Good as news: positive environmental stories you may have missed this week

In this week's roundup of good news for the planet, catch up on solar leadership in U.S. cities, progress for the American sage grouse and endangered Hainan gibbons, and more.

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Emma Searson
Director, 100% Renewable Campaign

Author: Emma Searson

Director, 100% Renewable Campaign

(828) 545-7300

Started on staff: 2016
B.A., magna cum laude, Phi Beta Kappa and Sigma Xi, Washington University in St. Louis

Emma oversees Environment America's national campaign for 100 percent renewable energy, working to deliver a bold vision for a future powered by clean energy one state at a time. Since joining the team at Environment America, Emma has led campaigns building and mobilizing public support for renewable energy and climate action in cities and states across the nation. She has authored reports on energy efficiency, solar energy and other renewable energy policy areas. Originally from North Carolina, Emma now lives in Boston, where she enjoys running, cooking and exploring the great outdoors in her free time.

The Public Interest Network’s Environment America and U.S. PIRG are working on multiple campaigns to help America get through the coronavirus pandemic as quickly and safely as possible. But we're also working to ensure that when the outbreak ends, the United States’ policies and practices ensure a cleaner, safer, better world for all of us. 

This weekly newsletter will highlight recent good news on the environmental front. If you have suggestions or comments, please email Emma Searson (emma.searson@publicinterestnetwork.org) or Josh Chetwynd (josh.chetwynd@publicinterestnetwork.org). 

New study finds that 50 major U.S. cities more than doubled their total installed capacity in last 7 years

Fifty top American cities have each more than doubled their total installed solar photovoltaic (PV) capacity since 2013, according to a new study released on Wednesday by Environment America Research & Policy Center and Frontier Group. The report, Shining Cities 2020: The Top U.S. Cities for Solar Energy, is the seventh annual edition of the most comprehensive survey of installed solar PV capacity in major U.S. cities. 

This year’s survey, which analyzed data through December 2019, found that cities are increasingly turning to solar to meet their energy needs. In 2013, the first year of the study, eight of the cities surveyed had enough solar PV per capita to qualify as “Solar Stars” (cities with 50 or more watts of solar PV capacity installed per capita). In 2019, that number jumped to 26 cities. 

“Cities are leading the charge to install clean, renewable solar energy,” said acting Environment America Research & Policy Center President Wendy Wendlandt. “Mayors and local officials recognize the benefits that solar energy can offer their communities. Each year of our study we’ve found that more local leaders are pursuing solar projects and smart local policies to help their constituents tap the power of the sun.”

For more key findings and quotes from selected mayors, see Environment America’s press release. You can also view a recorded webinar unveiling the new report, featuring Phoenix Mayor Kate Gallego and experts from Frontier Group and the Solar Foundation, on Facebook

Environment America and partners, cities and states move to protect federal clean car rules in court

Environment America, along with ten other public interest organizations, filed a lawsuit on Wednesday in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit opposing the Trump administration’s action to weaken federal clean car standards. This lawsuit follows litigation that Environment America and the other public interest groups previously filed challenging part one of the action, which attempts to block California and other states from setting stronger tailpipe emissions standards.

The petition challenges a final rule issued jointly by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Department of Transportation’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). The agencies’ action violates several federal statutes, including the Energy Policy and Conservation Act, the Clean Air Act, and the Administrative Procedure Act, the lawsuit contends.

In addition, attorneys general from nearly two dozen states, the District of Columbia and five cities filed suit on Wednesday over the proposed rollback of vehicle fuel efficiency standards.

"Our clean car standards represent the single biggest step the federal government has ever taken to combat climate change,” Ellie Reynolds, clean cars associate with Environment America. “According to the EPA's own data, the standards have saved drivers $90 billion in fuel costs and have cut carbon pollution by 479 million metric tons since they were enacted. We will win this case to protect these standards not only for our children and grandchildren, but also for vulnerable populations facing climate disasters in real time across the country."

What else we’re celebrating:

  • Judge moves to protect sage grouse, cancelling 440 oil and gas leases: A federal judge canceled hundreds of oil and gas leases on public lands in Montana and Wyoming, citing failure by the Bureau of Land Management to protect sage grouse habitat in the lease sale process. The bird, while not listed in the Endangered Species Act, has been in decline across the Western U.S., in part due to energy development and habitat loss.

  • Critically endangered Hainan gibbons returns from near extinction: The population of the world’s rarest primate, only found on the tropical island of Hainan off the coast of China, has grown from fewer than 10 in 1970 to more than 30 today. Ongoing conservation efforts aim to encourage further population growth by increasing forest cover and connectivity. 

  • Houston to go 100 percent renewable for municipal operations five years ahead of schedule: Houston will begin a new five-year contract in July to power all of its city-owned properties with renewable energy. The move means the nation’s fourth-largest city will reach its goal of using 100 percent renewable electricity to power municipal operations five years sooner than anticipated.

  • Perovskite solar cell reaches a new milestone: A new model of perovskite solar cell has cleared international performance standards for durability for the first time, according to a study published in Science last week. Perovskite cells are thinner and more pliable than the silicon photovoltaic cells commonly used today, making them a promising option for future technologies such as efficient solar windows or other thin surfaces.

  • Power companies have announced plans to close 13 coal plants this year: Alliant Energy Corp. announced last Friday that it will close its Wisconsin coal-fired Edgewater power plant in 2022, becoming the latest in a series of similar announcements this spring. So far in 2020, power companies have announced plans to close a total of 13 coal plants, according to an E&E News review published on Wednesday. Analysts expect the trend away from dirty coal power to continue, especially as clean renewable energy sources have become increasingly affordable and reliable. 

  • The European Union is prioritizing going green in recovery plans: The European Union outlined plans to prioritize energy efficiency building upgrades, clean transportation and renewable energy in a draft recovery proposal on Wednesday. The plan comes as the U.S. and other nations grapple with how to build a greener, healthier future coming out of the pandemic. 

Looking for even more uplifting environmental content?

Environment America recently launched our Greener Together project. As people are practicing social distancing, the project aims to help us all foster a stronger connection with the natural world and with each other. The initiative includes engaging events, fun activities and helpful guides for both adults and children.

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Environment America is a national network with affiliates in 29 states. Our staff and members work to protect the places we love, advance the environmental values we share, and win real results for our environment. 

U.S. PIRG, the federation of state Public Interest Research Groups, is a consumer group that stands up to powerful interests whenever they threaten our health and safety, our financial security, or our right to fully participate in our democratic society.

U.S. PIRG and Environment America are part of The Public Interest Network, which operates and supports organizations committed to a shared vision of a better world and a strategic approach to getting things done.

Emma Searson
Director, 100% Renewable Campaign

Author: Emma Searson

Director, 100% Renewable Campaign

(828) 545-7300

Started on staff: 2016
B.A., magna cum laude, Phi Beta Kappa and Sigma Xi, Washington University in St. Louis

Emma oversees Environment America's national campaign for 100 percent renewable energy, working to deliver a bold vision for a future powered by clean energy one state at a time. Since joining the team at Environment America, Emma has led campaigns building and mobilizing public support for renewable energy and climate action in cities and states across the nation. She has authored reports on energy efficiency, solar energy and other renewable energy policy areas. Originally from North Carolina, Emma now lives in Boston, where she enjoys running, cooking and exploring the great outdoors in her free time.