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Catalysts of Change

Obama’s Bold Energy Initiatives

I want to report on the Sierra Club's Board of Director's meeting last weekend in Santa Barbara as well as other goings-on in the Club. But first, I'd like to emphasize how significant and promising several of President Obama's recent actions are.

As the New York Times said, "wrapped inside the economic stimulus package is about $80 billion...aimed at promoting energy efficiency, renewable energy, higher-mileage cars...as a standalone measure, these investments would amount to the biggest energy bill in history."

It's not the size as much as the direction that's so encouraging. The shift in priorities over the past month has been unprecedented. President Obama has acted faster, smarter, and more decisively than any president in memory, and has put us squarely on the path toward a clean energy future.

Some specifics: There's $5 billion for weatherization of homes -- that's a labor-intensive endeavor and there are more than 100 million homes in the United States, so that will translate into new jobs and homeowners saving energy for years to come. There's $8.4 billion in investments for public transportation, and another $9.3 billion for rail, including Amtrak and High Speed Rail.

Then, in his speech to Congress on Tuesday night, the president asked Congress to send him legislation that "places a market-based cap on carbon pollution and drives the production of more renewable energy in America." He followed that with a ten-year budget that includes billions of dollars in revenues from the emissions permits that would be part of his plan to put a price on carbon.

Now that's not the law yet, and there will undoubtedly be strong opposition from the coal and utility industries, but it's in the president's plan, and that's huge.

Undoubtedly, we will have quibbles with some of Obama's agenda, like “clean coal,” but we want to be sure that the bulk of our efforts are in pushing forward what we enthusiastically support.

We are so used to opposing things, it's almost hard-wired in us. It's not that we can't or shouldn't do so -- certainly we're reaping dividends with our work stopping coal plants. But as the Obama administration rolls out these ambitious plans to re-orient our energy policies and rebuild our infrastructure, we will be most effective if we focus on supporting with all our might those initiatives that will move our agenda forward.

I also want to add my applause to the confirmation of Hilda Solis as President Obama's Secretary of Labor. As a congresswoman, Secretary Solis fought for a green jobs training program that's now part of the newly passed economic recovery package. She is also a strong supporter of the Employee Free Choice Act, and we will be working with her and our friends in organized labor to shepherd the bill through Congress.


[photo: NREL]

A Challenging February Board Meeting

The Board of Directors convened its first meeting of 2009 last week in Santa Barbara. It was a VERY full agenda, but I will only touch on a couple topics -- finances and leadership transition -- that I will be discussing more on the March 10 Open House/Conference Call. Also, be on the alert: we will be announcing a comment period for draft policies from the Business Partnerships and Landfill-Gas-to-Energy task forces next week.

The greatest internal challenge for Club volunteers and staff is ensuring short- and long-term financial security. During 2008, we prepared ourselve for the shift to a challenging fundraising climate and more narrowly restricted revenue streams. But the Finance Committee reported that the magnitude of the financial crisis and economic recession has made the 2009 budget the board adopted last fall too optimistic. The Club must now further reduce expenses while retaining focus on our core conservation, legislative, and outreach objectives for 2009. Measures that have already been taken or are under consideration include imposing travel restrictions, hiring and/or salary freezes, closing Club offices for five days, and voluntary reduction of work schedules. I ask each of you to consider what we can do now to help in this current budget situation.

Another focus of this board meeting was leadership transition. The Board officially launched the Executive Director Transition Process with the appointment of a Transition Committee, whose ultimate charge is to present the Board with a final short list of candidates. Directors spent several sessions reflecting on changes the Club has undertaken, evaluating where the organization needs to go to increase our likelihood of winning and take our capacity to scale, and the type of temperament we would seek in the next executive director. In the coming weeks, we will be letting you know about opportunities to share in this dialogue.

Catalysts of Change

In the face of all these organizational challenges, opportunities, and victories it is still the news about people -- individuals and groups who are part of my extended family -- that moves me the most.

I traveled to the board meeting via San Francisco in order to spend an evening with Bay Area Asian Community Leaders -- city officials, educators, business professionals, citizen activists -- to talk about ways we could work together to build a clean energy economy. The event was hosted by State Senator Leland Yee, who joined by phone from Sacramento where he was holed up with fellow congressional leaders until they passed the state budget. My thanks to John Rizzo, whose leadership with the San Francisco Bay Chapter and in the community as a Trustee of the City College Board made this possible.

Unexpected news was received at the close of the meeting: Director Lisa Renstrom resigned from the Board for personal reasons. Lisa has been a catalyst of change for the Board and the Sierra Club. During her 15 years with the Club, she was a local activist with the North Carolina Chapter, a Trustee of The Sierra Club Foundation for 5 years, and a Sierra Club Director for almost 8 years, two of those as president. Lisa’s shared vision for the Sierra Summit, which she also co-chaired, was pivotal for the Club. I know all who have crossed paths with Lisa have been touched by her commitment, persistence, and passion.

Then, yesterday we learned that Kim Haddow, Director of Communications, is leaving the Sierra Club (link to clubhouse announcement). This was not a complete shock, because the Board had been informed that Kim was preparing the department to transition to new leadership by the end of 2009. I always think of Kim as bursting – with ideas, with energy, with “fight.” Carl said, “Kim’s spirit and legacy will remain at the Club in the form of the team she has assembled and coached.” WOW -- as a leader, the best thing we can do for the Club and the planet is to pass the baton onto the next generation of leadership.

Thank you, Lisa! Thank you, Kim!

Students Help Stop Coal Plant and "the Obama Effect"


[photo: Sierra Student Coalition]


Let me end with two brief updates:

The Sierra Student Coalition at Northern Michigan University, above, was instrumental in last week's decision by the EPA to reject the university's air permit for its proposed coal plant in Marquette. Student activists spoke and rallied at public hearings and engaged the student body and members of the faculty to oppose the plant.

And Sierra Club Environmental Justice Director Leslie Fields, above left with Minnesota Congressman Keith Ellison and EJ organizer Karen Monahan, was interviewed on National Public Radio discussing "The Obama Effect" on energy and the environment, and in the March issue of Ebony magazine, speaking about what the Obama administration can do to eradicate environmental injustice. Fields stressed the benefits of "clean energy" vs. "cheap energy," and urged the cleanup of hazardous waste sites, which are disproportionately located near communities of color.

You can read more in Scrapbook.


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David Scott

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