuing in cities in the United States and across the world.
But political will is needed to make these changes, both in Paris and here in the United States.  
Posted In: Minnesota, Infrastructure, Climate Change

The following blog by Kim Glas, BlueGreen Alliance Executive Director has been cross posted from the Huffington Post. The original post is available online here

It's not just our transportation system that's in desperate need of an upgrade. The fact is that from pipes carrying water and natural gas, to our energy grid, to our communications systems, we need action now to repair and modernize systems we rely on every day.

Old, broken down systems waste energy and water and other resources, make our communities less safe, and contribute to the pollution that's driving climate change. But, fixing and modernizing them? That's an opportunity to create family-sustaining jobs, make communities more secure and resilient, and give America a leg up in the ultra-competitive global economy.

Modern Communications Systems = More Efficient and Safe

Today, let's focus on our nation's communications systems.

For a lot of America, high-speed broadband Internet is something they just can't get. Many rural areas of the country are stuck in technology that was great in the '90s but pales in comparison to the offerings in large cities. And, even in those cities and suburbs, there are still a lot of folks to whom high-speed broadband isn't affordable or nearly as fast as needed to support education, business and access to opportunity.

Bringing our communications systems up to date would also enable power companies to monitor, assess and avoid power outages and damages; help make emergency communications and disaster preparedness systems ready to protect us even in the most dire circumstances; and make other infrastructure -- like water and natural gas distribution lines -- more efficient by using sensors and systems to monitor them in real time and avoid leaks and failures.

A modern communications infrastructure is a resilient one. Every year, businesses and households are estimated to lose $80 to $150 billion annually from power outages alone. The smallest thing can cause the biggest consequences in our energy systems. For example, one of the largest blackouts in U.S. history in 2003 was caused by wires brushing up against tree limbs in Ohio, leaving 50 million people without power. A modern, communications-enabled smart electric grid can help avoid these crises, while at the same time enabling new forms of energy efficiency in homes and businesses and helping integrate clean and distributed energy into our electric system.

Those are all great things -- they will make our country more prosperous, more efficient, more resilient and reduce the emissions driving climate change. But, much of this won't happen if we fail to modernize and repair our communications systems to be ready for these advances. And those upgrades are an opportunity to create good, family-sustaining (and often union) jobs around the country, as well as support current jobs in the communications industry.

The bottom line is that a modern communications infrastructure would be a huge benefit to our economy -- by creating and sustaining good jobs -- and protect our environment -- by wasting less energy and water and reducing the pollution that's driving climate change.

Some Final Words

The BlueGreen Alliance and its partners are at the forefront of the discussion of modernizing and repairing our infrastructure systems to create family-sustaining jobs, make our communities safer and healthier and reduce the pollution that's driving climate change. And, we're not here alone. Companies, unions, community organizations, leaders in Congress and State Legislatures around the country, and people like you pushing for a resilient and modern infrastructure are all vital to this effort.

If you want to find out more about how we can do this, check out our Policy Brief on Communications Infrastructure here and share this great infographic on your social media platforms to help spur the discussion!

Posted In: Infrastructure

What do Boston, New York, Indianapolis and Syracuse all have in common? They’re all cities part of the Environmental Defense Fund’s (EDF) methane leaks tracking tool. Just this week, EDF unveiled Los Angeles as the latest city to be added to the interactive data map that’s a fascinating bird’s eye view of where the methane leaks are located in a given city. The Google map and data are the latest powerful additions to our arsenal of information better arming cities, states, environmentalists and the utilities and workers—including more than 4,000 members of the Utility Workers Union of America employed at Southern California Gas—doing this work to prevent methane leaks as a potent source of emissions.

Image credit: EDF

What, where and how

Even a cursory look at EDF’s map of Los Angeles quickly reveals methane leaks are all over the city. As this distribution infrastructure ages—especially in the largest and oldest cities across the country—it’s becoming an increasing problem. Uncombusted methane lost through the system, pound for pound, has at least 21 times the global warming potential of carbon dioxide over a 100-year time frame, making it a truly potent contributor to climate change.

The potency of methane in combination with the aging distribution system poses a growing threat, but also an opportunity. The scope of the problem is that the U.S. consumes approximately 25 trillion cubic feet of natural gas annually. Natural gas for consumers and businesses run through approximately 1.25 million miles of distribution pipelines in communities throughout the U.S. Nine percent of our nation’s natural gas distribution pipelines—approximately 112,000 miles worth—are made from leak-prone materials such as cast iron and unprotected steel and in many cases date back beyond World War II.

Why is repair and replacement important?

The opportunities presented by the aging distribution system are both environmental and economic. Repairing and replacing natural gas distribution pipelines has the potential to prevent the emission of 81 million metric tons of climate change pollution—the equivalent of taking 17 million cars off the road for a year. If we’re going to truly make an impact limiting emissions over the next few years to meet both domestic and global emissions commitments, it will be necessary to think creatively about news ways to do that.

Making distribution pipeline repairs and upgrades deliver for the economy by putting people to work. A BlueGreen Alliance report—Interconnected—explores the scenario of moving from 30- to 10-Year pipeline replacement scenario. Accelerating the timeline for repairing leak-prone sections of our nation’s natural gas pipeline distribution system create more than 300,000 good, family-supporting jobs across the economy, save consumers $1.5 billion in charges for lost gas.

Knowing which cities and neighborhoods are seeing the most leaks is one of many steps in preventing emissions in the first place. The EDF’s mapping tool is working to educate and engage a wider audience about this problem. In partnership with EDF, the BlueGreen Alliance is urging the administration to act boldly with supportive policies to achieve emissions reductions and working with partners and allies to develop ways to reap all possible economic impacts.

This important work is a down payment on our commitment to do better where we can.  The economic opportunity and the environmental repercussions are an opportunity that cannot be missed.

Posted In: Infrastructure

Do you think America’s infrastructure should earn better than a “D+” grade? With federal funding for roads, bridges and transit set to expire at the end of the month, Infrastructure Week is as good of a time as any for Congress to commit to making long-term investments in the infrastructure systems we rely on everyday.

Kicking off this week of infrastructure action, on Monday a few outspoken infrastructure experts weighed in about what ails these systems and we can do to fix them. Former Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell articulated it best when he said, “The cost of doing nothing is higher than the cost of doing something.” Other notable speakers included Vice President Biden and AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka who also spoke about the need to pay more attention to the state of infrastructure and the potential to create economic opportunities also.

Infrastructure systems we use for transportation, energy, communications, and clean water can influence our lives in so many ways—from creating good, family-sustaining jobs, reducing pollution and costs to working families, and more. Earning a “D+” grade on the state of our infrastructure is inevitably holding us back from seizing economic opportunity, not to mention the inefficiencies in these systems waste precious resources and create more pollution.

While it’s true that these investments cost money, so too does failing to act. Staying the course we’re on would drop U.S. exports $28 billion, lose 877,000 jobs and cause transportation costs to increase $430 billion all by 2020. 

If Congress fails to act in the coming days, a lapse in federal funding puts 900,000 jobs—specifically, more than 97,000 manufacturing jobs at risk. Time is running out to protect those jobs since current funding is running out May 31. If we’re ever going to earn better than a “D+” grade on our infrastructure report card, it’s time the House and Senate work together to agree on a long-term funding solution that is fully funded.

Sure, the onus is ultimately on Congress to invest in America’s aging infrastructure systems, but it’s up to us to hold Congress accountable for getting the federal funding we need to have a functioning infrastructure system. On Infrastructure Week of all weeks, let’s take that call to action seriously and ask lawmakers and other leaders at every level to take our infrastructure shortfalls very seriously. Start here by urging the House and Senate to act.

 

 

Posted In: Infrastructure

The following blog post by Mike Hall has been cross-posted from the AFL-CIO Now blog. The original post is available online here

Infrastructure Week Spotlights Need to Renew, Rebuild

The AFL-CIO and more than 60 national and regional infrastructure and transportation advocacy groups will take part in Infrastructure Week 2015, May 11–15.

The actions around the country are designed to raise awareness of the lack of investment in America’s infrastructure—from surface and air transportation to broadband networks—which has left the United States less globally competitive and riddled with potholes, aging water pipes bursting once every two minutes, outdated transit and lengthening travel delays. 

Infrastructure Week is coordinated by America’s business, labor and policymaking leadership and will convene an unprecedented nonpartisan coalition united around the importance of investing in America’s infrastructure future. Said AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka:

Rebuilding our crumbling infrastructure isn’t a Democratic issue or a Republican issue, it’s an American issue, and it’s one that we should all come together to support. With so many Americans ready to get back to work, the time is now to create good paying jobs and better roads, bridges, communications and transit systems we can all be proud of.

Find out more about Infrastructure Week—including a calendar of dozens of events in Washington, D.C., and around America—at www.InfrastructureWeek.org, and follow on Twitter at @RebuildRenew and#RebuildRenew.  

Posted In: Infrastructure

Inefficient infrastructure causes traffic delays and costs money. It hasn’t always been easy to precisely pinpoint the full costs of America’s infrastructure shortfalls, however new data showing five minute delays here and there cost one company, UPS, $105 million per year in added costs. That begins to tell us more about how our well-worn and sometimes worn-out infrastructure is costing companies big time. The backdrop to all of this is that highway and transit funding­, which pays for highway and transit infrastructure investments, is set to run out in under 100 days. And with a Congress that doesn’t seem to be in a big hurry to address it, it raises concerns about the immediate and long-term transportation funding future.

According to the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) the cost of crumbling infrastructure could total $1 trillion between 2012 and 2020.

At what cost?

According to the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) the cost of crumbling infrastructure could total $1 trillion between 2012 and 2020. That’s not all. Reduced productivity and higher costs could drain $3.1 trillion from the country’s gross domestic product. The data underscores the point that neglecting our infrastructure is taking a bite out of America’s net worth.

In 2013, ASCE gave the nation’s infrastructure a grade of “D+,”  which is a slight improvement over previous “D” grades, and estimated that to get to a grade of “B” would require an investment of $3.6 trillion over the next seven years.

The huge number of water main breaks, bridge closures, pothole-ridden roads and much more in communities from coast-to-coast are alarming but we can’t afford complacency.

What we can do about it

President Obama, ASCE, former Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood and a host of others recognize the necessity of long-term infrastructure investments and have taken steps to draw attention to this need. The president allocated $478 billion over six years for transportation in his proposed budget. ASCE’s infrastructure report cards provide and other general advocacy provide a revealing look at how infrastructure has gotten better or worse over time. Ray LaHood has called out lawmakers time and again for failing to muster up the political courage to do something meaningful.

Additionally the BlueGreen Alliance’s Repair America plan illustrates the benefits of long-term investments if we make the necessary repairs. For example, repairing America’s infrastructure could create 2.7 million jobs across the economy and increase the U.S. Gross Domestic Product (GDP) by $377 billion, while reducing carbon pollution and other greenhouse gas emissions and better protecting communities from the impacts of climate change.

States and cities are doing what they can to prevent the pipes under our cities from rotting away, water or natural gas leaking from energy infrastructure; fix congested roads; and prevent our schools from falling apart, wasting energy and water. The onus is on Congress to make the most impactful investment of long-term, predictable federal funding.

It’s time to step up infrastructure investments sooner rather than later. Time is money, especially for businesses like UPS and many others like it. Now’s the time to tell Congress to get to work to repair America! 

Posted In: Infrastructure
The following blog by BlueGreen Alliance Executive Director, Kim Glas was originally posted on the Huffington Post blog. The original post is available online here
 
While Broadway, the Empire State Building, Statue of Liberty and ice skating at Rockefeller Center may get all the attention, New York's Mayor de Blasio is taking steps to make sure New York City gets a reputation for action on conservation and sustainability. With the introduction of his goal to reduce emissions 80 percent below 2005 levels by 2050, the mayor has set the highest bar yet for a large city on reducing greenhouse gas emissions. There are innumerable ways to meet this target--the best is one that benefits as many people as possible.
 

A new report called "Climate Works for All: A Platform for Reducing Emissions, Protecting Our Communities, and Creating Good Jobs for New Yorkers", puts the best thinking on climate policy and job creation from worker organizations, environmental justice advocates, environmentalists, and other stakeholders to work. It's a strategy by ALIGN, along with the National AFL-CIO, the New York City Central Labor Council, AFL-CIO, the BlueGreen Alliance, the New York City Environmental Justice Alliance, and a large number of endorsers and supporters--to solve our jobs crisis, reduce greenhouse gas emissions and adapt to the impacts of climate change. Together, the 10 proposals introduced in the report have the potential to create 40,000 good jobsper year.

Hurricane Sandy underscored the city's vulnerability to extreme weather. Together, the fact that energy infrastructure lies squarely in some of the most flood-prone areas, within close reach of the city's 520 miles of coastline compiles the problem. Hurricane Sandy undermined the city's strength in a matter of hours. Let's not let that happen again.

Proposed fixes such as mandating energy efficiency retrofits in the city's largest buildings, replacing damaged and inefficient boilers with more efficient systems and more can strengthen the economy and create good, family-sustaining jobs.

Investing in our physical and social infrastructure requires us to be proactive and smart. We need to protect our subways and coastline from flooding and storm surges. We need to make our homes, hospitals and schools able to withstand severe weather, so that flooding like we experienced during Superstorm Sandy does not leave families in danger, especially lower-income communities and communities of color that are disproportionately impacted by climate change.

We know what New York City looks like if we continue to delay investments. The solutions proposed in the "Climate Works for All" report illustrate what's possible when we make the right investments in the priorities that will create a brighter economic future and more sustainable economy.

Today we have an unprecedented opportunity to do right by our workers and communities vulnerable to the impacts of climate change by building infrastructure in a sustainable way. Efforts to curb emissions are a good start, but there is a vast and untapped potential that exists in initiatives that mandate energy efficiency retrofits in New York's largest buildings and replace inefficient boilers for example. Strategies like these can truly transform New York into a safer, more equitable city.

Posted In: New York, Infrastructure

The sorry state of America’s infrastructure received some well deserved screen time this week on 60 Minutes during a segment called, “Falling Apart: America’s Neglected Infrastructure.” Steve Kroft spoke with leaders including former Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell, Congressman Earl Blumenauer (OR), Amtrak’s president and CEO and former Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood. The consensus amongst everyone was that we can’t afford to continue to uphold the status quo on how we’re currently managing America’s infrastructure.

The I-35 bridge collapse in Minnesota in 2007 to the I-5 Skagit bridge collapse in 2013 in Washington state only begin to tell the story. According to 60 Minutes, one out of every nine bridges is structurally deficient. LaHood called them “dangerous.”

Pictured: The Liberty Bridge in Pittsburgh, PA was built in 1928, at a time when cars and trucks weighed less.

“Our infrastructure is on life support right now. That's what we're on,” said Ray LaHood, former Secretary of Transportation.

In case you missed the segment, we recap for you the top five alarming statements about America’s infrastructure:

  • “Our infrastructure is on life support right now. That's what we're on,” said Ray LaHood, former Secretary of Transportation.
     
  • “There are more than more than 4,000 bridges in metropolitan Pittsburgh and 20 percent of them are structurally deficient, including one of the city's main arteries,” said Andy Hermann,” a past president of the American Society of Civil Engineers.
  • “Every day in Pittsburgh five million people travel across bridges that either need to be replaced or undergo major repairs,” said Andy Hermann, a past president of the American Society of Civil Engineers.
  • “I've actually been trying now for 44 months to at least get a hearing on transportation finance on the Highway Trust Fund that is slowly going bankrupt, and we've not had a single one,” said Rep. Earl Blumenauer.
  • “If Congress wants to do something now, build this bridge. It's ready to be done. It's been ready for two years. Build it. It's tangible evidence that they can really get something done,” said Amtrak President and CEO about the Portal Bridge for trains in Hackensack, NJ.

The problems extend well beyond bridges however to all aspects of our infrastructure including airports, ports, water and wastewater management systems and more. The pervasive problems chronic underinvestment in America’s infrastructure have caused led BlueGreen Alliance to begin the Repair America campaign—an effort to modernize the infrastructure systems we rely on every day both to address climate change and to create good jobs. Through this campaign, we’re raising awareness about all of the challenges and opportunities tackling these issues present to us.

Americans can’t afford Congress’ weak resolve on fixing America’s infrastructure—there’s too much at risk. We must do more to protect ourselves and our communities from the disastrous impacts a crumbling infrastructure present to us.

Posted In: Infrastructure

While the votes for (most) of the candidates have been tallied and the dust from the midterm election is settling, we’re tallying up how vitally important transportation issues fared on the ballot this midterm election. The final count shows voters in large and small communities around the country said yes to some important statewide and local initiatives to bolster transportation spending projects in their own backyards.

In San Francisco for example voters gave an overwhelming thumbs up to a $500 million bond that will support road improvements and transit reliability and accessibility. Planned improvements include redesigned streets, more bike and transit-only lanes, improved maintenance and improvements at area metro stations.

While not all ballot initiatives in support of transportation spending were approved this year, 58 measures in 18 states over the past year were approved—that’s a 71 percent success rate for those keeping track.

Just outside San Francisco in Alameda County, voters backed an $8 billion plan that includes $2.8 billion for transit, $2.4 billion for street improvements, $1 billion for paratransit for people with disabilities, $650 million for bike/pedestrian and safety measures, and $300 million for transit-oriented development.

Marylanders approved a statewide constitutional amendment to keep politicians’ paws off of the state’s Transportation Trust Fund—protecting these funds from being used to support general expenses in the state budget. Wisconsin voters approved a similar measure to safeguard transportation funds by stipulating revenue deposited in the state’s transportation fund be spent only on transportation-related projects.

Clayton County, Georgia residents—an Atlanta suburb—rejected a decision by a county board in 2010 to cancel bus service by voting in favor of a one-cent sales tax to join the Metropolitan Atlanta Regional Transit Authority (MARTA) system. The vote will expand transportation options in one of the most gridlocked cities in the country.

While not all ballot initiatives in support of transportation spending were approved this year, 58 measures in 18 states over the past year were approved—that’s a 71 percent success rate for those keeping track. It underscores the point that Americans are willing to spend a little bit more to have a smarter, safer and more efficient transportation infrastructure.

The higher than average success rate of these measures—twice the success rateof ballot measures generally—sends a strong message to Congress that these are the kinds of investments people want in their communities. Now that thousands of voters have said yes to local transportation investments, it’s time for Congress to say yes to the investments that will truly improve the quality of all of America’s infrastructure.   

Posted In: Infrastructure
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