From Shadows to Security

November 21, 2014

Last night, President Obama announced that he will use his executive authority to take the first significant steps toward fixing what has become an increasingly dysfunctional national immigration policy. As with climate and energy policy, he has not done all that is needed, but as much as he believes he can. In the face of a Congress that routinely passes on opportunities to do anything constructive, and political ideologues who cry foul before the ball is even in play, Obama is determined to do his job.

Why should the Sierra Club care about this latest announcement? For the same reasons anyone should care. Because (again, just as with climate disruption) fixing this problem is both the right thing to do and the smart thing to do. What kind of society forces millions of people -- people who are essential to its functioning -- to live in the shadows?

Policy debates tend toward abstraction and depersonalization. One side talks about "illegal aliens" and the other about "undocumented workers." Really, though, we're talking about people. People just like us. They are moms and dads. They're uncles, aunts, and grandparents. They may love to dance, to hike, or to spend Sunday afternoons at a big family picnic. Their kids play with ours in the schoolyard. We sit together in the same movie theatres and at our churches, mosques, and synagogues.

One thing is different for them, though. When we look to see who is being hurt most by pollution, our nation's immigrants are the people we usually find on the front lines. Their communities are not only among the most exploited and abused by polluters but also among the most vulnerable to the consequences of climate disruption and extreme weather. Yet they have been denied even the most basic protections that would allow them to speak up and seek justice.

That millions of families in this country should never feel truly safe is both unconscionable and un-American.

Beyond the issue of justice, though, Obama is helping to restore something that has always been essential to the character and achievement of our nation. Immigrants do not want to be a burden -- they want to contribute. In the past, we were proud of that fact and those contributions. When the Sierra Club was founded 122 years ago, at least 20 of our 182 original members were immigrants -- including, of course, John Muir himself. Some of them had come to the U.S. because it was a land of opportunity. Some were fleeing political upheavals. All of them, though, were proud contributors to their adopted country.

After six years of waiting in vain for Congress to act, President Obama has taken an important and necessary first step toward offering temporary relief for undocumented families. In doing so, he is enabling millions of people to make their own contributions to this country by removing the threat of deportation and family separation. The result will be an America that is more diverse, more fair, and all the stronger for it.

Thank President Obama for taking action here.

Tar Sands End Runs

November 19, 2014

In a narrow victory for common sense, yesterday the Senate rejected an attempt to legislate approval of the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline. Senators like California's Barbara Boxer, Hawaii's Brian Schatz, and Virginia's Tim Kaine stood up as environmental champions and deserve our thanks for their leadership. But since the beginning, the decision on the pipeline has belonged to President Obama, so there's no good reason for the Senate to have wasted time on trying to circumvent the approval process.

The bigger issue, though, is that there's no good reason to support Canadian tar sands expansion, much less allow more dirty tar sands oil into our country. Even though everything about tar sands oil is destructive, dirty, and dangerous, oil companies (and their champions on the Hill) are determined to bring as much of it as they can across our border, even if it means bending, breaking, or changing the rules. TransCanada failed this week to get the Senate to do an end run, but another tar sands company, Enbridge, has been having more success in a different branch of government.

Enbridge somehow has convinced the State Department to approve its Keystone XL-sized tar sands pipeline expansion. That's right, this is the same company responsible for the largest onshore oil spill in U.S. history, which contaminated 35 miles of Michigan waterways and wetlands in 2010 with diluted bitumen from tar sands. If Enbridge's expansion of its Alberta Clipper pipeline goes through, the increase in tar sands exports will be equivalent to building 20 new coal-fired power plants.

How did this happen? Enbridge had applied to the State Department to expand the Alberta Clipper back in 2012, which was necessary because, like Keystone XL, the pipe would cross our border with Canada. Since then, the State Department has been going through the environmental review process required by law before making a decision. But Enbridge got tired of waiting. Tar sands producers aren't in it for the long haul -- they're eager to cash in while their extreme oil is still economically viable.

So in June, Enbridge sent a letter to the State Department informing it that it had decided to immediately move forward with the Alberta Clipper expansion without waiting for State to complete its review. It would do an end run around the law by diverting the flow of tar sands oil to an adjacent, 1960s-era pipeline called "Line 3" just before it reaches the international border, and then back to Alberta Clipper once it was across the border. Enbridge asserted that the State Department's jurisdiction was limited to the actual border crossing, so State could do nothing to stop it.

Give them points for chutzpah. But, in fact, the State Department has jurisdiction over the entire border, including Line 3. Both pipelines operate under the permission of the State Department. The permits for both pipelines prohibit these kinds of operational changes, and State has the authority to revoke or terminate either permit at any time. Not surprisingly, Enbridge also ignored that the State Department's job is to evaluate whether increased tar sands oil imports into the U.S. are in our national interest, including climate impacts. Just last week, the White House reaffirmed that it is "firmly committed" to that process, which is why we expect President Obama to veto any future legislative attempts to shove Keystone XL down our throats.

Not everyone in his administration, though, seems to have gotten that message, because in July the State Department replied to Enbridge's blatant attempt to avoid the Alberta Clipper permitting process -- by agreeing that the expansion could go forward.

Maybe we shouldn't be surprised. After all, this is not the first time that the State Department's ties to the oil industry have raised eyebrows. Twice it has ignored its own conflict-of-interest procedures and come under fire for hiring oil-industry groups to write the environmental impact statements for Keystone XL. The resulting reports naturally downplayed Keystone XL's negative impacts despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary. In this case, it appears that State privately met with Enbridge to discuss this new scheme as far back as June 3, yet nothing was disclosed to the public until almost three months later. In addition, State has refused to disclose crucial permitting documents despite Sierra Club requests under the Freedom of Information Act.

That's why the Sierra Club, together with a coalition of environmental and tribal allies, has filed a lawsuit challenging Enbridge's illegal scheme to nearly double the amount of tar sands coming across our border, while avoiding public review and the presidential permit process.

Once again, though, it's important to remember that the stakes extend far beyond the approval of any single pipeline -- whether it's proposed by Enbridge or TransCanada. We should be looking for ways to avoid -- not encourage -- extreme oil sources.

Racing to the Top with China

November 12, 2014

What a difference a week makes. This morning we awoke to the news that President Obama and Secretary of State Kerry have negotiated a historic joint announcement on climate change and clean energy cooperation. Coming from the world's two largest economies and two biggest carbon emitters, the new targets set by President Obama and President Xi Jinping have put the international community on notice: It's time to put up or shut up.

Three major, overarching goals were announced:  

  • The U.S. will cut its net greenhouse gas emissions to between 26 and 28 percent below 2005 levels by 2025.

  • China will attempt to peak its CO2 emissions by 2030 (and possibly sooner).

  • Also by 2030, China will increase the share of non-fossil fuel energy it uses to around 20 percent.

China's pledge to cap its emissions is momentous -- and should compel India and other developing nations to set their own ambitious targets. But the game changer in this announcement -- and an underreported one at that -- is China's goal of producing 20 percent of its electricity from carbon-free sources by the end of the next decade. To accomplish that, China will need to install 800 to 1,000 gigawatts of energy with zero emissions by 2030 -- an amount almost equal to current total U.S. electricity generating capacity.

Such rapid clean-energy growth will accelerate a positive feedback loop. As China drives toward its goal, clean energy prices will continue to drop. Solar and wind are cheaper than fossil fuels in many places already; as prices plummet even further, the transition from dirty fuels will pick up speed, helping China, the U.S., and other countries meet and exceed their climate targets and save money in the process.

The U.S. and China aren't acting out of sheer altruism, though -- both countries will also gain tremendously by leading the transition to a clean-energy economy. Sure, cutting carbon pollution is a driving factor, but there's enormous benefit in doing so. Fighting climate change is something that we get to do, not just something that we have to do. According to the Center for American Progress, an accelerated transition to clean energy in this country will create 2.7 million new jobs in the clean energy sector nationwide. No doubt the Chinese have performed a similar calculus.

Of course, China had already made it clear that renewable energy was a national priority. At a time when we face yet another congressional debate over whether to renew the Production Tax Credit for wind power in this country, China is erecting wind turbines like yard signs in a swing state -- it already has more wind power than the entire European Union, and will install a record amount of both solar and wind again this year.  

So, yes, while this agreement means that China and the U.S. are standing together to take responsibility for climate action, this partnership is just as much about opportunity. That, more than anything, is why clean energy is unstoppable. The opportunities it represents -- both economically ("Consumers and businesses will save literally billions of dollars," said one administration official) and in so many other ways -- are a powerful force for bringing people, industries, and, in this case, nations together. Just this week, for instance, I attended an event highlighting how the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers and the Sierra Club have worked together to help create more than a thousand new construction jobs with good wages and benefits through responsibly sited large-scale solar projects in California.

One more point on this announcement. Those who keep a clear, unflinching eye on the total carbon reductions needed to keep warming below 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit will say that the U.S. could in fact do much more than cut its carbon by 26-28 percent a decade from now. They're right. The EU has indicated it will cut its carbon pollution by 40 percent (by 2030) -- using a more challenging baseline figure. And our fragile planet certainly needs China to cap its emissions sooner than the end of the next decade.  

But even a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single (in this case, giant) step. Two centuries ago, Napoleon presciently compared China to a sleeping giant that would one day awaken and shake the world. But he also made an observation about leadership: "One can lead a nation only by helping it see a brighter future -- a leader must offer hope." President Obama and President Xi Jinping offered that hope today by stepping forward together.

And what about the Republican leaders gnashing their teeth in Congress? What message of opportunity are they offering? How, exactly, do they propose to lead the nation forward when their rallying cry is "Retreat!"?

Don't ask me. I'm not a scientist. But I do know that real leadership should be acknowledged when it happens. For all those who have marched, testified, lobbied, litigated, invested, divested, tweeted, posted, and donated to fight against dirty fuels and for 100% clean energy, take a bow. We're building momentum. And also, please take a moment and send President Obama a message thanking him for acting on climate and elevating our clean energy ambitions.

That Which Doesn't Kill Us...

November 07, 2014

Yes, the election hurt. We feared it would be bad -- and it was worse. By now we've all heard the Wednesday-morning quarterback analyses of how and why the Democratic Party gave up control of the Senate and lost a bunch of other races around the country. For the Sierra Club, it's especially painful to know that in far too many places we have lost long-standing, hard-working champions for clean energy, for the climate, and for the environment. And believe me, it's not going to be easy to see climate-denier James Inhofe chairing the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee and Big Oil booster Lisa Murkowski picking up the gavel at the Energy and Natural Resources Committee. Not to mention Kentucky coal senator Mitch McConnell as Senate Majority Leader -- that’s a dirty-fuel dream team right there.

I could go on. But the fact is that losing elections is part of having a democracy. I may not be happy about it when good candidates lose, but I can accept it and move on. There's one troubling aspect of this election, though, that none of us should accept: an attack of democracy itself.

Without question, a rash of discriminatory voter-suppression laws in 21 states kept millions of Americans from voting in this election. Did these new voting and registration laws affect the outcome of this election? It's definitely possible. The New York University School of Law's Brennan Center for Social Justice has already made a strong case that in at least four states (Virginia, Kansas, Florida, and North Carolina) enough votes were suppressed to make a difference in specific close races.

It's no secret what's going on here: The same people who are poisoning our air and our water are also poisoning our democracy. This erosion of voting rights affects all of the work that we care about: clean energy, conservation legislation, climate legislation. The Sierra Club, along with a coalition of environmental groups, workers' groups, and civil rights organizations, and others, will redouble our efforts to stop this assault on our democracy.

Even without voter suppression, though, this would have been a disappointing election for people who care about clean energy and the environment. But that doesn't mean that there weren't any bright spots. Here are a few things to keep in mind as we dust ourselves off and prepare for what will be a challenging couple of years.

First, this election marked a huge turning point for climate change as an issue. Two successful senate candidates, Gary Peters in Michigan and Jeanne Shaheen in New Hampshire, leaned in hard on clean energy and climate. Perhaps even more telling, we're starting to see Republican candidates back away from outright climate denial -- at least rhetorically. That's why Colorado's Cory Gardner ran an ad claiming -- falsely -- that he supports wind energy.

Poll after poll has shown that the public wants clean air, clean water, and climate action. They want an end to tax breaks for oil companies and they want more investments in clean energy now. It's extremely unlikely they'll get progress from Congress on those issues during the next two years -- instead they will almost certainly see them attacked. You can bet that will be a big issue in 2016.

Second, although the oil and gas industries saw plenty of their candidates succeed, they were by no means invincible. In Nebraska, eight-term congressman Lee Terry, an ardent climate denier and proponent of the Keystone XL pipeline, was defeated. In cities and counties in Ohio, California, and (for the first time ever) Texas, activists succeeded in getting fracking bans passed -- despite being massively outspent. And in the refinery town of Richmond, CA, Chevron failed miserably in its attempt to defeat a slate of pro-environment and clean energy candidates, even after it spent at least $3 million (that's $72 per registered voter) on negative ads.

Third, the most important clean energy and climate champion of all is still in office. President Obama has made fighting climate change a priority, especially during the past two years, and there's no reason to doubt that he will stay that course. He has significant authority to speed up the transition to clean energy and to establish an even stronger climate and environmental legacy. He's also got plenty of ink left in his veto pen.

Another thing to remember: We've been here before, more times than we care to remember, and the political outlook was as bleak or bleaker than it is today. If we look back at what happened, though, progress didn't stop -- in fact, we came out stronger. The most successful activist campaign in Sierra Club history -- Move Beyond Coal -- began and flourished under Bush/Cheney. When Ronald Reagan put James "mine more, drill more, cut more" Watt in charge of the Interior Department, it inspired a generation of activists who are fighting for wilderness, wildlife protection, and clean energy to this day. Sure, we're probably going to be playing more defense during the next couple of years. But guess what? We are really good at playing defense. After all, we have something that's actually worth defending.

Our job now is to sharpen our insights, strengthen our programs, and find new and even more-effective ways to make the clean energy future a reality. As we do that, we'll see a new wave of voters becoming engaged in the political process who know that protecting nature and replacing dirty fuels with clean energy not only makes air and water cleaner and helps to stabilize our climate but also saves money and creates jobs at the same time. That will be a winning ticket all the way.  

Breaking Big Oil's Grip

November 03, 2014

Oil prices have dipped lately. In the short term, that's probably good news (unless you're an oil company or a petrostate). If we look at the big picture, though, it's a lot less relevant. That's because oil prices don't reflect the true costs of extracting and burning oil any more than donut prices reflect what a steady diet of crullers will do to your waistline. Eat enough donuts and your health will suffer, regardless of how much you paid for them. Likewise, the more oil we consume, the worse the consequences will be for our climate, our environment, and our democracy. High prices simply add insult to the ongoing injury.

Unfortunately, though, the real costs of oil aren't just keeping pace with our oil use -- they're outstripping it. The oil industry's increasing reliance on risky, high-carbon, extreme sources like tar sands, fracking, and Arctic and deepwater drilling means that we're paying an ever-steeper price -- not just in dollars, but in disasters. On top of that, it's clear by now that, unchecked, Big Oil will stay on this destructive course like an out-of-control automaton. If we let them, oil industry executives will keep drilling long past the point where the planet as we know it can recover.

And let's stop right there, because we are not going to let that happen.

What's more, the oil industry knows it. They know that people don't trust them. They know that people don't like being forced to depend on oil for transportation. And, most important of all, they know that people have the power to move our country beyond oil for good.

They know it's possible because they can already see us doing it. We are loosening oil's grip, and we're doing it from two different sides: supply and demand.

On the supply side, our organizing is already keeping fossil fuels in the ground. We're relentlessly challenging the oil industry's attempts to exploit high-risk and pollution-intensive oil reserves. Have you taken action to oppose construction of the Keystone XL pipeline to transport dirty tar sands oil? Then you've already directly affected the economic viability of that disastrous energy source. A new analysis from the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis and Oil Change International found that tar sands producers lost more than $17 billion in revenue between 2010 and 2013 as the result of citizen protests. We haven't completely stopped tar sands development (yet), but we but we are well on the way to ensuring that it is one of the first forms of extreme oil to become nonviable as we shift away from oil entirely.

And that's just one of many fights here and around the world to stop irresponsible drilling for dirty fuels.

At the same time (and this is part of the reason for the current decline in oil prices), we're reducing the demand for oil. As The Economist recently put it: "Energy-saving ideas will not suddenly be uninvented." Standards for more-efficient vehicles and consumer adoption of technologies like electric cars and more-efficient engines aren't going away, regardless of what happens to oil prices. Every single thing we do to promote clean energy and sustainable transportation solutions (like renewable energy, electric vehicles, transit, and walkable/bikeable communities) permanently ratchets down the use of oil in our economy. And as I've said before, once we break up with dirty fuels, there's no way we're getting back together.

Want to really keep oil executives up at night? Check out the Sierra Club's new "Pick a Plug-In" website to find out whether a full-battery or plug-in-hybrid electric vehicle makes sense for you. The U.S. already has more than a quarter million EVs on its roads and, this past fall, the fourth annual National Drive Electric Week drew more than 90,000 people to events in 150 cities and 39 states. Governors, mayors, senators, and city councillors from all over the nation participated and announced initiatives that will put even more EVs on the road.

If you do end up behind the wheel of one of those EVs, you'll join the thousands who've discovered that driving one is not only cleaner and quieter but also way more fun. At the very least, you'll have one less reason to worry about the price of oil.

Found in the Flood

October 28, 2014

Two years ago, news broke about a hurricane called Sandy that might be headed toward the East Coast. Ultimately, Sandy would leave more than 180 people dead, thousands homeless, and indelible images of a darkened Manhattan and storm-surge waters flooding the tunnels of the New York subway system. The total cost of damages was $60 billion -- the only U.S. hurricane in history that cost more was Katrina in 2005. Many of the hardest-hit communities are still struggling to recover.

Unusually powerful storms like Sandy and Katrina are extreme weather at its most dramatic -- a predictable consequence of a warmer atmosphere and oceans. When you combine such storms with rising sea levels, it's obvious that coastal communities everywhere are vulnerable.

But although we can't prevent more powerful storms, we are far from powerless. We still have time to take action to limit the climate disruption that makes storms more severe. But let's be clear: That time is limited. We can't pass off responsibility to future generations because that tactic has already been used -- on us.

Last week, the European Union showed the rest of the world what taking responsibility looks like by striking an initial deal to require its member countries to cut greenhouse gas emissions 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2030. Could the U.S. make a comparable national commitment? Absolutely. In fact, we could do even better, but only if we force our government to get serious about solving the problem. That will take a powerful, people-driven movement to overcome the money and influence of the corporations whose existence depends on their ability to pollute and exploit without regard for the consequences.

The good news is that such a people-driven movement has already started in this country, and you don't need to look further than the flooding of New York's streets and subways to see it. No, I'm not talking about the storm surge from Sandy but about the human surge of the People's Climate March in Manhattan last month -- the biggest climate demonstration of all time. In fact, so many people filled the streets on that Sunday, September 21, that the same subway system that had been inundated by Sandy set a new ridership record.

The sight of hundreds of thousands of people taking to the streets (and mass transit), united by a common purpose, was a powerful reminder that together we are strong, we are positive, and we are not about to give up on the future.

Exxon's First Prick of Conscience?

October 20, 2014

The fossil-fuel divestment movement has been on a roll lately to the tune of $50 billion, but one of its biggest successes happened last month: The world's most profitable oil company squirmed. Exxon Mobil's vice president of public and government affairs published a critique of divestment that concluded by saying that destroying our planet's climate by recklessly extracting and burning fossil fuel reserves is necessary to relieve global poverty.

This sudden concern is interesting from a company that holds the record for the highest corporate profits ever posted in the U.S. and whose CEO made more than $100,000 a day in 2012 (including Sundays). Exxon Mobil hasn't earned those kinds of profits by worrying overmuch about the poor of the world. As the Sierra Student Coalition's Anastasia Schemkes put it: "This is the oil industry saying 'please don't be mean to me' after bullying vulnerable communities around the globe for decades."

The real message of Exxon Mobil's blog post was unintentional. The fossil fuel divestment movement, which started on college campuses but has since spread to foundation boardrooms and beyond, is achieving its principal goal, which is to raise awareness of how morally indefensible the actions of companies like Exxon Mobil really are. I'm not just talking about its core business of extracting as much oil as it can, wherever it can, while it can. This is a company that pretends to care about climate disruption (with lots of talk about "mitigation," which is code for "do whatever it takes to keep burning fossil fuels"), while simultaneously funding the climate-denial industry and lavishing its largesse on obstructionist legislators.

How can we begin to get companies like this to change? It's tough to beat such a Goliath through financial pressure alone. Even the most wildly successful divestment campaign is unlikely to dent this mega-corporation's profits in the near term. But let's not forget that even the hugest corporation is made up of real people. And real people start to get uncomfortable when it's clear that not only is what they are doing terribly wrong -- but that other people are taking note.

That's when they start to get defensive -- and we can see that divestment really is making a difference.

The San Gabriels: Obama's Lucky Thirteenth

October 13, 2014

California may be famous for its beaches, but what really defines the state's geography are its many mountain ranges (and I'm not just saying that because the Sierra Club took its name from one of them). Last Friday, President Obama permanently protected one of those mountain ranges -- the San Gabriels that bound Los Angeles to the north and east -- by designating almost 350,000 acres of the Angeles National Forest as our newest national monument.

At a time when the U.S. Congress has all but abdicated responsibility for protecting public lands, designations like this one are crucial to protecting treasured landscapes before it's too late. Although it's his thirteenth monument designation, the San Gabriel Mountains National Monument is only President Obama's third designation of an extensive natural landscape. The previous two were Rio Grande del Norte and Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monuments, both in New Mexico. (At 490,000 square miles, last week's much-needed expansion of the Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument is by far Obama's biggest designation, but you can't really call it a landscape.)

But the San Gabriel Mountains National Monument stands out for another reason: These magnificent mountains rise above one of the most diverse metropolitan areas in the United States (and the second most populous). That means they can provide much-needed natural open space and outdoor recreation opportunities for Angelenos and other Southern Californians. The Sierra Club was founded on the principle that people can benefit from getting closer to nature. Sometimes, that means bringing nature closer to the people -- in this case, at least 15 million people, who live less than 90 minutes away.

Although the Antiquities Act has given presidents the authority to make national monument declarations since 1906, the real power to save landscapes like the San Gabriels comes not from the White House but from locally based grassroots campaigns. In this case, San Gabriel Mountains Forever (a coalition that includes the Sierra Club) devoted years to building community support, including public meetings, thousands of public comments, letters, and postcards. Last week, all that work paid off.

But our work isn't finished yet. We still have important, critically endangered public lands, such as the Grand Canyon Watershed and Greater Canyonlands that deserve permanent protection, and those of us who love wild places won't rest until that happens. Today, though, let's take a moment to congratulate the people of Los Angeles on their brand new national monument and thank President Obama for making it official.

Why Lisa Cried When Eric Dumped ALEC

October 07, 2014

Exactly 54 days after Lisa B. Nelson, the new CEO of the American Legislative Council (ALEC), started her job, Eric Schmidt, the chairman of Google, dropped the bomb: Google wanted out of its relationship with ALEC. "That was some sort of mistake," Schmidt said on The Diane Rehm Show when a caller asked why Google was supporting the organization. "We're trying to not do that in the future."

"It's like breaking up via text with your girlfriend when you're 16," said Nelson, presumably before throwing out the mixtapes and Google hoodie Eric gave her and unfriending him on Facebook. Wait a minute, she couldn't do that, because Facebook is also leaving ALEC. Well, then maybe she could post a picture of her trashed hoodie and mixtapes to Yahoo's Flickr site? Nope, Yahoo's ditching ALEC, too.

How about leaving mean reviews of Google, Flickr, and Yahoo on Yelp? Sorry, Yelp already gave ALEC the thumbs down. And before she opens Outlook to send some "actually-I'm the-one-who-broke-up-with-YOU" emails, she might recall that even Microsoft has Ctrl-Z'd its relationship with ALEC.

Any way you look at it, Lisa B. Nelson's first 60 days on the job were, as they say, character building. But, really, she shouldn't take it personally. It's not her -- it's ALEC.

What is it about ALEC that has given so many Big Tech firms cold feet? For that matter, what is ALEC, exactly? It calls itself a nonpartisan organization that focuses on the principles of limited government, free markets, and federalism. Not quite. The New York Times, reporting on Google's defection, described ALEC as "a conservative-leaning group that has urged repeal of state renewable power standards and other pro-renewable policies." And the Times was being kind.

ALEC is actually one of the most brazen attempts to steal our democracy that corporate interests have yet conceived. The "council" is composed of representatives from corporations, along with state legislators. Corporations like Exxon Mobil and Koch Industries pay fees along with other generous financial contributions. The legislators pay nominal dues but are forced to bring their families on all-expenses-paid vacations, where they mingle with their corporate benefactors and receive "model" bills (written by the corporations for the corporations). The rested-and-relaxed lawmakers can then take these Stepford bills home and introduce them in their state houses. The only way to make this easier would be to cut out the middleman and just let the corporations pass the laws themselves.

Because this all happens at the state level, it tends to fly under the national radar. It's also aimed dead at the heart of our absolutely critical local campaigns to develop clean energy and combat climate change.

ALEC exists solely to do the will of the corporations that bankroll it, which is how technology firms got seduced into supporting it in the first place. They hoped ALEC could help them with issues aligned with their own values, such as an open Internet.

What changed? The Climate Movement, which reared its head and roared on September 21 around the world, has made it a lot harder for some companies to keep turning a blind eye to the harm that ALEC does by undermining clean energy and funding climate denial.

Eric Schmidt was blunt: ALEC is "literally lying" about the reality of climate change, he said. "[They] are really hurting our children and our grandchildren and making the world a much worse place. And so we should not be aligned with such people." I can see how that would be a problem for a company whose official corporate motto is still "Don't be evil."

"Our citizens keep marching," said President Obama at the UN Climate Summit last month, one day after hundreds of thousands around the world mobilized to demand climate action. "We cannot pretend we do not hear them."

That is the strength of a movement like this one. It blazes a light that makes it impossible to miss the difference between what is good and what is evil. And here's how strong we have grown: Last week, Occidental Petroleum -- an oil company! -- announced it was leaving ALEC rather than be associated with its positions on climate change and EPA regulations. Other tech (and non-tech) companies that have severed ties with ALEC include Amazon, General Electric, Apple, Coca-Cola, General Motors, Bank of America, and Proctor & Gamble. Many of these companies left a few years ago after Color of Change and other grassroots organizations called out ALEC for its support of voter-suppression and "stand your ground" laws around the country.

Unfortunately, ALEC still has plenty of corporate funders who are willing to ignore the difference between what's good and what's evil. Perhaps Lisa Nelson shouldn't have been so quick to toss that Google hoodie -- she could have sold it on eBay!

That's right: eBay is still supporting an organization that Apple, Amazon, Google, Microsoft, Yelp, Yahoo, and Facebook have all unfriended.  

Send a message to CEO John Donahoe today and tell him that it's about time eBay, too, opened its eyes and saw the light.

Tigers Don't Want Their Forests Liquidated

October 02, 2014

You shouldn't have to worry that installing a new hardwood floor in your kitchen will rob Siberian tigers of their home. Since 1900, we've had a law in this country, the Lacey Act, that prohibits trade in wildlife, fish, and plants that have been illegally taken, possessed, transported, or sold. And since 2008, that law has also prohibited the importation of illegally sourced wood products. The problem is real: According to a report from the United Nations and Interpol, between 15 and 30 percent of the wood traded in the world comes from illegal logging.

That deforestation not only threatens endangered species (like the world's last 450 wild Siberian tigers), it's also a leading driver of climate disruption. According to that same report, 17 percent of all carbon pollution worldwide is caused by deforestation.

A law like the Lacey Act is only truly effective, though, if companies know that it will be enforced and that they will be held accountable. Although some companies have taken steps to ensure that their wood products are sourced legally, others may succumb to the temptation of easy profits if they think they can get away with it.

In 2013, after a multi-year undercover investigation, the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) published a detailed report, "Liquidating the Forests," that described illegal logging in the Russian Far East, home to the last 450 Siberian tigers in the wild. EIA's investigation alleged that Lumber Liquidators, the top-selling flooring retailer in the U.S., knowingly bought millions of square feet of oak flooring from Russia that had been illegally harvested and laundered.

One year ago, federal agencies launched an investigation. Currently, several government agencies, including the Department of Justice, the Department of the Interior, and the Department of Agriculture are determining whether Lumber Liquidators violated the Lacey Act.

This week, a broad coalition of environmental, science, and labor groups called on the Obama administration to enforce the law and hold Lumber Liquidators accountable. This coalition, which includes the Sierra Club, the Union of Concerned Scientists, Rainforest Action Network, and the United Steelworkers, knows that reducing illegal logging around the world will not only keep carbon pollution out of the air but will also protect communities abroad and jobs at home that are undercut by cheap, illegal products.

Already this year, prompted by the Lumber Liquidators case, more than 100,000 Sierra Club members and supporters have written to Interior Secretary Sally Jewell and to Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack asking them to fully enforce the Lacey Act.

Strong environmental protections only work if they're enforced. If you haven't already voiced your support for the Lacey Act, do it here.


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