Climate Pilgrimage in New Mexico

October 01, 2014

People's-Climate-PilgrimageAlbuquerque

The huge People's Climate March in New York City on September 21 dominated the headlines -- and rightly so, as some 400,000 people marched through the streets of Midtown Manhattan. But the New York march was just one of 2,646 solidarity events in 162 countries around the globe. From Sydney to Santa Fe, Rio de Janeiro to the Rio Grande, everyday citizens turned out to tell world leaders that the time for climate action is now.

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In New Mexico, volunteers and staff with the Sierra Club's Rio Grande Chapter partnered with New Mexico Interfaith Power & Light350.org, Environment New Mexico, and other faith and justice groups to host a People's Climate Pilgrimage.

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"We wanted our events in Albuquerque and Santa Fe to be journeys -- pilgrimages -- with stops along the way where people could learn about climate disruption, solutions to the challenges we face, and how they can get involved," says Rio Grande Chapter director Camilla Feibelman.

That's Feibelman, below, firing up the crowd in Santa Fe, where around 700 people participated.

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"We had speakers at each stop, and everyone who signed our petition supporting strong EPA carbon rules got a sticker," Feibleman says. "We called on Governor Susana Martinez to retract her opposition to cleaning up coal-fired power plants and urged utilities and state government to invest in renewable energy. By the end of the day, we'd collected about 1,000 names of new potential activists."

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Albuquerque-based Sierra Club organizer Dustin Chavez-Davis says the theme of the pilgrimage was to connect the dots about how the climate crisis is related to other issues, including immigration, labor, food systems, and energy production. Some 400 people participated in the Albuquerque pilgrimage.

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"Hundreds of people signed our petition and learned about the intersection of various issues affecting our community," Chavez-Davis says. "The event not only raised awareness about climate disruption, it gave people the opportunity to take action supporting investments in clean, renewable energy."

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"The pilgrimage brought in lots of folks from outside the typical climate activist mold," Chavez-Davis says. "It was a great opportunity to tie into issues that the Sierra Club and the broader environmental community don't connect to on a daily basis."

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"Leaders from all the organizations participating in the event stressed the intersection of the various issues affecting the community and how they're related to the climate movement, not separate from it. It was powerful to come together and hear stories from immigrant justice workers, faith leaders, environmental activists, and people who work with underserved members of our community."

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Alququerque photos by Tom Solomon. Santa Fe photos courtesy of Sierra Club Rio Grande Chapter.

Tens of Thousands Celebrate National Drive Electric Week in 152 Cities

September 25, 2014

Copenhagen cars

by Gina Coplon-Newfield and Zan Dubin-Scott

In 152 cities and 39 US states, more than 90,000 people attended events last week associated with the 2014 National Drive Electric Week. Getting people into plug-in electric vehicles (EVs) to experience the fun, quiet, and clean air benefits of EVs first-hand was part of the point. Event organizers from San Diego alone reported 600 test rides, and Littleton, CO reported a respectable 200. All told from our city captains, we estimate that there were more than 5,500 test rides in plug-in cars at our events.

California Governor Jerry Brown celebrated National Drive Electric Week by signing a number of new EV programs into law. One measure sets a goal of one million plug-in vehicles on the road in California by the end of 2022, about a tenfold increase in the next eight years. The legislation directs the state Air Resources Board to draft a plan to meet that goal and make sure that disadvantaged communities can participate. The policies will also ensure that it's easier for EV drivers to install charging units in apartment building parking areas. "We face an existential challenge with the changes in our climate," Brown said about the EV programs and other environmental initiatives he announced on Sunday, timed to coincide with a United Nations climate summit. "The time to act is now. The place to look is California. We're not finished, but we sure are setting the pace."

NYC Gas SuxIn New York City on Sunday, an estimated 400,000 people took to the streets to demand serious action among world leaders to address climate change. As part of Drive Electric Week, our 'EV Bloc' participated in the People's Climate March with signs like "Don't Pollute on Your Commute."

Public officials nationwide came out in droves to test drive and promote plug-in cars last week. Governor Jay Inslee of Washington issued a Drive Electric Week proclamation for his state. There was a "wicked strong" showing at the Cranston, RI event: U.S. senators Jack Reed and Sheldon Whitehouse, Congressmen Jim Langevin and David Cicilline, Mayor Allan Fung, and Rhonde Island Office of Energy Resources Commissioner Marion Gold all turned out to celebrate plug-in cars in the ocean state. In Juneau, Alaska, several mayors, Attorney General Michael Geraghty, and state representative Cathy Munoz gathered for test drives and promotion of new charging stations.

Stephanie Rawlings-Blake of Baltimore was among many mayors who issued ‘drive electric' proclamations for their cities and towns. Mayor Eric Garcetti of Los Angeles said in his own proclamation, presented at UCLA, that EVs "reduce our dependence on foreign fuels, and support a healthy environment and economy."

Cupertino's celebration peaked when a judge with GUINNESS WORLD RECORDS® pronounced a new record for most all-electric vehicles in a parade: 507. The fume-free procesion, cheered on by a crowd of a couple thousand, was organized by San Francisco BayLEAFs and the Silicon Valley chapter of the Electric Auto Association, an enduring granddaddy founded in 1967. Among parade EVs was the AC Propulsion tzero, upon which Tesla Motors based its Roadster, and Stella. With onboard solar panels, this low-slung, four-passenger car is said to produce twice as much energy as it uses in an average day. It won the 2013 World Solar Challenge, a competition that launched the storied EV1 and our era's EV resurgence. Stella was designed and built by students of the Eindhoven University of Technology in The Netherlands.

Many other students participated in Drive Electric Week this year, thanks to our new Ambassador Schools initiative. Still in pilot phase, we expect to have more about this program next year, but the idea is to raise awareness of EVs among youth. In Murray, Utah, about 450 of young and old alike got to check out not only electric cars, but also electric motorcycles, bicycles, and lawn-mowers. Even Mike Lookinland, also known as Bobby Brady from The Brady Bunch, showed up to talk about his love for EVs.
Wellesley people and cars

We at Plug In America, the Sierra Club and the Electric Auto Association could not have put on National Drive Electric Week without the hundreds of volunteers and dozens of partner groups at the local level, including many Clean Cities Coalitions. We also appreciated the promotion from allied groups, such as the 11th Hour Project, which announced during Drive Electric Week several exciting newly funded EV grant projects. Our friends at Union of Concerned Scientists took the opportunity to issue new blog posts on the scientifically proven benefits of plug-in cars, including: How do EVs Compare with Gas-Powered Vehicles?  Better Every Year…; and How Clean are Electric Cars? A Life Cycle Assessment of Advanced Vehicle Technologies.

Most of the events were in the US, but gatherings took place in four other nations as well. Many thanks go to sponsors and other supporters in the US and abroad. Automakers, dealerships, solar and EV-charging equipment companies, as well as municipalities, government agencies, and universities are among them. It wouldn't be fair to name only a few, but we do want to send a shout out to our exclusive automotive sponsor, Nissan LEAF.

Media interest in National Drive Electric Week was unprecedented this year, with coverage appearing in more than 180 national and local outlets. The Weather Channel broadcast prime-time TV news coverage, and EV owners of all sorts got some ink from coast-to-coast. Attending a Woodland Hills, Calif. event, Linda Tcimpidis spoke to a reporter with the Los Angeles Daily News. "I love this car," said Leaf driver Tcimpidis, 61. Added the event's 17-year-old organizer, Eric Doroski: "It's the future of cars, being plugged in."

National Drive Electric Week was a hit on social media, too, reaching a peak of 3.4 million Twitter users. If you want to spread the good news about plug-in cars, please share this article. Also, post a comment to let us know how your local event went and how charged up you are.

Photo 1: an EV parade in Copenhagen, courtesy of John Krøll; Photo 2: Kendra Griffin with her sons in New York City, courtesy of Gina Coplon-Newfield; Photo 3: workplace charging event in Wellesley, MA, courtesy of Bob Frechette Photography and John Hancock Property Management.

Gina Coplon-Newfield directs the Sierra Club’s Future Fleet & Electric Vehicles Initiative. Zan Dubin-Scott is founder of National Drive Electric Week and the Communications Director at Plug In America.

Sierra & Tierra: Enough! It’s Time to Act

By Javier Sierra

Out of the thousands of signs carried by the 400,000 participants in the People´s Climate March in New York City last Sunday, there were two that really stayed with me. One read: “Mother Earth is not a merchandise,” and the other: “End environmental racism!”

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(Photo J. Sierra)

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(Photo J. Sierra)

Both define well the Latino community’s thinking about climate change and environmental degradation. The planet is not ours; we have borrowed it from the next generation. And we disproportionately suffer the consequences of fossil fuel pollution and the damage it inflicts on the world’s climate.

That’s why for the overwhelming majority of Latinos it is inconceivable that this late in the game, climate denialism remains so entrenched in our country.

“The great majority of experts agree that [climate change] is a very serious problem that has been studied very carefully and with great detail,” told me in an interview Dr. Mario Molina, the only Mexican scientist to win the Nobel Prize. “Denying this problem is outrageous and hugely irrational.”

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Dr. Mario Molina

Dr. Molina —who discovered the cause of the hole in the ozone layer of the atmosphere and won the Nobel Prize for Chemistry in 1995 for it— is one of the authors of a climate change study recently published by the American Association for the Advancement of Science, titled “What We Know”.

“The report establishes that there are aspects of climate change that are unquestionable, the same way it is unquestionable the existence of atoms and molecules. The same way it would be absurd to question whether the earth is round,” emphasizes Molina, a member of President Obama’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology.
 
In his recent address to the UN Climate Summit, the President minced no words describing the severity and urgency of the crisis.

“The alarm bells keep ringing. Our citizens keep marching. We cannot pretend we don't hear them. We have to answer the call,” the President said during a dramatic speech in which he committed himself to address the problem and urged world leaders to follow suit.

Molina, however, recognizes the obstacles the President faces, calling them “irrational,” and places the responsibility squarely on the shoulders of one of the two major parties.

“It’s just the Republican Party, and not even Republicans from years past. I also work with Republicans from previous administrations who also want to solve the problem. These are problems of the party’s current identity,” Molina says.

The Nobel laureate also identifies the urgency to tackle this crisis from the point of view of the Latino community in the US, who’s most vulnerable to the effects of climate change.

“Neglecting the risks these communities confront shows enormous irresponsibility,” he says, but he also acknowledges that the rising power of the Latino vote could be key to accelerate “a shift toward a much more rational system that can duly confront the climate change challenge.”

This optimism in part stems from the recent announcement that the ozone layer is recovering in a satisfactory manner thanks to the 1987 Montreal Protocol, which mandated a worldwide ban on the chemicals that were causing the depletion.

“We are seeing that both the technological and scientific aspects of climate change are so clear that in a few years I believe we will see an international agreement similar to the Montreal Protocol,” predicts Molina. “It´s no longer justifiable to continue living in an era of irrationality, as if astrology were the guide of our actions.”

In other words, enough is enough. It’s time to act.

Javier Sierra is a Sierra Club columnist. Follow him on Twitter @javier_SC

People's Climate March Draws Over 400,000

September 22, 2014

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"Coursing through Midtown, from Columbus Circle to Times Square and the Far West Side, the People's Climate March was a spectacle even for a city known for doing things big."

So said the New York Times in its front-page coverage of the People's Climate March in Manhattan.

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More than 400,000 citizen activists, including more than 25,000 Sierra Club members, joined in what is being called the largest climate march in history. 

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It was also the largest-ever gathering of Sierra Club members and supporters in the history of the organization. More than 100 buses from 35 states were organized and funded by the Club, which also ran Climate Caravan trains from Washington, D.C., the Midwest, and as far away as California.

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Indigenous groups, labor, youth, scientists, food justice and clean water activists, religious groups, and civil rights organizations joined environmental groups in calling on world leaders attending the UN Climate Summit in New York this Tuesday to start taking real action to halt climate disruption.

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Among those marching were United Nations secretary general Ban Ki-moon, former vice president Al Gore, and New York mayor Bill de Blasio, who just announced that the city was committing to an 80 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.

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The march's official starting point was on 59th Street at Columbus Circle, on the southwest corner of Central Park. But from the early morning hours, the crowd stretched for miles up Central Park West to 86th St. and beyond, swelling in numbers and energy with each passing hour.

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Banners were raised, speakers, drummers, and musicians fired up the crowd, and marchers swapped stories as helicopters beat the air overhead.

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At the Sierra Club stage at 75th St., Club president David Scott, Beyond Coal director Mary Anne Hitt, national program director Sarah Hodgdon, former president Allison Chin, and Congressman Keith Ellison of Minnesota were among the speakers, and members of the Sierra Student Coalition fired up the crowd with call-and-response cheers like, "What do we want?" "Clean energy!" "When do we want it?" "Now!"

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"This was an opportunity to show the world that the climate movement can and should involve us all," said Sierra Club executive director Michael Brune. "I’m proud of the fact that the Sierra Club was able to harness the energy and commitment of so many people to join together with so many different organizations who have the same goal –- to take action on climate disruption and advance the new, clean, just, clean energy prosperity."

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Years from now, if world leaders listen to the alarm being sounded by citizens to take meaningful action, future generations may look back at the People's Climate March as the watershed moment when the tide turned in the fight against climate disruption.

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Check out this photo gallery of the People's Climate March.

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.

"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

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The Sierra Club's Borderlands Team got a little love from the media earlier this month with the publication of 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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

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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.

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"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

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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.

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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."

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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.

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"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."

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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

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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.

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"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.

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"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

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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."

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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.


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