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By Javier Sierra
Does your kid have learning problems? Does he have problems concentrating and he is easily distracted? Is he doing poorly in school?
There can be a host of reasons for these problems. But a recent study is confirming the notion that pollution coming from fossil fuels, such as gasoline and coal, can inflict lasting damage on the human brain development, especially in fetuses, babies and toddlers, and that we Latinos are disproportionally affected by it.
Coal-burning plant (Photo: Sierra Club)
The report —published by JAMA Psychiatry and originated by Columbia University— concludes that exposure to polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH), a residue of fossil fuel combustion, is correlated to the reduction of white matter in the brain.
“Those disturbances in brain growth are in turn proportionately associated with cognitive slowing and a host of behavioral disturbances,” says Dr. Bradley Peterson, the study’s lead scientist and director of the Institute for the Developing Mind at Children’s Hospital in Los Angeles.
These include attention deficit disorder and hyperactivity, typical symptoms of impulsive children and children with learning problems.
Latino and African-American families, two social groups disproportionally impacted by air pollution, participated in the study from 1997 to 2006. Researchers observed a key finding in children: the greater the exposure to PAHs in the womb was, the greater the reduction in white matter and the worse their behavioral and developmental problems later in life.
“It is logical to hypothesize that these disturbances contribute to poor academic and high school dropouts, but that hypothesis would need to be addressed specifically in a larger study that explicitly assessed academic performance and school dropout, which we did not do in our study,” says Dr. Peterson. “But I do agree that something serious must be done to tackle the problem of the effects that air pollution has on the developing brain.”
The study also revealed that the brain disturbances not only take place during the fetal period, but also that exposure to PAHs can aggravate the reduction of white matter in the early childhood.
Dr. Peterson is not optimistic about reversing the damage caused by fossil fuel pollution on the brain.
“At the present time we know of no interventions that can prevent or reverse the brain and behavioral effects of exposure to air pollution during fetal development and early childhood,” he says. “The only recommendation that can be made at this time is either to find ways of reducing exposure in pregnant women and young children to levels of air pollution that already exist or to reducing extant levels of air pollution.”
But that reduction, for us Latinos, is not materializing. In its recent 2015 State of the Air report, the American Lung Association again underscored that the vast majority of the country’s cities with the worst air quality are found in Southern and Central California, where tens of millions of Latinos live. In places like Los Angeles, Long Beach, Bakersfield and the San Joaquin Valley all too often breathing is dangerous to your health.
The EPA is currently considering improving the federal smog pollution standard from its current 75 parts per billion (ppb) to perhaps 65 ppb. But health experts insist that in order to truly protect public health, the standard should be no higher than 60 ppb.
Asked whether his study reinforces the notion that clean air standards must be stronger, Dr. Peterson is categorical: “Yes, our findings do reinforce that notion. And they reinforce it for the most vulnerable members of our society, young children.”
Clearly, this is a no brainer: the EPA has the moral obligation to truly strengthen the nation’s air quality standards.
Javier Sierra is a Sierra Club columnist. Follow him on Twitter @javier_SC
By Javier Sierra
Lupita Pérez had just had it breathing dirty air during her young life. At 14, she has decided to join the fight for a clean air future for her baby sister, who will be born in the next few weeks.
“Babies are not born with asthma. They get it because of the bad air and they can die from that,” says Lupita, a freshman at Desert Mirage High School, in the Coachella Valley, one of the country’s regions with the worst air quality.
The Valley —especially its eastern part, where thousands of Latino families live— saw 40 days of air quality violations in 2014. Few places in California, or the US for that matter, suffer a more intense toxic bombardment than here. In fact, 10 percent of the Valley’s children suffer from asthma.
One of them is the younger brother of Elijah Martínez, a 17-year-old senior at Desert Mirage HS.
“He plays soccer very well. And he dreams of becoming a pro, but it saddens me that he can’t play as much as he wants because he has asthma,” he laments.
Thousands of young Latinos in the Valley have their own story about the suffering caused by air pollution, including Selene Hernández, whose grandmother recently died of lung cancer.
“During her last days she got very sick and could barely breathe because of the dirty air. I don’t want anyone else to go through something like that,” says Selene, who’s also a senior at Desert Mirage HS.
Just like Lupita, Selene, Elijah and 100 other students at Desert Mirage HS said enough is enough, and in February, they all traveled for 9 hours to Sacramento to testify at the EPA hearings about the improvement of the federal smog standards. Smog, a toxic gas generated by the burning of fossil fuels, can have the same effects on lung tissue as sunburn on the skin.
The current standard is 75 parts per billion (ppb), but health experts, such as the American Lung Association, insist to really protect public health the standard must be reduced to 60 ppb. The EPA has proposed a standard as low as 65 ppb but is also accepting comments on a 60-ppb one.
“I demanded for them to bring the ppb down to 60 because it is a human right to have fresh air to breathe,” says Lupita.
“It got very emotional when we all shared our stories about how the air pollution is affecting us. And some representatives of the EPA were getting teary-eyed just by listening to us,” remembers Selene.
The benefits of fighting air pollution can be enormous. A recent University of Southern California study found that a substantial improvement of the air quality allows children to develop bigger, stronger lungs. From 1999 to 2011, a period during which air quality in California improved exponentially thanks to the Clean Air Act, researchers observed that among the 2,000 participants in the study, there was a 10-percent increase in lung capacity on average. Also, premature deaths were greatly reduced.
Polluters, on the other hand, insist improving the current smog standard would undermine the growth and profits of their industries. This is what the students have to say to the polluters:
“Come down to the Valley and see for yourselves any children who have asthma and see how hard it is for them to breathe and play,” says Elijah.
“There are people’s lives on the line. And also there are clean alternatives, such as solar and wind,” responds Selene.
“If they think they could be losing money, we out here could be losing our lives. By refusing to lower the ppb, they are putting our lives in danger. Asthma can come just like that, especially for little babies. Our lives are more important that their profits,” concludes Lupita, who dreams of attending Harvard or Stanford to become an environmental lawyer and “fight polluters in the courts.”
Javier Sierra is a Sierra Club columnist. Follow him on Twitter @javier_SC
By Javier Sierra
If there were a Climate’s Hall of Infamy, the 62 senators who voted to force the approval of the Keystone XL pipeline (KXL) would have a place of honor there.
On January 29, 53 Republicans and nine Democrats voted in favor of forcing the construction of this monument to Big Oil’s greed by overstepping the constitutional separation of powers and denying President Obama’s legitimate jurisdiction over this project.
The president had already warned that he would veto any attempts to change the rules arbitrarily. Even so, the new Republican majority, with their heads firmly stuck in the sand, turned KXL —which would run along 1,200 miles from Alberta, Canada, to Texas ports— into their number one priority, by brandishing the absurd contention that it would create “thousands of jobs.”
Why spend so much political credit over a single public works boondoggle? Since 1999, these senators have received some $43 million in campaign contributions from the dirty energy industry, according to Oil Change International. The Koch Brothers alone donated $125 million to candidates in the past election cycle and stand to make $100 billion in profits if KXL is finally built, a 1,600-percent return on investment. It’s no wonder they are now planning to spend close to $1 billion in the upcoming 2016 campaign.
The Kochs and the rest of the dirty energy industry believe they can buy our democracy. But what they can’t buy is the facts. So here’s what KXL would mean for the American people:
- Each year, this project of tar-sand oil —the most toxic, carbon-intensive crude on the planet— would be responsible for the emissions of 181 million tons of climate-change gases, the equivalent to 50 coal-burning plants.
- The crude would be transported to Texas refineries with one fundamental purpose: to be exported overseas. Its impact on gas prices in the US would be insignificant.
- The KXL would transport the planet’s densest crude, requiring heating up the pipeline and pumping the oil at enormous pressure so it can flow along hundreds of miles. In its first year of operation, the KXL sections already built burst 33 times.
- In 2010, the rupturing of a similar tar-sands pipeline leaked a million gallons of crude into the Kalamazoo River, at a cost of $1 billion in cleaning efforts, which still continue.
- The pipeline would run on top of North America’s largest aquifer, which provides irrigation water for the country’s breadbasket, the source of 30 percent of our food.
And all this in exchange for what? The American people would get a grand total of 35 permanent jobs, according to the State Department, the agency in charge of evaluating the merits of this boondoggle.
Senators, if creating jobs is what you are after, then take a hard look at the astonishing growth of the clean energy industry, a sector that employs thousands of Latinos.
In 2014, the solar industry created 50 percent more jobs than oil and gas extraction combined. These 31,000 jobs brought up the industry’s total to 173,000, at a rate 20 times faster than the national average. In the last five years, the solar industry has increased its labor force by almost 90 percent. By next year, solar power will be as cheap or cheaper than coal, oil or gas in almost every single state.
And the wind industry last year quadrupled is generating capacity by installing close to 4,900 megawatts, increasing its national total to 65 gigawatts. Senators, do you really wish to create jobs? Then indefinitely extend the wind industry’s production tax credit (PTC) and end once and for all the obsolete dirty energy subsidies.
Until then, your candidacy to the Climate’s Hall of Infamy is more than deserved.
Javier Sierra is a Sierra Club columnist. Follow him on @javier_SC
By Javier Sierra
‘Tis the season to give and share and not to receive, to show our generosity with the less fortunate.
Unless, of course, it comes to the dozens of power utilities across the country that want to turn off the lights of the bright future of clean and renewable energy.
The threat for these energy monopolies powered by dirty fossil fuels lies in the explosive growth of solar energy in our country. In the last decade, this clean source of power has grown by 140,000 percent, and since 2010 by more than 400 percent. By 2016, solar energy will be as cheap or cheaper than conventional power in all but three states. And we owe more than half of this expansion to rooftop solar panels in homes and business.
In California alone, two thirds of these installations took place in low- and middle-income homes, which has created more than 47,000 jobs, 20 percent of them among Latinos. To thousands of our families, this blessing has saved up to half of what they used to pay for conventional electricity.
On the contrary, for public utilities, this is a curse. In more than a dozen states, including California and Florida, they have launched a legal offensive against solar power to protect their dirty monopoly.
The great incentive for the installation of rooftop solar panels lies in the capacity to export excess power to the grid in exchange for credits to the electric bill. The utilities, however, are plotting to end this popular incentive alleging that solar power generators take advantage of the grid without paying for the service or maintenance.
California’s three major utilities, for example, want to charge all customers an extra $10 per month, which will discourage homeowners from going solar or making their homes more energy efficient. Additionally, the utilities want to flatten rates, which will ultimately lower the bills of those who consume the most power. According to The Utility Reform Network, these changes would increase the electric bill of 70 percent of the state’s residential consumers.
In Florida, thanks to the utilities’ undue influence, the Public Service Commission a few weeks ago passed a proposal that completely dismantles the state’s energy efficiency goals and eliminates all of the state’s rooftop solar panel programs. The new, retrograde regulations will remain in place for a decade in a state whose southern half is economically more at risk of sea level rise due to climate change than any other part of the world.
The utilities’ arguments indeed sound like a spoiled brat’s tantrum. Generating energy through rooftop solar panels actually reduces the wear and tear of the electric grid. Also, it saves billions of dollars in construction of new conventional power plants and reduces dependency on existing sources of dirty energy.
What the utilities propose would smear with soot the face of future generations, especially for us Latinos who already have the misfortune to live disproportionately in the parts of the country with the worst air quality. Southern California, for instance, includes the cities with the dirtiest air in America —a daily punishment for the health of millions of Latinos, especially our children.
During the Christmas holidays, a star called sun is leading the way toward a clean energy future that will save us from the worst consequences of the climate crisis. The alternative of the energy monopolies? A huge lump of coal.
Javier Sierra is a Sierra Club columnist. Follow him of Twitter @javier_SC
The Conference of Parties (COP20) currently being held in Lima is critically important for South American countries given their exposure to climate change impacts. Land surface changes, fossil fuel extraction, and sea level rise are key concerns for these countries.
I used to take exotic trips when I was a small boy in my native country of Ecuador. Sometimes we went to the top of the Andes, sometimes to the jungle, sometimes to the mangrove islands. I remember the lush forests along the roads, interminable green. Our boat ride to my grandfather’s hacienda meandered through thick mangroves that felt like caves.
When I visited some of these sites years later I saw only humanity’s footprint. Mangroves gave way to shrimp farms. The jungle, once grand in scale, had given way to farms and shrubs. The Andean mountain tops, so starkly white in my childhood, were grayer.
Ecuador is part of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), with oil reserves in the country’s eastern rain forest, part of the Amazon basin. It has the third largest oil reserves in South America, behind Venezuela and Brazil.
The government of Ecuador has been quite clear about its intentions as far as fossil fuel extraction. In the wake of being unable to secure $3.6 billion to leave oil in the Amazon Basin, Ecuador officials decided to move on with the extraction of heavy crude.
An interesting precedent would have been set if the Yasuni ITT payment had gone through: Would payments be made to other large oil-producing countries to keep fossil fuels in the ground?
Ecuador’s decision has come at great cost to Yasuni National Park, one of the most biodiverse places on earth, and to the natives in the region. But it has also riled up local and international activists and represents important subject matter for COP20 talks.
Increased knowledge and respect of the environment is a growing sentiment for many in Ecuador. This was evident with the Yasuni case. It is also evident in the reduction in deforestation in Brazil.
It is unfortunate that the deforestation rate has slowed in pace mostly in Brazil. Yetadvocacy in countries such as Ecuador is a growing trend. Hopefully, the message from the population will be loud enough to hear in Lima.
Roberto Mera is a climate scientist, Kendall Science Fellow in climate attribution and a member of the Union of Concerned Scientists.
In 2005, former Governor Schwarzenegger issued an Executive Order setting a target for California to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by 2020 and 80 percent below 1990 levels by 2050. At the time it was issued, the Executive Order tracked scientific consensus on the emissions reduction trajectory needed to avoid significant disruption of the climate. The Legislature subsequently enacted AB 32, the California Global Warming Solutions Act, to require the Air Resources Board to develop a plan and take sufficient action for the state to meet the 2020 target. While the Executive Order's 2020 target was enacted into law though AB 32, the force of the 2050 target and its effect on agency decisionmaking remained a source of debate until yesterday.
In a sweeping victory for the climate and clean air, the California Court of Appeal agreed with the Sierra Club and its allies that a $200 billion auto-centric Regional Transportation Plan (RTP) by the San Diego Association of Governments (SANDAG) violated the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) for failing to disclose and mitigate the Plan's inconsistency with the Executive Order's 2050 targets.1 The Court's decision is both a victory for clean air and sustainable land use and transportation in San Diego, and for all Californians, as public agencies throughout the state can no longer avoid consideration of the long-term climate impacts of their decisionmaking.
SANDAG's RTP was the first in the state to contain the Sustainable Communities Strategy required by Senate Bill 375, a state law intended to reduce greenhouse gas emissions through smarter land-use and transportation planning. Unfortunately, far from functioning to reduce emissions, SANDAG's plan front-loaded the expansion and extension of freeways at the expense of public transit, inducing sprawl and reinforcing the region's dependence on car-oriented transportation. As a result, as shown in the graph below, SANDAG's Plan would increase greenhouse gas pollution from development and transportation through mid-century, at precisely the time when dramatic reductions are necessary to avoid dangerous climate disruption.
In its environmental review for the RTP, SANDAG refused to analyze or mitigate the project's inconsistency with the Executive Order emissions reduction trajectory on the grounds that an Executive Order is non-binding policy without the force of law. The Court of Appeals rejected SANDAG's arguments, finding that "[b]y disregarding the Executive Order's overarching goal of ongoing emissions reductions, the EIR's analysis of the transportation plan's greenhouse gas emissions makes it falsely appear as if the transportation plan is furthering state climate policy, when, in fact, the trajectory of the transportation plan's post-2020 emissions directly contravenes it."
The investment choices we make today, such as whether to widen a highway instead of building light rail or to construct a new gas plant instead of renewables and energy storage, have profound impacts on our ability to achieve the continued reductions needed to meet long-term climate goals. Instead of being swept under the rug, yesterday's Court of Appeals decision helps ensure the consequences of these choices are now fully disclosed and minimized.
1The Sierra Club was represented by Shute, Mihaly & Weinberger LLP and brought this case with Center for Biological Diversity and Cleveland National Forest Foundation. Attorney General Kamala Harris filed a separate action challenging SANDAG's RTP.
- Matt Vespa is an attorney with the Sierra Club's Environmental Law Program
As we look at the November 4 election results throughout the country and especially in the U.S. Senate, many environmentalists may be feeling a bit defeated, and worried about the trajectory of recent federal progress setting unprecedented fuel economy standards and significantly reducing carbon pollution in the electric sector.
However, if you look closely at this week's election results, there are bright spots where the environmental agenda carried the day. It turns out that in California and Texas -- yes, Texas --the oil industry took a harder hit.
In Richmond, California, population 107,000 and home to a Chevron refinery that exploded in 1999 and again in 2012, the oil giant spent $3 million on the mayoral and city council races. The corporation's goals were to elect local officials who would not stand up to the corporation's egregious inspection and oversight practices that led to those devastating events. However, instead of falling prey to Chevron's overbearing advertising tactics and its election website purporting to provide the objective view, Richmond voters stood up to the oil giant and defeated all of Chevron's candidates. The victorious mayoral candidate had a campaign budget of about $50,000.
In California's San Benito and Mendocino counties, the voters also defeated more than $2 million of oil industry campaigning to pass measures that ban fracking within their borders. With only $140,000 of grassroots campaign money, ongoing advocacy among California communities demonstrated that the public is not buying the oil industry's deceptive claims that fracking is safe and will boost local economies. Instead, by exercising their right to vote, citizens spoke to protect homes, schools, public health, the environment, and scarce drinking water resources, and to boost investments in clean fuels.
And in Denton, Texas, at the heart of the state's energy boom, citizens resoundingly beat back the oil industry by banning fracking within city limits by a 59% to 41% margin. Again, the residents spoke out to say enough is enough.
Below, fracking in a residential neighborhood in Weld, Colorado, along the Rocky Mountain Front.
What's clear from these results is that the oil industry is dumping big bucks (relative to the opposition) into local politics to buy elections in an attempt to prolong our nation's dependence on dirty, dangerous fuels, and to undermine a transition to a clean fuel economy. But what's even clearer is that citizens aren't willing to be bought or duped by such dirty campaign tactics.
So in the midst of some of our post-election day woes, the citizens of Richmond, Denton, and San Benito and Mendocino Counties, provide a glimmer of hope that we can overcome dirty oil's pumping of money into campaign politics and beat back prolonged reliance on dangerous, climate-disruptive fuels.
In the upcoming weeks, California citizens have more opportunities to weigh in on extreme crude oil projects, including projects to expand rail transport of explosive, polluting crude oil through the San Francisco Bay Area and along California's treasured coastline. Please check back in the coming days for more information on how to take action.
- Devorah Ancel, Sierra Club Environmental Law Program
Yesterday Southern California Edison ("SCE") announced the resources it selected to replace capacity it received from the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station (above), a 2,200 MW nuclear facility, and once-through-cooling gas plants subject to retirement under State Water Board regulations. The Sierra Club invested a significant amount of time in the fight over how to replace San Onofre, organizing rallies, petition drives, and conducting intensive advocacy at the California Public Utilities Commission ("CPUC") to make sure that San Onofre was replaced with clean energy and not long term investments in fossil fuel plants.
The resources were solicited through an "all-source" request for offers (RFO), which allows all resources, including gas-fired generation, energy storage, demand response, renewables, and energy efficiency, to bid and compete in the same solicitation. The selected resources were also subject to parameters set by the CPUC, which required that new resources for the West L.A. Basin area be composed of at least 1000 MW of gas-fired generation, at least 600 MW of "preferred resources" (efficiency, demand response, and renewables) and/or energy storage and 300-500 MW of any resource.
What happened? Here is a breakdown of the resources SCE has selected from the RFO and seek final procurement approval by the CPUC through a formal application:
Energy Efficiency: 130 MW
Demand Response: 75 MW
Renewables (Behind-the-Meter): 44 MW
Storage: 261 MW
Gas-Fired Generation: 1,382 MW
Total: 1,892 MW
So, what do we make of this?
The All-Source RFO: SCE's all-source RFO, the first of its kind in California, allows for competition among a range of potential resource solutions to meet need. The response to SCE's RFO was extremely robust, with over 1,800 proposed offers. SCE's all-source RFO is a step forward in utility procurement practice and stands in stark contrast to SDG&E, the other utility impacted by San Onofre's retirement.
Rather than conduct an all-source RFO to meet 300-600 MW of any resource need authorized to SDG&E by the CPUC following the retirement of San Onfore, SDG&E is seeking CPUC approval of a bilateral contract for all of this capacity with the 600 MW Carlsbad gas plant. Bilateral contracting is a private negotiation that prejudices other potential resource providers who are kept from competing to fill authorized procurement amounts as well as advocates like the Sierra Club seeking optimal outcomes for customers and the environment. The Sierra Club is opposing approval of the Carlsbad contact before the CPUC.
A Precedent-Setting Showing by Energy Storage: The 261 MW of storage procurement is a significant boost for the industry and will result in storage deployment at a more accelerated pace that required under California's recent energy storage procurement decision. SCE's proposed storage procurement is comprised of a range of applications, include a number of "behind the meter" storage application that will shift consumption from high to low demand hours and facilitate increased deployment of rooftop solar. SCE's proposed procurement also includes a 100 MW utility-owned battery storage provided by AES. The 100 MW battery storage project is significantly larger than existing battery-storage projects in the country and raises the bar for the size of storage projects utilities should be considering.
For additional scrutiny:
Did SCE's Proposed Procurement Comply with State Policy Prioritizing Preferred Resources? SCE proposes to meet its 300-500 MW "any resource" authorization entirely with fossil-fuel generation. To comply with state law and a long-standing energy policy called the "Loading Order," SCE must procure all feasibly available and cost effective energy efficiency, demand response, and renewables prior to resorting to fossil fuels. Because they typically have 20-25 year contracts with a utility, new gas plants create long-term commitments to fossil fuels that interfere with California's ability to rapidly decarbonize its energy system.
As SCE moves forward in seeking approval for the resources it selected from its RFO process, the Sierra Club will be scrutinizing SCE's procurement to make sure SCE did not improperly disregard the Loading Order and all feasible and cost-effective clean energy options. Given the number and range of responses to SCE's RFO, one would expect that SCE had plenty of viable carbon-free solutions to choose from in meeting its "any resource" needs.
-- Matt Vespa. Sierra Club Environmental Law Program
By Javier Sierra
Juan Parras knows well what it means to live surrounded by rolling bombs, and the frequent sound of the whistling engines pulling more than 100-car trains loaded with oil crude into his community is a constant reminder.
Parras lives and works in Manchester, the Houston Latino barrio with some of the heaviest oil train traffic in the country.
“Here we have the largest concentration of railroad crossings in the land,” says Parras, founder and executive director of Texas Environmental Justice Advocacy Services, which has been active in Manchester for many years. “When we drive around here, we have to stop and wait for the trains to pass three or four times per trip.”
After 9-11, a lot of trains with dangerous cargo were diverted from communities as a matter of precaution and safety. But that is not the case in Manchester.
“This is a big issue because of national security and because of the extreme danger that this brings to communities,” says Parras. “The train yards around us containing hundreds of cars are left unguarded and anyone willing to do some serious damage can walk up to them unimpeded.”
Since 2005, the oil train traffic in North America has increased 40 fold. At any given moment, some nine million barrels of crude oil are being transported around North America. Yet we haven’t seen any real improvements in the safety of these trains. The oil and railroad companies, however, seem to be whistling past the graveyard.
In 2013, a train loaded with crude from North Dakota derailed and exploded, killing 47 people and leveling a section of the town of Lac-Mégantic, in Quebec, Canada. Since then, there have been accidents in Alabama, Colorado, Minnesota, North Dakota, Pennsylvania, and Virginia.
Living close to these trains is like rolling the dice. And the ones who are most vulnerable to these rolling bombs are us, Latinos, and other communities of color. According to a study by ForestEthics, out of the 25 million people who live in the oil trains blast zone, 15 million (60 percent!) are members of minority communities, including Manchester.
“Fortunately, we haven’t had any derailments or explosions with serious consequences on the population,” says Parras. “But we’ve had close calls. In the past year there’ve been two train derailments in our community. In one instance, the train was carrying dangerous cargo, the cars leaked but did not explode.”
These dismal safety conditions in too many oil trains intensify the danger for millions of people. In a document submitted to the US Department of Transportation, several groups, including ForestEthics and the Sierra Club, underlined several flaws that make this railroad traffic “an unacceptable public risk.”
Perhaps the most clear and present danger is the widespread use of obsolete DOT-111 rail cars, which lack reinforcement in their shells, making them much more fragile in case of derailment.
The groups demand that the Obama administration immediately improve the safety and security of oil trains by adopting the following recommendations:
• Immediately banning the use of DOT-111 rail cars and a quicker phase-out of other unsafe types.
• Expanding the emergency response preparedness in the communities situated in the blast zone.
• Imposing speed limits and requiring state-of-the-art breaking systems on oil trains.
• And requiring liability coverage to cover the true costs of crude-by-rail disasters.
And while these demands are considered, Juan Parras and the rest of the Manchester residents keep looking over their shoulders every time they hear a train whistling into town. “Here comes another rolling bomb into our barrio,” they say.
Javier Sierra is a Sierra Club columnist. Follow him on Twitter @javier_SC
By Stacy Bare, Sierra Club Outdoors Director
On Veterans Day -- and for several days leading up to and after Veterans Day -- we celebrate those women and men who have served their country in uniform. We're lucky at the Sierra Club to have a high percentage among our members and activists. Based on available demographic data, we estimate that 10 percent of the Club's overall 2.4 million members and supporters are veterans. By contrast, only 5 percent of all Americans have served in the Armed Forces. For me as a veteran, it's pretty special to be in a place where more than double the percentage of the general population chooses to continue serving their country.
There are a few broad generalizations of veterans that hold pretty true across the board, though there are always exceptions. The generalizations that I believe draw those of us who have served in uniform and now at the Club are a commitment to service, team, something bigger than yourself, a sense of mission, and the protection of our democratic values.
At the end of the day, ensuring that we have access to public lands -- the very physical incarnation of our drive for equal rights and freedom -- and clean air and water (basic human rights if ever there were any), are right in line with the belief system of the men and women who have served. We as veterans are represented at the Club through far more than our award-winning Sierra Club Military Outdoors program, but with outings as the heart and soul of the Club, its no surprise we have former Army Major and Silver Star recipient Joshua Brandon leading one of the biggest engagement programs for service members and veterans throughout the Club, with more than 13,000 veterans and military families served this year.
People often times ask me when the Sierra Club held its first military outing. The answer is 1903, on a three-night campout that John Muir shared with U.S. veteran President Theodore Roosevelt. PBS reports this "…could be considered the most significant camping trip in conservation history." It led to the creation of Yosemite National Park.
You'll find men and women who have worn the uniform throughout the Club's: people like the Beyond Coal campaign's Daniel Sawmiller, Ohio Chapter Chair Bob Shields, and rock star ICO volunteer Melaina Sharp. And there are thousands more, as well as those who served as military kids and spouses.
So this Veterans Day, as you consider the long and fruitful history with the Club and the men and women who have served, get outside and march or cheer alongside the veterans in your local Veterans Day parade; take some time to volunteer with your local outings group to reach out to local veterans; or just get out onto our public lands and enjoy the things we fought to protect -- and that you as a Sierra Clubber are still fighting for.
Watch this video about Stacy Bare's personal journey of recovery once he returned from active duty in Iraq.
Back in June, the Sierra Club and its allies in the Coal Free Massachusetts coalition won a long-sought victory when the owners of the 54-year-old Mt. Tom coal plant in Holyoke -- one of the biggest polluters in the state -- announced that the plant would cease coal operations this October.
Unfortunately, the June announcement by GDF Suez, which owns Mt. Tom, was not a binding commitment. "Our worry was that they were just 'mothballing' the facility while they rode out the current economically unfavorable conditions, in hopes of resuming operations at some point down the road," says James McCaffrey, senior campaign representative with the Sierra Club's Beyond Coal campaign. That's McCaffrey at right, below, with Beyond Coal volunteer Rick Purcell.
Those worries were fueled by GDF Suez's attempt last spring to terminate a "compliance demonstration process" to ensure that the impact of the plant's emissions of harmful sulfur dioxide did not exceed federal air-quality standards.
But for the past two years, the Sierra Club had consistently been pushing the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) to finalize enforceable sulfur dioxide limits, threatening legal action over the plant's expired air permit, which galvanized DEP's initiation of the compliance demonstration process.
"After GDF Suez announced this June that it was terminating the process, we turned up the heat," McCaffrey says. "Over the summer, the Club and its allies submitted over 1,000 petitions to Governor Deval Patrick and the DEP commissioner, and circulated a letter taking the agency to task for failing to protect public health."
And in early October, the DEP mandated that the plant comply with the sulfur dioxide emissions standards before it would ever be allowed to resume operation.
"The additional public pressure did the trick," says McCaffrey. "We understand that budget-stressed agencies need to prioritize their work, but the health of Holyoke and Pioneer Valley residents is at stake here, now and in the future, and the governor and DEP really stepped up and responded. This action by the DEP reduces the likelihood that the mothballed facility will ever seek to operate again. We commend the Patrick administration for following through on the process even as the situation changed dramatically."
McCaffrey says he doesn't expect there to be a need for Mt. Tom to resume operations, "but ensuring the proper safeguards and a positive outcome here was key. This is a major victory for families in this region who have suffered from the impacts of pollution from the Mt. Tom plant for far too long." The asthma rate in Holyoke is three times the state average.
"The DEP's action establishes a great precedent," says Sierra Club attorney Joshua Berman, at left, who spearheaded the Club's legal efforts on Mt. Tom. "The agency is saying the plant cannot operate in a manner that would lead to exceedances of the sulfur dioxide ambient air-quality standard. This helps to guarantee that air quality in western Massachusetts will be protected, and it is an extremely important precedent for our coal plant work everywhere."
Mt. Tom's retirement has been a top priority for Coal Free Massachusetts, which represents more than 100 public health, environmental justice, faith, student, and business groups. For four years, the Sierra Club and its allies have been working directly in the community with Action for a Healthy Holyoke (AHH!) and Neighbor to Neighbor, as well as with local schools, boards of health, nurses' associations, and regional entities throughout the area to retire Mt. Tom.
Among the chief concerns of the Sierra Club and Coal Free Massachusetts -- of which the Massachusetts Sierra Club is a founder member -- was making sure GDF Suez honored the duration of the union contracts of workers at the Mt. Tom plant until October. The Club also successfully promoted legislation to commit $100,000 in state funds to the city of Holyoke for reuse and planning for the Mt. Tom site.
Below, a hearing at the Massachusetts state house on the Clean Energy Commonwealth bill to phase out coal in Massachusetts, help retrain workers, and help transition communities that host a coal plant. Sierra Club and Coal Free Massachusetts activists spoke at the hearing.
"There are many exciting opportunities on the horizon, and GDF Suez is now exploring the option of installing a 15-megawatt solar facility after demolition of the coal plant," McCaffrey says. "The Sierra Club is working with the Patrick administration, the legislature, and GDF Suez to assure that all regulatory and legislative components are in place to help clean up the site and make Mt. Tom Solar a reality."
Learn more about the Sierra Club's work to move America beyond coal.
Fountain Lake Farm in central Wisconsin, the boyhood home of Sierra Club founder John Muir, was recently purchased for protection by a Wisconsin land trust. The newly protected area will adjoin the John Muir Memorial County Park and be part of a larger 1,400-acre natural preserve, which also includes the Fox River National Wildlife Refuge.
"Muir always credited his upbringing on Fountain Lake Farm with instilling in him a love of wild things," says Sierra Club Vice President Spencer Black, at left, the keynote speaker at an October 15 event in Madison, Wisconsin, celebrating the farmstead's protection. "In The Story of My Boyhood and Youth, published in 1913, he wrote that it was this landscape that first inspired his passion for nature."
The farm was purchased by the Natural Heritage Land Trust, and was funded in part by contributions from the John Muir Chapter of the Sierra Club as well as Wisconsin's Stewardship Fund, a land conservation effort begun by Black when he was a Wisconsin state legislator.
"While Muir achieved fame vividly describing and fighting to protect the Sierra Nevada and other lands out west," Black said in his keynote remarks, "he always credited his love of nature to his upbringing in Wisconsin.
"Galen Rowell, the renowned wilderness photographer and mountaineer, while climbing in the Alps with a European colleague, asked him why the mountains in Europe had so much development compared with many of our American ranges. The European mountaineer replied simply: 'You had Muir.'
"Here in Wisconsin, we can indeed be proud that 'We had Muir.' And now, thanks to the good work of the Natural Heritage Land Trust, we all have, protected for posterity, the landscape that inspired John Muir to protect our wild places."
Photos of Fountain Lake Farm by Brant Erickson; photo of Spencer Black by John Murray Mason.
On Tuesday night I joined a small group of concerned Baltimore residents to hear more about the threat of crude oil trains running through Charm City.
The Chesapeake Climate Action Network (CCAN) organized the meeting - the first of three in the city to discuss a proposed oil export terminal.
According to CCAN:
The proposed Targa Terminal would mean 9.125 million barrels of oil every year would be exported out of Baltimore - which means some 12,766 rail cars annually. Broken down further, that's one train of 35 cars every day running right through the city.
In Morrell Park, where this meeting took place, you could say we're suffering from a little activismn fatigue. We just won a years-long fight against a polluting rail/truck facility proposed for our neighborhood. The Targa Terminal itself would be in Curtis Bay, a community already very overburdened by industrial pollution and already fighting a proposed incinerator.
While I've heard extensively about crude-by-rail risks because of my work with the Sierra Club, it becomes so much more real when a disaster could happen right in your neighborhood. I've long wondered what all CSX was transporting by rail through our neighborhood. I know some of it is coal cars, and some of the tanker cars are labeled with some very confusing and toxic sounding things - but not all of the tankers are labeled. And now we could see even more rail cars -- and not just more of them, but rail cars that are more prone to derailment (DOT-111 - which the National Transportation Safety Board said have a "high incidence of failure") and will be full of crude oil?
The meeting's attendees were shocked by the map (shown here at the right - courtesy of ForestEthics) showing the evacuation zones and potential impact zones should just one oil train car derail and explode.
"These cars and rails aren't meant to handle all this," said Jon Kenney, an organizer with CCAN. "All of downtown Baltimore is in an evacuation zone."
Residents of Morrell Park and several surrounding neighborhoods are already very familiar with the huge number of trains running through the neighborhood. A "Welcome to Morrell Park" mural at the community's entrance is dedicated to trains. We know that a number of hazardous chemicals are transported by rail through the area - we just aren't being told what.
"We tried to get a list of what they're transporting, but they won't give it to us," said one Mt. Winans resident (a neighborhood bordering Morrell Park) at the meeting.
This controversy isn't just limited to us. The Maryland Department of the Environment is attempting to force CSX and Norfolk Southern to disclose the amount of crude oil on the cars, but those companies took MDE to court over it.
For now, CCAN, the Environmental Integrity Project, the Maryland Environmental Health Network (all represented at Tuesday's meeting) and many other groups are pushing for MDE to reject the air pollution permit Targa Terminal has applied for and for the Baltimore City Council to pass an ordinance banning any crude-by-rail in the city.
There will be a public hearing on the air permit, the date just hasn't been announced yet. And as I said above, there are more community meetings planned along the crude-by-rail route right through Baltimore. CCAN and others are encouraging and working with these communities to unite against very real the crude-by-rail dangers.
"Communities have to raise the health and safety issues here," said Rebbeca Ruggles of the Maryland Environmental Health Network.
As a resident of Baltimore and a neighborhood dissected by a number of rail lines dedicated to hazardous materials, I plan on being very involved.
-- Heather Moyer, Sierra Club
By Robert Gardner, Sierra Club Beyond Natural Gas Campaign
Fracking has exploded throughout the Marcellus Shale region in Pennsylvania. That much is no secret. People around the country have seen the devastation that this extreme form of extraction has caused to communities, peoples' lives, and the landscape of the state. But all around Pennsylvania (and many other states) communities are fighting back -- educating, organizing, litigating, and lobbying their officials. Together, we are taking this fight from the frontlines of the shale fields to the living rooms of America.
What people might know less about is the struggle to keep fracking off of public lands like our state forests and parks. Make no mistake: the gas industry is making a major play to get the fossil fuels out of the ground regardless of whether they have to rip up our favorite local, state, or federal parks and forests.
Such is the case right here in Pennsylvania.
Recently we took to the sky with EcoFlight to look at some of the impacts happening in north-central Pennsylvania. From the air we saw a massive amount of development on the Tiadaghton, Loyalsock, and Sproul State Forests. We could see the large clearings for well pads, staging areas, compressor stations, pipelines, freshwater pits, and all of the trappings of an industrialized forest, like timbering and coal mining.
In Pennsylvania alone, there are more than 2.2 million acres of state-managed forests, of which nearly 1.5 million acres are underlain by the Marcellus Shale formation. Already, more than 700,000 acres are available to industry, and a recent executive order by the administration of Pennsylvania governor Tom Corbett has opened up park and forest land containing environmentally sensitive features such as wetlands, rare or threatened species, and source water protection areas.
These forested landscapes provide critical habitat for wildlife, important recreational opportunities for millions of people, and are an economic driver for the state of Pennsylvania. The landscapes are vitally important for maintaining the unique character and biodiversity of the state and serve as an important heritage area for generations of future Pennsylvanians.
Make no mistake. The forests of Pennsylvania are at risk of being degraded beyond repair.
What we saw from the air is an ongoing disaster. With some forests drilled at ten to fifteen percent, the impacts are already obvious. Nearly 1,500 acres of forest has been converted for well pads and infrastructure, including some areas of once-contiguous forest that have been fragmented by new development. There are fewer opportunities for remote recreational experiences in forests with gas development. Already we know that incidents including spills of diesel fuel and brine have occurred in state forests.
Unless we fight back -- and we are -- the fracking industry will go after every cubic foot of gas and they will drill wherever enables them to maximize their profits. That's a reality that we at the Sierra Club are just unwilling to accept.
All photos by EcoFlight.
The National Wilderness Conference, commemorating the 50th anniversary of the Wilderness Act, was held in Albuquerque, New Mexico, from October 15-19 -- the largest gathering of the wilderness community since the Act was signed in 1964.
Among the keynote speakers was Sierra Club President David Scott, above.
"I'm honored to have been part of Wilderness 50 in Albuquerque last week, where more than 1,200 people celebrated the 50th anniversary of the signing of the Wilderness Act," Scott says. "That landmark law has protected 757 wilderness areas with a total acreage the size of the state of California.
"Numerous heroes of past wilderness protection fights joined present and future activists, telling the crowd not just how we got to where we are today, but what we need to do if wilderness protection is to meet the challenge of climate change, if we're going to make nature more accessible to all, and if our environmental movement is going to be more open and inclusive, as it must be. I'm proud of the strong Sierra Club contingent at this celebration, and glad I had a chance to join them."
From Scott's remarks at the conference:
As Sierra Club founder John Muir told us, "The battle we have fought, and are still fighting … is a part of the eternal conflict between right and wrong, and we cannot expect to see the end of it."
In this golden anniversary year of the Wilderness Act, my hope is that we all leave this celebration not only proud of what has been accomplished, but rededicated to meet the enormous challenges of the future. I hope we leave this celebration prepared to not only protect more wild places on a map-- important as that is -- but to also meet the enormous challenge of climate disruption, to make our environmental movement and our society more broad, more just, and more inclusive, and to leave for future generations the beautiful, wild and livable planet that is their birthright.
A sold-out crowd of more than 250 people people attended the first ever "Earth, Wind, and Fire Energy Summit" earlier this month in Dallas, Texas. The Dallas Group of the Sierra Club Lone Star Chapter organized the event, which also included more than 22 speakers and 19 exhibitors.
"The two-day conference Oct. 4-5 focused on all forms of energy - coal, nuclear, natural gas, oil, wind, solar, geothermal, and waste to energy," said Rita Beving, conservation co-chair of the Dallas Group and coordinator of the conference. "The purpose was to inform the public beyond media 'soundbites' of what is going on currently with these forms of energy from both a national and state perspective, and what does the future hold for the potential use of all of these forms of energy. It also focused on the human and environmental impacts that these sources may have, be it from mining to transport."
Beving said attendees came from across Texas, Arkansas, and Kansas, and speakers included professionals and academics from across the U.S. (Click here to check out the full brochure of all the speakers and workshops - PDF) One of the highlighted speakers was Dr. Nicholas van der Elst of Columbia's Lamont-Doherty Earth Institute in New York, who spoke about fracking, earthquakes and disposal wells.
"The Dallas/Ft. Worth area has experienced more than 33 earthquakes earlier in 2014 within a few months' timeframe and it is believed that these triggered earthquakes are caused by disposal wells and fracking," explained Beving. "Even the Mayor of Reno, one of the cities that has been afflicted with earthquakes, came to hear this speaker."
Other speakers discussed the effects of increased oil trains and fossil fuel exports, as well as pipeline safety issues. Just as important and well-attended were the sessions on wind and solar power.
Beving credits a great group of planning volunteers for making the conference so successful that it sold out 10 days in advance.
"It was also gratifying to see that the audience was at least three-fourths new people not affiliated or involved with the Sierra Club," she added. "There were many people who participated who otherwise may not have the kind of exposure to energy and environmental issues that Sierra Club volunteers have. We also had universities participate as sponsors and bring dozens of students."
The conference sponsors were the Dallas County Community College District, Public Citizen, EarthWorks, the Texas Campaign for the Environment Fund, Green Source DFW, the Seed Coalition, Texas Interfaith Power & Light, the League of Women Voters of Dallas, the Population Media Center, Breeze Energy, the Clean Water Fund, EarthDay Texas, Axium Solar, System Change Not Climate Change, Natural Awakenings, and the Texas League of Conservation Voters.
"The success of this conference shows that people are 'hungry' for better and deeper information on energy," said Beving. "Many attendees remarked that it was great to hear from experts on subjects of their concern, like pipeline vs. rail transport of oil in light of all the incidents reported in the U.S. and Canada.
"People also were interested in hearing about about fracking and groundwater contamination, about the proposed export of America's energy, about the potential for more wind and solar in the country, and that there are options for the financing of such renewables for home use."
Beving says they hope to do another conference next year.
Among those taking the greatest pride when President Obama formally designated the 346,000-acre San Gabriel Mountains National Monument in Southern California on October 10 was Susana Reyes, a member of the Sierra Club's Board of Directors since 2012. That's Reyes, above, speaking at the community celebration held immediately after the signing ceremony.
Formerly the Director of Human Resources with the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, last year Reyes joined Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti's Sustainability Team, where she is a senior analyst.
The Planet spoke with Reyes just hours before President Obama dedicated the nation's newest national monument.
Planet: You've been championing a San Gabriel Mountains National Monument for years. What does today's designation mean to you?
Reyes: Greater visibility for these mountains has a real power to affect the lives of people in the community. Studies show that it's a de-stressor to connect with the outdoors. We're protecting these mountains forever so that future generations will be able to enjoy them.
I'm a local; I've lived in Glendale, right up against the San Gabriels, for more than 20 years, and I've been a Sierra Club activist since 1999. I think one of the most gratifying things about the new San Gabriel Mountains National Monument is what it will mean to the diverse communities who will now have greater awareness and access to this amazing resource. These are communities that have traditionally been underserved in terms of access to the outdoors.
The San Gabriels contain about 70 percent of the open space in Los Angeles County and provide a third of its drinking water. The mountain range receives about 3.5 million visitors a year, many of them from L.A.'s Latino community. But the visitor experience has been lacking due to inadequate maintenance and services. The San Gabriels are a majestic backdrop to Los Angeles, but they have long been neglected. Even though some 17 million people live nearby, many low income communities and communities of color haven't been fully aware of the incredible resourse these mountains provide.
Planet: Why do you think this is?
Reyes: Recreational and wilderness resources in the San Gabriels have been poorly maintained because the U.S. Forest Service has lacked an adequate budget. Now the National Park Service and the Forest Service will be co-managing the national monument. Public access will be improved, as will the visitor experience. Many of the communities closest to the San Gabriels are socio-economically underserved, and haven't felt they had a real decision-making stake in the San Gabriels. Many of them use the San Gabriels for recreation, but until recently they haven't been organized in making their experience there a better one. But that has been changing, in large part due to the Sierra Club.
Planet: Tell us about the Sierra Club's role in helping bring about this change.
Reyes: The Sierra Club's role in this has been hugely important. We've been involved for more than a decade -- for the last several years as a member of the San Gabriel Mountains Forever Coalition, which formed when President Obama began designating national monuments and Congresswoman Hilda Solis was championing greater protections for the San Gabriels. Once Solis became the U.S. Secretary of Labor, her successor Judy Chu took the lead in Congress for enhancements and national monument status for the San Gabriels.
Sierra Club volunteer John Monsen, Congresswoman Judy Chu, and Reyes at the community celebration following the national monument signing ceremony. Reyes was among the featured speakers at the community celebration.
The Sierra Club hosted or co-hosted many, many community meetings to promote the national monument and recruit local champions from the community. The Club paid many times for buses to pick people up and get them to the meetings. We've worked closely from the get-go with the Latino community, faith, groups, and environmental justice groups. Sierra Club volunteers and staff translated campaign materials into Spanish. Organizers like Juana Torres, Fabiola Lao, Bill Corcoran, Sarah Matsumoto, H. Joseph Hopkins, Eva Hernandez-Simmons, and Nidia Erceg really connected with the Latino community and helped bring them into the coalition.
Planet: What has your own involvement been?
Reyes: When the Sierra Club or the San Gabriel Mountains Forever Coalition gave presentations, I would be there to support the team. I've been a liaison with Congresswomen Solis and Chu. I was in contact with them whenever there were efforts to write letters of support, I had input into those letters, and I wrote many of them in person. I also helped a lot with fundraising, although that effort was mostly led by Juana Torres. As a member of the Sierra Club's Board of Directors, I was the most visible volunteer, but I wanted to make sure that local volunteers got most of the credit, as they deserve.
Planet: Tell us how Club volunteers have been critical to the campaign's success.
Reyes: Volunteers have been huge in this effort. They have the skills, the passion, and they've long organized for this campaign, helping us pack rooms with people and channel support for the national monument. Three who have been key to our efforts are Don Bremner and John Monsen of the Angeles Chapter's forest committee, and Joyce Burk of the San Gorgonio Chapter's forest committee -- and I would be remiss not to mention Joan Licari, Joan Holtz, David Czamanske, Bob Cates, Judy Anderson, Jeff Yann, Lizz Pomeroy, Joanne Sarachman, and Jennifer Robinson, who have all made important contributions to this campaign over the years.
All the capacities of the Sierra Club were pulled together by our volunteers to help build momentum toward national monument designation. Through this campaign, the Sierra Club has really connected with the Latino community in L.A. and gotten them involved. We don't just enter the community unprepared; we listen and learn first. The Club's campaign was very inclusive, a demonstration of our diversity, and it exemplifies the way we communicate and incorporate the social and cultural beliefs of the community into our work. It's been a huge success so far as movement-building and the diversity of the Club.
This wasn't just the Sierra Club standing alone, but the Sierra Club standing with diverse communities. In order to make this happen, we needed to push all of our goals to explore, enjoy, and protect the planet, but we also needed to work with the people who are going to use this mountain range and bring them into the process. National monument status will enhance their awareness of the San Gabriels, their experience enjoying the mountains and rivers, and their sense of ownership of this incredible resource. And of course, it will ensure that the things we love about the San Gabriels will remain to be enjoyed by others.
By Guest Blogger Ron Torrez
After the long campaign to protect the region, last Friday's designation of the San Gabriel Mountains as a National Monument is a victory for Latinos to celebrate. The monument's designation represents a significant moment in which we can see how effectively our community can engage in protecting public lands —as well as the ways we enjoy them.
The numbers clearly show that the Latino community supports this designation. Reflecting outcomes of other recent polls addressing Latino attitudes towards environmental conservation and land preservation, a recent poll of Los Angeles voters revealed that an overwhelming majority (88 percent) of Latinos supported protecting the San Gabriel Mountains and rivers. In addition to a wide coalition of conservationists, a number of Latino organizations backed the effort to protect the San Gabriels, including, to name just a few, California LULAC, Mujeres de la Tierra, Latino Coalition for a Healthy California and the faith-based alliance Por la Creación.
The San Gabriel Mountains National Monument is the third of three large areas of public land that has been granted National Monument status by the Obama administration in the last two years, thanks in large part to support from Latino communities that surround them. The other two are Rio Grande del Norte National Monument and Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument, both in New Mexico. This trend of course raises the question: why is protecting these places so important to Latinos?
Latinos in the Southwest have witnessed extractive industries such as oil, gas and mineral development, as well as urban growth, mar the landscapes, pollute watersheds and affect the wildlife that have sustained us for generations. These lands are part of our heritage and are as treasured to us as are the Grand Tetons in Wyoming or the Florida Everglades.
Yet Latinos, especially Latino hunters and anglers, would argue that protecting the land by setting it aside and cutting off our recreational and traditional uses would be unsatisfactory to the community. We support these new monuments largely because they not only protect the land and waterways, but also respect continued access for hunting, fishing, camping and hiking —activities that our communities throughout the Southwest have pursued for generations.
The San Gabriel Mountains in particular have always been a welcome reprieve from the city for Latinos, especially for hunting and fishing, and have been increasingly valuable as a destination for outdoor education programs, with private organizations and public agencies using the area to connect many Latino urban youth to the outdoors. Moreover, the San Gabriel Mountains watershed provides a significant portion of the region's clean water supply; protecting the health of the resource is paramount to the health of communities downstream.
There are many good reasons to celebrate the new national monument. But it is important to note that the San Gabriel Mountains, along with the Rio Grande del Norte, and the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monuments represent a new approach by protecting the land we love and respecting how we have enjoyed the land for generations. It's encouraging to know that we can continue to enjoy these places for generations to come. It's also satisfying to know that Latinos have played a significant role in protecting them.
Ron Torrez is director of Hispanics Enjoying Camping, Hunting and Outdoors (HECHO)
More than 120 residents and community leaders who live near coal-fired power plants in Waukegan, Romeoville, and Pekin, Illinois, gathered at Waukegan's Municipal Beach on Lake Michigan in view of NRG Energy's 60-year-old Waukegan Generating Station for an event called Hands Across the Sand: Solidarity for Clean Water and Clean Power.
The event, organized by the Sierra Club's Clean Power Lake County campaign, began with a beach cleanup of several acres and ended with a program that included speakers from all three communities, each of which is home to an NRG coal plant.
"This was the largest beach sweep in Waukegan history," says Christine Nannicelli, an organizer with the Sierra Club's Beyond Coal Illinois campaign. "We had a fantastic turnout from the Latino community in Waukegan, and we concluded the program holding hands along the lakefront in the shadow of the Waukegan coal plant."
"We've gathered almost 500 photo petitions, and they've been a very effective campaign tool," Nannicelli says. "People are ready to begin a new chapter and really turn up the pressure on NRG."
The Waukegan Generating Station is the largest source of water pollution in Lake County. All of NRG's coal plants in Illinois damage local waterways with mercury emissions and toxic ash coal waste. The Waukegan plant's coal ash ponds sit right next to the Lake Michigan shoreline.
The Illinois Environmental Protection Agency issuee violation notices to all three plants in 2012 for high levels of contaminants in groundwater near their coal ash ponds.
Sierra Club volunteer David Villalobos, a leader in the Clean Power Lake County campaign, emceed the Hands Across the Sands event. Other speakers included Dulce Ortiz from Coalitión Latinos Unidos de Lake County; Ellen Rendulich from Citizens Against Ruining the Environment (CARE); Tracy Fox from Peoria Families Against Toxic Waste; Faith Bugel from the Environmental Law & Policy Center; and Antonio Lopez, Ph.D., from the Little Village Environmental Justice Organization.
Below, Dr. Lopez presents Dulce Ortiz with a bandana from the People's Climate Justice Summit, held in New York City following the People's Climate March and concurrent with the UN Climate Summit, in recognition of their shared goals of environmental and economic justice.
"We also had prayers from our two church partners in the campaign," Nannicelli says. "This was the first time residents of Waukegan, Romeoville, and Pekin have gathered in solidarity to share their vision of a clean-energy future and call on NRG to commit to retirement dates for their coal fleet in Illinois. Folks are fired up."
All photos except photo petition by Karen Long MacLeod, courtesy of Clean Power Lake County.
On October 8, some 30 Sierra Club volunteers and four staffers with the Club's Beyond Coal campaign delivered more than 10,000 petitions to Puget Sound Energy's legislative office in Olympia, urging PSE to replace the coal power in its portfolio with clean energy such as wind and solar and efficiency measures that would create thousands of jobs in the Pacific Northwest.
Prior to delivering the petitions, the activists held a press conference in the Legislative Rotunda at the state capitol, below, where they presented a report card grading PSE on its current energy portfolio. The utility's marks were generally high, but it received an "F" for coal, as more than 30 percent of its electricity supply comes from the Colstrip coal-burning power plant in Montana, the Northwest's largest source of carbon pollution. PSE is the primary owner of the Colstrip plant.
"We're fortunate to have Puget Sound Energy as a strong community partner that has supported incentives for homes, businesses, and government offices to save electricity," said Beyond Coal senior campaign representative Doug Howell. "Now we're asking to help PSE take the next step in its energy leadership by replacing dirty coal with clean energy and efficiency."
Governor Jay Inslee has laid out a climate plan for Washington, and transitioning away from out-of-state coal electricity -- what he calls "coal-by-wire" -- is among his priorities. Inslee signed his Climate Action Plan on the back of a solar panel at a signing ceremony in April, saying the state has a moral responsibility to act on climate change.
PSE has been responsive in developing an ever-cleaner energy portfolio, but it continues to draw power from Colstrip, maintaining that coal-fired electricity is reliable and cost-effective. "As one of Colstrip's owners, PSE could be liable for its carbon pollution, groundwater contamination, and toxic, leaking coal ash ponds," Howell said. "Moving beyond coal is a smart investment for Northwest families and PSE alike."
PSE is now planning the next 20 years of electricity delivery, but the Sierra Club report card gave the utility an "Incomplete" due to uncertainty about whether it will replace coal power with clean energy.
"PSE can either continue investing in old-fashioned, dirty, and increasingly expensive out-of-state coal plants, or in clean, renewable wind, solar, and efficiency that creates family-wage jobs," said Club organizer Seth Ballhorn. "Washington has abundant clean, affordable energy resources and a tradition of innovation and leadership and sustainability. It's time for PSE to join us in transitioning beyond coal."
Also speaking was Bob Guenther, a longtime union representative with the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers. The Club and labor-affiliated groups share a strong commitment to ensuring that Washington's coal-to-clean-energy transition creates good family-wage jobs for Northwest workers.
"Good family living jobs will come with solar, wind and efficiency," Guenther said. "We would like PSE to look into these alternative ways to produce energy in the Northwest. IBEW will help provide a world-class workforce."
Photos by Meg Matthews.