Choosing Revolution: Time to Reject Tar Sands and Solve Climate Disruption

11/16/2012


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On Sunday, November 18, I join 3,000 activists, Bill McKibben from 350.org, writer Naomi Klein, Oklahoma environmental leader Earl Hatley, and others for a march on the White House and a rally at Freedom Plaza on Pennsylvania Ave in Washington, D.C. Our goal is open dialogue with President Obama and the American people on solving climate disruption and stopping tar sands and other extreme oil. We are asking for the President to reject the Keystone XL pipeline, but we also asking the President to embrace a positive, solution-oriented climate legacy.

Today we stand on the frontline of the fight to stop climate disruption. But I have some good news. We are also standing on the cusp of a clean energy revolution that will transform our nation, slash greenhouse gas pollution, and turn this climate disaster around.

It's not too late to prevent the worst consequences of climate disruption. We can and we will solve this, but it is urgent that we act right now.

A year ago, President Obama sent the Keystone XL pipeline back to the State Department for a new environmental review. The President put off deciding whether tar sands crude, and this tar sands pipeline, are in the interest of the American people.

We knew then that the pipeline was a very bad, very dangerous idea. But today, we understand that tar sands and Keystone XL is frontline in the fight to save the climate. The extreme weather of 2012 — a devastating nationwide drought and the Sandy superstorm — bring home the urgency of solving climate disruption.

The key to stopping extreme weather is stopping extreme oil… and getting fossil fuel extremists out of the way of our government, out of the way of clean energy solutions.

Tar sands is the dirtiest oil on Earth. We don't need it, we don't want it.

We're here today to support the President. To give him with the courage to stand up to the oil, coal and gas industries. Mr. President: Reject the Keystone XL pipeline and keep dangerous Canadian tar sands out of America.

It's the climate, stupid.

Today, with 350.org, the Sierra Club is announcing the beginning of a major climate agenda, leading up to rally in February — a President's Day march on Washington for Climate Solutions.

Mr. President, the tar sands are your climate legacy. It's what you do here that history will remember.

Solving climate disruption is must be one of our nation's top priorities, and those climate solutions will create the jobs we need, they will free our democracy from Big Oil and Big Coal's control.

No one should doubt for a second our ability to solve this problem.

The clean energy technologies we need to reverse climate disruption exist, they are affordable, and they are ready for primetime.

- We've doubled our wind power and we now generate five times more solar power than we did just a few years ago.

- That's explosive growth in renewable energy, but we haven't seen anything yet — renewables can power America and they can do it without greenhouse gases or any other kind of pollution.

We also need to use a lot less oil.

- President Obama's new car standards will double the efficiency of cars and light trucks, and slash U.S. greenhouse gas emissions. That's the single biggest step any nation has ever taken to reduce greenhouse gas pollution.

There's one last piece of the climate solution puzzle — we need to get Big Oil and King Coal out of the way of climate solutions.

- It's time to break fossil fuel industry's stranglehold on Washington. We can build a secure, affordable energy future and solve climate disruption if we put people, not fossil fuel companies, back in charge of our democracy.

The frontline in the fight to stop climate disruption runs right through Freedom Plaza today, it runs around the White House, and up Pennsylvania Avenue to the Capital. It hits every state, every home, every boardroom, every school, and every kitchen table in America. We need to make a choice right here, right now, about whether we will hand the keys to our nation to oil companies, or stand up and reject this ridiculous pipeline. Will America be the victim of climate disruption, or will we be the hero of a clean energy revolution? I choose the revolution.

The TPP Trade Pact: An Affront to Democracy

09/07/2012

TPP1Few are aware that Virginia, the birthplace of American democracy, is playing host to international trade negotiations that challenge democracy as we know it.

From September 6 through 15, representatives from the United States and eight Pacific Rim countries are meeting in a private and secluded resort in Leesburg to advance a trade agreement that could impact nearly every aspect of our lives. The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade pact could subject environmental and public interest laws and safeguards to attack by foreign corporations, threaten our air and water with toxic pollution, and lead to more American jobs being shipped overseas. Possibly most troubling, however, is that the TPP is shaping up to be a stealth affront to the principles of our democracy.

As president of the Sierra Club, elected by the membership of the nation's largest grassroots environmental organization, I value the fundamental elements of democracy -- including openness, transparency, and participation -- that help ensure fairness and equity in how rules are made and whom they protect.  

So I was bothered to learn that, while the negotiations for the TPP are taking place just a short distance from my home in Leesburg, I can't actually participate in -- or even observe -- any of the talks. In fact, none but TPP government trade negotiators, hundreds of elite business executives, and a handful of noncorporate advisors can even read any of the draft texts. It's all hidden from the public, and negotiations are conducted behind closed doors.

Members of the public who register with the U.S. Trade Representative are allowed limited face time with the negotiators: They can display information at a table for a couple of hours, make a short presentation, and attend a briefing by trade negotiators. I appreciate these opportunities, and I'll take advantage of them. However, presence is not the same as transparency and participation. And when nearly every American is shut out from seeing the language of the pact, it's impossible to call this an open process.

Continue reading "The TPP Trade Pact: An Affront to Democracy" »

Calling All Fracktivists!

07/23/2012

As president of the Sierra Club's Board of Directors, I want to invite you to attend an event that's very important to me and to the rest of the Sierra Club: the Stop the Frack Attack rally in Washington, D.C., on July 28

At the rally, I'll speak alongside other environmental activists and families whose water and air have been threatened by the dirty practice of fracking. You'll have a chance to share your stories and concerns with leaders, while marching from the West Lawn of the Capitol through the city. 

Fracking is a violent process of extracting oil and gas from shale rock formations beneath the surface of the earth. The practice is known to contaminate drinking water and pollute the air. But the rush to frack is sweeping across the country and endangering the health and safety of millions of Americans. Natural gas companies exploit government loopholes, ignore life-saving environmental protections, and disregard the health of entire communities. 

As a scientist, I appreciate the importance of thorough research a process the oil and natural gas industries sometimes completely ignore. 

The fossil fuel industries have failed to measure adequately the extent of the damage that fracking inflicts on the water, air, climate, environment, and health of families. In fact, a recent report from Earthworks shows that more than 75 percent of New York's active oil and gas wells go uninspected each year. Careful inspections are crucial since substantial amounts of methane, a potent greenhouse gas, escape from natural gas production into the atmosphere, causing major problems for our climate. 

The lack of oversight and public health protections on fracking is alarming. As we move away from coal-fired power plants, we have to ensure that we're not replacing one fossil fuel, like coal, with another, like oil or natural gas. Instead, we should leapfrog oil and natural gas wherever possible, use what we have as efficiently as possible, and invest in forms of clean energy that we know are safe, such as wind, solar, and geothermal. 

As environmental activists, we'll never be able to match the oil and gas industry's record-breaking profits. But we are rich in numbers. Many of Sierra Club's 1.4 million members and supporters come from states where fracking has already taken a heavy toll on the land, air, water, and public health. And fracking is on the move, coming soon to other states unless we can stop it. Fracking is growing at an alarming rate, and, if it hasn't already, it could reach your backyard next. 

That's why I'm urging all of you to attend the rally against dirty and dangerous fracking or, if you're unable to come to D.C., lend your support in other ways. Contact your local Sierra Club chapter or group to see if transportation to the rally is available, and consider donating to help organize the National Day of Action on July 28. If you can make it to Washington, D.C., you'll have the chance to rally to move our country toward a clean energy future free from fracking and drilling that threaten our health, environment, and climate. 

RSVP and join me in Washington, D.C., on July 28 to rally to end dangerous oil and gas fracking. 

Pennsylvania Sierra Club Exposes the Truth of New Fracking Law

03/12/2012

It is great to see the Natural Gas Reform Campaign, the Hydrofracking Activist Network Team, and Sierra Club activists coordinating great work at local, state, and national levels to rein in the natural gas industry. I want to highlight the PA Chapter's latest effort in particular.

Today our Pennsylvania Chapter launched a new tool in the fight against the State's latest effort to cozy up with the natural gas industry. A factsheet designed to fight back against the new, pro-fracking state law Act 13 of 2012 or, more accurately, the "Mad Rush to Frack Act." This mythbuster factsheet gives us the facts we need to reveal the ugly side of this new law.

As a resident of Pennsylvania, I've seen the fracking boom in this state firsthand. I've visited with families in Dimock and with others across the state who have been forced to live with the many problems that come with fracking. But instead of correcting these problems and preventing future ones, Governor Corbett and our state leaders have chosen to give the industry even more power to force fracking on Pennsylvania communities.

The Sierra Club's Pennsylvania Chapter is setting the record straight. Act 13 has many appalling features -- this is just a sampling of what's explained in the mythbuster factsheet:

  • The Mad Rush to Frack Act effectively ties the hands of local municipalities that want to protect their communities from the health and environmental dangers of fracking.
  • The Mad Rush to Frack Act allows the industry to claim multiple harmful fracking fluids as a "trade secret" and not disclose what the chemicals are or how much are pumped into the ground.
  • The Mad Rush to Frack Act even forces doctors treating you for sickness to sign a gag order if they are to know the content of the toxic fracking fluids. Apparently, this chemical cocktail is so dangerous that even our health care providers aren't allowed to disclose its contents to other medical professionals.
  • The Mad Rush to Frack Act also allows a driller to put a frack pad only 300 feet from your house. That's just a football field away from where your children play.

The Pennsylvania Chapter and its coalition partners battled hard to prevent the Mad Rush to Frack Act from being forced through the Statehouse by pro-drilling lawmakers and industry lobbyists. Now, the fight continues as we hold supporters accountable and educate the public on the real dangers of this law.

Join me in sharing this document with friends, family, and other activists. We cannot allow the natural gas industry and those who supported the Mad Rush to Frack Act to get away with putting the health of our communities and environment at risk.

-- Robin Mann

Moving Planet, Moving Tributes — Plus October 3 Open House Call

09/30/2011

I'd like to report on our Board of Directors meeting last weekend, but I want to start by inviting you join me for an Open House Conference Call Monday, October 3 at 5 pm Pacific/8 pm Eastern. Call (866) 501-6714 — 1892-005#. RSVP.

Picture 64

We took a break midday Saturday during our board meeting to join the Moving Planet march in San Francisco, one of more than 2,000 events in 175 countries — all to call attention to the need to move beyond fossil fuels to clean energy. (Above are directors Allison Chin, Donna Buell, and Aaron Mair carrying our banner down Market Street.)

Our Club contingent included the Council of Club Leaders, so we were representing nearly all 50 states plus Puerto Rico. Executive Director Michael Brune and Bill McKibben, winner of the Club’s 2011 John Muir Award — more on the awards below — spoke at the rally at the Civic Center that followed the march. (You can read about other Club Moving Planet events in Scrapbook.)



McKibben said we needed to send a message to President Obama about the urgency of addressing climate change:

"We took him seriously when he said let’s be the generation that finally frees America from the tyranny of oil. We took him seriously on the night of his nomination when he said when I’m president the rise of the oceans will begin to slow and the planet will begin to heal. You should not say stuff like this if you don’t mean it."

You can see more in the video below.

McKibben was one of the 23 annual award recipients honored over the weekend. This year, we held two awards celebrations, paying tribute to the amazing work of both relatively new and longtime Club leaders and others in the movement. You can read about all the recipients here.

But we did more than march and pay tribute to environmental heroes. At the annual meeting, we discussed a new initiative to strengthen chapter national relationships, we accepted the Council of Club Leaders' recommendations of issues for Board attention, and chapter delegates and directors met in small groups to discuss chapter-specific issues.

The board also received briefings on several topics: the second annual Chapter Assessment, the overall Communications program, the initial planning for the 2012 political year, and the draft strategy of the new Beyond Oil Campaign. We agreed to move forward with developing an organizational strategic plan.  We also made some appointments to key positions, including the new volunteer leader of the Activist Network, Clayton Daughenbaugh, the Business Partnerships Committee, and the Ballot Statement Review and Audit Committees.  I’ll be talking more about the board's discussions and taking questions on the call. (Monday at 5 pm Pacific/8 pm Eastern. (866) 501-6174 — 1892-005#. RSVP.)

Robin

P.S. One thing several delegates said would be useful is a chart showing staff members and what they do. Well, we have that, but we found out some of our leaders don’t know about it, so we'll be telling you over and over again in the coming months until everyone knows. You can find it on Clubhouse at http://clubhouse.sierraclub.org/people/staff/hierarchy.aspx. (There's a link in the left column of the home page — the second item under "other helpful links.")

-- Robin Mann

Environmental Justice: Promises Made ...

09/09/2011

Environmental Justice: Promises Made ...

I had the great opportunity to join Sierra Club's Environmental Justice and Community Partnerships (EJCP)team in Detroit before Labor Day for the 2011 Conference on Environmental Justice: One Community–One Environment, sponsored by the Environmental Protection Agency. And the Sierra Club — we were a co-sponsor.

EJCP Director Leslie Fields and staff members Rhonda Anderson and Spillman Truhart worked closely with EPA staff to plan the conference and Sierra Club contributed significantly to the presentations. These included technical trainings — by Beyond Coal Campaign volunteer leader Verena Owen on air permitting, and by EJCP staff member Rita Harris on using the toxics release inventory to chart local pollution. Melissa Damaschke provided a training about the People's Water Board Coalition and strategies for reducing water waste in support of the coalition's overall drive to avert the privatization of Detroit's water service. And both Melissa and Rita provided one-on-one coaching to attendees of the Eco-Cafe exhibition session.

Picture 59

The national gathering featured a luncheon that honored University of Michigan Professor and author Bunyan Bryant, left, leaning out, and lifelong Detroit activist and author Grace Lee Boggs, center, both central thinkers in the development of the environmental justice movement. Faciltator Donell Wilkins is at right.
____________________________________________________________________________________________

Michelle Martinez, a local organizer with the Beyond Coal Campaign, addressed the linkage of workforce development and transitioning to clean energy.

I appreciated the opportunity to join Sierra Club EJCP  organizer Rhonda Anderson's tour of the "48217" area in southwest Detroit, a case study of a community ravaged by  environmental injustice. Rhonda very compellingly presented an established, culturally rich and diverse community, now largely converted to an industrial zone, threatening the health and economic viability of its remaining residents. 

Marathon Oil has already placed its bets on dirty tar sands oil, expanding its refining facility a few years ago in southwest Detroit, where the legacy of environmental racism in the poisoning of the land, the air and the water should have made additions to Marathon's toxic releases inconceivable. Sierra Club and the 48217 community fought against it but were unsuccessful in blocking the expansion. The coalition did manage to negotiate a Community Benefits Agreement, to provide among other things for an emergency response plan for the refinery's neighbors. Yet even with our tour in progress, Marathon had a huge flare and release and sent its workers home, but failed to honor its agreement and inform the neighbors.

A longtime community leader, Rhonda has been in the forefront of the effort to give voice to the disempowered, stop the assault on Detroit's poorer communities and turn them around. Rhonda has also mentored and encouraged others to step up to community activism, including Vincent Martinez, who joined her in leading the tour.

A major blow to the cause of environmental justice was dealt right in the midst of the conference. The EPA announced its settlement with the State of California in the civil rights case Angelita C. v. California Department of Pesticide Regulation. Title VI of the Civil Rights Act VI is a potentially powerful lever for promoting environmental justice, authorizing federal agencies to withdraw funds from any recipient of federal funding, including state agencies, whose activities have a discriminatory impact based on race, natural origin or color. As detailed at the conference, despite concerted pressure over the years from EJ activists, EPA has allowed a flawed complaint investigation system to let cases languish and deny relief to communities disproportionately harmed by pollution. In the Angelita C. settlement, EPA found that California's Department of Pesticide Regulation violated Title VI of the Civil Rights Act by allowing unhealthy levels of the highly toxic fumigant methyl bromide near schools with predominantly Latino children, while children in majority white schools were not put at risk. Nevertheless, EPA failed to refer the case to the Justice Department and instead concluded a backroom deal that provides no relief to the families and requires little more than monitoring. Conference attendees deplored the settlement and resolved to demand that EPA redress the further injustice in this case, and more generally fulfill its obligation under the Civil Rights Act to effectively process and prosecute similar complaints.

I came away from the conference with my understanding deepened of the disproportionate toll — in sickness, lost lives and lost communities — being paid for our addiction to dirty energy of all kinds. It was gratifying to see the recognition of the Club's active role in the environmental justice movement and to be associated with the Club's dedicated EJCP volunteers and staff, whose persistent efforts over many years have established the Club's as a credible voice for justice and community empowerment. As the stories and presentations of the EJ Conference made so very clear, the ravaging of low income- and people-of-color communities is all about power. Power in the wrong hands. Power in right hands supports and creates sustainable communities. The EPA One Community–One Environment conference illustrated both realities.  

In the intervening days our attention has been considerably focused on the demonstrations and rally in Washington, D.C. against the Keystone XL pipeline, and the Obama administration's decision to shelve the ozone rule. Clearly the President needs to hear in the most-certain terms that embracing the dirtiest oil on the planet and betraying his commitment to clean up the air and water pollution harming the least responsible people the most is the wrong path. For background and what you can do, go here.

Fortunately, we also had some good news last week, with the announcement that three coal plants in Virginia, including two of the nation's most polluting, will be shut down in the next five years.

Picture 60

Club activists rally in Alexandria, Virginia, with the Sierra Club's traveling giant inhaler, to move beyond coal.

Two upcoming events I urge you to participate in:

September 24: The Moving Planet Day of Action to Move Beyond Fossil Fuels is immediate opportunity we must maximize to demonstrate the broad public support for choosing the right, clean energy path. Find an event in your community here.

October 3: Join me for an Open House Conference Call. I'll be reporting on the Club's Annual Meeting September 22-24. (And yes, the board will be participating in a Moving Planet event in San Francisco.) RSVP here.

Robin Mann

 

‘Shindiggers’ Shake St. Louis

08/25/2011

What a great privilege to spend two days last week with Sierra Student Coalition leaders at their annual Shindig.  National SSC Director Quentin James and SSC ExCom Chair Adriana Gonzales and their team assembled a wonderful group of new and veteran student leaders in St. Louis for this annual gathering to design their campaign plans for the coming year. 

This year's Shindig was also the launch pad for the SSC's new 5-Year Vision and Organizational Plan. The SSC's goal "to train and empower youth and to run effective campaigns that result in tangible energy and climate change victories," will be accomplished through the four programs of youth empowerment, energy, anti-oppression and training.

No question, the SSC knows how to have fun! But don't be misled by their wacky humor, ebullient camaraderie, and enjoyment of late-night dancing. This is as serious and passionate a group of activist leaders mobilized to confront coal and oil and bring on the clean energy future as there is. They were fired up about building on their highly successful Campuses Beyond Coal work — to get a full third of the campus coal fleet offline by 2020, building the new Campuses Beyond Oil and Stop Oil Sands campaigns, and expanding their capacity to mobilize more campuses and collaborate with more chapters and groups.
   Picture 41

[Snapshots from the Shindig's Ustream video — there was lots of planning footage, too, but these captured the fun.]

Reflecting on my two days with the "Shindiggers," two images come to mind that reflect their character. The first is from a session convened on instilling anti-oppression into their training programs. SSC members are highly motivated to respect difference and ensure inclusiveness in all they do. Even after an already long meeting day, the assembled group brought the same intentionality and intensity of focus to this task as was brought to discussions of campaign strategies and tactics. The SSC wants to win, but the victories must be for all to share.

Another lasting image is from the COP-17 planning session. A dozen leaders crammed into a hotel room for a late evening, two-hour planning session for the upcoming climate talks in Durban, South Africa. Two additional participants joined via Skype. A climate briefing for newcomers was followed by talk of strategy. The SSC aims to build on their successful efforts in Cancun to engage with Chinese and other youth delegates in collective calls for action.  Then came a frank exchange about individual motivations for going to Durban — there is a keen sense of responsibility for the carbon emissions it will take to fly there. Let there be no doubt that the students attending Durban on behalf of the Club are passionately committed to making the most of the opportunity to build the international youth climate movement and secure the planet's future. 

It is hard not to come away from that gathering inspired by the capability and determination of what has been called the "student arm of the Sierra Club" yet what is, really, the organization's lifeblood.  

The planned demonstrations in Washington calling on President Obama to turn down the proposed Keystone XL tar sands pipeline were much on the minds of the activists at Shindig, and our attention is focused on them this week.  The students are highly motivated to go back to their campuses and help build the groundswell of demand for the president to do the right thing by denying this environmental outrage.

How welcome it was to hear our friends in the Transport Workers Union and Amalgamated Transit Union voice their opposition to the pipeline, invoking the "J" word the other day.  Larry Hanley, president of the ATU was quoted as saying,  "We think there are lots of ways to produce lots of jobs, and you don't have to foul the environment. We think there are issues that trump the simple question of jobs." Amen!

-- Robin Mann

Q and A on Bloomberg Gift with Robin Mann and Michael Brune

07/28/2011

Please join Sierra Club Executive Director Mike Brune and me for a special Club-wide call to discuss the very exciting $50 million gift from Bloomberg Philanthropies to the Beyond Coal Campaign announced on July 21.

We will provide initial details on plans for putting those funds to work, and answer your questions.

The call is on Thursday, August 4, at 5 pm Pacific/6 pm Mountain/7 pm Central/8 pm Eastern. Call 1-866-501-6174 — 1892-005#. (Full schedule of conference call here.)

RSVP so we know how much popcorn to make.  :)

—Robin

P.S. If you want to be better prepared for conversations about Beyond Coal with neighbors and friends, you may want to vist the Talking Points section of Clubhouse for the excellent Coal Messsage Box and Hard Questions (and Answers) about Coal.

-- Robin Mann

Bring on the Backlash!!!

07/15/2011

Everyone who relies on clean water for fishing and swimming, and indeed for all of the functions of water in our environment, should be outraged at the reckless and destructive vote in the U.S. House this week to cripple the Clean Water Act.  The Dirty Water Act all over again, only this time, unlike in 1995 when Newt Gingrich led the attack, there weren't even any hearings to examine the repercussions of savaging the nation's foundational clean water law.  The other big difference this time is that it is erstwhile pro-environment Democrat and Transportation and Infrastructure Ranking Member Nick Rahall, acting at the behest of King Coal, who joined his Republican colleague Rep. Mica, darling of Florida's real estate developers, to lead the charge.  Shame on them and all the shills! 

And bless elder statesman Sherry Boehlert, former Republican Congressman from New York, for speaking out to decry the renewed assault on the Clean Water Act.  Rep. Boehlert, a strong supporter of clean water protection, led his fellow Republican moderates to join Democratic colleagues to thwart a veto-proof victory in the House for the Gingrich Dirty Water Act.  On Wednesday, Rep. Boehlert called for a repeat of 1995's public backlash, not just against this terrible new bill but the whole anti-environmental agenda.  His Huffpost Green piece concludes: 

"It's sad that we have to repeat all this now, with a new class of conservatives, filled with even more irrational exuberance, trying to undermine basic environmental protections, and led again by some senior members who should know better. But I hope the rest of the story is also repeated, with the scale and scope of the rollbacks waking up the public and leading to the tide being reversed."

Bring on the backlash!  Stand up for clean water!  No one should be spared who had the temerity, or rather timidity, to vote for this bill!   Take action to hold your legislator accountable or thank them for supporting clean water.    

Speaking of shills for developers, a serious blow was also dealt this week in Puerto Rico.  Gov. Fortuno issued a blatantly dishonest plan for the Northeast Ecological Corridor, billed as a conservation plan, but actually calling for fragmenting and developing parts of this ecological treasure and vital Leatherback turtle nesting area.  But we have the opportunity here, as well, to turn the situation around by showing solidarity with our Puerto Rican Chapter as they build the public backlash against the Governor's destructive ploy.  As Sierra Club organizer Camilla Feibelman reminded us, borrowing from Yogi Berra and Frank Jackalone, "It ain't over 'til it's over, and even then it ain't over!"  So let's all stand up for sea turtles and take action to help protect Puerto Rico's natural jewel.

And here's an action to take of a different sort:  answer the Nominating Committee's call to consider serving on the Sierra Club's Board of Directors, and be part of leading the organization forward.  The NomCom is looking for Club members who want to take on this exciting and challenging, and also rewarding and satisfying role, bringing their strategic and creative thinking to help guide the Club in maximizing our reach and impact in pursuit of the Club's mission.  The application information is here. The deadline to apply is July 31, 2011. 

Finally, I'd like to invite you to a very special upcoming Open House conference call about technology and activism. On Wednesday, July 27th, the Activist Network will host two panelists - Michael Brune, Sierra Club Executive Director, and Jared Duval, my fellow Board member and author of Next Generation Democracy: What the Open-Source Revolution Means for Power, Politics, and Change. It should be a very interesting discussion about the latest wave of activism, spurred by the Internet. RSVP and call-in details here.

Stepping Up

06/07/2011

Demanding Action from the EPA

Last month, I had the opportunity to join Club leaders at two of EPA's three Mercury and Air Toxics Rule public hearings, in Philadelphia and Atlanta. This was a critically important opportunity for the Club to help ensure that the EPA and the Obama administration heard resounding public demand for ending the free ride for coal and oil fired power plants to spew deadly and dangerous pollutants into the air. From what I witnessed, and have heard about the other hearing in Chicago, I have to say: "Mission Accomplished! Message Delivered!"

It was  so gratifying to see Club organizers and chapter and group leaders working in concert and collaborating so effectively with partner organizations to mobilize diverse voices to pack the hearings all day, to speak at press events, and to focus media attention on the tangible benefits of the rule for real people. I am especially struck by the wide cross-section of civil society coming together to call on EPA to put public health first, ahead of industry demands for yet more delay in cleaning up dirty plants. 

In addition to many Club volunteers and staff, some traveling long distances to be able to comment to EPA in person, a sampling included:

  • Rev. Mitchell Hescox of the Evangelical Environmental Network and Rabbi Daniel Swartz and other leaders from the faith community;
  • physicians such as Dr. Kevin Osterhoudt from the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia and Atlanta pediatrician Dr. Yolanda Whyte, as well as Dr. Mellinger-Birdsong on behalf of the American Assoc. of Pediatrics;
  • young mothers, like Gretchen of Philadelphia, and prospective mothers speaking out about the risks of power plant pollution to unborn and young children;
  • academics, including an Emory Univ. neuroscientist, who presented well-documented evidence of the impacts of lead and mercury on the developing brain;
  • Georgia State Representative Pedro Marin and former Representative Sam Zamarippa, representing largely Latino districts in Atlanta, who asked Club intern Elizabeth Lopez to read their letters of support for strong air toxics rules into the record to improve the air quality for their constituents; and
  • recreational anglers, and representatives from the EJ community emphasizing the special risks of mercury poisoning for communities reliant on subsistence fishing. 

 A couple of participants left a special impression on me as I think of all the people stepping up on the issue. The first was Simon Montelongo, a young teen member of the Eastern Band of the Cherokee Nation, who learned of mercury contamination of fish on fishing trips with his grandmother, described studying the path of pollution through the food chain in school, and expressed support for cleaning up the power plants so one day members of his tribe will be able to take their children fishing to waters where the fish are safe to eat. Secondly, there was Herbert Williams  who opened his Atlanta barber shop for the standing-room-only mercury hair-testing event at noon. When I caught his attention just long enough to add my thanks to him for providing the venue, he said he was very glad to do it. "Clean air and a clean environment are very important to me."

You can read more about the hearings in Scrapbook

There is still time for you to add your voice calling on EPA to adopt the proposed rule intact and on time.

38 Miles Per Gallon — in 1943

I know many of us had the opportunity to take advantage of the Memorial Day weekend for some rest and recreation, catching up with friends and family, and reflecting on the service and sacrifice, past and present, of our military and their families. I took the opportunity to visit a new park in Philadelphia and take along a recently arrived compilation of letters between my father, who was Army Air Force pilot, and the family back home, mainly my grandfather. 

My grandfather clearly struggled for newsworthy content — there is an overabundance of coverage of the weeds in the victory garden and the crabgrass — but it was wonderful fun to come across the references to the old Crossley car he was using for short trips to work and for errands. While he referred to it as a "bunch of junk" he was clearly pleased to report to my father, especially given the gasoline rationing at the time, that he had it greased and oiled and figured out his gas consumption to be 36-38 mpg. That was in August 1943. That puts into all the more sharp a perspective for me how incredible it is that nearly 70 years later, with the decades-long handwringing over oil dependence, and the wars, the U.S. fleet mileage average is a pathetic 21 mpg.  By now, the technology is readily available and oil dependence has proven all the more disastrous, and nonetheless it will take strong public demand for the Obama administration to step up and put the country on the path to the kind of achievable but ambitious fuel economy standards the situation demands. As much as we need to invest heavily in transportation solutions other than cars, we also need to ensure that the cars on the road are the most efficient possible. Right now the Department of Transportation is taking comment on the environmental impacts of setting new vehicle fuel efficiency standards. We, and our friends and family, can all help ensure Secretary Lahood hears overwhelming support for a vehicle standard of at least 60 mpg by 2025.  Take action here.

Leadership Skills for Work with Diverse Communities and Coalitions

Finally, I want to highlight a great capacity building opportunity for chapter volunteer leaders — the Club's new diversity training program, entitled "Leadership Skills for Work with Diverse Communities and Coalitions." This training series will enhance your chapter's ability to build connections and relationships with diverse communities and community organizations, and pursue shared goals. Launch is scheduled for later this month. Contact Greg Casini to find out more.

 -- Robin Mann


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