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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
Earlier this week, the Utah Public Service Commission held a two-day hearing on Rocky Mountain Power's request to impose a $4.65 monthly fee on customers with rooftop solar. If approved, Utah would be only the second state in the country to penalize customers who have installed rooftop solar -- last year, the Arizona Corporation Commission approved a fee of $0.70 per kilowatt of solar installed (the average residential installation is 3-6 kW).
Hundreds of citizens rallied outside the Public Service Commission's offices in Salt Lake City, below, and later packed the hearing inside to protest the proposed solar fee. (See more photos of the rally here.)
Rocky Mountain Power's proposed fee is not based on any evidence that rooftop solar customers impose additional costs on the utility's system. Rather, the company is arguing 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.
Despite that law, Rocky Mountain Power submitted no evidence of the benefits of net metering in its initial application. In a last-ditch effort to cobble together a record that would support a decision in its favor, the company asserted that the price paid to small utility-scale renewable resources was an adequate proxy for the benefits of net-metered rooftop solar. (The reason that the price paid to these "qualifying facilities" under the federal Public Utility Regulatory Policies Act is not conclusive of the benefits of net metered distributed solar will be discussed in a future post.)
The Sierra Club and Utah Clean Energy, however, did present detailed evidence of the benefits of rooftop solar. First, net-metered rooftop solar customers reduce their electricity consumption during the time of day and of the year when it is most expensive for the utility to provide power, and thereby save the utility and all other ratepayers a lot of money. This locally generated power is even more valuable than remotely generated power, since almost no electricity is lost during transmission.
Moreover, the 14.2 megawatts of solar installed in Rocky Mountain Power's territory helps the utility meet its capacity reserve requirements, and reduces or defers the need for upgrades to the distribution system. The Sierra Club's expert, Dr. Dustin Mulvaney of Ecoshift Consulting, calculated that these benefits added up to more than $1.4 million annually -- and this isn't even taking into account the very real benefits of reduced emissions of carbon dioxide and other pollutants that result when rooftop solar generation displaces fossil fuel generation. Dr. Mulvaney estimated that a modest 6.8 percent growth rate of rooftop solar in the Rocky Mountain Power territory could avoid over 20 million metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions from 2015-2040.
The Sierra Club, along with Utah Clean Energy, The Alliance for Solar Choice, and Utah Citizens Advocating Renewable Energy, are asking the Commission to deny Rocky Mountain Power's effort to impose this unjustified fee on rooftop solar customers. Instead, the Commission should open up a separate proceeding to undertake a comprehensive evaluation of the costs and benefits of net metering, and to allow adequate time and opportunity for public input. Over ten thousand citizens and many local leaders, including Salt Lake City Mayor Ralph Becker, have come out against the proposed fee, as has the city's major newspaper.
The hundreds of citizens who rallied in opposition to the fee on July 29th called it a "sun" tax. This show of public support for distributed solar -- not just from net-metered customers -- should remind the Public Service Commission of the broad social benefits that this resource provides.
- Casey Roberts, Staff Attorney, Sierra Club Environmental Law Program
On July 22, more than 200 Indianapolis residents packed the City-County Council chamber hall wearing bright red "Vote Yes for Clean Air" t-shirts for a hearing on Resolution 241, calling on Indianapolis Power & Light to stop burning coal in Marion County by 2020 and invest in greater amounts of clean, renewable energy at the city's Harding Street Station power plant.
"This is what democracy looks like," says Nachy Kanfer, deputy director of the Sierra Club's Beyond Coal campaign in the Midwest. "And we were successful! By a 4-1 vote, the Community Affairs Committee passed the resolution, which will now head to the full City-County Council for a vote on August 18."
The hearing came up suddenly, giving the Indiana Beyond Coal team and local Sierra Club activists from the Hoosier Chapter and Heartlands Group just a week to organize -- including printing up the "Vote Yes for Clean Air" t-shirts, thanks to Club organizer Shelly Campbell.
"We were joined by parents of children with asthma, faith leaders, health professionals, small-business owners, and both registered Democrats and Republicans, all sending the same clear message to the Community Affairs Committee: We want clean air, and the time for action is now!
Some highlights of the hearing, according to Kanfer:
- Amber Sparks, a parent who has lived within five miles of the city's Harding Street Station coal plant her entire life, recounting for the committee her three children's struggles with asthma, including yearly visits to the intensive care unit for two of them.
- Council member and clean-air champion Zach Adamson asking the swing vote on the council to pass him the 1,000-plus letters that councilmembers have received so far on this issue.
- Council member and committee chairman John Barth, asking the crowd to come to every committee hearing and saying he wished people were as engaged in other public policy issues.
- Indianapolis Beyond Coal volunteer leader Todd Schifeling delivering a newly-released poll showing that nearly seven in ten Indianapolis voters support Indianapolis Power & Light phasing out coal in Marion County and increasing investment in energy efficiency and renewable energy.
- John Bowser, a neighbor of the Bear Run Mine in southwest Indiana that supplies the Harding Street plant with coal, speaking of the devastation his hometown has faced due to the impacts of mining.
"Considering the short notice, it was an extraordinarily heavy lift to get so many people to turn out to the hearing and provide such compelling testimony," Kanfer says. "It could never have been done without the countless volunteer hours of phone-banking and canvassing by Hoosier Chapter activists."
"Between now and August 18 we will be pushing hard to ensure that the City-County Council joins us and more than 50 allied groups around Indianapolis that have passed resolutions calling on Indianapolis Power & Light to stop burning coal in the Marion County by 2020," Kanfer says.
Kanfer gives a special shout-out to Hoosier Chapter chair Steve Francis; fellow Beyond Coal organizers Megan Anderson, Jodi Perras, Shane Levy, Allison Fisher, Justin Uebelhor, Matt Skuya, and Mark St. John; and allies Power Indy Forward, Citizens Action Coalition, Hoosier Interfaith Power and Light, the Greater Indianapolis NAACP, and the Hoosier Environmental Council.
All photos by Megan Anderson.
The Sierra Club's Delaware Chapter celebrated a major victory when the University of Delaware decided this month to terminate an agreement to build a massive new natural gas power plant on the university campus in Newark. The university's announcement came on the 399th day of grassroots opposition to the power plant, proposed by The Data Centers LLC.
"Our chapter was the first of the public to find out about the project, and we started organizing against it on Day One," says chapter conservation chair Amy Roe (above). "We immediately began informing neighbors of the proposed site, the media, and the Newark City Council -- none of whom had heard about the proposed power plant at that time."
"A groundswell of local opposition from residents and UD students, faculty, and staff emerged after the first public meeting on the project in September 2013, which we pushed hard for at city council meetings," Roe says." We worked with and supported the Newark Residents Against the Power Plant, Blue Hens for Clean Air, the Delaware Audubon Society, and other groups in opposing the project for over a year -- this has been a completely grassroots-led effort from the get-go."
Administrators and professors in UD's working group assigned to review the proposal concluded that the proposed facility, which included a 279-megawatt cogeneration power plant, "was not consistent with a first-class science and technology campus and high quality development to which UD is committed."
Below, students rally outside a UD Board of Trustees meeting this May.
We'll let Stephanie Herron (below), volunteer and outreach coordinator for the Delaware Chapter, recap the Club's grassroots campaign:
In late May 2013, The Data Centers -- then-unknown to us -- reached out to me by email about meeting with the Sierra Club. They didn't give many specifics other than the fact that they wanted to build a project in Newark, so I invited Amy Roe to join me.
Little did we know when we arrived that they would unfold their plan to build a massive gas-fired power plant on the University of Delaware campus. Needless to say, we were confused. Why would a company looking to build a polluting new fossil fuel plant reach out to us, the nation's oldest and largest grassroots environmental organization, for our "endorsement" --were they serious?
We immediately began doing research and working to get the word out. (That's Herron above, getting the word out.) We discovered that The Data Centers had been meeting with the Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control, the Delaware Economic Development Office, other state officials, Newark city staff, and the university for well over a year in secret. Yet nobody else, including the homeowners directly adjacent to the campus, or the Newark City Council, had ever even heard of the project.
Amy, Delaware Chapter volunteer leader Jen Wallace (above), and I began going door-to-door, spreading what information we could gather about the project and encouraging folks to attend that first public meeting. It was packed -- I think there were over 400 people there, and dozens more were listening outside the door.
On UD Homecoming Day last September we held a rally in conjunction with 350.org's "Draw the Line" protest where we stood with banners and signs about the power plant across from the UD football stadium, right in front of the proposed power plant site. We went on to hold several more of these actions, handing out flyers to students, parents, and alumni.
The Data Centers and other industry groups initially tried to imply that we supported the project by citing the fact that we'd met with them (we accepted their invitation, of course, before we knew anything about the power plant). When that was unsuccessful they began attacking Amy and others personally, they attacked state or local legislators who came out against the project, and they poured lots of money into political fundraisers and campaigns -- including almost $50,000 into the Newark mayoral race, in which Amy was a candidate.
Below, Stuart the direct action dog, a volunteer for Residents Against the Power Plant.
An industry group formed to push the project any way they could, including getting the Newark Joint Finance Committee to try and force the university to approve the project by threatening to withhold $3 million in state funding. We were the only group at the city Legislative Hall pushing back against these kinds of actions.
We held an Environmental Justice Lobby Day in March where we mobilized our supporters and local community members to come to Legislative Hall and give the legislators the real facts about the project -- and ask them to support a resolution telling the Department of Natural Resources to consider environmental justice before permitting new polluting land uses in communities. The chapter also testified at countless committee hearings and budget hearings on the proposal.
This victory is the direct result of Delaware Chapter activists and local residents who showed up at our rallies and protests, put a sign in their yard, handed out flyers to students, parents, and alumni on campus, lobbied state and local legislators, testified at hearings, did community outreach and coalition-building, and much more. They proved that communities can take on big fossil fuel interests and win!
Jen Wallace adds: "This project was stopped by a successful community movement fueled by a fact-based campaign spearheaded by two Delaware Chapter ExComm members who also happened to be Newark residents; both my home and Amy's home would have been about half a mile from the project. The fact that we were residents gave us legitimacy with the neighbors.
"As residents and Sierrans, Amy and I, with Stephanie's support, moved quickly to organize Newarkers. First we worked to uncover facts about the project and share those facts with neighbors, and then we worked to provide leadership for the creation of a local grassroots group, Newark Residents Against the Power Plant. We set up a website, created an email list, started using social media, and organized our first community-wide organizational meeting of residents very early on.
"We helped establish a structure for the grassroots effort by setting up a Steering Committee of residents to guide the movement; both Amy and I served on that committee. We suggested adopting neighborhood captains and working groups to reach out to more neighbors and to empower residents with special skills and interests. The Sierra Club played a critical leadership role in this movement. We helped give residents a voice and taught them the tools needed for advocacy. This empowerment of residents is much needed in our state and we hope it will serve as an inspiration for others to work on environmental issues in their communities."
Upward of 400 people attended portions of Climate Knoxville Action, a community event at Knoxville's Market Square on July 12 to build support for the EPA's Clean Power Plan and the City of Knoxville's energy-efficiency and green jobs programs in low-income neighborhoods.
The event was hosted by Climate Knoxville, a coalition of environmental, faith-based, social justice and economic groups, University of Tennessee students and faculty, small businesses, and renewable energy companies. The Sierra Club's Beyond Coal campaign and Tennessee Chapter were founding members of the coalition, which formed in 2013 to promote policies to combat climate disruption.
That's Knoxville-based Sierra Club organizer Chris Ann Lunghino, above, tabling at the event. Bands, comedians, and speakers gathered with groups from across the region to support meaningful, concrete steps to combat climate disruption.
"The Beyond Coal campaign presented its vision of a 100 percent clean energy future and informed the crowd about the role power plants play in causing climate change, as well as the economic, health, and climate benefits of the EPA's Clean Power Plan," Lunghino says.
Guest speakers included Sierra Club activists, local elected officials from the Knoxville area, staff from the City of Knoxville and Oak Ridge National Laboratory, and representatives from Climate Knoxville.
Tennessee Chapter volunteer leader and Climate Knoxville coordinator Louise Gorenflo told the crowd that the day was about organizations cooperating to make a difference. She said the EPA's new carbon rule was an effective policy to get behind and support, and she stressed that combatting climate change is a moral issue.
"The idea for the larger organization started last fall when such groups as Tennessee Interfaith Power and Light met with the Sierra Club and Socially Equal Energy Efficient Development (SEEED)," Gorenflo says. "The seed was planted when we got together just to talk about how to respond to everything going on, and we found a supportive ally in the city of Knoxville."
Climate Knoxville collected over 100 postcards signed by attendees supporting the Clean Power Plan and Knoxville's clean energy efforts. "The Beyond Coal campaign also recruited over 30 new volunteers and signed up 20 activists to attend the EPA's Clean Power Plan regional hearing in Atlanta on July 29-30," Lunghino says.
Prior to the event, the Knoxville News Sentinel ran feature stories on Climate Knoxville, an op-ed by Louise Gorenflo on the importance of acting on climate disruption, and two letters-to-the-editor backing the Clean Power Plan and inviting people to Climate Knoxville Action. Community Shares, a local public television program, also ran segments promoting the event and interviewed Climate Knoxville partners in the weeks leading up to the event.
"Louise deserves the lion's share of credit for creating Climate Knoxville and helping ensure the July 12 event was such a success," says Lunghino. "Louise is driven to take on climate change and help those most affected by it."
Lunghino also gives a shout-out to chapter conservation chair Axel Ringe for helping recruit members and speaking at the event about the urgency of taking action to mitigate and adapt to climate disruption.
Environmentalists working with the Sierra Club's Florida Panther campaign won a year-long battle Friday to stop oil drilling in southwest Florida after a Texas-based oil drilling company announced it will terminate its lease holdings on 115,000 acres.
Numerous environmental organizations, including the Sierra Club, Conservancy of Southwest Florida, the Stonecrab Alliance, Preserve our Paradise, and South Florida Wildlands Association, led the fight against drilling in the environmentally sensitive areas of the Everglades and Big Cypress Watersheds.
The fight began in April 2013 when the Dan Hughes oil company mailed a letter informing residents of a Naples suburb they were living in a "hydrogen sulfide evacuation zone" for an exploratory well. The well, which would be 1,000 feet from residences and less than one mile from the Florida Panther National Wildlife Refuge, sparked public protests, meetings with elected officials, and hearings to assess the environmental impacts from the company's oil wells in the western Everglades. The county was so concerned about the impacts it challenged a consent order between the drilling company and the state.
Earlier this year, the US Environmental Protection Agency held a public forum to address the public's concerns. Sierra Club generated over 167,000 comments calling for the exploratory permit to be revoked. Also, in March, the Big Cypress Swamp Advisory Committee, meeting for the first time in five years, reversed their initial decision to allow the permit after hearing public testimony. In a 4-1 vote, they recommended denial of the permit.
The concerns with drilling in the western Everglades are numerous - ranging from water quality and hydrology to habitat fragmentation and increased panther mortality. For Florida panthers, whose numbers range from 100 to 180, these wells would have destroyed primary habitat and fragmented areas that are used for hunting, denning, and traveling. Increased traffic on the roads in Golden Gate Estates (large trucks on isolated, small roads) would have increased the chances of a panther being hit - the leading cause of panther deaths. Perhaps most importantly, there have been no studies conducted that show how oil drilling impacts panthers or other wildlife.
The tide turned several weeks ago when the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), which had supported drilling, issued a press release that the driller had used illegal extraction techniques that mirrored fracking.
Senator Bill Nelson has also been keeping a close eye on the drilling developments in southwest Florida. "We've spent billions of dollars to restore the Everglades... I want to make sure what goes on does not mess that up," Nelson said at a press conference with Sierra Club and others on Monday. Nelson has expressed concerns over public safety, water quality, and impacts to Everglades restoration.
On Tuesday, the oil company announced it was stopping work on another well in the area minutes before the Florida DEP announced it would file suit.
This is a great victory for all the dedicated activists and citizens of southwest Florida. While we have won this battle, the war on oil drilling is far from over. Two other companies, Tocala and Burnett, are proposing to do seismic testing (a precursor to exploratory drilling) on over 200,000 acres in the Big Cypress area. With millions of dollars invested in the restoration of the Everglades, these companies pose a salient threat that could undermine the efforts of so many to protect one of the most unique ecosystems in the world.
-- Alexis Meyer, Sierra Club Florida
The Sierra Club's Missouri Beyond Coal campaign achieved a prized goal this month when Ameren Energy announced that it would phase out its 923-megawatt Meramec coal-fired power plant in St. Louis County by 2022, with an option to retire the plant even sooner.
The announcement comes after years of advocacy from the Beyond Coal campaign, local citizens, the Club's Missouri Chapter, and allied health and environmental groups to retire the outdated 61-year-old coal plant and invest in clean energy. Below, the plant's four smokestacks loom behind a residential neighborhood in south St. Louis County.
"If you've ever been to one of our Missouri planning meetings, you know that we often repeat for each other during tough times… 'be patient, we have to stick with this for the long haul,'" says Holly Bender, associate regional director for Beyond Coal. "Today, the patience and relentless advocacy paid off."
For the past several years the Sierra Club has urged the Missouri Public Services Commission to adopt an integrated resource plan and made the case that retiring the Meramec plant is the most prudent path forward in light of new carbon pollution regulations and changing market conditions.
The Club has steadfastly called for reductions in sulfur dioxide emissions at three St. Louis-area coal plants, demanded groundwater monitoring at coal ash sites, and urged local elected officials to be leaders in taking a stand against coal pollution in St. Louis County. Last year the Club revealed Ameren's leaking coal ash ponds across the state and the company's significant contribution to decades of unsafe air quality in St. Louis.
"This victory is a testament to the patience and perseverance of the Sierra Club team in Missouri and the power of an all-in campaign," Bender says. "In the belly of the beast, and in the hometown of coal's giants, dedicated grassroots engagement, strategic legal work, and a relentless drive to change the public's perception about coal has won the day. We will continue to advocate alongside Meramec-area communities for a retirement date sooner than 2022, and ensure that Ameren finally gets serious about adding clean energy."
Ameren currently produces 75 percent of its power from coal, and has for a long time joined Arch and Peabody in deeply vesting coal's future in the community. Missouri gets 85 percent of its electricity from coal, and according to the American Council for An Energy-Efficient Economy, the state ranks 43rd nationally in energy efficiency.
Local elected officials receive generous donations from Ameren, potential clean-energy allies have shied away from fighting against coal due to the company's hefty donations and support of annual galas, and Ameren's public relations machine has successfully convinced citizens in greater St. Louis that it really does care about clean energy -- despite its rating among the Natural Resources Defense Council's "Gang of 8" top polluters lobbying in Washington against clean air and water protections.
In announcing its decision to phase out coal at Meramec, Ameren said the plant had reached the end of its useful life. The decision comes as Ameren has realized great success saving energy -- and saving its customers money -- through energy-efficiency programs. Ameren previously stated that the power generated by Meramec could be entirely replaced through strong energy-efficiency programs.
"As a local mother, this announcement could not have come soon enough," says Donna Seidel, a local parent who lives close to the Meramec plant. "Our community is looking forward to collaborating with Ameren and other stakeholders to find a plan to make south St. Louis County an even safer place for our families to live."
The announcement to phase out the Meramec coal plant represents the 168th coal plant to retire or announce retirement since 2010, cutting nearly 252 million tons of carbon emissions -- the equivalent of 53 million passenger vehicles.
"After years of dangerous coal pollution, we could use a breath of fresh air from Amaren and some forward-thinking investments in clean energy," says Andy Knott of the Beyond Coal campaign in St. Louis. "As utilities elsewhere in the Midwest continue to grow clean-energy portfolios, Ameren has lagged behind with woefully low investments in readily available and cheap resources like wind, solar, and efficiency, which can create local clean-energy jobs."
Today, the United States has more than 61,000 megawatts of installed wind capacity and 13,000 megawatts of installed solar capacity -- enough to power the equivalent of 20 million American homes.
"Communities in south St. Louis have struggled with unsafe air for decades," says St. Louis-based Sierra Club organizer Sara Edgar. "We're ready to work with Ameren on a plan to invest in local clean energy, to build a responsible timeline for transition of its workforce at Meramec, and to move as expeditiously as possible to stop burning coal in St. Louis."
Photo courtesy of Simmons Hanly Conroy
By Javier Sierra
When President Obama signed the proclamation to designate the Organ Mountains/Desert Peaks National Monument in May, it was the last stich of a tapestry to weave together several natural sites of extraordinary beauty and cultural significance.
The monument, located in the Doña Ana County in southern New Mexico, is loaded with enchantment and historic significance, particularly for the Latino community. Just notice the Spanish names of many of these places: Sierra de las Uvas, the Robledo, Potrillo and Doña Ana mountains, and the very Sierra de los Organos (Organ Mountains), named after its resemblance to the musical instrument. Let’s call it a monumental symphony.
For centuries, the ragged peaks of the Organs for centuries witnessed the flow of settlers travelling from Mexico to Albuquerque, Santa Fe and Taos on the Camino Real de Tierra Adentro. In the Broad Canyon there is an abundance of petroglyphs, testament of ancestral native cultures. And in the Robledo Mountains dinosaur foots prints were petrified millions of years ago.
These natural treasures have been protected in large part due to the activism of Latino leaders.
“Latinos have been working to protect these lands for well over a decade,” says Michael Casaus, New Mexico State Director of the Wilderness Society. “From the very beginning Latino leaders took an active role in shaping the campaign and determining which lands should be protected. Without the contribution of Latino leaders and conservationists the designation would not have happened.”
This Latino activism also ensured that the traditional uses of the land would be permitted in the monument, such as grazing, water rights, hunting, fishing and recreational activities.
“This garnered the support of the local residents, who are mostly Latinos, and ensured that these lands will not be sold to private owners to reduce the national deficit or be turned into mining operations,” says Casaus.
The monument is also getting Latino youth interested in their history and culture and encouraging them to stay in school.
“I lead these kids into the monument to help me compile its cultural inventory,” says Angel Peña, research specialist of the New Mexico Cultural Alliance. “We hike around the lands looking for remnants of Hispanics coming through in the 1580’s, we have found evidence of the Camino Real, as well as numerous petroglyphs and other archeological resources.”
The monument has literally changed the lives of these kids.
“Each expedition is a trek of discovery of their culture and past,” says Peña. “They now have a purpose in life. Many of them are interpretative rangers of the Bureau of Land Management. Here there are good jobs that will fill them with pride and satisfaction.”
Unfortunately, there are representatives in Washington, DC, who are adding a sour note to the music. Reps. Rob Bishop (R-UT), Steven Pearce (R-NM) and Jeff Duncan (R-SC) insist that the monument, located by the Mexican border, poses a threat to national security because it creates a gateway for illegal activity, and impedes open access to the Border Patrol and other law enforcement bodies.
Several civic groups, on the other hand, called the representatives’ claims “false” alleging data and statements by the US Customs and Border Security that prove the opposite. The faith-based group NM CAFé, for instance, labeled the statements as “a waste of time and taxpayers’ money” and urged these congressmen to dedicate their time to find “real solutions to the border problems,” including supporting immigration reform.
The establishment of the monument is a brilliant idea. Too bad there are those willing to play out of tune in this monumental symphony.
Javier Sierra is a Sierra Club columnist. Follow him on Twitter @javier_SC
Gretna, La., might be a small city, but the residents are banding together to speak out against a proposed coal export terminal and the increased coal trains that would come with it. In the past month they've packed two community meetings to learn more about the proposed RAM Terminal coal export facility.
Back in June, dozens of people attended a Clean Gulf Commerce Coalition public meeting as a way to kick off the Gretna movement against the facility. The facility itself it planned for Plaquemines Parish, but the rail line serving it bisects Gretna.
The meeting followed weeks of canvassing, phonebanking, and media outreach to publicize the meeting, collect petition signatures, and draw attention to the problems of coal trains rumbling through historic districts and along major commuter highways intersections, said Sierra Club organizer Devin Martin.
Then on July 9, Gretna residents packed a Gretna City Council meeting to get the chance to testify their concerns about the possibility of coal trains passing through their neighborhoods, with all the attendant health risks, traffic congestion, emergency response times, and economic and quality of life concerns that would rattle the town.
"They gave some of the best, most heartfelt, moving, and powerful statements I've ever witnessed in my four years with the Club," said Martin.
Martin says the weeks since that first June town meeting included some excellent organizing - from tabling at farmer's markets and cafes, to business outreach, and weekly community meetings.
"Our goal was to introduce our presence and show the council that this is a vital issue that cannot be ignored any longer, and that the Mayor and council must take leadership and elevate and amplify the concerns of their constituents to state and federal decision makers," said Martin.
The coalition is asking the Gretna City Council to pass a resolution that would oppose coal trains, as well requesting that the appropriate state and federal agencies involved in the RAM Terminal permitting conduct a full public health, economic, and environmental impact analysis, which has not been done.
"The Council is definitely feeling the heat, and we intend to come back in August with even more residents, business owners, and health professionals to encourage the Council to pass this resolution," said Martin.
"From there, we will work to engage the entire Parish of Jefferson, the most populous parish in Louisiana, to do the same to stop this new coal export terminal that puts so much at risk for so many in one of the most vulnerable regions of the world for climate change and sea level rise."
In case you've missed the news lately, Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune and his family are touring some beautiful wilderness sites in the Pacific Northwest in celebration of the 50th anniversary of the Wilderness Act. This write-up from the Oregon Chapter on the Brune family visit to Waldo Lake is a great one we had to re-post:
The week of July 7 was an exciting one for the Oregon Chapter, as we welcomed national Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune to Oregon for several days. Mike and his family are currently in the midst of a Northwest roadtrip in celebration of the 50th anniversary of the Wilderness Act. After departing their home in the Bay Area and stopping over for a night in the redwoods of northern California, their first stop in Oregon was at Odell Lake, just down the road from Waldo Lake.
We had a nice gathering of Sierra Club volunteers and staff with Mike and his family (wife Mary, daughters Olivia and Genevieve, and son Sebastian) on Monday evening, enjoying a cookout at a cabin near Crescent Lake. Then on Tuesday morning, the real fun began!
We began the morning with a press conference and briefing on the scenic shore of Waldo Lake about the Sierra Club's Keep Waldo Wild campaign. In addition to Brune and his family and Sierra Club staff and volunteers, we also had a good assemblage of Congressional and Forest Service staffers present. They heard about our exciting plan to protect more than 76,000 acres of forest and wild areas around Waldo, developed in concert with other non-motorized user groups like the Central Oregon Trail Alliance mountain biking organization. We were pleased to be joined by COTA Chairman, Woody Starr, and by Bruce and Brian Johnson, the great-grandsons of Judge John Waldo, for whom the lake is named.
After the briefing, we took the Brunes for a fun, 3.5-mile hike around Charlton Lake. Despite the heat and the mosquitoes, Mike's 9 and 5-year-old children did an amazing job on the hike. Then we did a great 5-mile roundtrip mountain biking trek over to Bobby Lake. Mike and his 5-year-old son Sebastian had to turn back about midway through the mountain bike ride, but his 9-year-old daughter Olivia did the entire ride and wanted even more when we were finished!
Click here to read Mike's Huffington Post blog about his visit to Waldo Lake!
Then, on Wednesday, July 9, with the assistance of several members of our Many Rivers Group from Eugene and outdoor writer William Sullivan, we treated Mike and his family to an excellent hike up Mt. June, just outside of Dexter, Oregon. This hike is found in the Hardesty Wildlands area about 25 miles east of Eugene/Springfield, which our Many Rivers Group has been working to protect.
Thursday was another busy day for the Brunes, who had to depart their cabin at Odell Lake early in order for Mike to get to a morning Editorial Board meeting with the Eugene Register-Guard. Then they drove up to Portland for an exciting evening program with a packed room at the Chapter office with former national Sierra Club Executive Director Mike McCloskey, who discussed his great new book, Conserving Oregon's Environment.
Mike Brune also spoke movingly about his road trip and about his desire to preserve wilderness and protect the planet for his (and all of our) kids to enjoy. And then it was off to Seattle for the Brunes, as they continued on to the next leg of their road trip.
It was a great few days with Mike, Mary, Olivia, Sebastian, and Genevieve, and I was honored to be one of the tour guides showing them some of the spectacular areas of our state. Obviously, four days is not nearly enough to really let them see the wonders Oregon has to offer, so we hope they will be back soon. We've got a few hundred other places we'd like to take them to!