Tide Turning Against Coal Exports in Louisiana

September 18, 2014

Gretna-City-Council-meeting

On a steamy evening earlier this month, dozens of residents of Gretna, Louisiana, which sits immediately across the Mississippi River from New Orleans, arrived at a City Council meeting, steeled for battle in their fight against a proposed coal export terminal in Plaquemines Parish on the Gulf Coast.

But instead of the pushback the activists had received for the last two months, the City Council unanimously passed a resolution calling on the Army Corps of Engineers to hold public hearings and conduct a comprehensive environmental study of Armstrong Coal's RAM coal export terminal before issuing any permit.

Gretna-City-Council-meeting

"This was the outcome of an entire summer of outreach by the Sierra Club, our partners in the Gulf Restoration Network, and the Clean Gulf Commerce Coalition," says Devin Martin, a New Orleans-based organizer with the Club's Beyond Coal campaign. "We made a big push to generate turnout and demonstrate public opposition to the export terminal at the previous council meeting in August, and more than 100 people attended -- it was standing room only."

Gretna-City-Council-meeting

Local activists distributed over 500 yards signs, conducted multiple canvasses, phone-banks, and outreach events, and generated more than 30 media hits in the month leading up to the September 10 meeting. "The Council was no longer able to ignore this campaign or the pleas of their constituents, and decided to take action," Martin says.

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"As the Parish (county) seat, Gretna is strategically important in the campaign against the RAM terminal," Martin says. "At the beginning of our campaign we stressed the possibility of mile-long, uncovered coal trains rumbling through historic neighborhoods, and we expanded it to how the RAM Terminal also threatens coastal restoration in Louisiana -- a paramount issue for a state in which land is disappearing at the rate of a football field every hour."

In June, the neighboring city of Westwego passed a resolution opposing coal trains, but the Gretna City Council proceeded more cautiously, even after hearing testimony from local residents who raised the specter of uncovered rail cars spewing coal dust throughout communities in the area.

Gretna-City-Council-meeting

Then on September 17, the Jefferson Parish Council unanimously passed a resolution directing the Army Corps of Engineers to conduct an environmental study and host a series of public meetings on the project.

"Jefferson Parish is one of the most staunchly conservative Parishes in the state -- in the entire region, actually," Martin says. "This is a turning point for this campaign and for the political climate in Louisiana."

Martin addressed the Council, praising them for passing the resolution and stressing how Jefferson Parish can be both environmentally friendly and friendly to business. "[The Council] showed some tremendous leadership standing up for coastal restoration and putting up this resolution," he told the New Orleans Times-Picayune. "We're really, really happy to see politicians in Louisiana who are not afraid to champion coastal restoration."

Martin gives a shout-out to the hard work of "our amazing volunteer team, especially Laurie Ledet and Gayle Bertucci, two warriors who never once shied away from their natural roles as leaders." He also praises Nancy Nusser of Public Citizen, Raleigh Hoke of the Gulf Restoration Network, and Jenna Garland of the Sierra Club, "who helped to make this campaign a media sensation over the summer and elevate the voices of residents."

Martin also singles out "the tireless and amazing leadership of the Gulf Restoration Network's senior organizer Grace Morris, who helped turn this campaign from what seemed a hopeless fight against an almost completely permitted terminal into one that has a motivated mass of people and the momentum needed to stop the coal freight trains from coming to town."

Learn more about what the Sierra Club is doing to fight coal exports.

All photos by Jeffrey Dubinsky

Borderlands Love

September 17, 2014

Sonoran-Desert-borderlands

The Sierra Club's Borderlands Team got a little love from the media last week when Environment and Energy Publishing's Greenwire ran one story about coalition efforts to restore environmental protections along the U.S.-Mexico border and another profiling the Club's work on the issue.

And just in time, too, because if there's one thing that there's just too little of on the border right now, it's love, sweet love.

Border-fencePhoto by Jeff Foote

Above, the border fence, which stretches for more than 650 miles in all four border states; below, a national park ranger talks to Borderlands Team activists at the border fence in Arizona.

Borderlands-Team-at-wall

The tinfoil hat blogosphere is ablaze with rumors of terrorist cells poised to invade the U.S. from imaginary training grounds and made-up martial arts dojos in Old Mexico. Ridiculous fantasy, yes, but not much worse than a real assault on our borderlands, an emergency border security bill that passed the U.S. House of Representatives last month.

Below, Border Patrol tire tracks mar the desert along the border. (Watch our video, Too Many Tracks.)

Tire-tracks-on-the-borderPhoto by Dan Millis

Ostensibly to address the child migration crisis, lawmakers approved a plan that would waive sixteen federal protections on nearly all federal lands within 100 miles of the U.S.-Mexico border. Laws waived include the Wilderness Act, the Endangered Species Act, the National Environmental Policy Act, and more. The last time these protections were brushed aside it was the Bush administration at work, imposing their wildlife-migration-blocking, flood-causing, habitat-crushing, 652-mile, $3 billion border wall.

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Above, deer stymied at the border wall; below, javelina face the same dilemma.

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Candid photos of kit foxes and prairie dogs at play grace the pages of Continental Divide: Wildlife, People and the Border Wall, written and photographed by Borderlands Team volunteer Krista Schlyer. Below, kit foxes in the borderlands.

Kit-foxes

Winner of the 2013 National Outdoor Book Award, Continental Divide shows that our borderlands are precious: grasslands graced by wild bison, exotic birds in lush habitat along rivers and streams, people gathered on a beach to relax and play music. Watch Krista's book talk online and you'll see the truly beautiful, though, threatened borderlands.

Chihuahuan-borderlands

Organizing to protect the natural beauty of the borderlands are two Texans who serve as Borderlands Team Co-Chairs: Scott Nicol of McAllen, and Julie Shipp in Austin. Julie takes care of logistics, wrangles volunteers, and updates the website, while Scott juggles print and radio interviews, fatherhood, and writing nationally-distributed op-eds that bring the borderlands to thousands of readers. That's Nicol and Shipp below.

Scott-Nicol-&-Julie-Shipp

Even better than reading about the borderlands is exploring them, and now is a great time to go! Conservationists across New Mexico and beyond celebrated the establishment this year of the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument, a jewel of the Chihuahuan Desert highlands just a few miles from the Mexican border. Don't confuse it with Arizona's Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, below, another dazzling desert getaway that adjoins the black desert sands and immense craters of Mexico's El Pinacate Reserve.

Organ-PipePublic domain photo, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Organ Pipe, named for the majestic cactus that occurs only in this region of the U.S. and Mexico, has had incredible rains this monsoon season, and the whole park is open to the public. If you are an aspiring desert rat, come see the Sonoran Desert in full bloom!

Organ-MountainsPhoto courtesy of Sierra Club Rio Grande Chapter

Organ Pipe, Organ Mountain-Desert Peaks, above, and all the amazing places in Continental Divide are what motivate the Sierra Club Borderlands Team to keep spreading border love. Reversing the largest waiver of law in U.S. history and toppling the border wall won't be easy, but it will be worth it.

Want to get involved? Contact Dan.Millis@sierraclub.org to join the Borderlands Team, and sign up for our monthly Borderlands email updates.

- Dan Millis, Grand Canyon Chapter Conservation Program Coordinator

 All photographs by Krista Schlyer except photos of Scott Nicol & Julie Shipp, and where noted.

Delaware Sierra Club Honored by NAACP

September 16, 2014

Gary-Hayman-&-Amy-Roe

On September 6, the Sierra Club's Delaware Chapter received the Community Service Award from the Newark Branch of the NAACP at its 18th annual Freedom Fund Dinner. Above, that's Amy Roe, Conservation Co-Chair of the Delaware Chapter, receiving the award from Gary Hayman, president of the Newark Branch NAACP. The two organizations have been working together for decades on environmental justice issues.

"It's a tremendous honor to be recognized by the NAACP with this award," Roe says. "We began working together over contamination concerns at the Newark Housing Authority's Cleveland Heights public housing project, which was built on the former City of Newark landfill and wastewater treatment plant."

The EPA identified pollution concerns at the public housing project in the 1980s, and during the 2000s the project was evacuated. The Newark Housing Authority went through brownfields remediation and is now in the process of redeveloping the housing project. "Construction is underway, and we are continuing to work on the issue," says Roe.

More recently, the organizations teamed up to prevent the permitting of a tire incinerator in the town of New Castle. "Incinerators are banned in Delaware, and we worked together to build a coalition against the project," Roe says. "We submitted technical comments show that the proposed incinerator met the definition of the ban."

The incinerator facility would have been located right next to housing where most of the residents are people of color. The Secretary of the Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control issued an opinion finding that the project did indeed fall under the incinerator ban and could not be permitted.

The NAACP was also one of the Delaware Chapter's coalition partners that opposed the construction of a new power plant on the University of Delaware campus in Newark. "We had a broad coalition of neighborhood, civic, environmental, and social justice groups working together to protect air quality in a community that many powerful elected officials chose as a 'sacrifice zone' for this power plant," Roe says.

In July, the university terminated the lease on the project, stating that the proposed 279-megawatt power plant "was not consistent with a first-class science and technology campus and high-quality development to which UD is committed." That's Roe, below, in action on the power plant campaign.

Amy-Roe

"The Delaware Sierra Club and the NAACP Newark Branch are modeling a solutions-oriented way forward for collaborative partnerships," says Leslie Fields, director of the Sierra Club's Environmental Justice and Community Partnerships program." Such partnerships should be lifted up more often in order to give hope to other communities. Congratulations to all involved and thanks for helping solve some of the most intractable environmental justice issues."

Beating the Heat in Bellevue for Clean Energy and Climate Action

September 15, 2014

Beat-the-Heat

During the dog days of summer late last month, the Sierra Club sponsored a "Beat the Heat" event in Bellevue, Washington, to support Governor Jay Inslee's call for climate action and pressure Puget Sound Energy (PSE) to come up with a plan to transition from coal to clean energy.

Beat-the-Heat

Free ice cream cones were provided for the anticipated crowd of 250, but that proved to be too few. "Closer to 300 people turned out," says Seth Ballhorn, a Seattle-based organizer for the Sierra Club's Beyond Coal campaign. "We hit our limit of 250 free ice cream cones in the first hour, but fortunately we were able to pay for additional cones."

Beat-the-Heat

The Sierra Club partnered with the youth mobilization group Washington Bus, progressive advocacy group Fuse Washington, and the Washington Environmental Council in putting on the event.

Beat-the-Heat

"We had some great activities," Ballhorn says. "Three bands performed, and the opening band Right as Rain played some great coal-themed folk and bluegrass tunes. Table for Three and The Jalapeños also performed. As always, our giant inflatable coal plant was a hit with the crowd, and it provided a great backdrop for the event."

Beat-the-Heat

Speakers included Bellevue City Councilmember Lyn Robinson, who talked about the steps the city is taking to reduce climate pollution and encouraged PSE to clean up its act. Activists with Washington Bus talked about the moral imperative of tackling climate disruption, and Evan Leonard, vice-president of local unionized solar company Artisan Electric talked about the abundant clean energy in the Northwest and how jobs can be created converting to clean energy -- Artisan started with four employees in 2010 and now has more than 40.

Seth-BallhornBallhorn, at left, wrapped up the speaking portion of the program with a call to action, urging people to support Governor Inslee's climate/clean energy agenda and help pressure Puget Sound Electric to quit coal and .

"We collected around 90 photo petitions using our iPads, 130 more petitions to PSE using iPads and clipboards, and signed people up to be Coal Free PSE petition captains," Ballhorn says. The Sammamish Nature Club had a kids' tree-planting table, face-painting, and games for younger participants in the rally.

"It was a very festive environment, with a noticeably diverse crowd," Ballhorn says. "I look forward to getting a lot of the new folks we signed up plugged in with our campaign in the coming weeks."

Learn more about the Sierra Club's work to move Washington beyond coal, and how you can get involved.

 

Beyond Coal Activists Turn Up the Heat for Clean Air in Maryland

September 12, 2014

Wagner-Generating-Station

Last year, Maryland positioned itself as an East Coast leader in offshore wind development with the passage of the Maryland Offshore Wind Energy Act of 2013. The Sierra Club's Maryland Chapter worked for more than three years to get the bill passed.

Unfortunately, the state suffers from the worst smog pollution on the East Coast, in part because of its seven coal-fired power plants. But the Sierra Club's Maryland Beyond Coal campaign is working to change that by pushing for the retirement of the four dirtiest plants: Crane, Wagner, Dickerson, and Chalk Point. That's the Wagner plant above, with downtown Baltimore in the background.

In early September, Sierra Clubbers, other concerned citizens, and representatives of partner organizations testified at a meeting of the Maryland Air Quality Control Advisory Council (AQCAC), where the state Department of the Environment (MDE) submitted its new proposed limits on smog-forming emissions for Maryland's coal-fired power plants for review by the council. The AQCAC is a citizen's advisory board that can effectively approve or deny air-related regulations proposed by MDE.

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That's Maryland Sierra Club director Josh Tulkin, above, testifying at the hearing. Below, Chris Yoder, chair of the Club's Greater Baltimore Group.

Chris-Yoder

"The first hour of the early-morning meeting was standard procedure, and the council breezed through their usual business in a half-empty room," says Baltimore-based Beyond Coal organizer Seth Bush. "Then, as the chair introduced the section on the new smog emissions rules, 20 Maryland Beyond Coal activists streamed in wearing 'I Love Clean Air' stickers and took up all of the remaining seats." (Bush had arranged for a professional photographer to capture images of the Beyond Coal activists making their entrance, but unfortunately the shots didn't come out.)

Seth-Bush"The council isn't accustomed to seeing such a show of support on a particular issue at their meetings, and they were clearly impressed when we packed the room," says Bush, at left. "Our supporters outnumbered the coal industry supporters almost 10 to 1. And as we learned after the meeting, the council was even more impressed by the sincere, compelling testimony given by attendees who called for the new emissions rules to be passed without further delay."

Baltimoreans with asthma, public health professionals, parents, faith community leaders, and other concerned citizens all testified on the need for MDE to take swift action cleaning up Maryland's dirty coal plants.

"The stories were inspiring, and the council was visibly moved," Bush says. A representative from the governor's office complimented us after the meeting on our impressive turnout and incredibly articulate, well-informed testimony."

Among those who testified was Baltimore resident Doris Toles, below at right, who suffers from serious respiratory issues exacerbated by the city's poor air quality.

Doris-Toles

"I had my first asthma attack when I was two," she told the council, "and I'm now living with Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD). A person gets COPD like I have after years of asthma attacks permanently weaken the lungs, and there is no cure. Doctors told me my asthma is triggered by air pollution where I live, so I have to be very careful and keep my inhaler close at hand on days when smog levels are high."

Although the council delayed a final decision until their next meeting in October, they provisionally approved MDE's plan to continue the regulatory process with the new emissions rules. "We aren't done yet, but we're well-positioned to win a yes vote in October," Bush says.

Bush gives a special shout-out to new Maryland Beyond Coal representative David Smednick for his "spot-on testimony and helping pull together our partners," and Sierra Club staff attorney Josh Berman, an expert on legal and legislative issues involving coal emissions, who also testified at the meeting.

Marylanders: Take action to help make sure the MDE holds polluters accountable.

Utilities Attack Rooftop Solar and the People Fight Back

September 11, 2014

UT-Rally-against-solar-tax

As many utilities nationwide see people taking clean energy into their own hands by adding solar to their rooftops, some are fighting it tooth and nail. Arizona passed a solar tax last year, and just this week the familiar battle made the news in Virginia -- but a major victory against these attacks came out of Utah late last month.

Thanks to powerful grassroots activism from thousands of Utahns, Rocky Mountain Power's plan to charge rooftop solar owners a monthly fee of $4.65 were rejected by the state Public Service Commission. (Pictured above, a rally this summer against the proposed rooftop solar fee drew hundreds of Utahns.)

After months of widespread opposition to the proposed fee from business, faith, and political leaders, and over 10,000 citizen comments submitted to the PSC against the solar penalty, groups cheered the decision.

"The strength and resiliency of our coalition came from its diversity and inclusiveness," said Mark Clemens, Utah Sierra Club manager. "We're pleased to have played a role in enabling volunteers and community leaders to organize and get their voices heard."

That unified voice was overwhelmingly heard earlier in August, when hundreds of Utahns packed a PSC hearing about the solar tax. The coalition included Utah Clean Energy, the Alliance for Solar Choice, and Utah Citizens Advocating Renewable Energy (UCARE).

"The fossil fuel lobby thought it could count on a relatively conservative and business-friendly state like Utah to be an easy win in the fight to kill renewables," said Clemens. "But Utah's ultimately fair-minded majority rejected the damaging fossil fuel monopoly and indicated their determination to protect clean energy and consumer choice."

Intalling-rooftop-solar

The Utah PSC will now open a public docket to consider the costs and benefits of residential rooftop solar.

According to Casey Roberts, an attorney with the Sierra Club's Environmental Law Program:

Rocky Mountain Power's proposed fee was not based on any evidence that rooftop solar customers impose additional costs on the utility's system. Rather, the company argued that because customers with rooftop solar purchase less electricity, they aren't contributing sufficiently to the fixed costs of maintaining the distribution grid.

What the company's sparse analysis fails to take into account, however, are the many benefits that rooftop solar customers offer the grid. The absence of any accounting for these benefits is inexcusable because state law (recently amended by SB 208) requires the Public Service Commission to weigh the costs and benefits of net metering prior to imposing any fee.

Clemens specifically points to the tireless work of two volunteers for this solar tax defeat -- Elise Lazar and Stan Holmes. Elise volunteers with multiple groups, and Stan with the Sierra Club and UCARE.

"Elise Lazar brought the group together and provided a consistent, far-sighted vision of what we needed to do," said Clemens. "Her original perspectives allowed us to surmount obstacles and see alternate solutions. Stan Holmes showed incredible dedication to marshaling the opposition to the solar tax. Among other contributions, he made presentations to community councils across Salt Lake County and ultimately secured resolutions from thirteen community councils that were presented to the PSC."

"I was struck by how clearly the neighborhood councils understand the connection between Utah's filthy air and the utility's fossil fuel operations," said Holmes.  "Their statements to the PSC reflect this.  Utah leaders at the local level are not afraid to speak truth to power.  Our Public Service Commissioners heard the grassroots message.  The Sierra Club and other pro-solar advocacy groups need to facilitate and amplify these community voices.  We'll need their support for the next round of this fight."

Some think Rocky Mountain Power will try to push a solar tax again in the future, but activists like Clemens, Lazar, Holmes, and thousands of others will be there. Utahns know that clean energy like solar power means good jobs and less pollution.

Restoring our Urban Waters: A Spotlight on New Orleans’ Bayou Bienvenue

September 09, 2014

Bayou-BienvenueBayou Bienvenue. Photo courtesy of Infrogmation of New Orleans

When you hear the word "bayou" it is hard not to think of the American Gulf Coast. These unique swampy ecosystems have come to define the region, especially in Louisiana. In fact, the word "bayou" is believed to have originated in Louisiana. Healthy bayous are not only teeming with biodiversity, but can also protect inland areas from tropical storms and hurricanes. These are just a sampling of reasons why protecting coastal wetlands are so crucial.

The Louisiana coast has lost 1,900 square miles of marshes and wetlands over the last 85 years as the Gulf of Mexico continues to encroach further inland. Louisiana's wetlands and the communities that surround them are in trouble, but there is a solution: restoration.

For the Delta Chapter of the Sierra Club, stopping coastal erosion and degradation has been a major priority. With the help of thousands of active Louisiana Sierrans along with like-minded local organizations, projects have been underway to promote nearby nature by bringing back the wetlands that once were and protecting the wetlands that remain. One area that has been a chief concern for the Delta Chapter is New Orleans' Bayou Bienvenue. While the biological health of this area is highly threatened, the efforts that are taking place there have given residents a new hope.

Bayou-Bienvenue

A formerly thriving freshwater cypress-tupelo swamp, the Bayou Bienvenue Wetland Triangle is now a barren saltwater marsh due to canal construction in the 1960s and subsequent saltwater intrusion. In its former glory, as the only part of the Central Wetlands system adjacent to the Lower Ninth Ward, Bayou Bienvenue was an integral resource for one of New Orleans most economically vulnerable communities. Previously filled with cypress trees, water lilies, fish, alligators, otters, and birds; older residents recall the swamp as a place to fish, hunt, harvest and explore.  Now the area is merely open brackish water, but efforts from several organizations including Sierra Club are working to change that.

The Delta Chapter has been working on the Bayou Bienvenue project since 2006 in partnership with local organizations and other environmental non-governmental organizations as the Restore the Bayou campaign. Below, a cleanup project organized by the Sierra Club on Bayou Bienvenue.

Bayou-Bienvenue

"In working after Hurricane Katrina with the community in the Lower Ninth Ward, the community decided that they wanted to recover in a more sustainable way. That included not only repairing their houses to be safer and stronger but also work on restoring natural protections like Bayou Bienvenue," says Darryl Malek-Wiley, below at left, who has been an environmental justice organizer with the Sierra Club for 10 years in Louisiana. Restore the Bayou is truly a community project born from community ideas and fueled by community efforts.

Bayou-Bienvenue

The Lower Ninth Ward community is making huge strides towards restoration. Last year, the Coalition to Restore Coastal Louisiana, in partnership with the Sierra Club and local volunteers, was able to plant over 6,000 wetland plants along the shore of the Bayou. In 2013, Restore the Bayou also unveiled new educational and interactive, museum-quality signage to help visitors and residents alike understand what the Bayou used to be and what community members hope it will one day be again.

New-Bayou-Bienvenue-sign

These amazing efforts are just the tip of the iceberg for what Malek-Wiley and the rest of the Lower Ninth Ward community have planned for the site. Not only are these projects physically changing the landscape of the area, but through them residents have a chance to connect with nearby nature.

Bayou-Bienvenue

As with many local efforts, Malek-Wiley says the major challenge is trying to secure money for the restoration project. In 2012 the Sierra Club was able to get Bayou Bienvenue included in Louisiana’s Coastal Master Plan, a state-level plan to reduce flooding risks and rebuild wetlands. Bayou Bienvenue's inclusion made the Restore the Bayou project eligible for state dollars. The Club also got the Bayou listed on a similar restoration plan developed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. While both of these were steps in the right direction, neither was able to contribute funding to the Restore the Bayou efforts.

The Sierra Club is working to engage the Urban Waters Federal Partnership with Restore the Bayou. The Urban Waters Federal Partnership brings together fourteen federal agencies with the goal of improving our nation's waterways and the communities that surround them. The Partnership focuses particularly on communities that are overburdened or economically distressed. At its launch in 2011, the program announced seven pilot sites and three years later the program has grown to include 18 designated Urban Waters locations, one of which is New Orleans. Sierra Club is excited about the growth of this program and hopes to work more closely with the Partnership in the future. 

Bayou-Bienvenue

"I think this is the type of program that [Urban Waters] should be investing in because it's being driven by community leaders, is directly related to the community, and would return ecosystem benefits to the community," says Malek-Wiley in urging that Bayou Bienvenue be designated as a Federal Partnership project. The Sierra Club supports the efforts to restore the Bayou Bienvenue Wetlands Triangle and is striving to create a federal and community partnership that will allow this area to once again become an integral part of a more sustainable and healthier New Orleans.

For more on Restore the Bayou Bienvenue Wetlands Triangle, visit their interactive website where you can hear stories, get project updates, and take action as well as donate to Restore the Bayou. 

-- Tia Watkins, Nearby Nature Summer Intern, Sierra Club

Diversity in Environmental Organizations

Diversity report"The State of Diversity in Environmental Organizations", which was published by Dorceta E. Taylor, Ph.D, a professor at the University of Michigan School of Natural Resources and Environment, highlights the racial, gender, class and cultural disparities among environmental organizations throughout the nation. The report examines the discrepancies within 293 environmental organizations nationwide, and is comprised of data from 191 conservation and preservation organizations, 74 government environmental agencies and 28 environmental organizations.

The report, which was prepared for Green 2.0, an establishment dedicated to the diversification of environmental organizations, was made, coordinated and supported by the Green 2.0 Working Group. The Sierra Club and Earthjustice donated funding. Leslie Fields, director of the Sierra Club's Environmental Justice and Community Partnerships program, and EarthJustice director Micheal Dorsey were members of the Green 2.0 Working Group with the Raben Group (a majority-minority progressive policy and law lobbying firm.)

Continue reading "Diversity in Environmental Organizations" »

Our Shared Responsibility -- A Journey Against Coal and Oil

September 05, 2014

Lummi-Totem-Pole-Journey

2,500-mile totem pole trip unites tribal and non-tribal communities across two countries

By Robin Everett, Sierra Club Beyond Coal Campaign

With the rallying cry of, "Warrior Up!" members of the Lummi Nation embarked in late August on a totem pole journey which they called Our Shared Responsibility: The Land, The Waters, The People, to oppose the proposed shipment of an unprecedented volume of coal and oil from the American heartland to the Pacific Coast.

Lummi-Totem-Pole-Journey

That's Lummi elder and House of Tears master carver Jewell James, speaking above at the journey's kick-off ceremony in Bellingham, Washington, and below with the totem pole he helped create for the journey.

Lummi-Totem-Pole-Journey

The mining, transport and burning of coal and oil threaten the lands, waters, resources and human health of all of us who live in the Northwest, but none more so than the indigenous people who sit right in the path of destruction. The proposed Cherry Point coal terminal would sit right on the ancestral lands of the Lummi Nation known as Xwe'chi'eXen, below.

Xwe'chi'eXen

The mining of that coal would also destroy Northern Cheyenne lands in Montana, and all along the way fossil fuel transport would harm the fishing and treaty rights of Native Americans. This is only one of several ill-conceived coal and oil shipment proposals for our region.

A 19-foot red cedar totem pole, carved by the Lummi Nation House of Tears carvers was at the heart of the journey as a reminder of our place within nature, our responsibility to future generations, and our connections to each other and to our communities. Totem poles are one of the oldest forms of North American storytelling.

Lummi-Totem-Pole-Journey

The journey commenced just one week after Oregon Department of State Lands denied a crucial permit for Ambre Energy's proposed coal export facility in Boardman, Oregon. Ambre's dirty coal project would have sent hundreds of coal trains through the region, thousands of coal barges down the Columbia River, and further disrupted our climate with dangerous carbon pollution.

Coal-train

The historic decision deals a severe blow to all coal export proposals in the Northwest and marks the first time a Pacific Northwest state agency has formally rejected a permit for one of the proposed coal export terminals. The Sierra Club has been working for years as a member of the Power Past Coal coalition to rally public support against the terminals.

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In its decision, the Department of State Lands cited impacts to "a small but important and long-standing" Columbia River tribal fishery.

"The state of Oregon recognized that tribal sovereignty and treaty fishing rights must be considered in coal export decisions," said Jewell James. "We expect the Washington State Department of Ecology to make the same considerations for Xwe'chi'eXen. Coal exports would devastate our fishery and threaten non-tribal fisheries, as well as damage one of our most important cultural sites."

After the kick-off event in Bellingham, below, where over 200 people came out to wish the travelers well, the totem pole journey began in earnest on August 22 in South Dakota, and then traveled through Montana and Washington before making its way up to Canada. At every stop along the way, hundreds of supporters including religious leaders, elected leaders, local tribal members, and environmentalists stood up with the Lummi Nation to oppose dirty and dangerous fossil fuel projects.

Lummi-Totem-Pole-Journey

In South Dakota, below, we met with the Yankton Sioux and Nebraska and South Dakota ranchers fighting the proposed Keystone XL tar sands pipeline who call themselves the Cowboy Indian Alliance. We were reminded that tribes and communities across North America are threatened by dangerous, polluting fossil fuel projects. 

Lummi-Totem-Pole-Journey

In Billings, Montana, below, 150 people including ranchers, environmentalists, and members of the Northern Cheyenne held a beautiful blessing ceremony at Riverfront Park.

Lummi-Totem-Pole-Journey

In Spokane, below, 200 people gathered at the Cathedral of St John the Evangelist Spokane, including City Council president Ben Stuckart, who offered strong words of support for the Lummi Nation in its opposition to the proposed coal and oil projects. Tribal leaders from the Spokane, Nez Perce, and Colville tribes also spoke in support of the Lummi Nation's efforts. (Read this account of the event by Spokane-based Sierra Club organizer Jace Bylenga.)

Lummi-Totem-Pole-Journey

Jewell James ended the ceremony with a moving speech, flute playing, drumming, and laughing to explain the importance of the fight against fossil fuels and for the earth along with other members of the House of Tears Carvers. (Hear some of what James had to say in this video, which also includes remarks by Jace Bylenga.)

In Yakama, we celebrated the recent victory against coal exports, won in large part due to the efforts of the Yakama Tribe. In Olympia, there was a small but moving ceremony honoring the life of environmental leader and treaty rights activist Billy Frank, Jr.

In closing the American leg of the totem pole journey, nearly 500 people packed the St Mark's Cathedral in Seattle, below, where leaders from 10 northwest religious communities, including the bishops of Episcopal, Evangelical Lutheran, and United Methodist dioceses in Washington, presented a letter that formally supports the stance of Northwest tribes against coal exports and other fossil fuel megaprojects.

Lummi-Totem-Pole-JourneyPhoto by Alex Garland

Dow Constantine, King County Executive and leader of the Safe Energy Leadership Alliance, stated, " It is really foolish, bordering on madness, to dig up a big chunk of North America, tie up traffic on the way through, and then ship it off to another country so they can bury us economically. I stand with the Lummi Nation and all those in the Pacific Northwest who are working to protect our air, our water, and our fisheries." That's Constantine speaking, below.

Dow-ConstantinePhoto by Alex Garland

The journey then continued into Canada, making several stops before raising the totem on September 7 at the Beaver Lake Cree Nation, which has been devastated by pollution from Canada's tar sands. To learn more about the journey visit totempolejourney.org

Lummi-Totem-Pole-Journey

Photos by James Leder except where noted.

It Takes a Team to Fill the Bus

September 04, 2014

Greg-Gorman-&-Dave-Alcott

By Greg Gorman, Skylands Group Conservation Chair

Greg-GormanThe rolling hills and lush valleys of northwestern New Jersey known as the Skylands are bordered by Delaware River to the west and the megalopolis of greater New York City to the east. Home to the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area, Wallkill River National Wildlife Refuge, and various state and municipal parks, the Skylands boast excellent hiking and biking routes, including a portion of the Appalachian Trail. But the area's beauty and serenity are threatened by the adverse impacts of climate change.

When the People’s Climate March on September 21 in New York City was announced in early May, the executive committee of the Sierra Club's Skylands Group and New Jersey Chapter stepped forward. The initial goal was to generate volunteer lists for the event. Signup sheets for interest in the march obtained 40 signatures at the annual Newton Day Festival in early June, long before the exact date of the march had even been established. The festival gave us a prime location on the main street where we set up a table with our signup list. (That's me with fellow Skylands Group activist Dave Alcoek at the festival in the photo above.)

Skylands Group chair Susan Williams and vice chair Edgar Sheperd reached out recruited Kim Latham, organizer for the local community sustainability group Transition Newton, and Wendie Goetz, a local activist, poet, and artist, to join the group. I received training as an organizer by working with Christine Sadovy of the Club's New Jersey Beyond Coal Campaign, and I am the designated Newton Bus organizer.

HOP-ON-THE-NEWTON-BUS

Once our Eventbrite page was established, group treasurer Jeri Dougherty reached out to the Unitarian Fellowship and others to obtain early donations and ticket sales. This helped to finance our advertising and flyer campaign. Skylands Group volunteers Noren Haberski and David Alcoek helped develop the flyers and identify organizations to collaborate with. By mid-July our team had gelled.

Let’s be clear-- we were novices tackling a project of this magnitude. For instance, when I set up the Eventbrite page with the help of Nicole Dallara, the New Jersey Sierra Club's outreach coordinator, I didn’t know to change the account information. My first check went to the Kansas Bus Organizer! We took a guess as to how many flyers and posters to distribute. We grossly underestimated the need and end up paying a slight premium for multiple orders. We suffered growing pains.

Our plan was to spread the word about the People’s Climate March and establish contacts with other local organizations to help promote the event and our bus to New York City. We distributed posters and flyers to local businesses. We were invited to the New Jersey Farm and Horse Show Green Day for the first time ever to promote the Skylands Group and the Newton Bus. We attended and spoke at various venues, including local farmers' markets and Green Meets with the Foodshed Alliance. In addition to phone and email, social media like Facebook was a major organizing tool.

Greg-GormanBy mid-August the date of the march was set, and at this writing it looks like we will fill at least two buses, each holding 55 people. We were successful in obtaining a subsidy to offer half-price tickets to students and seniors, and a number of donations came in so that we could offer five free tickets.

Marvin Feil, another core member of our team, helped promote the march at the local community college. Our phone bank team stands ready next week to solicit ticket sales. We'll be raising more funds and promoting the march at our regular monthly meeting of the Skylands Group.

Thanks to all the volunteers who contributed their time and energy to promoting the People's Climate March and the organizing expertise of the Club's national and state-level staff. We are confident that we will fill our buses and carry on stronger than ever in the fight to address the root causes of climate change.


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