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Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Gina McCarthy proclaimed the month of February 2014 as Environmental Justice Month. Environmental justice activists all across the country are commemorating the 20th anniversary of the Environmental Justice Executive Order 12898 signed by President Bill Clinton twenty years ago on February 11, 1994.
This column was written by Sierra Club Environmental Justice Organizer Rita Harris, pictured above on the right.
Wow, it's really been 20 years! I remember where I was on that day in 1994 clearly. I was attending a conference at the Crystal City Marriott being hosted by NIEHS (National Institute for Environmental Health Sciences). There was a horrible snow storm and government offices in Washington, D.C. were all closed. However, word was quickly passing around the crowds of people at the conference that a select group of activists from our ranks had been called over to the White House.
There was so much excitement among the attendees, and it grew even wilder once the group returned and told us why they went to the White House. We were told that President Clinton had signed an Executive Order that would mandate all federal agencies develop strategic plans to address environmental justice (EJ). This was groundbreaking and historic! Many of the activists that were present at the conference and at the signing felt like this was just the one-two punch that was needed to help us with our many EJ fights and help communities across the country. "EJ will finally be recognized now that we have the President in our corner," is what some said.
The back story to the Executive Order's signing was that strong grassroots EJ advocates on the EPA National Environmental Justice Advisory Council (NEJAC), which was established in 1993, actually pushed for Clinton to take the executive action he took in 1994. Although federal agencies did produce plans to address environmental justice in their decision making, environmental justice was not practiced or addressed in local government agencies and within most state environmental agencies. EJ battles are still taking place across this country and many times the term itself is even challenged, so the struggle continues.
There have been many success stories -- just not as many as EJ activists would have hoped. Over the past 20 years we have seen a few Superfund sites remediated, some Brownfields have been redeveloped, some buyouts have occurred that relocated residents plagued by toxic hazards, some polluters have been shut down, and some 'bad actors' have been criminally prosecuted.
Partnerships have been promoted, colleges and universities have embraced EJ communities and worked to alleviate suffering and raise the level of consciousness about disproportionate amounts of pollution and contamination in neighborhoods. Large environmental groups like the Sierra Club that had not traditionally been involved in EJ felt compelled to do so and established staff and programs to support poor and people of color communities.
Within the Sierra Club EJ guidelines and procedures were developed to ensure we worked in a respectful and sensitive way. In the broader community, lots of policy work has been done to counter policy work that was being done by corporate and business lobbyists. Numerous reports, articles, and academic studies have been produced. Numerous books have been written on the subject of EJ, and folks from coast to coast have kept the EJ movement fires burning over the years.
When I think back to all the community members that were "fighters" and present at the time Executive Order 12898 was signed in 1994, I am saddened because many have passed away. They fought a good fight for so many years, but have left us with a legacy that demands we continue to be strong fighters for clean healthy communities and never give up.
(L to R, Vernice Miller-Travis of the Maryland State Commission on Environmental Justice & Sustainable Communities; Rita Harris; Angelo Logan of East Yard Communities for Environmental Justice in Los Angeles; Richard Moore, former member of NEJAC and former director of the Southwest Organizing Project in New Mexico; and Charles Lee, the deputy associate administrator for environmental justice at the EPA.)
These were my personal thoughts as I sat in the EPA National Environmental Justice Council meeting held in Denver, Colorado, on February 11, 2014. I had the opportunity to participate in the 20th anniversary commemoration of Executive Order 12898 with other colleagues and friends. It was a time to reflect and also a time to rededicate ourselves to continuing the hard work of so many fighting for environmental justice. In addition, there was a moment of silence for all those EJ fighters who have passed away that was quite moving.
EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy attended and addressed NEJAC, expressing continued support for environmental justice communities coast to coast. The political climate has given us peaks and valleys in the EJ movement and has activists now trying to regain the momentum we lost during eight years of the Bush Administration. As we all know, we must keep the pressure on to achieve success, but at least for now we have an EPA administrator that supports environmental justice. "EJ Plan 2014" is the EPA's roadmap to achieve success. We can all help keep the focus on support for EJ issues and EJ communities.
By Javier Sierra
In the battle against climate change, Latinos are in the line of fire. And our musketeers are our scientists.
We Latinos disproportionately suffer the effects of climate change because of our professional activities —we are much more likely to work outdoors— and the parts of the country where we tend to concentrate. But these are just two reasons for our extraordinary awareness of this phenomenon and our urgency to fight it.
Three Latino climatologists and members of the Union of Concerned Scientists offer several other reasons for this climate change awareness and the credibility gap that exists between us and the population at large.
Ana Prados, research assistant professor at the Joint Center for Earth Systems Technology at the University of Maryland, attributes this to Latinos’ international links as the immigrant community that we are.
“We are hearing back from our countries of origin. Latin American governments are not denying climate change and if you look at policy in Latin America, climate change is weaved into it,” says Prados, who teaches climate change science not only to her students but also to policy makers here and abroad.
Robert Mera, a Kendall Fellow on Climate Attribution, agrees with our international outlook but also makes a poignant point.
“Latinos trust science more. I know we are a very religious group. But we also appreciate the world we live in,” says Mera, who contributed to the study that revealed that two thirds of the world’s carbon pollution was generated by just 90 companies.
In fact, a recent survey conducted by the Natural Resources Defense Council showed that scientists are Latinos’ most trusted source of climate change information.
For Nicole Hernández-Hammer, assistant director for research at the Florida Center for Environmental Studies, other reasons include a strong cultural component.
“We Latinos have this special concern and care for the environment, and that’s what’s being identified in the polls. The fact is when I talk with my family about climate change, they know what I am talking about,” says Hernández-Hammer, who is dedicated to educating the public and policy makers about the dangers of sea level rise, especially in South Florida. “Miami, which is 70 percent Latino, economically is the world’s most vulnerable city to sea level rise.”
On the other hand, the population at large is walking in the opposite director. Recent polls reveal that climate change concerns among Americans has hit historic lows. Why?
“Part of it is the interference by certain groups like the Koch Brothers, ExxonMobil, Chevron, that are hiding the important facts and aren’t backed up by real science,” says Mera.
“First, there is a campaign of disinformation,” agrees Hernández-Hammer. “There are organizations that are trying to have a fabricated debate, a pretend debate. And when there is doubt, it causes people to be confused and makes them believe that there is not a conclusion.”
For Prados, there is also a great lack of scientific awareness.
“I teach around the world and I notice that the scientific literacy in the US is lower than just about everywhere, including Latin America. Also some teachers in certain Southern states are prohibited from teaching climate change. That contributes to the lack of literacy of climate change,” she concludes.
Recently, this notion was sadly confirmed by a National Science Foundation survey, which found that one in four Americans believes the sun orbits the earth and that only one third of them support more funding for science and technology.
So, what are the solutions?
“The key is for scientists to bring their issues to the communities and how they can present them in a way that can resonate with their communities, ways that will explain to them their vulnerabilities, especially in coastal areas,” says Hernández Hammer.
“If we educate our citizens, they will be the ones educating public officials. If public officials hear this from their citizens, then they will have to do something,” Prados suggests.
“But the disinformation situation needs to be corrected”, warns Mera. “As long as that’s going to be in the way, there’s going to be a backlash. That’s unfortunate but that’s the case.”
In any instance, they all insist a sense of community must be present in the fight against the climate crisis. In other words, all for one and one for all, in true musketeer spirit.
Javier Sierra is a Sierra Club columnist. Follow him on Twitter @javier_SC
Last week more than 1,300 business, labor, environmental, and civic leaders -- including some 100 Sierra Club staff, volunteers, speakers, and community partners -- took part in the seventh annual Good Jobs, Green Jobs Conference in Washington, D.C.
The conference, whose motto is, "Where Jobs and the Environment Meet," focused on repairing the infrastructure Americans rely on every day -- our water systems, electrical grid, transit, road, pipelines, and schools -- with an eye toward environmental sustainability and family-sustaining jobs that cannot be outsourced.
The Sierra Club is one of the primary sponsors of the conference, along with the BlueGreen Alliance, the United Steelworkers (USW), and Alcoa.
Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune (below) was among the keynote speakers on the conference's opening day. "We need to recreate our economy with clean energy that takes the place of fossil fuels," Brune said. "Everybody here knows it’s going to be a challenge to do that. But we must. The ultimate rewards for all of humanity when we achieve that goal will be greater than we can imagine. The Sierra Club is 100 percent committed to creating an economy that is 100 percent powered with clean energy."
BlueGreen Alliance Executive Director David Foster (below), who emceed the conference, said that "to some of our critics, 'good jobs, green jobs' is a quaint notion; that you can have both good jobs and a clean environment. But you can't solve a 21st-century problem like climate change with the 19th-century infrastructure that caused it. The theme of this year's conference -- Protect, Produce, Prosper -- sums it all up: We can create all the jobs we need and fix our environmental problems by repairing America."
A secondary theme that ran through the conference was the growing income disparity between the very wealthy and all other Americans, and how the middle class will benefit from the creation of good, green jobs. "One thing 20th-century America taught the world is that a lot of wealth in a few hands is never going to be as productive as a lot of wealth in a lot of hands," Foster said in his opening remarks.
Gerard (at left) recalled that when the USW and the Sierra Club joined forced to create the BlueGreen Alliance seven years ago, their shared concerns were carbon emissions, chemical safety, and trade. "Then you come back seven years later and you see what we've done," he said. "The membership of the affiliate organizations in the BlueGreen Alliance represents 14 million Americans. Imagine what we could do to advance our agenda if we mobilized that membership."
Trumka (below) followed, saying that the biggest challenges facing our society are climate change and restoring economic prosperity. "I'm here on behalf of the labor movement to tell you we remain committed to stopping runaway climate change," he said. "There is no other path for our children and grandchildren. We must keep up the fight for generations to come. The people who want to solve climate change must engage with the people whose jobs are at stake. The challenge of climate change can only be solved when we find a formula of clean energy that meets every day people's needs."kick-off sesssion featuring Brune, Gerard, Jim Harrison of the Utility Workers Union of America, Rick Terven of the United Association, and Marc Norberg of the Sheet Metal Workers Union of America. That's Brune with Gerard, below.
"Addressing climate disruption is an opportunity, not just an obligation," Brune said. "We have to be big and bold in our ambition to build a clean-energy economy that works for everybody."
Gerard emphasized how a concerted effort to upgrade out infrastructure fits into the equation, citing the most recent Infrastructure Report Card from the American Society of Civil Engineers that gave America's infrastructure a grade of D+. The report card was mentioned frequently throughout the conference.
All the panelists were united in their belief that creating good jobs and a clean environment are not in conflict. "We don't have to decide between protecting the environment and good jobs," Harrison said, summing up the spirit of the evening.
The next two days featured three plenary sessions and more than 50 workshops, organized around nine basic themes: Climate Resiliency and Adaptation; Creating Good, Green Jobs; Energy; Health and Safety; Manufacturing; Repairing our Democracy; Schools and Communities; Transportation; and Water Systems & Pipes.
Brune, Gerard, and Foster penned a welcome letter to conference attendees, entitled Uniting to Repair America. "Climate change will not solve itself," it read in part. "Good jobs will not miraculously appear to resolve our country's unemployment and inequality crisis. Good Jobs, Green Jobs is an opportunity to talk with old friends and make new connections, listen and learn about how others are finding ways to Repair America, and share your own efforts to address climate change and create good jobs in your home state."
Joining Brune in giving keynote speeches on Day One of the conference were EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy, United Autoworkers President Bob King, and U.S. Congresswoman Donna Edwards of Maryland. Keynotes on Day Two were given by U.S. Congressman Keith Ellison of Missesota, U.S. Senator Jeff Merkeley of Oregon, and National Wildlife Federation President Larry Schweiger.
Ilana Solomon (below), director of the Sierra Club's Responsible Trade Program, participated in a moderated panel discussion at the Day Two plenary session about how trade agreements like the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership can undermine our communities and our environment and should not be fast-tracked to approval.
Sierra Club staffers and volunteers who sat on workshop panels included Solomon, Labor Program Director Dean Hubbard, New Orleans organizer Darryl Malek-Wiley, My Generation campaign organizer Allen Hernandez, Beyond Coal director Mary Anne Hitt, senior Washington, D.C., representative for federal campaigns Liz Perera, Our Wild America senior campaign representative Jackie Ostfeld, and clean-energy activist Al Weinrub.
Read more about the conference on the Good Jobs, Green Jobs blog.
In a speech today in Maryland, President Obama directed his administration to move forward with standards to make our tractor trailers and commercial vehicles more efficient. Already the administration has set historic standards for passenger vehicles of 54.5 miles per gallon by 2025 that will cut U.S. carbon pollution nearly 10 percent. These truck standards are another step to slash oil use, save Americans money and bring down carbon pollution.
Medium and heavy-duty vehicles, everything from 18-wheelers to delivery trucks, are the fastest growing source of oil consumption in the transportation sector. Even though these vehicles only make up seven percent of the vehicles on the road, they guzzle more than 25 percent of transportation fuel. Although new fuel-saving technologies are found in some trucks, most 18-wheelers on the road average around six miles per gallon (mpg) -- about the same as they did decades ago.
In 2010 the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Department of Transportation (DOT) finalized the first-ever efficiency standards for medium and heavy-duty vehicles sold from 2014-2018. These standards will ensure that new engines are more efficient, and will reduce fuel consumption in semi-trucks by roughly 20 percent.
Developing the next round of efficiency standards now will allow manufacturers to innovate and develop new fuel saving technologies, such as plug-in electric drive-trains, aerodynamic trailers, higher-efficiency engines, advanced materials and lower rolling resistance tires. Last year Peterbilt and Cummins showcased a 10-mpg truck as a part of the DOT's Super Truck program. While 10-miles-per-gallon might not sound like much, it's a big deal. By increasing fuel economy 54 percent over today's average trucks, this prototype could slash greenhouse gas emissions and save an average driver $20,000 in fuel costs annually.
It is critical that the new standards developed by EPA and DOT are strong. Stringent standards will not only drive innovation for a wide range of new technologies, they will ensure that these technologies spread throughout the marketplace, instead of being found on only a small portion of vehicles.
Of course, setting new efficiency standards for mdeium- and heavy-duty vehicles is only one part of the solution to reduce carbon pollution and oil consumption. We must create an energy-efficient, multi-modal freight system that relies on trains and ships, as well as trucks. When we’re smarter about what we ship and how we ship it, we save money and reduce carbon pollution.
President Obama's announcement of new heavy-duty vehicle standards will build upon a strong legacy of passenger vehicle standards that are already reducing our oil consumption, including a transition to plug-in electric vehicles that run on little or no oil. While it will take EPA and DOT two years to develop new standards and incorporate input from the public, this is another tremendous opportunity to save drivers money at the pump and make our air cleaner to breathe. But most importantly, this is the kind of policy action that’s good for manufactures and businesses, it's good for workers and consumers, and it’s a very real and significant step to addressing carbon pollution.
-- Jesse Prentice-Dunn, Sierra Club
By the end of the century, scientists expect the global population to reach nearly 11 billion. That’s almost four billion more people than are alive right now.
When you think about population growth, it’s pretty easy to see how it can disturb the environment: more resources used, more energy produced, more housing needed, more food consumed, etc. Over one billion people currently live in biodiversity hotspots, and that number is rapidly increasing.
But what you may not think about is how much of a positive effect family planning can have on the environment and women’s health.
Groups like the Sierra Club and Population Action International (PAI) are actively working to integrate population, health, and environment (PHE) into government plans in the U.S. and around the world, especially in countries like Niger where the average woman has 7.03 children and the unmet need for family planning is high. To put that into perspective, if each woman alive today between the ages of 15 and 44 had 7.03 children--that’s roughly 1.6 billion women--they would have 11.3 billion children.
“When couples can plan the number, timing, and spacing of their children, that helps the environment and the economy,” said Beverly Johnson, chief of the Policy, Evaluation, and Communication Division of the USAID Office of Population and Reproductive Health.
The more women that have access to family planning, the better their quality of life, and the better it is for the environment. When women are able to make their own choices in reproductive health, the whole world benefits.
The community of groups that work on PHE focuses on five main ideas: health, population, environment, food security, and livelihoods. Their goal is to address the day-to-day challenges of women and to integrate these ideas in a comprehensive way.
And PHE can be found all around the world.
Deepa Pullanikatil, program manager for Leadership for Environment and Development (LEAD) in southern and eastern Africa, is working to improve the environmental conditions around Lake Chilwa in Malawi, Africa. When her team asked why more women weren’t participating in conservation activities, the response was unanimous: healthcare and family planning.
Her team was able to provide medication for Bilharzia, a parasite that can be easily cured with one dose of medication, as well as provide information about family planning.
Dr. Doreen Othero, the regional program coordinator for the East African Community of the Lake Victoria Basin Commission in Africa, works with five African nations--Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Rwanda, and Burundi. The Lake Victoria Basin (LVB) is home to approximately 40 million people, and PHE programs have been adopted into this area to help sustain the environment of the largest tropical lake in the world as well as provide family planning resources to promote sustainable development.
To elevate the successes of integrated projects like these, the Sierra Club and PAI hosted a Congressional briefing on PHE this week, and asked for support for Representative Barbara Lee’s (D-CA) House Concurrent Resolution 36, “recognizing the disparate impact of climate change on women and the efforts of women globally to address climate change,” as well as support the Global Sexual and Reproductive Health Act of 2013.
“The past century of population growth has put increasing pressure on natural resources as the scale of human needs and activities expands,” the Global Sexual and Reproductive Health Act states. “At the same time, actual family size in most developing countries remains greater than the desired family size. Access to family planning services helps couples to determine their own family size, hence mitigating the depletion of natural resources like clean water, air, and land.”
“Women are the agents of change,” said Eleanor Blomstrom, Program Director at the Women’s Environment and Development Organization.
By working toward enacting this legislation and continuing to discuss women’s and reproductive health and choices on a global level, we can work toward creating a brighter future for the environment and every woman worldwide.
--Cindy Carr, Sierra Club Media Team
By Michael Marx, Beyond Oil Campaign Director
The State Department's Final Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (FSEIS) on the Keystone XL pipeline, released last week, backpedaled on State's earlier claim that the pipeline would have no significant climate impact. The report concluded that Keystone XL could create climate pollution equivalent to nearly six million cars, or eight coal-fired power plants.
Now President Obama must choose whether to fight climate disruption or expand dirty fossil fuels like tar sands. The Keystone XL pipeline fails the basic climate test. Climate disruption, water pollution, property taken by eminent domain, and poisoned air are not in the interest of the American people. Last June, the president vowed he would not approve the pipeline if it would "significantly exacerbate the problem of carbon pollution." He should now reject the tar sands pipeline once and for all.
The president has more than enough evidence on carbon pollution, drinking water threats, public health threats, and safety threats to reject the pipeline. The facts speak for themselves: tar sands are toxic, corrosive, difficult to clean up, and carbon-intensive. Tar sands are the dirtiest form of crude oil in the world, and we just don't need them. They should stay in the ground.
There is a peculiar idea in American policy circles that Canadian tar sands production will be expanded at the same rate whether the Keystone XL pipeline is built or not. This view is not shared by Canadian government and industry officials, who observe the industry on a daily basis.
You don't need to listen to those who oppose the pipeline to know this. Experts, industry leaders, and economists have known that the Keystone XL pipeline is the industry's best hope to expand tar sands production and profits.
Barclays Bank said that "approval of the northern leg of the Keystone XL pipeline ... remains the most significant catalyst for improving takeaway bottlenecks, in our view.' RBS Dominion Securities of Toronto warned that as much as a third of oil sands [the Canadian term for tar sands] -- 450,000 barrels a day -- could be put on hold between 2015 and 2017 if the Keystone pipeline is not approved by President Obama. Ralph Glass, economist and vice-president of AJM Petroleum Consultants, said that, "Unless we get increased market access with Keystone XL, we're going to be stuck."
The International Energy Agency stated that tar sands expansion "is contingent on the construction of major new pipelines to enable the crude to be exported to Asia and the United States." And Ross Girling, CEO of TransCanada, said that, "Developing tar sands is an opportunity that's going to be lost for decades to come if new pipelines do not immediately come online."
Less than 72 hours after the State Department released its Final Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement on the Keystone XL pipeline, I had the privilege to speak in San Francisco at one of the 280+ vigils the Sierra Club helped organize from coast to coast. Here's what I had to say:
"No one's ever stood up to Big Oil. No One! Five years ago the Keystone XL was inevitable. Four years ago the Keystone XL was inevitable. Three years ago the Keystone XL was inevitable. Two years ago 1,253 people were arrested in front of the White House. Thank you 350 and Bill McKibben! Dozens of bold activists in Texas put their bodies on the line and were arrested. Then 12,000 people circled the White House to oppose the Keystone XL. And within months, Obama rejected the first TransCanada pipeline application. Keystone XL was no longer inevitable.
"One year ago the odds of stopping the Keystone XL were still against us. Then the Sierra Club broke 120 years of tradition and joined Credo, 350.org, RAN, NAACP, Bobby Kennedy Junior, and Julian Bond to be arrested in front of the White House. Six days later 50,000 people gathered under the Washington Monument and marched around the White House. Then 1.2 million people commented in opposition to the State Department's flawed, biased, and rigged Environmental Impact Statement. Then 76,000 people took Credo, RAN, and The Other 98%'s Pledge of Resistance to engage in peaceful nonviolent civil disobedience to defeat KXL. Then hundreds of people showed up everywhere President Obama went to protest the KXL.
"We are the sharp edge of the climate movement! And all movements need a sharp edge! We are getting bigger! We are getting stronger! The arc of history is bending in our favor! Let's finish the job! Let's convince President Obama to reject the KXL. No KXL! No KXL!"
Thousands of citizen activists held 280 vigils in 49 states, Washington, D.C., and Montreal on February 3, urging President Obama to reject the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline. The vigils followed the release of the State Department's Final Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (FSEIS) on the pipeline, which backed away from State's previous claim that it would have no significant climate impact.
The Sierra Club, CREDO, Rainforest Action Network, and 350.org joined with dozens of other Forward on Climate allies to organize the vigils, which many are calling the largest activist action that any Obama administration announcement has generated to date.
"This amazing public reaction came together in less than 72 hours because Americans across the nation want the president to hear it again, loud and clear -- it's time to move forward on clean energy," said Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune.
Concurrent with the vigils, the Sierra Club mobilized over 60,000 activists to send letters to President Obama and the State Department, stressing that rejecting Keystone XL is one of the most important decisions the president can make to protect future generations from devastating climate disruption.
"People want to do everything they can to help the president make strides to fight climate change in his second term," said Elijah Zarlin of CREDO. "What he can accomplish all comes down to his decision on Keystone XL."
The pipeline would transport some of the dirtiest crude oil on the planet from Alberta, Canada, south through six American states to refineries on the Gulf Coast.
In his climate speech last June, President Obama vowed to reject the pipeline if it would "significantly exacerbate the problem of carbon pollution." The State Department's new FSEIS acknowledged that KXL will produce carbon pollution equivalent to putting nearly 6 million new cars on the road.
"No environmental issue in decades has brought -- and continues to bring -- Americans into the streets in such large number," said 350.org co-founder Bill McKibben. "That's because scientists have long since concluded that the Keystone XL pipeline is disastrous policy, and because we continue to hope we can somehow persuade our oil-addled government of the same."
View more photos of the vigils, read this recap, and write to President Obama, urging him to stay true to his word, base his decision on the facts, and reject the Keystone XL pipeline once and for all.
Sierra Club volunteers and staff rallied with coalition allies in Philadelphia last week, calling for the EPA to use its powers to end mountaintop removal coal mining (MTR) and enforce the laws that state agencies like the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection are unable or unwilling to enforce.
Let's let Pennsylvania Sierra Club volunteers Karen Melton and Sue Edwards, who spoke at the rally, describe what went down:
More than 75 chanting, singing people braved the single-digit wind chill on January 29 to rally outside the EPA regional office in center city Philadelphia, calling for action to end the destruction of Appalachia's mountains, streams, and waterways. EPA Region 3 covers the Mid-Atlantic, including Virginia and West Virginia, where coal companies have leveled more than 500 mountains using millions of tons of dynamite, polluting thousands of miles of rivers and streams in the process.
Activists from Sierra Club in West Virginia, Southwest Virginia and Pennsylvania joined with members of Rising Tide, Earth Quaker Action Team (EQAT), the Alliance for Appalachia, Occupy Sandy, Swarthmore College Mountain Justice, Protecting Our Waters, and veterans from a Philadelphia vet's service center to pressure the EPA to take action to protect Appalachian waterways.
The rally included Marley Green, Sierra Club field organizer from Virginia, who spoke about the importance of getting EPA action to end the practice of mountaintop removal. Junior Walk from West Virginia described the nightmare of destruction in his community, showing jugs of brown well water contaminated by mountaintop removal. He reported on a meeting with EPA officials earlier in the day, which he said left the Appalachian activists unsatisfied. "They think the answer is to allow more coal mining!" he said.
Confronting a large puppet representing the coal industry (with dollar signs for eyes) were people in EPA hazmat suits, and a "die-in" representing people poisoned by their water. A large black chain represented the way communities are locked into dirty water and its health impacts. As the names of the heavy metals and other pollutants were read out, people "died"by falling onto the frigid sidewalk.
Gulf War veteran Thomas Freeman spoke about having defended his country and still needing to defend its people from environmental destruction.
Eli Schewel of Rising Tide talked about the importance of combating environmental injustice and the positive development of unity among the variety of forces that went into planning this demonstration.
Sue Edwards (below with microphone), a volunteer with the Sierra Club's Beyond Coal campaign, talked about how it takes an act of faith to come out in the cold trying to change decisions that seem beyond our control. She cited how each step we take builds our capacity, shows us our hidden talents, builds our skills, firms up alliances, and brings us closer to winning, "because we're on the right side of history."
MTR mining, one form of "extreme fossil fuel extraction," is particularly devastating to communities. Once mountains are cleared of trees and reduced to rubble, the coal is extracted (using chemicals such as the one that leaked into the Elk River in West Virginia recently), and the remaining soil and rock is dumped into surrounding river valleys. The streams in those valleys become dead zones and well water becomes unfit for use as large quantities of poisonous chemicals such as arsenic, mercury and lead leach into waterways at toxic levels.
The EPA and independent scientists have repeatedly documented that waters downstream of mountaintop removal are harmed by high levels of pollution. In 2010, the EPA issued a guidance to protect Appalachian streams. But this guidance is non- binding and states have shown repeatedly they are unable or unwilling to enforce the provisions. Coal industry influence smothers democracy.
Editor's note: Marley Green gives a "big shout-out" to Sierra Club volunteers Jim Wylie, Sue Edwards, and Eli Schewel and staffers William Kramer, Bill Price, and Kim Teplitzky for their work organizing the rally.
Concerned Floridians from more than 100 different organizations gathered in 16 cities at risk from water pollution and unrestrained over-consumption of water resources.
"We were joined by local and state-level officials we engaged over the last month who want to join the fight to save Florida from the threat of lost jobs, lost quality of life, and lost natural environments that we now face due to the degradation of our state waters," says Sierra Club organizer Cris Costello.
"Civic and environmental groups from every corner of the state have come together to launch a historic endeavor -- a collaborative campaign to harness the resources of energy and organizations and individuals from throughout our state to demand and win the protection of Florida's springs, rivers, lakes, and estuaries."
More than 30 media outlets around the state covered the rallies.Clean Water Declaration, which was developed with the input and support of dozens of environmental organizations. The Declaration lists six rights that should be guaranteed to the people of Florida and four responsibilities of the state government, water managers, and natural resource users.
The goal of the campaign is to build a movement to demonstrate Floridians' overwhelming support for protecting state waters and create a framework for achieving meaningful policy changes in the future. "We focus only on common ground between organizations and not what divides us," Costello says.
The Slime Crimes Campaign's genesis was only two months ago in November 2013, when the Slime Crimes team gathered water-quality activists from across the state at a Citizens' Summit to begin to explore ways to collaborate at a higher level. A first draft of the Declaration was presented to the attendees there and a final draft was completed the first week of December.
Sierra Club volunteers and staff and partner organizations held events in Boynton Beach, Brandenton, Ft. Meyers, Ft. Pierce, Gainesville, Interlachen, Jacksonville, Key West, Palm Bay, Orlando, Naples, Ocala, Stuart, Tallahassee, Tampa, and Vero Beach.
By J.C. Kibbey, Illinois Sierra Club Volunteer Activist
To celebrate Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s legacy this year, the Illinois Sierra Club joined for the first time with community organizations and churches from around Chicago for a huge public meeting on pressing social issues.
Prior to the gathering, over 100 Sierra Club members met for lunch to discuss our issues and our movement before bussing together to the meeting, called "Hope in an Age of Crisis: Reclaiming Dr. King's Radical Vision of Economic Justice."
Above, activists at the lunchtime meeting. Below, Sierra Club organizer Christine Nannicelli leads a discussion about the interconnectedness of the environment with other issues of justice.
We then joined the more than 2,400 people who packed into St. Michael's Church on Chicago's south side.
• Implement President Obama's climate action plan by aggressively enforcing new
EPA carbon standards for existing power plants
• Create jobs and move Illinois towards a clean energy economy by ensuring the state
meets its Renewable Portfolio Standard of 25 percent by 2025
• Reduce carbon emissions and save residents money by releasing funds for
weatherization projects in low-income communities
• Strengthen newly passed state regulations on fracking
The governor's commitment to take action on these crucial issues was a big political victory and a step forward for Illinois' commitment to the environment.
Below, Illinois Sierra Club Director Jack Darin addresses the crowd at St. Michael's.
We also had a chance for us to stand with our allies and remind the world that the fight for environmental justice is fundamentally a fight for social justice that follows in the footsteps of Dr. King. It's understood that we are fighting to protect our air, water, and wildlife, but just as important, we are fighting to protect our families and our communities. Modern-day robber barons in the fossil fuel industry rake in record profits by destroying our planet -- and the least fortunate among us are hit hardest by that destruction.
Finally, this event was an opportunity for us to grow as an organization. We made new allies and strengthened our relationships with existing ones. Our staff and volunteers stepped up, left their comfort zones, grew as leaders, and made sure we did our part to make the meeting an overwhelming success. We saw a large and diverse group of new faces from every corner of the city and the state.
We're proud to have been part of this groundbreaking event, but now we need to look to the future: providing more opportunities for the first-timers to get involved; growing our volunteer and leadership capacity; finding the next political opportunity; strengthening relationships with our new allies, expanding our coalition, and building an even stronger environmental movement.
Working with Illinois-based Prairie Rivers Network and local citizens' group Justice for Rocky Branch, the Sierra Club has successfully stopped Peabody Energy, the world's largest private-sector coal company, from illegally logging 200 acres of hardwood forests at its proposed Rocky Branch coal mine in Saline County in southern Illinois.
Above, a view of Rocky Branch taken from a local homeowner's property. The waterway and the land would both be damaged by the proposed mine. Below, local residents at an Illinois Department of Natural Resources (IDNR) public hearing on December 11. Only one person, a Peabody representative, spoke in favor of the mine.
The Rocky Branch mine would destroy productive farmland, leave a 1,000-acre pit, and destroy nearly eight miles of streams and roughly 200 acres of forests that provide habitat for the at-risk Indiana bat and other wildlife. Citizens and environmental groups have previously raised concerns about the proposed mine, including impacts to waterways, disturbances and damage from blasting, airborne dust, and the destruction of farmland and wildlife habitat.
So how did the residents of Saline County stand up to Peabody and their own state?
Saline County residents living near Rocky Branch became alarmed when logging equipment began appearing at the site in late December, even though no mining permit had been issued. The IDNR initially refused to do anything. Acknowledging that Peabody couldn't conduct the logging without a permit, IDNR claimed that it had no obligation to act because one Peabody subsidiary contracted for logging, but a different Peabody subsidiary had applied to mine the same site.
Below, forest near Rocky Branch that was threatened by illegal logging.
After logging began, the Sierra Club, Prairie Rivers Network, and Justice for Rocky Branch alerted IDNR, including photos of the logging and even providing corporate records that connected the dots between the Peabody subsidiary that contracted for the logging, the mine permit applicant (Peabody Arclar Mining, LLC), and Peabody, the parent company for both subsidiaries. IDNR, however, still refused to take action.
IDNR staff said that they didn't consider the logging to be conducted "in connection with" mining-even though it was the same property, the same company, and logging and land clearing were listed as activities in the surface mining permit application. The state, apparently, was willing to let a Peabody subsidiary do what Peabody could not -- an absurd result that circumvented the law and represented the epitome of bad public policy.
At that point, the Club and its allies went over IDNR's head and filed a "citizen complaint" demanding that the federal Office of Surface Mining step in. To its credit, OSM took the Sierra Club's complaint seriously and provided an efficient, responsible solution. Instead of allowing corporate profits to trump the concerns of regular citizens, on January 13, 2014 OSM required the state to put an immediate stop to logging at Rocky Branch.
"I'm glad to see the state finally do the right thing here," said Sierra Club member and Justice for Rocky Branch activist Donald Karns, below with his wife Rita at the December 11 public hearing. "I'm trying to save my farm and the surrounding wildlife habitat and make sure all the necessary steps are taken to protect our land before the damage is done."
In this case, the attempt to clear cut 200 acres of hardwoods before receiving a mining permit was particularly egregious because the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service had indicated it would not allow logging at the site from March through October in order to protect spring and summer nesting habitat for the federally endangered Indiana bat.
"We're grateful for local citizens who were watching out for these woods, and to the Office of Surface Mining for stepping in to stop this illegal logging," said Terri Treacy, at left, an organizer with the Sierra Club's Illinois Chapter. "Big Coal is taking aim at Illinois' forests, farms, and streams in the rush to dig up this dirty fuel and make a quick buck by destroying our natural heritage. We need Governor [Pat] Quinn and the state Department of Natural Resources to step up and protect our land and water from major coal companies and polluters."
What does this mean for other residents in Illinois Basin coalfields?
Strip mines throughout the Illinois Basin are logged and cleared before mining companies can access the coal seams beneath the ground, but state and federal mining laws require companies to obtain a mining permit before logging can begin. This is supposed to ensure that adequate protections are in place to prevent polluted runoff from damaging nearby homes and polluting creeks, rivers, and streams. The law also requires that adequate studies be conducted to ensure that no threatened or endangered species will be affected. Those steps were not taken at Rocky Branch, and it was left to the citizens of Saline County to stand up to Peabody and state officials.
"These protections are put in place to give citizens a voice in the process," said Traci Barkley, a water resources scientist with Prairie Rivers Network. "In this instance, that voice was heard. While we're disappointed the state didn't take our concerns seriously, we're very pleased with OSM's quick work to protect the farms and creeks in Saline County."
Below, a tributary of Rocky Branch that would be damaged by the Rocky Branch mine.
The good news for people that live in Saline County and other communities in the Illinois Basin is that the legal principles used here are relatively straight forward. The Surface Mining Control & Reclamation Act precludes any "surface mining operations" until the company has a surface mining permit, (12 U.S.C. 1256(a)) and defines "surface mining operations" to include "activities conducted on the surface of lands in connection with a surface coal mine." 12 U.S.C. 1291(28)(A).
The people of Saline County successfully stood up to one of the largest coal mining companies in the country and an intransigent state agency that refused to take them seriously. They looked at what was happening in their community, they looked at the law, and they took action. And then they won.
For the time being, the January 13 decision ensures that the forests near Rocky Branch -- and the wildlife habitat and clean-water protection they provide -- will remain standing.
There is a public hearing on the two proposed water permits for the mine on February 18 in Harrisburg, Illinois, where the people of Saline County will once again have their voice heard.
Nathaniel Shoaff is a staff attorney with the Sierra Club.
Legendary folk singer and social activist Pete Seeger, whose career spanned more than 70 years, died this Monday, January 27, at age 94.
A believer that music could be a catalyst for societal change, Seeger championed civil and labor rights, racial equality, and anti-militarism. Although he served in the U.S. Army in World War II, he was a leading voice in opposition to the Vietnam War. Around the same time, after reading Silent Spring by Rachel Carson, he became environmental activist, co-founding the organization Hudson River Sloop Clearwater in 1966 to highlight pollution in the Hudson River and advocate for its cleanup.
In 2009, Sierra Club deputy communications director Orli Cotel interviewed Seeger for Sierra Club Radio. "It was one of my favorite interviews that I've ever done," Cotel says. "He talked with us for nearly 15 minutes about music and social change, his 40-year fight to clean up the Hudson River, performing at President Obama's inauguration, and loads more. He was truly inspiring."
By O'Neil Pryce, Masachusetts Beyond Coal Apprentice
It is estimated that there are over 215 premature deaths and more than 5,000 public health incidents in Massachusetts each year that are directly linked to pollution from coal-fired power plants. Though Massachusetts is noted as a leader in environmental stewardship and climate change mitigation, we still have room for growth.
With the recently-announced retirement of the Brayton Point coal plant in 2017, and with coal becoming increasingly unviable economically, we are urging our elected officials to join us in creating sustainable infrastructure to help transition workers and communities to a clean energy economy. Our Coal Free Massachusetts Platform does just that while calling for the implementation of energy-efficient technology and clean renewable-energy sources.
In mid-January, in a effort to gain support for our platform and mimic what the Sierra Club and other environmental advocates and activists did in Nevada, we met with Senators Elizabeth Warren and Ed Markey in mid-January to ask their help in moving Massachusetts to a clean-energy economy. To make these meetings a success we had several voices present to help convey our message.
Annie Rushman, Healthy Air Coordinator for the American Lung Association, emphasized the importance of retiring coal in Massachusetts due to the detrimental effects to the health of constituents, especially those living in close proximity to plants like Brayton Point and Mount Tom.
Michael Green of the Clean Action Liaison Coalition described the costly effects extreme weather has on small businesses. Each day these small businesses have to keep their doors closed due to weather-related incidents means a drastic loss in revenue.
Matt Lord, an attorney and Sierra Club volunteer, explained the importance of investing in wind energy and supporting the Production Tax Credit, which keeps electric rates low while encouraging renewable development.
James McCaffrey, Senior Campaign Representative for the Sierra Club's Beyond Coal campaign in New England, stressed the importance of support from our congressional delegation. With their support we can move Massachusetts beyond coal. Overall, both senators' offices were receptive to the information we presented, and both meetings seem to be leading to further dialogue between the two offices.
Learn more about the Sierra Club's work to move America beyond coal.
Surrounded by beautiful mountain ranges and world-class ski resorts, Salt Lake City isn’t normally associated with polluted air. Unfortunately, because it’s a valley surrounded by high mountain peaks and with an urban population at nearly two million people, Salt Lake City is victim to the “bowl effect,” which results in temperature inversions. This is where the cold temperatures from high air pressure systems settle in the valley and trap air pollution from cars, trucks, and a plethora of big industry polluters.
Nearly all Salt Lake City residents are affected by this poor air quality, but low-income communities, children, and people of color are affected disproportionately.
Try as they might, these communities have come together and been vocal about their dirty air for many years. Sadly, they have received little but lip service from the state’s very conservative public officials and regulators. But when another 20-plus day-long temperature inversion set in over the holidays, Utahns had enough.
Activists came together and made their voice heard--in a big way. The Sierra Club worked with Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment (UPHE), Utah Moms for Clean Air, and Utah Clean Air Now to organize the largest environmental rally in the history of the state to raise awareness for their vision for Utah: clean air and clean energy access for all communities. The rally featured Salt Lake City Mayor Ralph Becker, several state officials, medical professionals, and representatives from numerous community, air-quality, and faith-based groups.
“It’s quite clear to everyone that the biggest source of this nasty pollution is from the burning of fossil fuels,” said Tim Wagner, an organizer with the Sierra Club. “While the largest single source is from tailpipe emissions–roughly 60 percent–we also have in our midst five oil refineries, Kennecott Copper’sPhoto courtesy of Karrie Higgins
massive open-pit mine, power plants, and numerous other point sources. And many of those, including the refineries, are being permitted by state authorities to expand. It’s crazy, considering we are already out of compliance with Environmental Protection Agency standards.”
Wagner also said that eastern Utah is currently experiencing an oil boom with more and more drilling projects expected to deliver even more dirty crude to the refineries close to downtown Salt Lake City.
“Even if we quadruple ridership on our mass transit systems, the expected increase in dirty tanker truck pollution and refinery pollution will most certainly offset any such gains,” Wagner said.
Media reported more than 4,000 rally attendees.
Dr. Brian Moench, a practicing physician and the president and co-founder of UPHE, the largest civic organization of health care professionals in the state of Utah, was thrilled with the success of the rally.
“Since its inception in 2007, UPHE has become the primary reason why the public's perception of air pollution and fossil fuel development in the state of Utah, the most conservative state in the country, has become remarkably transformed in the last few years,” Dr. Moench said in an email. “The culmination of that transformation was seen yesterday in the largest rally in the modern history of the state of Utah.”
Practicing physicians in Utah like Dr. Moench see patients every day who suffer from the effects of polluted air -- in the form of shortness of breath, asthma attacks, and sometimes even cancer. In fact, nearly eight percent of Utahns have asthma, including 72,000 children.
Children and people with low incomes are disproportionately affected by air pollution and face unique risks. According to the American Lung Association, often low-income communities live closer to the sources of pollution, including near major highways or factories. Sometimes they’re more likely to have health conditions that put them at higher risk. The Sierra Club’s Environmental Justice and Community Partnerships Program is just one of many groups tackling that injustice.
If we want to protect vulnerable communities from avoidable and costly hospital visits due to poor air quality, we need to let go of our dependence on fossil fuels by working on fuel efficiency and expanding clean energy like wind and solar. A MoveOn.org petition has a goal of 10,000 signatures to hold leaders accountable for the health and quality of life -- help them get to that goal. Thousands of Utahns came together with a vision of a clean energy future -- and across the country, there are millions more that would benefit from this powerful activism.
--Roger Singer, Sierra Club senior organizing manager, Colorado
Counterfeit Cash, a Johnny Cash & June Carter Cash tribute band based in Portland, Oregon, has just released a new music video "Coal Train Blues," a cover of the Man in Black's famous hit "Folsom Prison Blues."
The revised lyrics tell about the health and environmental risks that coal exports pose to communities across the Pacific Northwest, including the beautiful Columbia River Gorge.
The video was produced by the Sierra Club's partners on the coal export fight -- Friends of the Columbia Gorge and the Power Past Coal coalition. Counterfeit Cash volunteered their talent for the cause.
"For us, taking part in this project was an easy decision," says Counterfeit Cash singer Daniel Coble. "What little is left of wild nature is being destroyed just to keep our toxic, growth-based economy going. We all need to be pushing back against this madness."
Coble rejects the notion that Cash's romanticism of trains might have extended to coal trains. "Johnny didn't romanticize coal. He sang songs like 'Loading Coal' ('And I'll sit around starvin' 'til I'm finally told/There's a nickel more a ton for loadin' coal'). Johnny loved trains, but he also loved wild, unspoiled nature."
Sierra Club organizer Laura Stevens says coal exports anywhere would harm communities everywhere. "From mining the coal in Montana to transporting it through the Pacific Northwest to burning the coal abroad and exacerbating climate disruption, coal exports threaten our environment and people's health. It is imperative to the health and safety of our communities that we stop dirty coal export projects in their tracks."
As part of the Zero Waste Campaign in Puerto Rico, this past weekend Sierra Club was part of the San Sebastian Recycles initiative. Over the four day Festival, starting Thursday January 16 and ending Sunday, January 19, there where thousands of people who visited the old San Juan area to enjoy music, local food and artisans.
The Sierra Club was one of the organizations that adopted a public plaza to create a recycling center. To achieve the initiative the local municipality provided the waste binds and materials to collect recyclables.
With over five plazas as recycling centers, the Sierra Club was part of recruiting more than 100 volunteers for the initiative. The volunteers participated in a workshop before the event to learn about the logistics and materials to be recycled.
The Puerto Rico Sierra Club adopted the "Plaza de Armas" and worked directly with 40 volunteers recycling more than 5,000 pounds of recycling materials in the course of four days.
The volunteers also were part of the educational initiative collecting petitions around stronger recycling infrastructure in the island and informing participants of what materials were being collected.
Volunteers collected over 400 signatures and outreached to more than 600 people. In addition the Sierra Club was part of the inaugural parade of the event with local environmental agencies.
-- Adriana Gonzalez, Sierra Club Puerto Rico Organizer
By Javier Sierra
A gale of good news is hitting both the wind industry and the future of the planet.
The new year started out with two world records. Spain became the first country ever to get more energy from wind than any other source during a complete year in 2013, with a 21.1-percent share at 55 gigawatts (GW). According to Spain’s Wind Energy Association, at the end of 2013, this clean energy was able to bring the price of electricity from $150 per megawatt (MW)/hour down to $7 per MV/hour.
Wind farm in Southern Spain (Photo: J. Sierra)
And in December, Denmark became the first country ever to generate more than half of its energy from wind, a total of 54.8%. Specifically, on December 21, wind fulfilled that country’s entire energy demand, and over the course of the year, it produced one third of the consumed total.
The good news also abounds here at home. In Texas, during the extreme cold spell that gripped almost the entire country during the first week of the year, wind energy saved the day for a grid that was overwhelmed by demand. On January 7, when several power plants shut down, wind energy from Western Texas avoided dangerous blackouts throughout the state. This is the logical result of Texas having added more wind energy to the grid than any other state.
And throughout the US, the breeze of good news has become a veritable gale. In 2012, the country’s wind energy capacity surpassed 60 GV (enough to power 15 million homes), no other country installed more wind energy than the US, and wind added more power to the national grid than any other source, including natural gas.
It’s no wonder then that the price of wind power is hitting record lows: 4 cents per KW/hour, 50 percent less than in 2009. It’s no wonder also that the utility owned by Warren Buffett has invested $1 billion to purchase enough wind turbines in Iowa to generate 1,000 MW.
The price of the alternative to clean energy, on the other hand, is simply unacceptable. According to a Harvard University study, every year the costs of coal pollution —also known as externalities— hit $500 billion (one 5 followed by 11 zeros), in premature deaths, asthma, emphysema, heart disease, cancer and other factors. Big Coal pays nothing out of this huge price tag. They instead dump it on you, me and the rest of the country.
Considering these arguments, it’s simply astonishing that Congress still is to renew the Production Tax Credit (PTC), one of the several tax incentives that invest in job creation in the clean energy industry. Just wind supports 80,000 jobs in the US, and 72% of the equipment needed to build wind turbines is manufactured in our country.
The fossil fuel industry, on the other hand, calls the US Capitol home. Each year, oil, coal and gas companies receive up to $52 billion in subsidies; that is, a gift from the taxpayer, you, me and everyone else.
Tell Congress that renewing the PTC is crucial for the wind industry to continue its smooth sailing.
Javier Sierra is a Sierra Club columnist. Follow him on Twitter @javier_SC
Late last month, more than 75 citizen activists and community organizers from Southern California rode on two buses through the night to give public testimony before the California Public Utilities Commission in San Francisco on why the CPUC should not authorize plans to build new natural gas power plants in Southern California to replace the retired San Onofre Nuclear Generation Station.
"The fact that all the hearings took place in San Francisco, glaringly missing outreach and input from Southern Californians, is a troubling factor given the health impacts and economic costs that new natural gas plants would have in the region," says Michael Sarmiento (at microphone, below), an organizer with the Sierra Club's My Generation campaign to promote local clean energy.
Participants in the hearing included volunteers with the Club's My Generation campaign as well as representatives from ally organizations including the California Environmental Justice Alliance, the Asian Pacific Environmental Network, and the Center on Race, Poverty & the Environment.
"We drove through the night from L.A. so we could start our day early," says Jasmin Vargas (at left) of the Club's Beyond Coal campaign in Los Angeles. San Francisco-based staffer Sarah Matsumoto greeted the SoCal contingent at 6:00 a.m. and let them into Club headquarters so they could prepare for the day ahead.
Sarmiento facilitated in the Club's main conference room as the eight volunteers who would be giving testimony prepared their comments. "The room was abuzz with high school students, parents, grandmas, and children whizzing around, and it was impossible not to be struck by the diversity in the room," recalls Vargas. "One volunteer pointed out that it was inspiring to see a photograph on the wall of recent Sierra Club President Allison Chin, the lone woman of color to hold that position." (Chin has served two terms, from 2008-10 and 2012-13.)
"The hearing started promptly at 9:30 and we were all accounted for, ready to support the volunteers providing their testimonials," Vargas says. "Speakers had two minutes each to compel the commissioners to be accountable to the 30 activists in front of them and the 45 high school students in the overflow room. They called for a clean-energy future, demanded a chance to be heard in their own communities, and urged the Commission to halt any proposed new gas plant construction and deal with pollution and environmental injustice in communities of color."
After the hearing, a rally with solar panels and windmills and a press conference organized by the Sierra Club was held on the steps of the State Building, emceed by Sarmiento and featuring speakers from across the state. Here's a sampling of what they had to say:
"It is outrageous that community members from Southern California had to bus up here through the night to make our voices heard. Holding hearings 500 miles away from the people being affected by polluting new gas plants is simply unacceptable." - Opamaggio Casciani, Riverside resident (That's Casciani in green shirt, above.)
"New natural gas plants will create even more greenhouse gases and undermine California's climate mitigation efforts. Physicians and other health care professionals are already experiencing the impacts of climate change here in California, with increases in heat-related illness and respiratory diseases appearing in our state. We have a responsibility to protect the health of our communities. Clean energy alternatives must be considered a top priority." - Sapna Thottahil, Physicians for Social Responsibility
"Contrary to what the gas industry's publicity machine says, building more gas plants will only make air pollution worse in our communities. Southern California already suffers from some of the dirtiest air in the nation. Now we're talking about adding more pollution on top of it?" - Robert Cabrales, Communities for a Better Environment
"Instead of more polluting gas plants, we should be leading the nation in clean energy. We have all the solutions at our fingertips to move away from dirty fuels. Why is the state doubling down on dirty energy?"- Strela Cervas, California Alliance for Environmental Justice
That's Cervas, above, and Thottahil, below at right, at the rally outside CPUC's offices.
The impact of the event was immediate, Sarmiento says. "After the event we received an email from a member of the CPUC staff, notifying us that they are interested in having a meeting in Southern California in early 2014. We were able to show the CPUC that they need to be accountable to the community and make decisions that serve the community interest, not just big utility companies. We hope to continue building a base of volunteers who can keep the CPUC accountable and create a process where the public can participate in making these important decisions around their energy needs."
Vargas is excited and guardedly optimistic that the CPUC will agree to turn away from fossil fuels and toward clean energy in California. A poll released this month shows that a majority of utility customers in Orange and San Diego Counties favor green energy to replace nuclear power.
"As we shut down San Onofre and double down on solar and wind energy, our community leaders are rising to the occasion," she says. "Organized people can take on organized power and their entrenched interest in fossil fuels, economic inequality, and manufactured scarcity. History demands this from us; to keep true to the struggles of heroes from the civil rights movement, environmental movement, and the global movement for human rights. An organized demand for climate action and an organized global movement will change the course of history. I'm fired, fired, fired up!"
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has released its 2013 Annual Climate Report, which found that the United States experienced seven weather- and climate-related disasters that resulted in more than $1 billion in damages. (See infographic below.) Specific dollar amounts for each event will be released later this year.
The report contains numerous maps, charts, and graphics such as the one below, highlighting some of last year's significant weather and climate events.
2013 was both warmer and wetter than average for the contiguous United States. The report includes a summary of national and regional temperatures and precipitation, including drought, wildfires, hurricanes and tropical storms, snow and ice, tornadoes, and -- for the more technically minded -- a "Synoptic Discussion describing recent weather events and climate anomalies in relation to the phenomena that cause the weather."
By Ivy Main, Virginia Chapter Vice-Chair
Many elected officials who care about the stark challenges confronting America's coal-producing regions today are pinning their hopes on carbon capture and sequestration. This technology takes carbon dioxide out of power plant emissions and stores it underground. (See infographic below.) Since coal is the number one emitter of carbon dioxide, the greenhouse gas primarily responsible for heating the planet, carbon sequestration might be the only way to continue our use of coal in a world increasingly worried about climate disruption.
Virginia's newly-elected governor, Terry McAuliffe, has high hopes for carbon sequestration. McAuliffe is confronting a problem that confounded his predecessors: how to deal with the continuing economic decline of southwest Virginia's coal-producing counties. But, enthusiastic as he is about new technology, McAuliffe should be skeptical of suggestions that carbon sequestration offers a solution to Virginia's coal decline. It does not.
This decline has been going on for decades. It predates the recession and the Obama presidency and tighter regulations aimed at protecting public health. It predates the explosion in natural gas fracking that has made gas cheaper than coal. Coal employment in Virginia has steadily dropped and is now below 5,000 workers, less than half of what it was in 1990. The best coal seams have been mined out, exacerbating the problem that Virginia coal is more expensive to mine than coal from other states. To get at the remaining seams as cheaply as possible, coal companies increasingly resort to mountaintop removal, destroying vast tracts of the Appalachians with explosives and giant machines (but very few workers). Even if carbon capture and storage proves successful, coal employment in the commonwealth won't recover.
We aren't the only Appalachian state facing this problem, but others are tackling it head-on. Kentucky, facing an even steeper decline in its coal-producing areas, has launched a bipartisan effort to help the region move beyond coal. This doesn't mean they are happy about it, but they are willing to look facts in the face.
In Virginia, on the other hand, the response for some years has been to throw money at the coal companies and hope for the best. Virginia taxpayers shell out millions of dollars every year to corporations that mine Virginia coal. Legislators keep renewing the coal subsidies even though a 2011 review by the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Committee concluded they aren't effective.
If throwing money at coal companies can't halt the slide in Virginia coal, it's hard to see how carbon sequestration technology could do it, even if the government were to pay for it. And given the environmental destruction involved in mountaintop removal mining, prolonging the end of the coal era in Virginia shouldn't be anyone's priority.
The start of a new administration offers a chance for a new strategy. Admittedly, it won't be easy. The challenge of bringing new industries to a remote and mountainous region is a tough one, and support for coal still remains high in the area. Why, then, insist on confronting cold reality? Because it has to be done.
Terry McAuliffe campaigned on jobs, and has given every indication he means it. Given his background, connections and talents, he is in as good a position as any governor in recent times to take on the challenge of helping southwest Virginia diversify its economy. He can work with the legislature to redirect the millions of dollars currently going to ineffective coal subsidies into tax credits for jobs in new industries and support for projects like home weatherization that create jobs and make a difference in people's lives. He can challenge the entrenched interests, twist arms, enlist allies, recruit businesses, use the media-in short, make this a priority. The residents of the coalfields deserve as much.