Archive for March 2015 | Monthly archive page

posted by | on , , | Comments Off on Women Leaders Defend the Earth and Champion Human Rights

by Sharon Hartzell

Happy National Women’s History Month! As environmentally conscious women, we have no shortage of role models from whom to draw inspiration as we advocate for a greener planet. Women have steered the environmental movement in innovative directions, highlighting interconnections between environmental issues and human right struggles in the U.S. and worldwide. Here are four female environmental leaders who advocate for both the environment and human rights.

Wangari Maathai

maathaiIn 2004, Wangari Maathai became the first African woman to receive the Nobel Peace Prize for her contribution to “sustainable development, democracy and peace.” Maathai took a holistic approach to environmental advocacy, recognizing connections between resource management and economic empowerment. One of her lasting contributions was the Green Belt Movement, an organization dedicated to empowering communities, particularly women, to preserve the environment. It was founded in response to concerned rural Kenyan women facing water scarcity, insecure food supply, and a lack of accessible resources for firewood. The Green Belt Movement encourages tree planting to conserve biodiversity, promotes ecosystem restoration, and combats poverty by providing economic resources.

In addition to the Green Belt Movement, Maathai became the first woman in Kenya to earn a doctorate degree, the first woman to chair the Department of Veterinary Anatomy at the University of Nairobi, and a participant in the National Council of Women in Kenya, which led to the creation of the Green Belt Movement.

Winona LaDuke

ladukeWinona LaDuke is a powerful advocate for environmental sustainability and indigenous rights, particularly for women. A member of the Ojibwe tribe, LaDuke became an activist while working on the White Earth Reservation as a school principal, where she helped to found the Indigenous Women’s Network. LaDuke recognized the necessity of conserving both environmental and cultural resources, and founded White Earth Land Recovery Project to recover land that has been taken from the people on her reservation. The organization also implements programs on these lands to preserve the environment and fosters economic opportunities for indigenous people.

LaDuke then founded the nonprofit Honor the Earth, which provides “a voice for the earth and a voice for those not heard.” Honor the Earth promotes environmental justice and works to enhance the political power and leadership of indigenous people. According to the nonprofit’s website: “We believe a sustainable world is predicated on transforming economic, social and political relationships that have been based on systems of conquest toward systems based on just relationships with each other and with the natural world.”

Vandana Shiva

shivaVandana Shiva has dedicated her life to the preservation of biodiversity and indigenous knowledge, which she sees as intrinsically linked. In 1991, Shiva founded the NGO Navdanya (nine seeds), which is committed to the protection of biological and cultural diversity. The organization has set up seed banks across India, promotes fair trade of organic seeds, and trains farmers in seed sovereignty, food sovereignty and sustainable agriculture.

Since the preservation of biodiversity is the foundation of Shiva’s activism, she has been an outspoken critic of seed monocultures, industrial agriculture, and genetically modified food products. Shiva also makes a philosophical argument against a system that attempts to patent life forms, and questions the loss of indigenous knowledge and control over traditional agriculture systems that might result from the practice. Ecofeminism is fundamental to Shiva’s work, and she asserts that more sustainable agriculture will go along with centering the leadership of women in India and worldwide.

Majora Carter

carterMajora Carter is a visionary advocate for environmental justice and an innovative steward of the urban environment. A resident of the Bronx, Carter has committed her life’s work to improving both the environmental quality and the economic sustainability of her community. In 2001, Carter founded Sustainable South Bronx, which spearheaded the initiative to develop the Hunt’s Point Riverside Park in an area that had previously been an illegal garbage dump.

Through Sustainable South Bronx, Carter has also established the Bronx Environmental Stewardship Program, an initiative to train urban residents for green-collar jobs in ecological restoration, green roof installation, urban forestry, and other sustainable fields. Carter’s work recognizes many interrelated struggles facing low-income communities of color, and strives to tackle them in a holistic way. These communities must bear the brunt of environmental pollution, and face less access to green spaces and fewer opportunities for green jobs than wealthier communities. “Green For All,” an organization that Carter founded in collaboration with civil rights advocate Van Jones, strives to tackle poverty and crime by providing economic opportunities for low-income communities while simultaneously building a green economy.

Across continents and communities, women are making vast contributions to the environmental movement and strengthening the linkages between preserving the earth and defending the rights of humans who inhabit it. Which female leaders have inspired you this Women’s History Month? Comment below!

Sharon Hartzell is a graduate student at the University of Maryland College Park, where her research and coursework focuses on Chesapeake Bay contaminant issues. She is a regular blogger on environmental topics with the Center for Health, Environment and Justice, and is always seeking more opportunities to write. She spends her free time enjoying everything the D.C. area has to offer, from the Natural History Museum to Nando’s portobello wraps.

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By Jessica Christy

In April 2014, Exelon Corporation, the nation’s fifth largest utility company ($28.7 billion market share) offered to purchase Pepco Holdings, Incorporated (PHI) for $6.8 billion, creating the nation’s largest utility with 10 million customers and $26 billion in regulated revenue. The service areas for these utilities include MD, IL, PA, DC, DE, NJ, and VA. Exelon’s profits, mostly from nuclear power generation, have decreased 40% since 2007, so the shift into a regulated market, with its guaranteed income, makes economic sense.

Exelon’s Byron Nuclear Power Station. Photo by Bill & Vicki Ton Flickr.

Exelon’s Byron Nuclear Power Station. Photo by Bill & Vicki T on Flickr.

Unsurprisingly, Pepco shareholders have approved the $1.1 billion windfall. The deal was also approved by the boards of Exelon and PHI, the regulatory bodies of NJ and VA, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), and tentatively with the regulatory body of DE. The deal still requires approval from the Public Service Commissions of MD and DC. The companies hope to win approval from all agencies by the fall of 2015.

Pepco claims that the merger will improve outage response time, reduce the number of outages, provide money for low-income customers, and continue to support local charities to the tune of $50 million. Others, including Maryland Attorney General Brian E. Frosh and the Institute for Energy, Economics, and Financial Analysis, believe PHI customers will experience frequent rate hikes, decreased reliability, and an understated role for renewables.

Rate Hikes May be Necessary to Financially Justify Acquisition

As PHI’s assets are estimated at a value of $4.3 billion, Exelon is paying a $2.5 billion acquisition premium, which creates pressure to justify the price tag. DC’s request for a moratorium on rate hikes for five years after the merger was rebuffed, leaving customers to wonder if they will see rate increases to support the acquisition premium. Consumers can examine Exelon’s behavior surrounding the acquisition of BG&E in 2012, which included the condition that savings from the acquisition would be passed on to consumers. Since then, Exelon has requested a total of $369 in rate hikes on electricity ($136 approved) and $221 in rate hikes on gas ($162 approved). While past behavior is no guarantee of future performance, it’s difficult to imagine that this merger will play out differently, especially considering the stronger conditions placed on the BG&E deal.

To address these concerns, Exelon increased its offers to $94.4 million for MD’s Customer Improvement Fund ($130 per customer), $49 million for DE’s direct customer benefits fund ($160 per customer), and $33.75 million for DC’s customer investment fund ($132 per customer). Despite these investments, it’s unclear whether consumers will see a net benefit from the merger.

Photo by Tam Tam on Flickr.

Photo by Tam Tam on Flickr.

Improved Reliability Not Guaranteed

Exelon’s standards for reliability are less stringent that the current plan and provide no independent method to incentivize reliability improvements. According to Exelon’s own testimony, it does not have a firm engineering plan for improvements, but, after the merger, will spend six months assessing conditions in the field to determine what improvements can be accomplished, when, and at what cost. Exelon would not institute any reliability targets for 2015 through 2017 and has set a goal of increased reliability using a three-year target beyond 2017, which is less strict than the current trajectory. Additionally, if Exelon does not meet these standards, including a significant number of exceptions for changes in law, regulation, and extreme weather anywhere along Exelon’s supply chain; Exelon will determine what penalty, if any, is warranted. Exelon’s internal goals are certainly laudable, but leave customers without any tangible plan for improving reliability.

Renewable Energy Plans De-emphasized

DC has set an incredibly ambitious plan to decrease energy usage by 50% by 2032 and increase renewable energy usage to 20% by 2020. MD’s renewable energy portfolio dictates that by 2022, renewable sources will account for 20% of energy consumption. NJ and DE have made similar plans; however, an Exelon takeover may put a damper on that progress. Exelon, in an effort to protect the profitability of its nuclear energy sources, has opposed efforts to make residential solar panels cost efficient; opposed the wind production tax credit; and lobbied against both DC and MD bills that prioritized renewable energy production and sources. The consistent opposition to renewable energy incentives indicates that Exelon does not and will not support renewable energy plans in PHI jurisdictions. Exelon may not be able to prevent these standards from taking effect, but they may be able to weaken or delay implementation.

When considering the potential negative effects on consumer rates, decreased reliability, and the environment from a de-emphasis on renewable energy sources; DC and MD should reject this deal unless Exelon can provide guarantees, not internal goals, which address these concerns.

**Consumers who are interested in learning more about the merger are invited to attend two panels at the University of the District of Columbia David A. Clarke School of Law on April 8, 2015 from 7-10pm. RSVP here.**

Jessica Christy is a first year law student at the University of the District of Columbia and a mother of three. She’s originally from Colorado, but has lived in DC for almost nine years. Before attending law school, she worked in industrial hygiene, including asbestos litigation and workplace safety. In her spare time, she enjoys beating her oldest child at MarioKart and needlepoint.

posted by | Comments Off on Save Your Sanity and the Planet by Letting Go of Unwanted Gifts

By Meg Hathaway

The post-holiday season is a time when many of us find ourselves stuck with at least one gift from a well-meaning friend or relative that just doesn’t have a place in our life. Maybe it’s a too-small sweater, a decorative candle you can’t stand the smell of, or in one memorable Christmas of my own, a ceramic rabbit statue the size of a Labrador retriever. It’s inevitable that at some point you’ll be on the receiving end of a gift that wasn’t exactly on your list. The irony is that when someone cares about you, the last thing they want to do is burden you with an object that you hate but feel obligated to keep.

No one sets out to give an unwanted gift, but I’m sure I’ve given some duds over the years. Unless your friends and family are very different from mine, they’re not mind readers. This isn’t a post about being ungrateful; it’s about being realistic and recognizing that objects sometimes come into your life that don’t fit who you are or want to become. When that’s the case, it’s important to acknowledge it and let the item go.

It can be hard to decide what to do with a gift you dislike when it’s connected to a beloved person in your mind. You love someone, and a gift is an expression of their love for you, so isn’t rejecting a gift on some level a rejection of their love? Here’s my advice to you: get rid of the gift. Now. Sell it, re-gift it to someone who will appreciate it more than you, donate it to Goodwill, recycle it, throw it away, whatever. Holding on to gifts that you have conflicting emotions about just clutters up your life and leaves less room for things that actually bring you happiness. Furthermore, by keeping an object you don’t value, you could be preventing that object from being useful to someone else, creating demand for more of the planet’s resources to be used to make a new version of your perfectly good item.

Okay. By now you’ve hopefully started guiltily thinking about a few things in your place that you know you should get rid of. Great! If you’re thinking of trash or something that you want to donate to charity, I trust you to take things from here. If you’d like to sell an unwanted item, some extra effort is necessary. Here are a few pointers:

1. Be realistic about the current condition of the item and whether it’s worth your time to attempt selling it. No one else cares that your used wallet was a gift from your super-cool Aunt Tilly on last year’s fun ski trip.

2. Consider the best platform to sell your item.

ebay lorax sold a. Yard sales have low prices but allow you to put a price tag on anything – no matter how random – and get rid of many items quickly.

b. eBay is perfect for small and easily shippable collectables, but can take a while to get used to if you haven’t sold items with the website before. My number one tip is to search for similar listing items and select the “completed” filter on the left-hand search bar. Simply viewing what others are listing is not enough – you want to know what buyers are actually willing to pay for your item.

craigslist gallery view with circle c. Craigslist is great for large items like furniture that you don’t want to ship; used IKEA items in particular sell very well. However, be prepared for people to email you with lowball offers and flake out on appointments. Visit the “Sell Your Crap” section of the blog Man vs. Debt for great suggestions on how to sell on Craigslist. Like eBay, you can search for similar items and see what keywords and prices other people are using. It also helps to switch from the default “list view” to the picture-based “gallery view” to quickly compare your item with what’s already for sale.

3. Photos make a sale. Take lots of pictures of your item, being sure to honestly highlight any flaws.

4. If you’re on the fence about selling something, photographing the item can help keep associated memories alive, freeing you to dispose of the object itself. For more information on why we keep certain objects and how to let go, read Karen Kingston’s Clear Your Clutter with Feng Shui and Peter Walsh’s It’s All Too Much.

Happy clutter clearing!

Meg Hathaway is a Chemical Review Manager for the Office of Pesticide Programs in the US Environmental Protection Agency. She enjoys contra and swing dancing, studying international environmental policy, flipping merchandise online, and telling herself she practices guitar every day. She’s also on the DC EcoWomen executive board.