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By Elisabeth Keating, Washington State Chapter Communications Chair
More than 650 Washingtonians gathered at Seattle's Bell Harbor Center on a foggy Wednesday night last week to give Governor Inslee and the Climate Legislative and Executive Workgroup (CLEW) their ideas for how Washington state can met its aggressive goals to cut greenhouse gas emissions.
A passionate crowd of vocal citizens that included parents, students, professors, politicians, small business owners, activists, retirees, farmers, and fishers offered a wide smorgasbord of ideas to the panel. Suggestions ranged from improving fuel emissions standards to establishing a carbon tax (as has been done in British Columbia), shutting down proposed coal export and Baaken oil train terminals, improving energy efficiency in buildings, planting more trees, offering tax incentives for solar energy, investing in public transportation, and improving the infrastructure of bike paths and streets.
Many commenters questioned the logic of reducing greenhouse gases at home while shipping fossil fuels abroad by expanding oil and coal export terminals.
"Passing good climate policy here will be meaningless if we allow Washington to become a way-station for fossil fuel exports," said Seattle City Council member Mike O'Brien. "I know that the export question is not your task here today, but it's fundamental to our ultimate goals. Do not allow fossil fuels to be exported from our state."
Carlo Voli, an environmental activist with Seattle350 and Rising Tide Seattle, said, "It would be like somebody trying to end their addiction to drugs while still dealing drugs to other parts of the world."
On the topic of coal export terminals, Governor Inslee said that, "I have insisted that our Department of Ecology evaluate the carbon pollution that would come from the coal if we were to ship it to China and the reason for that is that that carbon pollution ends up in our water. It doesn't matter where it's burned, it ends up in Puget Sound."
The Colstrip coal plant in Montana, one-third owned by Puget Sound Energy, was another major topic of discussion. Governor Inslee acknowledged that Colstrip has to factor into Washington State's calculations: "The first thing people have to understand is in our assessment of carbon pollution we take into consideration the carbon pollution generated by the coal that produces our electricity so when we're getting coal fired electricity from Montana we're figuring that under our tent."
Atmospheric Sciences Professor Dan Jaffee echoed the concerns of many. "The CO2 emissions from the Colstrip power plant alone are more than 21 percent of the emissions for the entire state of Washington, including all sources. These emissions make a substantial contribution to global warming."
Rob Smith, Northwest Regional Director, National Parks Conservation Association, connected Colstrip to depletion of Seattle's hydroelectric power supply.
"North Cascades National Park is home to one third of all glaciers within the Lower 48 states and they are all in retreat due to the warming climate. That means less water and earlier runoff into Ross Lake reservoir, making it more difficult to balance recreation, fish runs and power generation. Customers of Seattle City Light rely on 24 percent of our electricity from the Ross power house," Smith testified.
"The huge Colstrip coal-fired power plant in Montana, one-third owned by Puget Sound Energy, contributes to the carbon load in the atmosphere which ultimately melts our snowfields and glaciers here in Washington."
Several speakers called for investments in renewable energy. Tyler Comings of Synapse Energy Economics reported on a jobs study commissioned by the Sierra Club. The Synapse study found that wind power and energy efficiency projects would produce 40-50 percent more Washington State jobs than natural gas per unit of energy (as measured in average megawatts). Solar energy projects showed the most promise: The study projected that twice as many jobs would be generated by small scale rooftop solar energy projects as for large scale utility solar project due to the local labor and supplies required.
"We're talking about recapturing dollars that were previously leaving the state," Comings said. "Transitioning off of out-of-state coal could mean less money leaving the state; more investment in local, clean energy; more Washington jobs; and major reductions in carbon emissions."
O'Brian, Co-Chair of the Energy Committee of the Washington State Chapter of the Sierra Club, advocated for three tactics to help achieve the state's goals. "First, shut Colstrip. Any replacement power should come from a mix of renewables and conservation, though we may condone limited natural gas. Second, investigate a carbon tax. Yoram Bauman has some good ideas and polling data. Third, the Utilities & Transportation Commission is where the rubber meets the road in terms of fixing the electric sector. Giving the UTC a specific environmental goal and the teeth to require compliance is the best way to meet the CLEW's goals in the electric sector."
An eleven-year-old testified on behalf of Plant for the planet, a children's advocacy group. "We need to plant 1 trillion trees worldwide by 2020. That's 150 trees per person on Earth. 1 trillion trees will soak up ten million tons of carbon dioxide per year."
And Rev. Robert L. Jeffrey, Sr., Executive Director of "Clean Greens", an organic farm that serves city residents, raised concerns about how climate change disproportionately affects African Americans. "Asthma impacts 30 percent more blacks than whites. Climate change is a race issue."
Seattle Mayor Michael McGinn advocated for expanding metro transit and rebuilding streets to support mixed use like walking and biking. "We should be exporting energy efficiency technology, not coal." The Mayor urged the Governor's panel to act decisively and without delay to curb greenhouse gas emissions. "We are the first generation to experience the effects of climate change and we are also the last generation to be able to do anything about it."
Learn more about what the Sierra Club is doing to move Washington beyond coal.
By Ivy Main, Sierra Club Virginia Chapter Vice-Chair
The long-awaited Cape Wind offshore wind farm will finally begin construction off the coast of Massachusetts in 2014. So, too, will the much smaller Block Island Wind Farm off Rhode Island. When completed, Cape Wind's 130 wind turbines will supply almost 75 percent of the power needs of Cape Cod, Martha's Vineyard, and Nantucket, while the 5-turbine Block Island Farm will supply enough clean energy to power over 17,000 homes.
2014 also seems likely to see a power purchase agreement for some of the energy to be generated by a 900 MW wind farm off the tip of Long Island that would feed power to a growing and hungry New York market, at a cost that's economic now.
And with a second round of grants from the Department of Energy expected next spring, demonstration projects of 12-25 MW will also go forward in three more locations, producing power in 2017 and helping set the stage for rapid growth in the industry. The first-round grants went to projects in Oregon, Texas, Ohio, Maine, New Jersey, and Virginia.
These were a few of the highlights from the American Wind Energy Association 2013 offshore wind conference, held October 22-23 in Providence, Rhode Island. More than 700 attendees packed a ballroom to hear Secretary of Interior Sally Jewell, Rhode Island Governor Lincoln Chafee, U.S. Senator Sheldon Whitehouse and others make the case for why offshore wind energy will play a growing role in the U.S., starting in the Northeast.
Five years have passed since the American Wind Energy Association, the University of Delaware, and the Sierra Club brought together researchers and wind developers for America's first-ever conference on offshore wind energy, in Dover, Delaware. Since then, the conference has grown in scope and attendance, but the only wind turbine to make it to U.S. waters is a one-eighth-scale test model off the coast of Maine.
While Europe surged ahead and now has more than 50 offshore wind farms, the U.S. has been hampered by a slow federal leasing process, uncertainty about tax credits, and a political process ill-suited to the long-range planning and regional cooperation needed to realize the potential of this industry.
But as this year's conference showed, the industry is moving ahead. Several states as well as the Obama administration identify offshore wind as a critical part of the response to climate change, as well as an opportunity to develop jobs. As many speakers explained, there is a strong business case to be made for it as well. Given the price spikes that have plagued natural gas in New England and elsewhere, it makes sense to diversify power sources. In addition to providing price stability, wind energy has also been shown to suppress wholesale energy prices, saving consumers money.
Perhaps most significantly, offshore wind power is likely to be the least-cost option in locations where demand is high, energy is expensive, and alternatives are few. This describes much of the Northeast, especially the densely populated area from northern New Jersey up to Massachusetts.
An analysis from AWS Truepower showed several factors that make offshore wind energy a good option in these areas:
• A growing demand for power, driven in part by new data centers;
• An already-congested transmission grid, coupled with the difficulty of either building new generation close to the load center or adding new transmission lines to bring in power from outside the area;
• The proximity of offshore wind energy areas to these load centers along the coast;
• High localized marginal prices for electricity, making offshore wind competitively priced; and
• The ability of offshore wind to provide power when demand is greatest.
This last element is especially compelling for utilities, which have to meet a demand for power that changes throughout the day. Unlike onshore wind, which blows most strongly at night, and solar energy, which peaks in the middle of the day, offshore wind picks up in the late morning and continues through the evening hours, matching times of highest demand. According to Bruce Bailey, CEO of AWS Truepower, this fact means that in the New York market, the revenues from offshore wind energy will be about two-and-a-half times that of onshore wind energy.
Whitney Wilson, the engineer who conducted the analysis for AWS Truepower, told me that when they looked at all the factors and then at the potential locations for offshore wind farms, one location stood out: a tract of ocean thirty miles off the coast of Montauk Point on Long Island, within the southern section of the Massachusetts/Rhode Island Wind Energy Area. Building wind farms there, her analysis showed, would provide the biggest bang for the buck.
Developer Deepwater Wind, LLC, won the right to develop the lease area last summer in the U.S.'s first-ever offshore wind lease auction. One likely customer may be the Long Island Power Authority, which put out an RFP for 280 MW of renewable energy, specifically mentioning offshore wind.
Lisa Dix, an organizer with the Sierra Club's Beyond Coal Campaign in New York who was also at the conference, says offshore wind makes perfect sense for Long Island, and complements the Long Island utility's recent approval of a feed-in tariff for solar energy.
Other utilities seem likely to follow suit as they assess the benefits of offshore wind for their own customers. A greater understanding of these benefits will lead to the full buildout of the RI/MA area and the soon-to-be-leased New Jersey area.
The experience of Deepwater, Cape Wind, and the developers of the DOE-funded demonstration projects will help build the industry supply chain and workforce, and will produce the kind of learning that leads to lower prices for future projects. One such project involves the 2000 MW of the Virginia Wind Energy Area, which Dominion Power now holds the right to develop. While the economics are not currently as compelling in the cheap-energy South, this would change if the early movers achieve the cost reductions they are aiming for.
If states work together, these cost reductions and the development of a robust, domestic supply chain and workforce will happen better, sooner and smarter. Coordinated regional planning will support rapid growth in the industry while driving down costs in a virtuous cycle.
Given the urgency of climate change and the need to move the electric grid beyond fossil fuels as quickly as possible, Congress also has to make the growth of the offshore wind industry a national priority. Passing a long-term extension of the investment tax credit is a critical first step to support the tremendous renewable resource just off our coast.
Lincoln County, West Virginia, before mountaintop-removal mining.
On October 7, the West Virginia Public Service Commission issued an order in a lengthy asset transfer docket requiring FirstEnergy to, among other things, double its energy efficiency target to 1 percent annually by 2018. Late last year, FirstEnergy-regulated subsidiary Monongahela Power requested permission from the Commission to acquire nearly 1,500 megawatts of coal-fired capacity from fellow FirstEnergy subsidiary Allegheny Energy Supply, at a price to ratepayers of over $1.1 billion.
The Sierra Club intervened in the proceeding, and, along with others, argued extensively that the proposed price was too steep, that acquiring more coal-fired generation was environmentally shortsighted and risky to ratepayers, that the utility would be saddled with excess capacity it would be unlikely to recoup through market sales, and that investments in energy efficiency along with market purchases of electricity would be a dramatically cheaper way to serve customers, create jobs, and protect the environment.
The Club then participated in a coalition of stakeholders to help drive a settlement with FirstEnergy, resulting in dramatic increases in FirstEnergy's energy-efficiency requirements, investments in home and school weatherization projects to save even more energy, assistance to low-income ratepayers, and a savings of hundreds of millions of dollars to Monongahela Power's West Virginia customers.
The Commission approved the settlement, but went further. Citing concerns about overreliance on coal in a world seeking to address carbon pollution, the Commission determined that FirstEnergy must bear more of the risk that carbon pricing, and future environmental regulation would render the investment in more coal-fired generation a bad bet on behalf of its customers. As such, it may only recover from customers funds for part of the asset transfer if it can't sell enough of its new, surplus electricity to non-West Virginia customers.
At end, the dramatic increase in FirstEnergy's energy-efficiency targets in West Virginia will end up helping keep the air clean, fight climate change, protect customers, and create new clean energy jobs in West Virginia.
By Zack Fabish, Attorney, Sierra Club Environmental Law Program
This month the Sierra Student Coalition worked with Energy Action Coalition to bring over 6,000 youth activists together at Power Shift -- 2013's largest demonstration of youth action for a clean energy future. Students from more than 720 campuses and communities converged in Pittsburgh, PA, to share, train, and act on climate, energy, and environmental justice issues.
"Fossil fuel companies are like zombies from the apocalypse," Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune told thousands of cheering activists. "They don't know they're already dead. We're living in the middle of a clean-energy revolution. Renewables are going head-to-head with fossil fuels -- and they're winning."[View the story "15 Powerful Images from #PowerShift 2013" on Storify]
Next year, EPA will propose rules under Section 111(d) of the Clean Air Act limiting carbon emissions from existing coal- and gas-fired power plants. Not surprisingly, EPA's opponents are putting up a fight. The Federalist Society and a cadre of climate-rule-denying opponents have staked out a position that EPA may not use Section 111(d) to regulate greenhouse gases from any industrial source that is already subject to pollution controls for toxic pollutants under a different part of the law -- Section 112. So, as the climate-rule-deniers would have it, if EPA limits mercury emissions from coal plants under Section 112, it is prohibited from limiting carbon emissions from those plants under Section 111(d).
The climate-rule-denier view fails in many ways. It ignores the legislative history of the Clean Air Act, which shows that Congress did not intend for the law to operate in such an arbitrary fashion and exclude greenhouse gases from control under section 111(d). Fundamentally, it makes no sense. Why would Congress want to ban EPA from controlling greenhouse pollution from coal plants just because the agency controlled mercury pollution under a totally different part of the law? Under a much more sensible reading of the Clean Air Act, EPA may not use Section 111(d) to limit coal plant emissions of a particular pollutant only if it has already regulated that same pollutant under Section 112. For example, EPA cannot regulate mercury under section 111 since it has regulated mercury under section 112. EPA is not regulating carbon dioxide under section 112, and so is free to regulate it under section 111.
EPA has already expressed this eminently reasonable position, (see http://www.epa.gov/climatechange/Downloads/anpr/.pdf at p. 155), and EPA's reading of the law will merit a court’s deference in any lawsuits challenging the carbon rule. Even some private sector attorneys have acknowledged that EPA's is the correct reading of the law (see http://www.eenews.net//2013/10/24/document_gw_01.pdf). Let’s hope the climate-rule-deniers' lawyers follow their lead and drop this last-ditch effort to block desperately needed controls on greenhouse gas pollution.
By Pat Gallagher, Joanne Spalding, Sanjay Narayan, and Andres Restrepo
Long Island, New York may soon become clean-energy central thanks to a recent decision by the Long Island Power Authority (LIPA) to approve a 100-megawatt solar feed-in-tariff, which will triple solar generation through the Long Island Clean Solar Initiative program.
"The Clean Solar Initiative and residential solar programs have made Long Island a leader in solar power and reduced our dependence on dirty fossil fuels that pollute our air and make people sick," said Sierra Club Organizing Representative David Alicea. A feed-in-tariff lets people who go solar get paid for generated energy that feeds back into the grid, providing incentive for homeowners and business to adopt clean energy. LIPA's approval came with an additional promise to purchase 280 megawatts of renewable energy.
The Sierra Club's Beyond Coal Campaign in New York played a big role in securing this clean-energy commitment. In September 2012, Beyond Coal organizers launched the "Let's Turn, Not Burn" campaign with local partners and the Long Island Sierra Club group, with the specific goal of pushing LIPA and Governor Cuomo to consider offshore wind energy.
"LIPA was considering several proposals for new energy generation, which included building a new gas plant or purchasing power from an offshore wind project proposed for eastern Long Island," said Lisa Dix of Beyond Coal New York.
While the campaign fell short of a 750-to-900-megawatt offshore wind proposal, the solar feed-in-tariff, a fuel-cell and wind feed-in-tariff, and the 280-megawatt commitment did get the green light last year. However, after Superstorm Sandy plowed through the region, politics threatened to undo the commitment. But the campaign, coalition, and allies were successful in pressuring the governor and legislators in Albany to hold firm on the commitment. "And we won," said Dix.
"We see the renewable energy procurement as the prime opportunity to get the Empire State to finally commit to clean-renewable offshore wind power. It's a sad fact that New York lags behind on renewable energy, an area where it should be leading. This year we will push to double down on wind energy to meet the state's renewable energy targets."
To that end, LIPA's decision marks an exciting development, especially as the anniversary of Superstorm Sandy approaches. The campaign worked with Citizens Campaign for the Environment, Renewable Energy Long Island, the National Wildlife Federation, and others to keep the agency committed to clean energy.
"Long Islanders understand the real devastating effects of climate change," stated Adrienne Esposito, executive director, Citizens Campaign for the Environment. "We need to act now to curb polluting fossil fuels and increase renewable energies, including investing in offshore wind. It takes us a few months to site fossil fuel power plants and decades for clean offshore wind. We must reverse this pattern, tackle climate change and create a new energy paradigm."
By Elisabeth Keating, Sierra Club Washington State Chapter Communications Chair
"When you look into their eyes, you know someone is home. They're an animal that possesses great spiritual and emotional power. They are not to be messed with."
- Howard Garrett, Orca Expert
August 2012: Petersburg Alaska — My friends and I are on a small boat, traveling to the lodge where we will spend a week of meditation, kayaking, and reflection. I stare at the inky blue water, thinking of human concerns—wondering if I brought enough warm clothing, wishing I had found a Starbucks during the layover in Ketchikan.
The water shifts, along with the sleepy energy of the humans on our vessel. White ripples grow broader. Four dorsal fins are soaring up on our left. A massive black back breaks the surface two feet from where I'm standing and suddenly I'm facing an adult orca whale. He dives under our boat and pops up on the other side, playful and curious. Our boat erupts with cheers, clapping and cameras snapping.
Our companions: four orca whales. There are three adult fins and one small fin. They float and dive under the boat for 20 minutes until they fall back, circling a fishing boat. The orca baby's fin is always protected within the larger tribe. The calmness and grace of these majestic creatures sailing beside us lifts us. We humans feel welcomed and sustained. At no moment do we feel anger, aggression, or danger from our whale companions. Beneath the surface, though we couldn't hear them, the orcas were talking to each other. The sounds of orcas talking were captured recently in Washington State waters. Listen.
No wild orca has been known to kill a human. Yet at places like SeaWorld, where orcas are held in captivity in extreme conditions, human deaths are increasingly frequent.
Blackfish—a new documentary that premiers on CNN starting October 24—delves into the subject of orca captivity and its psychological effect upon orca whales.
Focusing on an orca named Tillikum who has killed three people since his capture in 1983, the filmmakers ask, "What happens when you take a ten ton whale that's meant to travel hundreds of miles a day, and confine it in a tiny tank for years, deprive it of companionship and food, and force it to perform on cue day in and day out?"
The answer: Extreme psychological pressure that probably led Tillikum to become psychotic. The miracle to me after watching the film is that more orcas don't kill their trainers.
In turn chilling and fascinating, Blackfish asks important questions.
- What are we teaching our children about nature when we confine a whale to a tank, starve it, and coerce it into performing tricks for us?
- Do we have the right to take a whale, a highly social animal, separate it from its clan, separate mothers from babies, and essentially torture an animal for our own entertainment?
"It's the modern equivalent of a Roman Circus," says one commentator.
Tillikum was captured off the coast of Iceland in November 1983 as a three-year-old. He was first sent to live at Sealand of the Pacific, now closed, in Victoria, in British Columbia, Canada. There, he lived with two older females. Tortured by his cell mates who left him with long raking scars, Tillikum suffered daily. In the ocean, orcas can swim away. There's nowhere to run in a pen.
As the largest whale in a tiny pen, he had no way to escape. Trainers used food to motivate him. The whales were fed when obeyed commands; starved when they didn't. At night the whales were moved to a pen 20 feet deep and 28 feet wide.
After he killed his 40-year-old trainer, Dawn Brancheau, in 2010, by dragging her underwater, drowning and eating her, Tillikum was confined to a solitary tank. There he floats today: often spending days lifeless and motionless. His teeth have rotted from knawing on the metal cages that enclose him. His dorsal fin has collapsed-like many captive orcas' have: eroded from exposure to the sunlight (captive orcas sound too much time near the surface) and lack of hydration and collagen.
Some of the footage in Blackfish is tough to watch. The conditions Tillikum and other orcas in captivity experience are extreme for any create. For an orcas whale—now known to be one of the most intelligent and social animals on the planet—it seems outrageous.
Orcas are social animals. Brains of orcas have a highly developed paralymbic region, suggesting they process complex emotions.
The identity of orcas seems to be based on the group, not on the individual. When orcas look for food they often work together. There's a fascinating segment in Blackfish where three orcas work in tandem to create a wave that will push a seal off an ice floe. And orcas in trouble don't abandon each other.
SeaWorld puts orcas together by decision of upper management. They create artificial tribes of orcas that don't speak the same language. Mother orcas are separated from their babies.
I talked to Howard Garrett, an orca whale expert from Washington State who is interviewed in the film, to learn more about orcas and their emotional and social lives. A sociology major, Howard tells me that each orca community around the world has its own language and culture. "Southern orcas breach a lot, more than any other community of orcas. Northern residents love rubbing on rocks to massage themselves. All orcas have learned techniques for getting food, and each culture enjoys a slightly different diet."
What I learned from watching Blackfish at the first annual San Juan Island Film festival makes it clear that while the captivity orcas are experiencing at SeaWorld is extreme any animal, however intelligent, for an orca whale, it must be excruciating.
Whales talk to each other. They may even share babysitting duties. "Their sense of identity is based upon their tribe, not their identity as individuals," Howard tells me.
"I just read SeaWorld's response to questions about captive orcas," he says. "SeaWorld asserts that orcas adapt very well to life in a zoological setting. It's not true. The irony is that they try to adapt, because they are highly evolved to be members of their societies and families. They are predisposed to be cooperative and eager to learn what is expected of them. That's the glue that keeps their families and communities together, more so than any other mammal known to science, and it's in their brain anatomy, in the paralimbic lobe neurologist Lori Marino describes in Blackfish. So they try to do the routines and behaviors asked of them, but the evidence clearly shows they suffer severe stresses and tend to die in their youth in captivity, whether captured or captive-born. The survival rates, which have not improved in recent decades, show that."
We probably can't save Tillikum. But we can save Lolita, an orca captured off Whidbey Island in 1970. Howard and his brother, whale expert Ken Balcombe, have a plan to return her from the pen where she lives alone in Florida to Washington State waters where she can reunite with the clan, the L pod of the San Juans. Her battle is currently in court and she has a legal team.
When I contrast the lives of the wild orcas I saw coursing with conviction through Petersburg Sound in Alaska 18 months ago, with Tillikum floating silently and motionless in a tank at SeaWorld, there's no question in my mind where Lolita should end up.
Blackfish will be shown on television Thursday at 6 and 9 p.m. on CNN. Host Jane Velez-Mitchell will hold discussions about the movie on her program each evening on HLN, sometimes called CNN Headline News. Her series "Beyond Blackfish" begins tonight and continues through Friday at 4 p.m. each day.
Elisabeth Keating is a Seattle-based writer.
The historic campaign that secured the permanent protection of 3,000 acres of Puerto Rico's Northeast Ecological Corridor showed the world the power of grassroots activism. It couldn't have happened without those who played key roles in ensuring the area's protection for future generations.
One of those key people, Sierra Club member Luis Jorge Rivera-Herrera, today received Conde Nast Traveler's Environmental Award, an honor that recognizes remarkable activists from all across the globe.
"I am honored to receive this award on behalf of all the individuals and organizations that belong to the NEC Coalition, whose strong commitment and partnership made possible the designation of this extraordinary area as a nature reserve," he said.
The Northeast Ecological Corridor, and its jaw-dropping natural beauty, sits at the foothills of El Yunque National Forest in Puerto Rico. Corals, lagoons, wetlands, leatherback sea turtles, and 50 threatened and endangered species all call it home. When plans emerged to pave over the area with mega-resorts, golf courses, and thousands of luxury homes, the grassroots responded with a fight that Luis Jorge helped lead.
His roots in environmental causes run deep. As a kid he spent time with his dad and brothers on a coconut farm in the town of Loiza. Eventually the government expropriated the land to build a water treatment plant. Luis Jorge witnessed workers cutting down the palm trees to make room for the plant, something that upset and inspired him at a young age.
In high school he started planting Ceiba trees -- they are illegal to cut down in Puerto Rico -- in tin cans. He'd then replant them in strategic places around the island, an act that earned him recognition in the local newspaper. He went on to study environmental science as an undergraduate and environmental planning as a graduate student.
He later worked at the Puerto Rico Land Trust's Las Cabezas de San Juan Nature Reserve as one of his first jobs providing tours of the coastal dry forest to local people and tourists. He eventually created his own environmental group called the Initiative for Sustainable Development, to provide support to local communities who were opposing massive construction projects.
Luis Jorge joined the fight to save the Corridor in 2003. He was involved with every part of the campaign, from identifying and solidifying support outside the area, to helping organize events and grassroots action. In 2009, when the governor at the time sided with developers and removed Corridor protections, Luis Jorge helped campaign leaders draw hundreds of people to protests and public hearings. Finally, Governor Alejandro Garcia Padilla signed into law the Corridor's protection earlier this year, putting an end to the 15-year fight.
But the effort to preserve this natural gem is not over. Luis Jorge plans to donate the $2,000 from the Conde Nast Traveler award to the Corridor's coalition to make sure protections stay intact.
"Our work is not done, though, as we still need to purchase remaining private lands and develop a foundation as a destination for ecotourism. As such, we are launching a fundraising campaign with the prize money granted by Conde Nast Traveler, and ask all those who are committed to the conservation and enjoyment of our natural environment to donate to this effort and support us in achieving our vision," he said.
For more information and to donate to this great cause, visit the Sierra Club's Puerto Rico Chapter.
After plans moved forward to retire the coal-fired generators at the Big Sandy Power Plant outside Louisa, Kentucky, the question remained, what does it mean for the energy future of eastern Kentucky?
The answer came to light last week when the state Public Service Commission approved an agreement between the Sierra Club and American Electric Power (AEP) that will help expand clean energy in the region. AEP's subsidiary, Kentucky Power, has agreed to invest in clean energy programs with a special focus on low-income community developments in Lawrence County, which sits on the eastern edge of the state next to West Virginia.
"This is an important moment in Kentucky’s history -- a win for public health and the dawn of a new economic era," said Alice Howell, chair of the Cumberland Chapter of the Sierra Club in Kentucky. "However, the impacts of this economic transition go beyond this one case. It is critical that we continue to look for ways to work with the governor to support clean energy investments in eastern Kentucky to help replace coal-related jobs."
The agreement commits Kentucky Power to increase energy-efficiency investments over the next five years, from $3 million this year to $4 million in 2014, $5 million in 2015, and $6 million per year from 2016 to 2018. These in-state energy-efficiency investments will bring jobs directly into the Kentucky Power service areas while decreasing the total energy consumption of eastern Kentucky. The deal includes 100 megawatts of wind energy in Kentucky Power's upcoming planning process, which acts as a "blueprint" for the company's electricity source for the next few years.
Many in Kentucky are ready for a change in an area traditionally dominated by Big Coal interests. Earlier this year, an estimated 1,500 Kentuckians rallied at the state capitol building to celebrate I Love Mountains Day. A month later, activists won a huge victory in Trimble County when a utility's plan to turn a cave into a coal ash pit was blocked. The cave in question was part of the Underground Railroad used by slaves seeking freedom during the 1800s.
The latest developments concerning Big Sandy Power Plant mean that Kentucky Power Company has pledged $1.1 million total toward economic development in low-income communities in Lawrence County and surrounding areas. At least one-third of that money will be used for job training, with a focus on weatherization and energy-efficiency training.
"Investing in wind power is an investment in the future of Kentucky’s economy," said Alex DeSha, a community organizer with the Sierra Club. "When we spend our energy dollars upgrading our power to clean, renewable energy sources, what we're really doing is investing in American workers and public health. Adding opportunities for clean sources of energy will diversify our energy mix and help stabilize electricity costs for Kentucky families."
Supreme Court Denies Polluters' Challenge to EPA Finding that Greenhouse Gases Endanger Public Health
This post is by Joanne Spalding, Sierra Club managing attorney
Today the U.S. Supreme Court denied legal petitions from polluters and states that challenged the Environmental Protection Agency's historic finding that greenhouse gases endanger public health and welfare.
This decision leaves no doubt that the EPA has both the authority and the responsibility to set sensible limits on the carbon pollution that is fueling climate change and endangering public health.
While some are saying the ruling is a loss, in reality the court chose only to review whether the Obama administration's decision to limit vehicle tailpipe pollution also triggered permitting requirements for industrial sources under parts of the act.
The high court left standing the EPA's commonsense and achievable emission standards for vehicles. The court will focus only on narrow technical questions regarding permits, representing a win for public health.
The victory is that the court will address neither the endangerment finding that paved the way for cutting carbon pollution nor the vehicle standards themselves.
Although the EPA's authority to limit carbon pollution to protect public health has been repeatedly challenged by polluters, the Supreme Court has now reaffirmed it multiple times.
This means that the path forward is clear for the Obama administration to set strong carbon pollution standards for all power plants -- the largest domestic source of the carbon pollution that fuels climate change and endangers public health.
Carbon pollution that causes climate disruption is responsible for increased air pollution that can cause thousands of death every year -- yet remains unchecked. That must change.
According to researchers at Stanford University, unchecked carbon pollution could lead to 21,000 climate disrupton-related deaths. And today, millions of children live in areas that receive an "F" rating for at least one air-quality measure, based on the American Lung Association's "State of the Air Report." Climate disruption will only worsen that pollution.
As Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune said, "The president and the EPA have not just the authority, but the responsibility to move forward with bold measures to protect American families from the increasing threat of climate disruption."
Dr. Ruth Patrick, an early member of the Sierra Club in the Philadelphia area, died on September 23 in Lafayette Hill, Pennsylvania. She was 105.
Her death was announced by the Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University, with whom she was associated for more than 70 years. Acclaimed Harvard University biologist E.O.Wilson calls Patrick "the den mother of ecology," and "a pioneer environmental activist."
Below, Dr. Patrick in the lab at the Academy, where she was still coming into the office at age 100. Her work studying the health of freshwater rivers and streams laid the scientific groundwork for modern pollution-control efforts.
Ruth Patrick was born in Topeka, Kansas in 1907. Her father, a lawyer, encouraged her interest in science from an early age, giving her a microscope when she was seven. She never looked back. She became a scientist in the 1930s, when few women were able to do so, and went on to be an advisor to presidents and the recipient of dozens of distinguished scientific awards.
"[Dr. Patrick's] studies of freshwater ecology in the 1930s helped galvanize the later environmental movement," reports the Washington Post. "[Her] success in a profession dominated by men charted a course for other female scientists."
Below, Patrick (fourth from left) and the team she assembled in 1948 to examine the health of Conestoga River in Lancaster County, Pa., where she achieved a major scientific breakthrough by establishing the relationship between diatoms -- a major group of algae -- and water quality.Patrick Principle, proved that biological diversity holds the key to understanding the environmental problems affecting an ecosystem.
A teacher at the University of Pennsylvania for over 35 years, Patrick wrote more than 200 scientific articles and authored or co-authored several books. She was a firm believer that is was essential for the government and industry to collaborate in fighting pollution, and she served as a consultant to both in developing environmental policy.
Dennis Winters, vice-chair of the Sierra Club's Southeastern Pennsylvania Group, stresses that Patrick was not only a distinguished scientist and academic, but an environmental trailblazer decades before concern with the environment finally caught the public's attention in the 1960s.
Over time, Patrick grew as comfortable and adept in the boardroom as in the lab, serving as advisor, director, and trustee for corporations, governments, and nonprofits. She was elected to the National Academy of Sciences in 1970 and received the National Medal of Science from President Bill Clinton in 1996. For seven decades, Dr. Patrick championed environmental protection, mentored future scientists, and inspired countless others by the example of her life and work.
All photos courtesy of the Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University.
By Rebecca Silver, Sierra Club Publicist
Austin is known for many things, among them good barbeque, good music, and good times. And for the past three years in October, Austin has also been known as the gathering place for thought-leaders from around the country who are committed to finding positive solutions to the challenges facing the environment, economy and civil society.
South by Southwest (SXSW) Eco brings together professionals in business, government, non-profits, and academia to listen to innovative speakers, participate in three days of provocative panel discussions, and network with thought-provoking people. The Sierra Club has been a sponsor at this conference since its inception in 2011.
This year, the Club led the first-ever official conference hike to Bright Leaf Preserve, a 200-acre natural area within the Austin city limits (above and below).
On the second day of the conference, Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune, at center below, came to town for a session on adaptation, climate policy and solutions. This panel was part of the Bloomberg BNA's Policy Action Series, a collection of sessions whose themes were taken from the National Climate Assessment.
Photo by Dan Byrnes/Sierra Club
According to Brune, we need to focus on solutions that tackle multiple problems. The good news is that we're making progress with clean energy globally. As we move beyond coal, we're decreasing greenhouse gas emissions and protecting our water supply.
Plenty of other Sierra Club folks were in town, too, among them Jesse Prentice-Dunn (at right, below)of the Club's Beyond Oil campaign, who was a panelist on a session about bicycle systems and how Austin is modeling its programs around successful Dutch projects.
Austin-based Jennifer Walker, clean water coordinator for the Club's Lone Star Chapter, participated in a session about the cutting-edge strategies used to keep our rivers flowing in the face of drought, climate change, and increased competition for limited water resources.
During the exhibition, we asked attendees to join the national conversation about climate and tell us how they #ActOnClimate. We heard from one person who doesn't own a car and another who supports sustainable agriculture. Lots of people told us how they get outdoors -- and bring others with them! Whether folks shared big actions or small, concrete or abstract (one board just said EMPOWER YOUNG PEOPLE), it's clear that acting on climate and affecting change is a critical issue that's top of mind for everyone. And it will take all of us acting together to make an impact.
The Florida Chapter's Panther Critical Habitat Campaign is partnering with Preserve our Paradise to stop Big Oil from leaving its dirty footprints all over Golden Gate Estates in Naples, where a Texas-based oil company wants to drill an area just one mile from the Florida Panther National Wildlife Refuge and within 1,000 feet of residences.
Grassroots opposition is beginning to grow. Last month, more than 100 people protested at the Naples Pier, erecting a symbolic oil well in front of Governor Rick Scott's beachfront home. The controversy has prompted the Environmental Protection Agency to agree to hold a public hearing later this year.
The battle first began when the Dan A. Hughes Company leased over 100,000 acres at the Naples site and submitted a drilling proposal. To placate the public, the state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) hosted a hearing last month, which ended up being "poorly executed," according to Alexis Meyer, a Sierra Club organizer for the Panther Critical Habitat Campaign.
"No one was able to hear questions or answers, people crowded around tables, officials were unable to answer, and citizens left feeling ignored and frustrated," she said.
Unsurprisingly, the DEP moved ahead and approved the permit request. Despite the proximity of the proposed oil wells to prime panther habitat, "no biological opinions or environmental assessments have been done for this project," said Meyer. "Since this project would affect a federally protected endangered species, there is a concern that these companies are not following proper regulations."
According to the Tampa Bay Times, the oil company's permit request met DEP's criteria even though "none of those requirements involves staying away from where people live." And a specific distance to homes is not mentioned in the rules.
Locals hope federal protections for the panther will give them the leverage they need to fight back since the state agency has done little. The DEP has approved more than 40 oil drilling permits -- while denying none -- over the past five years. Activists think this will be a wake-up call to spark grassroots action and instill a sense of urgency among locals.
"The oil well is only the tip of the iceberg for southwest Florida," said Meyer. "Opening up this site to drilling endangers Florida panthers, the watershed, our aquifers, and violates environmental justice for local residents. It's sets a precedent to open more land for drilling at a time when we should be looking toward clean, sustainable energy alternatives such as wind and solar."-- Photos by Alexis Meyer
The 14th annual Healthy Foods, Local Farms Conference in Louisville, Kentucky, co-sponsored by the Sierra Club, is taking place this Saturday, Oct. 12, at the Kentucky Country Day School. This year's theme is "Food: Sustainability and Justice."
"All people deserve good, clean, healthy, locally-grown food," says Aloma Dew, below, the lead organizer of the conference for many years and a longtime Cumberland Chapter volunteer leader. "Eating is both a personal and an environmental act, and until the food system is overhauled and small, independent farmers can make a living wage by growing food the right way, we won't see real change."
The Sierra Club supports independent farms and does not view industrial-scale agriculture as it now exists as a sustainable model. "We feel that growing and eating local and seasonal foods is part of a solution and helps build stronger, more just communities," Dew says.
Featured speakers at this year's conference include Barton Seaver, a chef, National Geographic Fellow, and advocate for sustainable oceans and public health; Wenonah Hauter, executive director of Food & Water Watch, who has worked extensively on food, water, and energy issues; and Dr. Michele Morek, coalition coordinator for UNANIMA International, a nongovernmental organization that advocates on behalf of women and children and the environment.
The Healthy Foods, Local Farms Conference, says Dew, "is for people and organizations who care about where their food comes from, and that their daily repast is ethically and sustainably raised or grown and harvested." Locally-sourced, sustainably raised food will be served for breakfast and lunch at the conference. On Friday the 11th, an optional pre-conference "Restaurant Hop" will commence at 5:00 p.m. at five participating local restaurants, each of which will feature a "CFA Special" benefitting the Community Farm Alliance and Kentucky's small-scale family farms.
The conference will examine the true cost of food with regard to sustainability and justice. Topics to be discussed include:
- Who can eat good, healthy, locally-produced food?
- What about people who work in intolerable conditions or live where they are exposed to polluted air and water around industrial animal facilities?
- Is the current industrial monoculture system really making food available and cheaper, or is it ruining our soil, water, and air and encouraging people to eat more foods with additives, antibiotics, hormones, and high sugar and fat content, leading to obesity and poor health?
- Is it encouraging more animals to be raised in inhumane conditions, and how do we change the system?
- What about small farmers who want to farm in a sustainable manner but are driven out by large corporations and lack of affordable markets for their goods?
The Healthy Foods, Local Farms Conference germinated from a water conference in Washington, D.C., in 1999, and has been held in Louisville every year since. This will be the third year in a row it has been held at the Kentucky Day School. (There's still time to register.)
"The crowds have grown through the years as more people become aware of and concerned about our food system and the link to the health of our planet and our people," Dew says. "What we are doing to our land, air and water is also unjust, and some would argue, immoral. Our children and their children will pay the price if we do not protect these resources."
Breakout sessions will cover topics such as faith-based efforts for sustainable food systems and justice; minority and small farmers; voting with your fork and your wallet; learning to be a food-justice leader; factory farming and the high cost of cheap food; and permaculture -- to name just a few. Below, attorney and longtime Kentucky Sierra Club activist Hank Graddy (in yellow tie) leads a breakout session at last year's conference.
The closing plenary session will be focused on youth -- what they are doing, what they see for the future, and what they have to tell us. "It's their world and we need to listen," Dew says. "It will take all of us working together to make a sustainable and just food system. Until all people can eat good, healthy, sustainably-grown food; until we call take care of our soil and water; until the people, not corporations, have more power; until then, our work will not be done."
If we want future generations to experience all that the San Gabriel Mountains have to offer, we're going to need to make protections permanent. That was the message sent at a packed town hall meeting hosted by Congresswoman Judy Chu that focused on future of the San Gabriel Mountains and its waterways, including parts of the San Gabriel River. Many in the full room of more than 300 came out to voice their support for creating a new San Gabriel National Recreation Area, something Chu is pushing for in Washington, D.C.
The huge turnout was the result of the great work of the San Gabriel Mountains Forever campaign, said Sierra Club organizer Fabiola Lao.
"We had strong and diverse support for permanent protection of the San Gabriel Mountains and its rivers," she said. "Thanks to the coalition we've brought together in the San Gabriel Mountains Forever campaign, we were able to recruit local elected officials, fire officials, water officials, homeowner association representatives, local business owners, and groups that serve Latino and Asian Pacific Islander communities."
The momentum behind creating a national recreation area is the culmination of years of grassroots work. The San Gabriel Mountains Forever campaign is a partnership between the Sierra Club, The City Project, which focuses on environmental justice, Amigos de los Rios, Asian Pacific Policy and Planning Council, and the Council of Mexican Federations, in addition to other environmental groups.
"Over 70 percent of Los Angeles County's open space is in the San Gabriels, 33 percent of its water comes from them, and 3.5 million of us visit the area each year," wrote Claremont resident Lissa Peterson in a San Gabriel Valley Tribune letter to the editor. "This issue is too important to be stuffed in a government official's drawer."
The campaign is hopeful Chu will draft legislation by the end of the month to set the wheels in motion at the federal level. Congratulations to all those who worked so hard to protect this precious natural area!
More than 100 volunteers came out to help the Rocky Mountain Sierra Club assist Colorado flood survivors clean up. The Sierra Club joined a coalition a groups who held clean-up events all weekend around the state.
As we detailed on Friday, Colorado Flood Recovery Weekend events took place in Boulder, Longmont, Lyons, and Greely, which were among some of the hardest hit places during the historic deadly flooding last month. Volunteers assisted with clean-up efforts in homes and parks Saturday and Sunday morning.
"It was amazing and humbling," said Bryce Carter, Sierra Club Beyond Coal Organizer in Colorado, who helped plan the weekend and volunteered at a flooded farm. "I found myself standing there shocked of just how devastated the property was."
Carter and volunteers spent hours digging through the mud and debris. Check out the video he took of the day.
"We were digging through people's lives strewn across the landscape. The homeowner, who rented out the property, didn't have flood insurance. The team effort we put in truly moved mountains (of mud) as we worked to take down the walls of the first floor of her home and clean out debris throughout, work which they never would have been able to have happened in the time we did it. I couldn't have been prouder of everyone's hard work."
The weekend closed with a volunteer appreciation event featuring music, food, and speakers. Speakers discussed the importance of taking direct action both locally to help our neighbors and nationally with supporting measures to combat climate disruption.
"Many of our volunteers, and even hurting homeowners, talked about the disturbing trends we're seeing in Colorado where the Front Range is on the front lines of climate disruption," Carter said.
"We also talked about the importance for us to act not just locally one shovel-full at a time, but also nationally to have strong carbon standards with the Environmental Protection Agency. To look in the eyes of those hurting, going through muddied photos of their loved ones, affirmed my determination to do everything I can to stop further climate disruption."
Here's a great news story on the weekend volunteer events.
-- Heather Moyer, Sierra Club
By Javier Sierra
When it comes to the sun, for Rosa Mayorga and her family, everything that glitters is indeed gold.
A few months ago, this Irvine, California, resident had solar panels installed on her rooftop, and ever since then, the sun shines on her home with special intensity.
“This is fabulous. Since I had them installed, we pay half of what we used to for our electricity,” she proudly says. “Now we can use that money for things we could not afford before.”
Mrs. Mayorga is one of the beneficiaries of the tremendous growth solar energy has experienced in California, whose assistance and development programs are the standard for the rest of the nation.
Rooftop solar panel installation in California (Photo: Sierra Club)
The system works as follows: For a down payment of zero dollars, a leasing company installs the panels on your rooftop and provides an exact assessment of much your monthly bill will be for a 20-year period, which will be substantially lower than what the utility charges. Each solar company offers a variety of plans for their clients. But they all result in significant savings in your energy bill.
Since 2007, in California, the installation of residential rooftop solar panels in low-income households has increased by 364 percent, and in 2011 two thirds of all installations took place in middle- and low-income neighborhoods. This, Mrs. Mayorga says, is “a blessing,” not only for her but for her entire community.
But a dark cloud called corporate greed is threatening this bright situation. The big utilities consider the expansion of solar energy generated by their clients as a threat to their business model, which traditionally has relied on dirty, inefficient energy projects, such as gas, coal and nukes.
To undermine the growth of this threat to their virtual monopoly, these companies lobby state governments to limit the advantages of systems such as Mrs. Mayorga’s. This took place recently when Southern California Edison, San Diego Gas & Electric y Pacific Gas & Electric put pressure on the Latino caucus of the California Legislature to pass new rates that would diminish the savings of energy consumers such as Mrs. Mayorga. These attacks on solar energy are not only taking place in California, but in other states, such as Arizona, Colorado and Georgia.
The big utilities, however, are swimming against a strong current because the explosive growth of the solar energy throughout the nation. In the US, every four minutes a solar system is installed, and by 2016 it will happen every 20 seconds. Back in 2006, it took place every 80 minutes.
Also, the cost of a solar panel has dropped by 80 percent since 2008, and wind energy has cut down its costs in half since 2009. This has helped replace the energy generated by all the coal-burning plants that have been retired in the country in the past five years. Moreover, for every dollar that is invested in clean energy, three times as many jobs are created than by investments in gas and oil.
“The sun is the blanket of the poor,” says Mrs. Mayorga. It also is the gold that glitters on her rooftop.
Javier Sierra is a Sierra Club columnist. Follow him on Twitter @javier_SC
The Sierra Club, the conservation community, and all who cherish and enjoy our nation's wild places, clean air, and clean water, bade farewell to a true environmental giant when three-time Sierra Club President Phil Berry died on September 22. He was 76.
Born in 1937 in Berkeley, California, Phillip Samuel Berry graduated from Berkeley High School in 1954, Stanford University in 1958, and Stanford Law School in 1961. He went on to make his greatest mark as a pioneer in the field of environmental law.
As a boy, Berry accompanied his father and two brothers on a backcountry trip to Yosemite, triggering a lifelong love of wilderness. After the trip, he learned about the Sierra Club from a fellow boy scout, whose father was a member. He went on to volunteer for the Club's High Trips every summer during high school, continued to participate in backcountry outings throughout his years at Stanford, and led High Trips himself for years afterward.
Berry made his mark on Sierra Club legal history even before he completed law school. Then-Executive Director David Brower was concerned about the possibility that the Club might lose its tax-deductible status for its work to prevent damming the Grand Canyon -- an eventuality that came to pass. Berry consulted his professors at Stanford, who assured him that the Club could indeed form a separate tax-deductible entity. The advice proved correct, leading to the establishment of the Sierra Club Foundation.
Berry's first term as Sierra Club President coincided with the first Earth Day, the passage of landmark environmental legislation such as the National Environmental Policy Act, and the establishment of the Environmental Protection Agency. Under his leadership, the Club widened the scope of its agenda from wilderness conservation to include, pollution, energy, population, and urban issues. The Sierra Club that emerged was essentially the organization we know today -- dedicated to principles of sustainability and protecting the environment in the broadest sense.
In addition to his three terms as Sierra Club President (1968-1974, 1975-1981, and 1982-1988), Berry served on the Club's Board of Directors for 30 years, during which time he was instrumental in several key developments within the environmental community, including co-founding the Sierra Club Legal Defense Fund (now Earthjustice). In 1978, at the age of 41, he was awarded the Sierra Club's highest honor, the John Muir Award.
Berry was also an Advisory Board member to the U.C. Berkeley College of Natural Resources and a Board member of Pacific Environment, a nonprofit organization dedicated to protecting the environment of the Pacific Rim.
A celebration of Phil Berry's life will be held on Friday, October 11, at 1:00 pm at Shiloh Church in Oakland. In lieu of flowers, the family requests that donations be made to the Sierra Club, Earthjustice, Pacific Environment (for the preservation of Amur or Bengal Tigers), or the World Wildlife Fund (for the preservation of Bengal or Amur Tigers).
Of all the avoidable consequences of the government shutdown -- a ruined wedding, a stranded T-Rex, and so many more -- this one might be the most absurd. On Wednesday, as the government moved into its second day of shutdown, Republican Representative Randy Neugebauer (TX), who was among those in Congress who refused to vote for routine legislation that would keep our government open, publicly demanded that a Park Ranger apologize for the impossible circumstances of the shutdown as she tried to do her job at the World War II memorial. You read that right: a Republican Congressman who voted for the shutdown demanded that a Park Ranger apologize for it.
You can see the video captured by NBC Washington and reported by Gawker here.
The World War II memorial, along with all other memorials and national parks, was closed to the public because of the government shutdown that House Republicans like Neugebauer forced. After they refused to pass routine legislation to fund the government without toxic political riders, government functions deemed "non-essential" shut down Tuesday.
Even though the memorial is officially closed to the public, Park Service rangers have been allowing World War II vets to enter the memorial. But the rangers haven't allowed the rest of the public to enter the space. And even though Neugebauer is part of the reason the facility is closed in the first place, he decided to open his mouth and make a scene about the situation.
Its a shameful example of politics at its worst: one of the legislators who forced the shutdown to occur trying to pass the blame onto the people whom his actions directly affected. And Neugebauer admitted in an interview on Tuesday that he wants to continue the shutdown "as long as it takes" to extract toxic political concessions.
It-s easy for him to say. Neugebauer and his colleagues in Congress are among the few who can still collect a paycheck from the federal government, unlike hundreds of thousands of Americans who have been furloughed, sent home from their jobs without pay -- including 9 out of 10 employees at the Environmental Protection Agency. Meanwhile, everything from Head Start programs to critical research facilities to firefighting capacity to our parks, forests, and refuges are crippled by his inaction.
When Neugebauer starts looking around for people who need to apologize, the first place he should look is in the mirror.
-- Athan Manuel, Director, Sierra Club Lands Protection Program
New Jersey Sierra Club activists have been bird-dogging Governor Chris Christie at his appearances around the state, calling on him to reverse his policies on fracking and fracking waste. Last year, Christie vetoed a bill that would have banned the disposal of toxic fracking waste in the Garden State. He also conditionally vetoed a bill that would have permanently banned fracking in New Jersey, promoting instead a weak one-year moratorium, which has now expired.
The Club's New Jersey Chapter joined forces with Food and Water Watch, Delaware Riverkeeper Network, the New Jersey Environmental Federation, and other grassroots groups for three bird-dogging events in September, and another this week in Newark. Four more are planned for later this month, including at two gubernatorial debates. "Where the governor goes, we go," said Greg Gorman, a volunteer leader with the chapter.
Above and below, bird-doggers at Rutgers University, where Christie was speaking at a September 19 ground-breaking ceremony for several new university buildings.
"You cannot build a future based on fracking," New Jersey Sierra Club Director Jeff Tittel (at center in jacket, above), told the ralliers, who chanted and held aloft signs with slogans like Ban Fracking Now, Frack No, and Keep the Frack Out of Our State.
"It's good to see that all of New Jersey is here," said Christie, who wants to build three new natural gas-fired power plants in the state by 2015.march and rally at the Statehouse in Trenton, calling on members of the New Jersey Legislature to put in place protections against toxic fracking.
"There is no issue that threatens our drinking water more than fracking," said Tittel. "The threat of fracking waste being dumped in our waterways puts us all at risk. Governor Christie needs to stand up for clean water for the people of New Jersey and stop his opposition to the fracking waste bill. He should stop blocking Republican legislators from voting to override the bill, then it would pass overwhelmingly. He needs to stop siding with the Big Oil and Gas companies and instead do his job and protect our waterways."
That's Tittel, below at left, with New Jersey Chapter activist Alison Petryk, Chapter Exexutive Committee Chair Ken Johanson, and Skylands Group Conservation Chair Greg Gorman.
There is currently no fracking in New Jersey, but oil and gas companies want to drill in the Delaware River Basin in New York and Pennsylvania, and about 2.9 million people in New Jersey depend on the Delaware for drinking water. The gas-drilling boom in Pennsylvania has already produced more than 1.3 billion gallons of contaminated wastewater, and chemical companies have started bringing some of that waste into New Jersey. In response, the New Jersey Legislature last year passed a bill with overwhelming bipartisan support to ban the disposal of fracking waste in the state, only to see Governor Christie veto it.
"Without clean air and water there is no future," Tittel said. "If Governor Christie does not deal with climate change, we will not be able to move New Jersey forward. We need a sustainable future, and that does not include fracking."
"Allowing fracking and fracking waste in New Jersey opens a Pandora's box," said Gorman. "We already subsidize fossil fuel distribution in the form of environmentally disruptive power lines and pipelines. Accepting fracking waste in addition will jeopardize our communities' health and threaten businesses and industries that rely on clean water."
New Jersey Chapter staffer Kate Millsaps said there has been good press coverage at all the bird-dogging events, "and we've heard from people 'on the inside' in Trenton that we are being quite effective."
Gorman thinks Christie can be persuaded to change his stance if he looks at all the evidence. "Despite the advanced technology now being used to extract natural gas, we continue to suffer extreme levels of pollution. As a finite resource, natural gas will only become more expensive. Solar and wind technologies are renewable, and they're becoming more efficient, reliable, and affordable every day -- and New Jerseyans support them. We need to throw off the shackles of fossil fuel and encourage the proliferation of clean energy initiatives -- the true bridge for economic self-sufficiency and global sustainability."