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On a steamy evening earlier this month, dozens of residents of Gretna, Louisiana, which sits immediately across the Mississippi River from New Orleans, arrived at a City Council meeting, steeled for battle in their fight against a proposed coal export terminal in Plaquemines Parish on the Gulf Coast.
But instead of the pushback the activists had received for the last two months, the City Council unanimously passed a resolution calling on the Army Corps of Engineers to hold public hearings and conduct a comprehensive environmental study of Armstrong Coal's RAM coal export terminal before issuing any permit.
"This was the outcome of an entire summer of outreach by the Sierra Club, our partners in the Gulf Restoration Network, and the Clean Gulf Commerce Coalition," says Devin Martin, a New Orleans-based organizer with the Club's Beyond Coal campaign. "We made a big push to generate turnout and demonstrate public opposition to the export terminal at the previous council meeting in August, and more than 100 people attended -- it was standing room only."
Local activists distributed over 500 yards signs, conducted multiple canvasses, phone-banks, and outreach events, and generated more than 30 media hits in the month leading up to the September 10 meeting. "The Council was no longer able to ignore this campaign or the pleas of their constituents, and decided to take action," Martin says.
"As the Parish (county) seat, Gretna is strategically important in the campaign against the RAM terminal," Martin says. "At the beginning of our campaign we stressed the possibility of mile-long, uncovered coal trains rumbling through historic neighborhoods, and we expanded it to how the RAM Terminal also threatens coastal restoration in Louisiana -- a paramount issue for a state in which land is disappearing at the rate of a football field every hour."
In June, the neighboring city of Westwego passed a resolution opposing coal trains, but the Gretna City Council proceeded more cautiously, even after hearing testimony from local residents who raised the specter of uncovered rail cars spewing coal dust throughout communities in the area.
Then on September 17, the Jefferson Parish Council unanimously passed a resolution directing the Army Corps of Engineers to conduct an environmental study and host a series of public meetings on the project.
"Jefferson Parish is one of the most staunchly conservative Parishes in the state -- in the entire region, actually," Martin says. "This is a turning point for this campaign and for the political climate in Louisiana."
Martin addressed the Council, praising them for passing the resolution and stressing how Jefferson Parish can be both environmentally friendly and friendly to business. "[The Council] showed some tremendous leadership standing up for coastal restoration and putting up this resolution," he told the New Orleans Times-Picayune. "We're really, really happy to see politicians in Louisiana who are not afraid to champion coastal restoration."
Martin gives a shout-out to the hard work of "our amazing volunteer team, especially Laurie Ledet and Gayle Bertucci, two warriors who never once shied away from their natural roles as leaders." He also praises Nancy Nusser of Public Citizen, Raleigh Hoke of the Gulf Restoration Network, and Jenna Garland of the Sierra Club, "who helped to make this campaign a media sensation over the summer and elevate the voices of residents."
Martin also singles out "the tireless and amazing leadership of the Gulf Restoration Network's senior organizer Grace Morris, who helped turn this campaign from what seemed a hopeless fight against an almost completely permitted terminal into one that has a motivated mass of people and the momentum needed to stop the coal freight trains from coming to town."
Learn more about what the Sierra Club is doing to fight coal exports.
All photos by Jeffrey Dubinsky
The Sierra Club's Borderlands Team got a little love from the media last week when Environment and Energy Publishing's Greenwire ran one story about coalition efforts to restore environmental protections along the U.S.-Mexico border and another profiling the Club's work on the issue.
And just in time, too, because if there's one thing that there's just too little of on the border right now, it's love, sweet love.
Above, the border fence, which stretches for more than 650 miles in all four border states; below, a national park ranger talks to Borderlands Team activists at the border fence in Arizona.
The tinfoil hat blogosphere is ablaze with rumors of terrorist cells poised to invade the U.S. from imaginary training grounds and made-up martial arts dojos in Old Mexico. Ridiculous fantasy, yes, but not much worse than a real assault on our borderlands, an emergency border security bill that passed the U.S. House of Representatives last month.
Below, tire tracks mar the desert along the border.
Ostensibly to address the child migration crisis, lawmakers approved a plan that would waive sixteen federal protections on nearly all federal lands within 100 miles of the U.S.-Mexico border. Laws waived include the Wilderness Act, the Endangered Species Act, the National Environmental Policy Act, and more. The last time these protections were brushed aside it was the Bush administration at work, imposing their wildlife-migration-blocking, flood-causing, habitat-crushing, 652-mile, $3 billion border wall.
Above, deer stymied at the border wall; below, javelina face the same dilemma.
Candid photos of kit foxes and prairie dogs at play grace the pages of Continental Divide: Wildlife, People and the Border Wall, written and photographed by Borderlands Team volunteer Krista Schlyer. Below, kit foxes in the borderlands.
Winner of the 2013 National Outdoor Book Award, Continental Divide shows that our borderlands are precious: grasslands graced by wild bison, exotic birds in lush habitat along rivers and streams, people gathered on a beach to relax and play music. Watch Krista's book talk online and you'll see the truly beautiful, though, threatened borderlands.
Organizing to protect the natural beauty of the borderlands are two Texans who serve as Borderlands Team Co-Chairs: Scott Nicol of McAllen, and Julie Shipp in Austin. Julie takes care of logistics, wrangles volunteers, and updates the website, while Scott juggles print and radio interviews, fatherhood, and writing nationally-distributed op-eds that bring the borderlands to thousands of readers. That's Nicol and Shipp below.
Even better than reading about the borderlands is exploring them, and now is a great time to go! Conservationists across New Mexico and beyond celebrated the establishment this year of the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument, a jewel of the Chihuahuan Desert highlands just a few miles from the Mexican border. Don't confuse it with Arizona's Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, below, another dazzling desert getaway that adjoins the black desert sands and immense craters of Mexico's El Pinacate Reserve.
Organ Pipe, named for the majestic cactus that occurs only in this region of the U.S. and Mexico, has had incredible rains this monsoon season, and the whole park is open to the public. If you are an aspiring desert rat, come see the Sonoran Desert in full bloom!
Organ Pipe, Organ Mountain-Desert Peaks, above, and all the amazing places in Continental Divide are what motivate the Sierra Club Borderlands Team to keep spreading border love. Reversing the largest waiver of law in U.S. history and toppling the border wall won't be easy, but it will be worth it.
Want to get involved? Join the Borderlands Team.
- Dan Millis, Grand Canyon Chapter Conservation Program Coordinator
All photographs by Krista Schlyer except photos of Scott Nicol & Julie Shipp, and where noted.
On September 6, the Sierra Club's Delaware Chapter received the Community Service Award from the Newark Branch of the NAACP at its 18th annual Freedom Fund Dinner. Above, that's Amy Roe, Conservation Co-Chair of the Delaware Chapter, receiving the award from Gary Hayman, president of the Newark Branch NAACP. The two organizations have been working together for decades on environmental justice issues.
"It's a tremendous honor to be recognized by the NAACP with this award," Roe says. "We began working together over contamination concerns at the Newark Housing Authority's Cleveland Heights public housing project, which was built on the former City of Newark landfill and wastewater treatment plant."
The EPA identified pollution concerns at the public housing project in the 1980s, and during the 2000s the project was evacuated. The Newark Housing Authority went through brownfields remediation and is now in the process of redeveloping the housing project. "Construction is underway, and we are continuing to work on the issue," says Roe.
More recently, the organizations teamed up to prevent the permitting of a tire incinerator in the town of New Castle. "Incinerators are banned in Delaware, and we worked together to build a coalition against the project," Roe says. "We submitted technical comments show that the proposed incinerator met the definition of the ban."
The incinerator facility would have been located right next to housing where most of the residents are people of color. The Secretary of the Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control issued an opinion finding that the project did indeed fall under the incinerator ban and could not be permitted.
The NAACP was also one of the Delaware Chapter's coalition partners that opposed the construction of a new power plant on the University of Delaware campus in Newark. "We had a broad coalition of neighborhood, civic, environmental, and social justice groups working together to protect air quality in a community that many powerful elected officials chose as a 'sacrifice zone' for this power plant," Roe says.
In July, the university terminated the lease on the project, stating that the proposed 279-megawatt power plant "was not consistent with a first-class science and technology campus and high-quality development to which UD is committed." That's Roe, below, in action on the power plant campaign.
During the dog days of summer late last month, the Sierra Club sponsored a "Beat the Heat" event in Bellevue, Washington, to support Governor Jay Inslee's call for climate action and pressure Puget Sound Energy (PSE) to come up with a plan to transition from coal to clean energy.
Free ice cream cones were provided for the anticipated crowd of 250, but that proved to be too few. "Closer to 300 people turned out," says Seth Ballhorn, a Seattle-based organizer for the Sierra Club's Beyond Coal campaign. "We hit our limit of 250 free ice cream cones in the first hour, but fortunately we were able to pay for additional cones."
"We had some great activities," Ballhorn says. "Three bands performed, and the opening band Right as Rain played some great coal-themed folk and bluegrass tunes. Table for Three and The Jalapeños also performed. As always, our giant inflatable coal plant was a hit with the crowd, and it provided a great backdrop for the event."
Speakers included Bellevue City Councilmember Lyn Robinson, who talked about the steps the city is taking to reduce climate pollution and encouraged PSE to clean up its act. Activists with Washington Bus talked about the moral imperative of tackling climate disruption, and Evan Leonard, vice-president of local unionized solar company Artisan Electric talked about the abundant clean energy in the Northwest and how jobs can be created converting to clean energy -- Artisan started with four employees in 2010 and now has more than 40.
Ballhorn, at left, wrapped up the speaking portion of the program with a call to action, urging people to support Governor Inslee's climate/clean energy agenda and help pressure Puget Sound Electric to quit coal and .
"We collected around 90 photo petitions using our iPads, 130 more petitions to PSE using iPads and clipboards, and signed people up to be Coal Free PSE petition captains," Ballhorn says. The Sammamish Nature Club had a kids' tree-planting table, face-painting, and games for younger participants in the rally.
"It was a very festive environment, with a noticeably diverse crowd," Ballhorn says. "I look forward to getting a lot of the new folks we signed up plugged in with our campaign in the coming weeks."
Last year, Maryland positioned itself as an East Coast leader in offshore wind development with the passage of the Maryland Offshore Wind Energy Act of 2013. The Sierra Club's Maryland Chapter worked for more than three years to get the bill passed.
Unfortunately, the state suffers from the worst smog pollution on the East Coast, in part because of its seven coal-fired power plants. But the Sierra Club's Maryland Beyond Coal campaign is working to change that by pushing for the retirement of the four dirtiest plants: Crane, Wagner, Dickerson, and Chalk Point. That's the Wagner plant above, with downtown Baltimore in the background.
In early September, Sierra Clubbers, other concerned citizens, and representatives of partner organizations testified at a meeting of the Maryland Air Quality Control Advisory Council (AQCAC), where the state Department of the Environment (MDE) submitted its new proposed limits on smog-forming emissions for Maryland's coal-fired power plants for review. The AQCAC is a citizen's advisory board that can effectively approve or deny air-related regulations proposed by MDE.
"The first hour of the early-morning meeting was standard procedure, and the council breezed through their usual business in a half-empty room," says Baltimore-based Beyond Coal organizer Seth Bush, below. "Then, as the chair introduced the section on the new smog emissions rules, 20 Maryland Beyond Coal activists streamed in wearing 'I Love Clean Air" stickers and took up all of the remaining seats." (Bush had arranged for a professional photographer to capture images of the Beyond Coal activists making their entrance, but unfortunately the shots didn't come out.)
"The council isn't accustomed to seeing such a show of support on a particular issue at their meetings, and they were clearly impressed when we packed the room,"Bush says. "Our supporters outnumbered the coal industry supporters almost 10 to 1. And as we learned after the meeting, the council was even more impressed by the sincere, compelling testimony given by attendees who called for the new emissions rules to be passed without further delay."
Baltimoreans with asthma, public health professionals, parents, faith community leaders, and other concerned citizens all testified on the need for MDE to take swift action cleaning up Maryland's dirty coal plants.
"The stories were inspiring, and the council was visible moved," Bush says. A representative from the governor's office complimented us after the meeting on our impressive turnout and incredibly articulate, well-informed testimony."
Among those who testified was Baltimore resident Doris Toles, below at right, who suffers from serious respiratory issues exacerbated by the city's poor air quality.
"I had my first asthma attack when I was two," she told the council, "and I'm now living with Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD). A person gets COPD like I have after years of asthma attacks permanently weaken the lungs, and there is no cure. Doctors told me my asthma is triggered by air pollution where I live, so I have to be very careful and keep my inhaler close at hand on days when smog levels are high."
Although the council delayed a final decision until their next meeting in October, they provisionally approved MDE's plan to continue the regulatory process with the new rules. We aren't done yet, but we're well-positioned to win a yes vote in October," Bush says.
Bush gives a special shout-out to new Maryland Beyond Coal representative David Smednick for his "spot-on testimony and helping pull together our partners," and Sierra Club staff attorney Josh Berman, an expert on legal and legislative issues involving coal emissions, who also testified at the meeting.
Marylanders: Take action to help make sure the MDE holds polluters accountable.
As many utilities nationwide see people taking clean energy into their own hands by adding solar to their rooftops, some are fighting it tooth and nail. Arizona passed a solar tax last year, and just this week the familiar battle made the news in Virginia -- but a major victory against these attacks came out of Utah late last month.
Thanks to powerful grassroots activism from thousands of Utahns, Rocky Mountain Power's plan to charge rooftop solar owners a monthly fee of $4.65 were rejected by the state Public Service Commission. (Pictured above, a rally this summer against the proposed rooftop solar fee drew hundreds of Utahns.)
After months of widespread opposition to the proposed fee from business, faith, and political leaders, and over 10,000 citizen comments submitted to the PSC against the solar penalty, groups cheered the decision.
"The strength and resiliency of our coalition came from its diversity and inclusiveness," said Mark Clemens, Utah Sierra Club manager. "We're pleased to have played a role in enabling volunteers and community leaders to organize and get their voices heard."
That unified voice was overwhelmingly heard earlier in August, when hundreds of Utahns packed a PSC hearing about the solar tax. The coalition included Utah Clean Energy, the Alliance for Solar Choice, and Utah Citizens Advocating Renewable Energy (UCARE).
"The fossil fuel lobby thought it could count on a relatively conservative and business-friendly state like Utah to be an easy win in the fight to kill renewables," said Clemens. "But Utah's ultimately fair-minded majority rejected the damaging fossil fuel monopoly and indicated their determination to protect clean energy and consumer choice."
The Utah PSC will now open a public docket to consider the costs and benefits of residential rooftop solar.
According to Casey Roberts, an attorney with the Sierra Club's Environmental Law Program:
Rocky Mountain Power's proposed fee was not based on any evidence that rooftop solar customers impose additional costs on the utility's system. Rather, the company argued that because customers with rooftop solar purchase less electricity, they aren't contributing sufficiently to the fixed costs of maintaining the distribution grid.
What the company's sparse analysis fails to take into account, however, are the many benefits that rooftop solar customers offer the grid. The absence of any accounting for these benefits is inexcusable because state law (recently amended by SB 208) requires the Public Service Commission to weigh the costs and benefits of net metering prior to imposing any fee.
Clemens specifically points to the tireless work of two volunteers for this solar tax defeat -- Elise Lazar and Stan Holmes. Elise volunteers with multiple groups, and Stan with the Sierra Club and UCARE.
"Elise Lazar brought the group together and provided a consistent, far-sighted vision of what we needed to do," said Clemens. "Her original perspectives allowed us to surmount obstacles and see alternate solutions. Stan Holmes showed incredible dedication to marshaling the opposition to the solar tax. Among other contributions, he made presentations to community councils across Salt Lake County and ultimately secured resolutions from thirteen community councils that were presented to the PSC."
"I was struck by how clearly the neighborhood councils understand the connection between Utah's filthy air and the utility's fossil fuel operations," said Holmes. "Their statements to the PSC reflect this. Utah leaders at the local level are not afraid to speak truth to power. Our Public Service Commissioners heard the grassroots message. The Sierra Club and other pro-solar advocacy groups need to facilitate and amplify these community voices. We'll need their support for the next round of this fight."
Some think Rocky Mountain Power will try to push a solar tax again in the future, but activists like Clemens, Lazar, Holmes, and thousands of others will be there. Utahns know that clean energy like solar power means good jobs and less pollution.
When you hear the word "bayou" it is hard not to think of the American Gulf Coast. These unique swampy ecosystems have come to define the region, especially in Louisiana. In fact, the word "bayou" is believed to have originated in Louisiana. Healthy bayous are not only teeming with biodiversity, but can also protect inland areas from tropical storms and hurricanes. These are just a sampling of reasons why protecting coastal wetlands are so crucial.
The Louisiana coast has lost 1,900 square miles of marshes and wetlands over the last 85 years as the Gulf of Mexico continues to encroach further inland. Louisiana's wetlands and the communities that surround them are in trouble, but there is a solution: restoration.
For the Delta Chapter of the Sierra Club, stopping coastal erosion and degradation has been a major priority. With the help of thousands of active Louisiana Sierrans along with like-minded local organizations, projects have been underway to promote nearby nature by bringing back the wetlands that once were and protecting the wetlands that remain. One area that has been a chief concern for the Delta Chapter is New Orleans' Bayou Bienvenue. While the biological health of this area is highly threatened, the efforts that are taking place there have given residents a new hope.
A formerly thriving freshwater cypress-tupelo swamp, the Bayou Bienvenue Wetland Triangle is now a barren saltwater marsh due to canal construction in the 1960s and subsequent saltwater intrusion. In its former glory, as the only part of the Central Wetlands system adjacent to the Lower Ninth Ward, Bayou Bienvenue was an integral resource for one of New Orleans most economically vulnerable communities. Previously filled with cypress trees, water lilies, fish, alligators, otters, and birds; older residents recall the swamp as a place to fish, hunt, harvest and explore. Now the area is merely open brackish water, but efforts from several organizations including Sierra Club are working to change that.
The Delta Chapter has been working on the Bayou Bienvenue project since 2006 in partnership with local organizations and other environmental non-governmental organizations as the Restore the Bayou campaign. Below, a cleanup project organized by the Sierra Club on Bayou Bienvenue.
"In working after Hurricane Katrina with the community in the Lower Ninth Ward, the community decided that they wanted to recover in a more sustainable way. That included not only repairing their houses to be safer and stronger but also work on restoring natural protections like Bayou Bienvenue," says Darryl Malek-Wiley, below at left, who has been an environmental justice organizer with the Sierra Club for 10 years in Louisiana. Restore the Bayou is truly a community project born from community ideas and fueled by community efforts.
The Lower Ninth Ward community is making huge strides towards restoration. Last year, the Coalition to Restore Coastal Louisiana, in partnership with the Sierra Club and local volunteers, was able to plant over 6,000 wetland plants along the shore of the Bayou. In 2013, Restore the Bayou also unveiled new educational and interactive, museum-quality signage to help visitors and residents alike understand what the Bayou used to be and what community members hope it will one day be again.
These amazing efforts are just the tip of the iceberg for what Malek-Wiley and the rest of the Lower Ninth Ward community have planned for the site. Not only are these projects physically changing the landscape of the area, but through them residents have a chance to connect with nearby nature.
As with many local efforts, Malek-Wiley says the major challenge is trying to secure money for the restoration project. In 2012 the Sierra Club was able to get Bayou Bienvenue included in Louisiana’s Coastal Master Plan, a state-level plan to reduce flooding risks and rebuild wetlands. Bayou Bienvenue's inclusion made the Restore the Bayou project eligible for state dollars. The Club also got the Bayou listed on a similar restoration plan developed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. While both of these were steps in the right direction, neither was able to contribute funding to the Restore the Bayou efforts.
The Sierra Club is working to engage the Urban Waters Federal Partnership with Restore the Bayou. The Urban Waters Federal Partnership brings together fourteen federal agencies with the goal of improving our nation's waterways and the communities that surround them. The Partnership focuses particularly on communities that are overburdened or economically distressed. At its launch in 2011, the program announced seven pilot sites and three years later the program has grown to include 18 designated Urban Waters locations, one of which is New Orleans. Sierra Club is excited about the growth of this program and hopes to work more closely with the Partnership in the future.
"I think this is the type of program that [Urban Waters] should be investing in because it's being driven by community leaders, is directly related to the community, and would return ecosystem benefits to the community," says Malek-Wiley in urging that Bayou Bienvenue be designated as a Federal Partnership project. The Sierra Club supports the efforts to restore the Bayou Bienvenue Wetlands Triangle and is striving to create a federal and community partnership that will allow this area to once again become an integral part of a more sustainable and healthier New Orleans.
For more on Restore the Bayou Bienvenue Wetlands Triangle, visit their interactive website where you can hear stories, get project updates, and take action as well as donate to Restore the Bayou.
-- Tia Watkins, Nearby Nature Summer Intern, Sierra Club
"The State of Diversity in Environmental Organizations", which was published by Dorceta E. Taylor, Ph.D, a professor at the University of Michigan School of Natural Resources and Environment, highlights the racial, gender, class and cultural disparities among environmental organizations throughout the nation. The report examines the discrepancies within 293 environmental organizations nationwide, and is comprised of data from 191 conservation and preservation organizations, 74 government environmental agencies and 28 environmental organizations.
The report, which was prepared for Green 2.0, an establishment dedicated to the diversification of environmental organizations, was made coordinated and supported by the Green 2.0 Working Group. The Sierra Club and Earthjustice donated funding. Leslie Fields, director of the Sierra Club's Environmental Justice and Community Partnerships program, and EarthJustice director Micheal Dorsey were members of the Green 2.0 Working Group with the Raben Group (a majority-minority progressive policy and law lobbying firm.)
In a society, where the ethnic demographic of the nation is constantly changing, the minority population in environmental organizations is at a standstill. Minorities account for 36 percent of the population nationwide, but that figure is expected to increase dramatically over the next few decades. Researchers have determined that the minority population for individuals under the age of 18 will reach a majority by the year 2018. By 2027, this population will reach a majority in the 18-29 age bracket. Environmental agencies within the nation inhabit a much lower minority population of 12-16 percent, which is significantly lower than the nation's minority population as a whole.
In 1967, Sydney Howe, a pioneer for the environmentalist movement, commented that environmental advocacy is an institution that has not been racially accepting.
Among various environmental foundations, government agencies, and NGOs that were surveyed, it was discovered that the volunteer base of these organizations was 98 percent white.
The unvaried racial makeup of these organizations can be attributed to early research and the stereotypes associated with minorities during the 1960s and 1970s. Biased reports during this era portrayed the minority population as one that did not participate in outdoor activities, when compared with their white counterparts. In 1970, minority and Native American social justice groups disrupted Earth Day proceedings in protest against a national park being constructed on sacred lands. Many environmental organizations misconstrued the protest as disregard for the environmental movement.
Fast forward more than three decades after this research was performed, and among 38 environmental organizations that were studied, minorities only made up 15.4 percent of the workforce.
The number of minorities who have been placed in leadership roles among these organizations is alarmingly low. In conservation and preservation organizations, whites make up 99.1 percent of presidential roles, while minorities account for a measly 0.9 percent of these roles. Minorities make up 10 percent of the individuals who are presidents within grant-making foundations, while they account for 19 percent of presidential roles within government agencies.
Coincidentally, white women have infiltrated leadership positions at an alarming unequally faster rate than minorities. The study discovered that women held half of the 1,714 leadership positions within the conservation and preservation organizations that were observed. White women also account for approximately 60 percent of the intern and new hire positions within these organizations.
So why are minorities not infiltrating the minority workforce as quickly as women or as rapidly as they are increasing in overall population within the nation? "The State of Diversity in Environmental Organizations", attributes this disparity to a number of factors.
Many of the NGOs, environmental foundations and government organizations reported that the most significant reason for the absence of minorities, was the lack of job opportunities available. The strategies used within these organizations have a tendency to be largely exclusive to the present demographic. Organizations tend to recruit within foundation networks and by word of mouth. More often than not, this leaves little room for recruitment efforts that target minority environmental professional organizations and educational institutions. The study also made an observation that many organizations were devoid of a diversity manager. Studies show that having a diversity manager on staff makes it more probable that an organization will have more minority paid staff and interns.
In the near future the United States will experience a significant increase in the minority demographic, which should be translated to the demographic of environmental organizations. In order to obtain an increased minority demographic, organizations must make job and internship opportunities more accessible to by going out into racially diverse communities and institutions. Diversity within these organizations will not be achieved unless action is taken.
- Ciara Young-Thomas
2,500-mile totem pole trip unites tribal and non-tribal communities across two countries
By Robin Everett, Sierra Club Beyond Coal Campaign
With the rallying cry of, "Warrior Up!" members of the Lummi Nation embarked in late August on a totem pole journey -- Our Shared Responsibility: The Land, The Waters, The People -- to oppose the proposed shipment of an unprecedented volume of coal and oil from the American heartland to the Pacific Coast.
That's Lummi elder and House of Tears master carver Jewell James, below, with the totem pole he helped create for the journey.
The mining, transport and burning of coal and oil threaten the lands, waters, resources and human health of all of us who live in the Northwest, but none more so than the indigenous people who sit right in the path of destruction.
The proposed Cherry Point coal terminal, would sit right on the ancestral lands of the Lummi Nation known as Xwe'chi'eXen. The mining of that coal would also destroy Northern Cheyenne lands in Montana, and all along the way fossil fuel transport would harm the fishing and treaty rights of Native Americans. This is only one of several ill-conceived coal and oil shipment proposals for our region.
A 19-foot red cedar totem pole, carved by the Lummi Nation House of Tears carvers and one of the oldest forms of North American storytelling, was at the heart of the journey as a reminder of our place within nature, our responsibility to future generations, and our connections to each other and to our communities.
The journey commenced just one week after Oregon Department of State Lands denied a crucial permit for Ambre Energy's proposed coal export facility in Boardman, Oregon. Ambre's dirty coal project would have sent hundreds of coal trains through the region, thousands of coal barges down the Columbia River, and further disrupted our climate with dangerous carbon pollution. The historic decision deals a severe blow to all coal export proposals in the Northwest and marks the first time a Pacific Northwest state agency has formally rejected a permit for one of the proposed coal export terminals. The Sierra Club has been working for years to rally public support against the terminals.
In its decision, the Department of State Lands cited impacts to "a small but important and long-standing" Columbia River tribal fishery.
"The state of Oregon recognized that tribal sovereignty and treaty fishing rights must be considered in coal export decisions," said Jewell James. "We expect the Washington State Department of Ecology to make the same considerations for Xwe'chi'eXen. Coal exports would devastate our fishery and threaten non-tribal fisheries, as well as damage one of our most important cultural sites."
After a kick-off event in Bellingham, below, where over 200 people came out to wish the travelers well, the totem pole journey began in earnest on August 22 in South Dakota, and then traveled through Montana and Washington before making its way up to Canada. At every stop along the way, hundreds of supporters including religious leaders, elected leaders, local tribal members, and environmentalists stood up with the Lummi Nation to oppose dirty and dangerous fossil fuel projects.
In South Dakota, below, we met with the Yankton Sioux and Nebraska and South Dakota ranchers fighting the proposed Keystone XL tar sands pipeline who call themselves the Cowboy Indian Alliance. We were reminded that tribes and communities across North America are threatened by dangerous, polluting fossil fuel projects.
In Billings, Montana, below, 150 people including ranchers, environmentalists, and members of the Northern Cheyenne held a beautiful blessing ceremony at Riverfront Park.
In Spokane, below, 200 people gathered at the Cathedral of St John the Evangelist Spokane, including City Council president Ben Stuckart, who offered strong words of support for the Lummi Nation in its opposition to the proposed coal and oil projects. Tribal leaders from the Spokane, Nez Perce, and Colville tribes also spoke in support of the Lummi Nation's efforts.
Jewell James ended the ceremony with a moving speech, flute playing, drumming, and laughing to explain the importance of the fight against fossil fuels and for the earth along with other members of the House of Tears Carvers. In Yakama, we celebrated the recent victory against coal exports, won in large part due to the efforts of the Yakama Tribe. In Olympia there was a small but moving ceremony honoring the life of environmental leader and treaty rights activist Billy Frank, Jr.
In closing the American leg of the totem pole journey, nearly 500 people packed the St Mark's Cathedral in Seattle, below, where leaders from 10 northwest religious communities, including the bishops of Episcopal, Evangelical Lutheran, and United Methodist dioceses in Washington, presented a letter that formally supports the stance of Northwest tribes against coal exports and other fossil fuel megaprojects.
Dow Constantine, King County Executive and leader of the Safe Energy Leadership Alliance, stated, " It is really foolish, bordering on madness, to dig up a big chunk of North America, tie up traffic on the way through, and then ship it off to another country so they can bury us economically. I stand with the Lummi Nation and all those in the Pacific Northwest who are working to protect our air, our water, and our fisheries." That's Constantine speaking, below.
The journey then continued into Canada, making several stops before raising the totem on September 7 at the Beaver Lake Cree Nation, which has been devastated by pollution from Canada's tar sands. To learn more about the journey visit totempolejourney.org
By Greg Gorman, Skylands Group Conservation Chair
The rolling hills and lush valleys of northwestern New Jersey known as the Skylands are bordered by Delaware River to the west and the megalopolis of greater New York City to the east. Home to the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area, Wallkill River National Wildlife Refuge, and various state and municipal parks, the Skylands boast excellent hiking and biking routes, including a portion of the Appalachian Trail. But the area's beauty and serenity are threatened by the adverse impacts of climate change.
When the People’s Climate March on September 21 in New York City was announced in early May, the executive committee of the Sierra Club's Skylands Group and New Jersey Chapter stepped forward. The initial goal was to generate volunteer lists for the event. Signup sheets for interest in the march obtained 40 signatures at the annual Newton Day Festival in early June, long before the exact date of the event had even been established. The festival gave us a prime location on the main street where we set up a table with our signup list. (That's me with fellow Skylands Group activist Dave Alcott at the festival in the photo above.)
Skylands Group chair Susan Williams and vice chair Edgar Sheperd reached out recruited Kim Latham, organizer for the local community sustainability group Transition Newton, and Wendie Goetz, a local activist, poet, and artist, to join the group. I received training as an organizer by working with Christine Sadovy of the Club's New Jersey Beyond Coal Campaign, and I am the designated Newton Bus organizer.
Once our Eventbrite page was established, group treasurer Jeri Dougherty reached out to the Unitarian Fellowship and others to obtain early donations and ticket sales. This helped to finance our advertising and flyer campaign. Skylands Group volunteers Noren Haberski and David Alcott helped develop the flyers and identify organizations to collaborate with. By mid-July our team had gelled.
Let’s be clear-- we were novices tackling a project of this magnitude. For instance, when I set up the Eventbrite page with the help of Nicole Dallara, the New Jersey Sierra Club's outreach coordinator, I didn’t know to change the account information. My first check went to the Kansas Bus Organizer! We took a guess as to how many flyers and posters to distribute. We grossly underestimated the need and end up paying a slight premium for multiple orders. We suffered growing pains.
Our plan was to spread the word about the People’s Climate March and establish contacts with other local organizations to help promote the event and our bus to New York City. We distributed posters and flyers to local businesses. We were invited to the New Jersey Farm and Horse Show Green Day for the first time ever to promote the Skylands Group and the Newton Bus. We attended and spoke at various venues, including local farmers' markets and Green Meets with the Foodshed Alliance.
In addition to phone and email, social media like Facebook was a major organizing tool. By mid-August the date of the march was set, and at this writing it looks like we will fill at least two buses, each holding 55 people. We were successful in obtaining a subsidy to offer half-price tickets to students and seniors, and a number of donations came in so that we could offer five free tickets.
Marvin Feil, another core member of our team, helped promote the march at the local community college, our phone bank team stands ready next week to hit the phones and solicit ticket sales, and we'll be raising more funds and promoting the march at our regular monthly meeting of the Skylands Group.
Thanks go to all the Skylands Group volunteers who contributed their time and energy to promoting the People's Climate March, and the Club's national and state-level staffers whose organizing expertise was invaluable. We are confident that we will fill our buses and carry on stronger than ever in the fight to address the root causes of climate change.
See you on September 21 in New York City!
By Robin Everett, Sierra Club Beyond Coal Campaign
Last year, members of the Pacific Northwest's Lummi Nation made a historic trip to the Otter Creek Valley of Montana with a traditional, hand-carved totem pole. Together with local ranchers and members of the Northern Cheyenne Tribe, they began a journey across the West, stopping in towns and cities along the way to raise the call to help fight ill-conceived coal export projects.
This month, members of the Lummi Nation have once again embarked on a totem pole journey called "Our Shared Responsibility -- the Land, the Waters, the People." The purpose of this journey is to call attention to the proposed shipment of an unprecedented volume of coal and oil from the American heartland to the Pacific Coast.
"One primary goal of the journey is to connect tribal nations along the coal corridor," says Lummi master carver Jewell James, above at left, and below with the 19-foot-tall totem he carved for this year's journey. "Tribal Nations innately understand and honor the need to protect sacred landscapes and treaty rights. Uniting the Tribal Nations is important for this particular issue and for tribal communities that would be affected by coal transport and export."
In the face of the proposed Cherry Point coal export terminal that would sit on their ancestral lands, members of the Lummi tribe are making a protest journey to unite tribal and nontribal communities whose lives intersect with the paths of coal exports and other fossil fuel mega-projects.
Endorsed by the Lummi Nation, the 2,500-mile binational trip will travel from South Dakota and the proposed Keystone XL pipeline route, home to the Pacific Northwest before turning back and winding north to the Canadian tar sands.
The Lummi community is making this trip at a pivotal time. Although the Ambre Energy export proposal in Oregon received a major blow last week in the form of a critical permit denial, two export proposals remain on the table in Washington State. One of them, at Cherry Point, would sit atop Lummi ancestral lands known as Xwe'chi'eXen. The mining of that coal would also destroy Northern Cheyenne lands in Montana's Powder River Basin, and all along the way fossil fuel transport would harm the fishing and treaty rights of Native Americans.
Totem poles are one of the oldest forms of North American storytelling. "The totem itself is not sacred," explains Jewell James. "It is only when it is touched and shared by many communities standing together that the totem becomes a lasting part of our memories and a symbol of our resistance."
And that resistence is strong. Last week's denial of Ambre Energy's permit for its proposed coal export terminal on the Columbia River demostrates the real power of local communities to stop coal exports in their tracks.
Follow #TotemPoleJourney for live updates.
After a two-year campaign by 50 organizations in the Power Indy Forward Coalition, Indianapolis Power & Light (IPL) has announced its intention to stop burning coal at its downtown Harding Street power plant in 2016 and close the unlined coal ash lagoons at the plant, located on the city's south side.
"Harding Street is the largest single source of industrial pollution, sulfur dioxide, soot, and carbon in our city," says Megan Anderson, an Indianapolis-based organizer with the Sierra Club's Beyond Coal campaign. (That's Anderson at center, below, delivering petitions to IPL headquarters in 2012.) "This retirement marks the 500th coal boiler to be retired since the launch of the Club's Beyond Coal campaign in 2010, so we're dubbing this victory the Indy 500."
[Note: Coal plants are made up of one or more boilers, or "units" -- Harding Street has three. With the Aug. 21 announcement that TVA's Allen plant in Memphis will be retired, the Beyond Coal campaign has helped retire 178 coal plants and 503 boilers since the campaign launched in 2010.]
A long-standing tradition at the Indianapolis 500 car race is for the victor to drink a bottle of milk immediately after the race. Below, local volunteers toast the Harding Street victory in downtown Indy.
IPL's August 15 announcement came as the Indianapolis City-County Council was preparing to vote on a resolution urging IPL to stop burning coal at Harding Street by 2020. Resolution 241, which also urged IPL to invest in greater amounts of clean, renewable energy, had 11 co-sponsors, and a majority of council members had pledged to vote yes.
Photo by Alicia Tucker, courtesy of A.L.T.ERNATIVE PHOTOGRAPHY
The measure passed the Community Affairs Committee 4-1 last month, with supporters of the resolution vastly outnumbering opponents at the hearing. Hours earlier, the Sierra Club released a poll showing that nearly 7 in 10 Indianapolis voters supported IPL phasing out coal entirely in Marion County, and for the utility to increase its energy efficiency and use of renewable energy like wind and solar.
Among those who testified at the July hearing was Amber Sparks, below in tan jacket, who lives about three miles from the Harding Street plant. She told the City-County Council how asthma-related illnesses have regularly kept her children home from school, led to about 20 emergency room visits and half a dozen intensive care stays, and thousands of dollars in medical bills.
"Asthma has changed our lives," she said. "We continue to adjust and eliminate as many triggers as possible … but there are some triggers I can't control. On bad air days, the children must stay indoors, limit physical activities, and have round-the-clock breathing treatments. Their quality of life is affected, and it breaks my heart each time they look at me and ask why they have asthma."
Below, clean-air activists at the hearing.
According to the EPA, Harding Street was responsible for 88 percent of the toxic industrial pollution released in 2012 in Marion County. It is also the largest source of dangerous soot and sulfur dioxide pollution in the county, contributing to central Indiana's failing grades for air quality announced earlier this year by the American Lung Association.
Photo courtesy of NUVO News
Over 55 churches, neighborhood associations, student groups, and other organizations comprising the Power Indy Forward Coalition passed resolutions urging IPL to power our city with clean energy and put an end to toxic pollution in Indianapolis. Hoosier Chapter volunteers knocked on doors, talked to people at festivals and on the street, made phone calls, and spoke out at rallies and public hearings about the public health impacts of burning coal.
Above and below, clean-energy activists celebrate IPL's August 15 announcement.
"For the past two years, thousands of Indianapolis residents have demanded clean air for our community," says Jodi Perras, Indiana representative for Beyond Coal. "They've signed petitions and postcards, rallied on the steps of Monument Circle (above) and at the Indiana State Museum, and urged their City-County Councilors to call on IPL to stop burning coal at Harding Street. Today, those calls have been answered."
Photo by Alicia Tucker, courtesy of A.L.T.ERNATIVE PHOTOGRAPHY
Perras gives a shout-out to coalition partners Hoosier Interfaith Power & Light, Citizens Action Coalition, Indiana NAACP, Organizing for Action, Concerned Clergy, and students and faculty at Purdue University Indianapolis and Butler University.
By Javier Sierra
Fear is Pati Calzada’s constant companion. Her 6-year old son, Abraham, has asthma, and his frequent attacks fill them both with terror and anguish.
“He gets scared and calls me, ‘Mommy!’ And I can hear him wheezing, and he asks me, ‘why can’t I breathe?’ And then I have to calm him down because I can’t give him his medicine while he’s panicking,” says Pati, who also has asthma.
The illness, which was diagnosed a few months ago, has completely changed Abraham´s life.
“He’s a very active child, he loves running,” Pati says. “And now he cannot run even half the time he used to be able to run because he cannot breathe, and it really scares me.”
The cause of her misfortune is an undesirable neighbor called smog, also known as ground level ozone, a corrosive pollutant that causes abrasions in the lungs comparable to sunburn. Smog is formed by the effect of sunlight and heat on fossil fuel pollutants from vehicles, factories and power plants. In Colton, California, where Pati and Abraham live, there is an abundance of these ingredients.
“There is a freeway right in front of us,” says Pati. “To our right are the train tracks, behind us is the train station, and a few miles from here, we have the dirtiest power plant in California [the Mountainview Generation Station in Redlands].”
According to the American Lung Association, the barrio where the Calzadas live in San Bernardino County has the highest smog level in the whole country.
“In our county, 1.5 million people have asthma, including half of our children,” says Pati. “The problem is we can’t afford to live anywhere else. We either have a roof over our heads or have to live on the streets somewhere else where the air is clean.”
But facing this cruel dilemma is unnecessary. The federal government needs to improve the national ozone standard from 75 ppb (parts per billion) to 60 ppb. Recently, a committee of experts chartered by the EPA concluded that the current smog standard is insufficient to protect public health.
The experts determined that even a 70ppb standard would continue to cause “adverse effects, such as decrease in lung function, increase in respiratory symptoms and increase in airway inflammation.”
According to the EPA itself, every year, a 60ppb standard would prevent up to 12,000 premature deaths, 21,000 hospitalizations, and the loss of 2.5 million work and school days.
The last time this standard was updated was in 2008, when the Bush administration rejected the recommendations of another committee of experts, who warned of the terrible consequences of adopting a weak 75 ppb standard. The decision has caused massive suffering to families like Pati’s.
For polluters and those who protect them, Pati has a few questions: “How many times have you actually woken in the middle of the night because your son or daughter cannot breath? What would happen if you were out of breath and could not reach your medicine? Are you aware of the consequences of your actions?”
The Clean Air Act requires that the EPA review the federal smog standards every five years, and a court order mandates that the agency issue a new proposal by December 14.
The health of millions of people, such as Pati and Abraham, is at stake. The EPA must establish a new 60ppb smog standard to help end the tyranny of asthma.
Javier Sierra is a Sierra Club columnist. Follow him on Twitter @javier_SC
Six years of legal challenges and grassroots pressure from the Sierra Club against the Kemper coal plant have resulted in a landmark legal settlement that will bring $15 million in energy efficiency and clean energy investments to Mississippi. The agreement between the Sierra Club and Mississippi Power will also make it easier for homeowners in the state to install solar power, and will require power plants in Gulfport, Mississippi, and Greene County, Alabama, to stop burning coal over the next 20 months.
In exchange for these and other concessions, the Sierra Club has agreed to drop its legal challenges of the now-nearly-completed Kemper coal plant. The Club's legal challenges and grassroots pressure led state regulators to block Mississippi Power from billing its customers for cost overruns, which have now soared to $5.6 billion -- more than twice the original projected cost of building the plant.
"With this agreement, we are building a future where dirty, expensive, and unnecessary projects like Kemper coal plants will be things of the past," says Louie Miller, below, state director of the Mississippi Sierra Club and Kemper's leading opponent over the last six years. "This agreement represents a quantum leap forward for Mississippians by creating a clear path for residents to install solar on their homes, make their own clean energy choices, and avoid huge rate hikes for unnecessary coal plants."
While Sierra Club attorneys repeatedly challenged Kemper in court, local volunteers and staff kept up the grassroots pressure in the court of public opinion, holding rallies, tabling events, protests, town hall meetings, and press conferences all along the Gulf Coast. The Club also took out giant billboards at three key junctures during the campaign.
"The legal effort and grassroots activism went hand-in-hand," Miller says. "We couldn't have accomplished what we did without both."
Linda St. Martin, below, a Sierra Club activist and volunteer leader with Mississippians for Affordable Energy who died this May, helped Miller to build a grassroots coalition of Gulf Coast residents opposed to the plant and the rate hikes the Mississippi Public Service Commission (PSC) was attempting to foist on ratepayers.
"Linda worked closely with Louie to fill buses with people who traveled from the Gulf Coast to Jackson to testify at PSC hearings," says Jenna Garland of the Sierra Club's Beyond Coal campaign. "They probably chartered buses to Jackson nearly a dozen times."
"Jackson is far removed from Mississippi Power's service area in the southern part of the state, so it was easy for the PSC to ignore customers hit hard by Kemper rate hikes," Garland says. "One married couple, commercial fishers, made the trip every time, and told the PSC how the rate hikes would hamper the Gulf Coast's economic recovery from Hurricane Katrina. Getting folks like this to Jackson forced the commission to face the people who were being affected."
"Linda was the heart and soul of our work in coastal Mississippi," Miller says. "We are all saddened that she was unable to see how years of fighting the Kemper plant has resulted in this agreement, but we honor her work that will put her beloved Mississippi on the path to a clean energy economy, cleaner, air, and support for those hardest hit by Kemper's costs."
Part of the settlement with Mississippi Power will provide $2 million to protect habitat for the endangered gopher frog, and the Sierra Club will work to name this new preserve in honor of St. Martin.
The Sierra Club challenged the Kemper plant from its inception, building an unprecedented coalition of Mississippi Power customers in central and southern Mississippi, homeowners and Kemper County residents, low-income and environmental justice advocates. The Club's expert witnesses accurately predicted the cost overruns and delays that have plagued the plant from the get-go. Mississippi attorney Robert Wiygul and the Sierra Club's Environmental Law Program staff successfully challenged the plant's first construction permit, winning a unanimous decision from the Mississippi Supreme Court. Below, Club activists and other Gulf Coast residents outside the Supreme Court's chambers in Jackson.
After that ruling, the Public Service Commission rushed to issue a new permit to allow Mississippi Power to continue construction work on the plant, but the Club's lawyers challenged that permit as well, arguing that the utility was passing on rate increases to its customers to cover cost overruns.
Ultimately the Club won concessions in the August 4, 2014, settlement that include phasing out coal at the Gulfport and Greene County power plants, securing a binding commitment from Mississippi Power not to oppose measures to make solar more affordable for homeowners, and requiring the company to strengthen flood protections adjacent to the Kemper plant that will help keep toxic pollution out of groundwater and local waterways.
The agreement will reduce air and water pollution and significantly improve air quality in the region, leading to fewer asthma attacks in children, fewer emergency room visits, and improved quality of life for hundreds of thousands of people. It will also provide millions of dollars to assist low-income Mississippi Power customers in making their home more energy-efficient.
Due to the increasing cost of coal and rapidly declining cost of clean energy, Kemper -- the only new coal plant to break ground during the Obama administration -- is likely to be the last coal-fired power plant built in the U.S.
Nearly 100 citizen activists gathered on the Princeton University campus earlier this week for a training session to help mobilize 10,000 New Jerseyans to join the People's Climate March in New York City on September 21. The training was put together by 350.org volunteer Rosemary Dreger Carey and New Jersey Chapter staffer Nicole Dallara. That's Dallara at right in jean jacket, above.
Participants included Sierra Clubbers and other concerned citizens, representatives from civic and environmental groups including 350.org, municipal and faith leaders, labor union members, and students from Princeton, Rutgers, Montclair State, Monmouth College, and Ramapo College.
"It was a great crowd with lots of energy and excitement," says Dallara. "We have a great group of volunteers which continues to grow every day. Our original goal was to get 1,500 Sierra Club members to be among the 10,000 New Jerseyans participating in the march, but this training makes me confident that we're going to easily surpass that number."
Community organizer and social change activist Paul Getsos gave a detailed overview of the People's Climate March route in Manhattan, the significance of the march, and the larger goal of building a people-driven movement demanding climate solutions and climate justice.
Kevin Buckland, an artist and activist coordinator with 350.org, enlisted volunteers to hoist hand-made fabric banners called cantastoria -- Italian for "sung story" or "singing history" -- that will be carried at the march.
Above and below, two of the cantastoria.
Buckland explained why climate action is so urgently needed, and how we can transition away from fossil fuels and build a clean energy infrastructure that will create good-paying jobs and benefit public health.
Five breakout sessions allowed participants to explore key organizational challenges: Organizing for Faith-Based Groups, Campus Organizing, Art-Inspired mobilization, Bus Coordination, and Recruiting for the People's Climate March.
"Everyone at the training shared the common desire to influence the world leaders who will be convening in New York for the UN Climate Summit on September 23-- as well as influence friends, families, and communities -- to respond to the climate crisis with boldness, speed, and fairness," says Dreger Carey, who designed the training curriculum with Dallara.
Dallara gives a shout-out to Princeton student Isaac Lederman, co-president of Students for a Responsible Global Environment (SURGE), for booking the training venue on the Princeton campus.
"People from around the country will be coming together on September 21 to march as one, calling on our world leaders to tackle the most important issue of our time: climate change," says Dallara. "This is a march for the planet that we want to protect for future generations."
With the help of some amazing coalition work in Los Angeles over the past few years, the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power (LADWP) approved a major new energy-efficiency mandate for the utility. The new savings targets put LADWP among the leading utilities in the nation, and Los Angeles among the leading cities, when it comes to energy savings. Serious thanks are in order to Mayor Garcetti, the LADWP board members, and the excellent LADWP Energy Efficiency Department (helmed by David Jacot).
Here's the nitty gritty: Every California utility is required to provide a 10-year energy savings target to the California Energy Commission. State legislation requires that utilities save at least one percent of total sales each year. Los Angeles' previous commitment was exactly that: one percent every year for the ten years between 2011 and 2020.
On August 5, the utility's board unanimously approved a new plan which would kick our energy-efficiency programs into high gear and ensure that the utility saves 15 percent by 2020 instead -- a 50 percent increase over the last program. Below, Frank Alvarez, an organizer with RePower LA, and coalition members at the Aug. 5 hearing in front of LADPW's board of commissioners. The Sierra Club is a charter member of the RePower LA coalition.
When fully up and running, LADWP will save over two percent of its annual energy use and has plans to invest upwards of one billion dollars on energy saving projects across the city. The utility has come a long way over the last five years, from the time when Los Angeles was one of the worst-performing utilities in the state, to being the clear leader of the pack.
"We've long known that our utility has the potential to perform as well or better than the best utilities in the nation on energy efficiency," said Evan Gillespie, western region deputy director for the Sierra Club's Beyond Coal campaign. "To get there, we needed the city to commit to saving at least two percent annually and allocate sufficient funding to do so. We also knew that we had to engage the public in new ways and ensure that every single customer in the city -- from apartment dwellers to industrial facilities, to small business and schools -- could benefit with programs tailored to their needs."
Key to all of this work has been a partnership between the city and the public. In 2012, LADWP adopted guiding principles that have informed its project development ever since. The adopted principles include commitments to serving low-income communities, prioritizing programs that spur job development, transparency, and collaboration with community-based organizations. The principles spurred expanded programs targeting small businesses, low-income homeowners, renters, and more while providing grants to community-based organizations to help spread the word about opportunities for customers to reduce their energy use and lower their bills.
All of this work has paid off; over the last two years the city has doubled spending on efficiency and seen its energy savings double as well. You can read about these victories in this Sierra magazine article from late 2013, Repower LA.
Then the big news came last week with the LADPW commissioners hearing testimony from a packed room with people from all over the city calling for better standards for the city. Below, a young woman from Venice YouthBuild gives testimony at the hearing in favor of energy efficiency.
Jasmin Vargas, Beyond Coal organizer in L.A., helped translate the testimonies of two Spanish speakers before the LADWP, and said more than 20 organizations were represented.
"When our coalitions win, we all win," said Vargas. "We came together last Tuesday with labor groups, environmentalists, youth groups, and social justice organizations with a united message: 'equity, good jobs and climate action now!'"
Gillespie said LADWP board members were blown away by how much support increasing the energy-efficiency mandate had.
"During the hearing, LADWP board president and retired congressman Mel Levine noted he'd never seen so many people at a LADWP meeting," said Gillespie. "He praised the coalition for the breadth and depth of support for energy efficiency. As he moved to open the vote, he jokingly dared his fellow commissioners to vote no, and the motion passed unanimously!"
Vargas says the next steps are to work with communities to increase participation in the wide array of programs offered by LADWP, while making sure that efficiency is utilized to ease the transition away from the city's dirty coal plants. While the City approved the transition away from coal last year, the utility is still crafting its replacement strategy.
Learn more about what the Sierra Club is doing to move Los Angeles beyond coal.
Last summer, President Obama delivered a major climate speech in which he laid out his plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 17 percent by 2020. He also committed to deciding the fate of the Keystone XL pipeline based on it climate impacts, stating unequivocally: "The net effects of the pipeline’s impact on our climate will be absolutely critical to determining whether this project is allowed to go forward."
While the evidence (PDF) shows that Keystone XL would result in significant greenhouse gas emissions and should be denied in its own right, it is only one of many proposed tar sands pipelines on the Obama administration’s desk. The State Department is currently preparing an environmental impact statement (EIS) for an expansion of Enbridge's Alberta Clipper pipeline, which would increase its capacity to over 800,000 barrels per day (bpd) - roughly the same size as Keystone XL. An expansion of Enbridge's Line 3 would transport up to 760,000 bpd of tar sands crude through the Great Lakes region; and a reversal of the Portland-Montreal Pipeline could bring up to 600,000 bpd through New England.
Because the tar sands deposits are landlocked in Alberta, the oil industry needs these pipelines to carry tar sands crude to U.S. refineries and overseas markets. Each one is a key part of the industry's plan to triple tar sands development to around six million bpd by 2030. Without these pipelines, much of the high-carbon tar sands would stay in the ground.
Last week, the Sierra Club and allies urged (PDF) the State Department to evaluate the cumulative climate impacts of these pipelines as part of its Alberta Clipper EIS. The National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) requires an analysis of the cumulative environmental impacts of a proposed project combined with other past, present, and reasonably foreseeable projects. Federal courts recognize that "the impact of greenhouse gas emissions on climate change is precisely the kind of cumulative impacts analysis that NEPA requires."
In a recent decision, a court rejected federal agencies' attempts to downplay the climate impacts of permitting a coal mine based on the reasoning that other coal would be mined and burned regardless of their decision.
The State Department now has two major tar sands pipelines pending before it -- Alberta Clipper and Keystone XL -- and several more on the horizon. Yet so far, it has narrowly analyzed each pipeline in isolation without looking at their cumulative effect on tar sands expansion and the corresponding greenhouse gas emissions. For example, the State Department’s EIS for Keystone XL claimed that the approval of any one pipeline project is unlikely to have significant climate impacts because other tar sands pipelines are sure to be built in the future, allowing unchecked tar sands expansion in any scenario. State relied on this same flawed logic to approve the original Alberta Clipper tar sands pipeline and the first Keystone pipeline.
The State Department cannot keep claiming that tar sands pipelines are inevitable when it has the authority to approve or reject each pipeline. Looking at each project in isolation ignores the bigger picture—the State Department’s series of decisions on individual pipelines will cumulatively have massive climate implications.
The Sierra Club and its allies are not alone in calling for a broader look expanded tar sands infrastructure. Last month, a coalition of leading scientists published an article in the journal Nature that called for a moratorium on tar sands pipelines and an end the "tyranny of incremental decisions" that has already allowed tar sands production to double in the last decade. As the scientists explained, the "current public debate about oil-sands development focuses on individual pipeline decisions... When judged in isolation, the costs, benefits and consequences of a particular oil-sands proposal may be deemed acceptable…[b]ut impacts mount with multiple projects...." A narrow view of each individual project "creates the misguided idea that oil-sands expansion is inevitable." Instead, the scientists thus urged leaders to pause, and craft a broader energy strategy under which “decisions on infrastructure projects…are made in the context of an overarching commitment to limit carbon emissions."
In preparing its EIS for the Alberta Clipper expansion, the State Department has an obligation to analyze the project's cumulative climate impacts in the context of Keystone XL and other past and future tar sands pipelines. As the scientists caution: "Anything less demonstrates flawed policies and failed leadership. With such high stakes, our nations and the world cannot afford a series of ad hoc, fragmented decisions."
-- Doug Hayes, Sierra Club Staff Attorney
Hundreds of concerned residents from port communities along the Gulf Coast packed an Environmental Protection Agency hearing in Houston this week to call for stronger pollution controls near oil refineries.
"In Louisiana and Texas, communities around refineries have for too long lived with exposure without knowing what was in the air," said Darryl Malek-Wiley, a Sierra Club environmental justice organizer in Louisiana.
The EPA is proposing additional pollution control requirements for storage tanks, flares, and coking units at petroleum refineries. The EPA is also proposing to require monitoring of air concentrations at the fenceline of refinery facilities to ensure proposed standards are being met and that neighboring communities are not being exposed to unintended emissions.
Exposure to toxic air pollutants can cause respiratory problems and other serious health issues, and can increase the risk of developing cancer.
The Sierra Club, EarthJustice and coalition partners helped bus in residents from neighborhoods near refineries in Louisiana to speak at the Houston hearing. Affected residents from around the U.S. were also at the hearing to testity. From the AP story:
"The fenceline monitoring will help us determine what is coming out of those stacks," she said.
Adan Vazquez said that in winter, "snow flurries look like ash" because of a refinery near the Houston Ship Channel less than a mile from his Pasadena, Texas, home.
Leslie Fields, director of the Environmental Justice and Community Partnerships program for the Sierra Club, testified at the hearing as well, calling on EPA to create the strongest standard possible and enforce it. This EPA standard at refineries would reduce toxic emissions, improving air quality and protecting public health in communities surrounding these facilities.
"We support the proposed standard -- it's long overdue for these affected communities," said Fields. "We also are advocating for real time fenceline monitoring and more hearings in the Midwest and along the East Coast on this standard," said Fields. "The EPA also needs to create an environmental justice analysis for this rule."
But Fields and Malek-Wiley also think the standard could go even farther.
"The EPA needs to look at more chemicals from these refineries, require more monitoring, and we also want to make sure that all that information is easily accessible to communities," said Malek-Wiley.
"Also, some have said it's too expensive for industry. Well, for one example, I looked at the first quarter of 2014, and Marathon Oil made $540 million. If they don't have enough money now, when will they ever have enough money to do comprehensive real-time monitoring of their pollution?"
(L to R) Mary Willams of the Deep South Center for Environmental Justice, Jane Williams of Sierra Club California, Monique Harden of Advocates for Environmental Human Rights, Jesse Marquez of the Coalition for Safe Environment, Lisa Garcia of Earthjustice, Hilton Kelley, Leslie Fields, Margie Richard, Dr. Robert Bullard.
Also testifying at this week's hearing in Houston were 2011 Goldman Environmental Prize winner and long-time Port Arthur environmental justice activist Hilton Kelley and Dr. Robert Bullard, the winner of the 2013 Sierra Club John Muir Award and known as the father of environmental justice. Dr. Bullard is the dean of the Barbara Jordan-Mickey Leland Public Policy School at Texas Southern University.
Powerful testimony also came from Dr. Beverly Wright, director Deep South Center for Environmental Justice at Dillard University in New Orleans, Willy Fontenot, the conservation chair of the Delta Chapter Sierra Club in Baton Rouge, Neil Carman, Clean Air Director of the Lone Star chapter, Jane Williams, chair of the Sierra Club Toxics Committee, 2004 Goldman Environmental Prize winner Margie Richard, and Dorothy Felix of Mossville Environmental Action Now in Louisiana.
TAKE ACTION: Tell the EPA you want strong pollution standards and enforcement for oil refineries!
The Sierra Club's newest award is getting some great attention because of the namesake of our newest Environmental Justice Award. Last week we announced a new national award that bears the name of Dr. Robert Bullard, one of the founders of the environmental justice movement.
The new award will be given annually to an individual or group that has done outstanding work in the area of environmental justice. The first Robert Bullard Environmental Justice Award will be presented Nov. 21 along with the Sierra Club’s other 2014 awards.
Bullard said he was delighted to have the new award named after him. "I must say that I am humbled, honored, and at the same time excited to a have the Sierra Club name its Environmental Justice Award after me," said Bullard. "For someone who has spent most of his adult life teaching, writing and lecturing, I am speechless."
In 2013, Bullard received the Sierra Club's top award, the John Muir Award. The award recognizes individuals with a distinguished record of achievement in national or international conservation causes.
"His expertise and media savvy has garnered much needed attention and remedies for communities burdened with environmental hazards," said Leslie Fields, director of the Sierra Club Environmental Justice and Community Partnerships program, when Bullard received the award in 2013.
At the 2013 Sierra Club Awards ceremony: (L to R) Leslie Fields, Sierra Club Board Member Aaron Mair, former Sierra Club Board President Allison Chin, Dr. Robert Bullard, Sierra Club President David Scott, and Sierra Club Board Member Lane Boldman.
Bullard currently serves as dean of the Barbara Jordan-Mickey Leland School of Public Affairs at Texas Southern University in Houston. Shortly after receiving his Ph.D. in sociology from Iowa State University, he and his wife, Linda McKeever Bullard, became involved in a lawsuit against the siting of a landfill in a Houston neighborhood that was 82 percent black.
In doing research for the lawsuit, Dr. Bullard and his researchers found that African-American neighborhoods in Houston were often disproportionately chosen for the city’s solid waste sites, even though blacks made up only 25 percent of the city’s population. This was the first study to document environmental discrimination under the Civil Rights Act.
Bullard went on to become a leading scholar and advocate for environmental justice. He helped organize the first National People of Color Environmental Leadership Summit in 1991 which produced the landmark "Principles of Environmental Justice" manifesto. He was a leader in lobbying the federal government to establish the Office of Environmental Justice within the Environmental Protection Agency and the Environmental Justice Executive Order issued by President Bill Clinton in 1994.
Bullard has written 18 books that address sustainable development, environmental racism, urban land use, industrial facility siting, community reinvestment, housing, transportation, climate justice, emergency response, smart growth, and regional equity.
His book Dumping in Dixie: Race, Class and Environmental Quality is a standard text in the environmental justice field. He has two Sierra Club Books to his name: his 1994 book, Unequal Protection: Environmental Justice and Communities of Color and his 2005 book, The Quest for Environmental Justice: Human Rights and the Politics of Pollution. His latest books include Race, Place and Environmental Justice After Hurricane Katrina: Struggles to Reclaim, Rebuild, and Revitalize New Orleans and the Gulf Coast and The Wrong Complexion for Protection: How Government Response to Disaster Endangers African American Communities.
In 2008, Newsweek named Dr. Bullard one of 13 Environmental Leaders of the Century. And in 2012, he was featured in Welcomebooks Everyday Heroes: 50 Americans Changing the World One Nonprofit at a Time. He received the National Wildlife Federation’s Conservation Achievement Award in 1990.
"It's impossible to protect our environment if we don't defend our democracy." Stephanie Herron, volunteer and outreach coordinator for Sierra Club Delaware, says those words confidently after a fight for voting rights that's lasted for more than a year now in the state.
Sierra Club Delaware is working with a broad state coalition to pass same-day voter registration legislation, engaging thousands of residents in a movement crucial to participatory democracy.
"It shouldn't be hard to participate in the system," says Courtney Hight, director of the Sierra Club's Democracy Program. "Same-day voter registration is one way of removing a barrier that often affects young people and communities of color. This makes it easier to vote -- we thought Delaware's legislation on this issue was a good way to be proactive and encourage participation in voting."
The Sierra Club is a member of the Democracy Initiative, a coalition of groups that seeks to restore the core principal of political equality. Sierra Club executive director Michael Brune has written extensively on the importance of the Sierra Club and a coalition of groups in building "a movement to halt the corrupting influence of corporate money in politics, prevent the systemic manipulation and suppression of voters, and address other obstacles to significant reform."
Herron says the Delaware chapter first started engaging on same day voter registration (SDR) in early 2013 during the state's legislative session. The movement picked up momentum in the state in early 2014, when more and more diverse groups -- from unions to local community groups -- joined the coalition and voting rights in Delaware started getting more and more attention. The diverse coalition members were able to work their different legislative contacts and respective members to help bring the bill to a vote in the state House of Representatives--no easy feat as we saw in 2013 when the bill languished for almost a year without a floor vote.
The coalition fought bad amendments to the bill - and growing opposition from the Delaware Republican Party, who made fighting SDR a top priority in 2014. Herron says the opposition was well-funded and powerful, but that didn't stop thousands from contacting their state legislators to pass same-day voter registration.
In the weeks leading up to the final vote in the state senate, Sierra Club Delaware sent out action alerts to more than 5,000 members and generated more than 100 calls to state senators. Delaware Sierrans also joined other coalition members at a June 17 rally calling on Senators to bring SDR to a vote.
In the end, with time running out before the June 30th close of session, unfortunately the bill never made it to a floor vote in the Senate. Herron says she and the coalition were disappointed but hope the push for same-day voter registration in the next session will be successful.
"The Sierra Club offered a unique voice in the coalition - we were the only environmental group," she says. "We have to continue pushing these voting rights and good government issues. If we continue to let undemocratic things happen, we won't be able to bring about meaningful change."
The Sierra Club's Hight echoed that sentiment. "If you're going to change the country, you have to find ways to increase participation and make it less complicated to vote."
-- Heather Moyer, Sierra Club