First-ever Texas Sierra Club energy conference a huge success

October 15, 2014

A sold-out crowd of more than 250 people people attended the first ever "Earth, Wind, and Fire Energy Summit" earlier this month in Dallas, Texas. The Dallas Group of the Sierra Club Lone Star Chapter organized the event, which also included more than 22 speakers and 19 exhibitors.

Photo (1)"The two-day conference Oct. 4-5 focused on all forms of energy - coal, nuclear, natural gas, oil, wind, solar, geothermal, and waste to energy," said Rita Beving, conservation co-chair of the Dallas Group and coordinator of the conference. "The purpose was to inform the public beyond media 'soundbites' of what is going on currently with these forms of energy from both a national and state perspective, and what does the future hold for the potential use of all of these forms of energy. It also focused on the human and environmental impacts that these sources may have, be it from mining to transport."

Beving said attendees came from across Texas, Arkansas, and Kansas, and speakers included professionals and academics from across the U.S. (Click here to check out the full brochure of all the speakers and workshops - PDF) One of the highlighted speakers was Dr. Nicholas van der Elst of Columbia's Lamont-Doherty Earth Institute in New York, who spoke about fracking, earthquakes and disposal wells.  

"The Dallas/Ft. Worth area has experienced more than 33 earthquakes earlier in 2014 within a few months' timeframe and it is believed that these triggered earthquakes are caused by disposal wells and fracking," explained Beving. "Even the Mayor of Reno, one of the cities that has been afflicted with earthquakes, came to hear this speaker."

DSC06584_Welcome_Rita_Beving_photo_by_Linda_CookeOther speakers discussed the effects of increased oil trains and fossil fuel exports, as well as pipeline safety issues. Just as important and well-attended were the sessions on wind and solar power.

Beving credits a great group of planning volunteers for making the conference so successful that it sold out 10 days in advance.

"It was also gratifying to see that the audience was at least three-fourths new people not affiliated or involved with the Sierra Club," she added. "There were many people who participated who otherwise may not have the kind of exposure to energy and environmental issues that Sierra Club volunteers have. We also had universities participate as sponsors and bring dozens of students."

The conference sponsors were the Dallas County Community College District, Public Citizen, EarthWorks, the Texas Campaign for the Environment Fund, Green Source DFW, the Seed Coalition, Texas Interfaith Power & Light, the League of Women Voters of Dallas, the Population Media Center, Breeze Energy, the Clean Water Fund, EarthDay Texas, Axium Solar, System Change Not Climate Change, Natural Awakenings, and the Texas League of Conservation Voters.

DSC06589_Renewable_Panel_photo_by_Linda_Cooke"The success of this conference shows that people are 'hungry' for better and deeper information on energy," said Beving. "Many attendees remarked that it was great to hear from experts on subjects of their concern, like pipeline vs. rail transport of oil in light of all the incidents reported in the U.S. and Canada.

"People also were interested in hearing about about fracking and groundwater contamination, about the proposed export of America's energy, about the potential for more wind and solar in the country, and that there are options for the financing of such renewables for home use."

Beving says they hope to do another conference next year.

New National Monument Sweet Victory for Sierra Club Board Member

October 13, 2014

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Among those taking the greatest pride when President Obama formally designated the 346,000-acre San Gabriel Mountains National Monument in Southern California on October 10 was Susana Reyes, a member of the Sierra Club's Board of Directors since 2012. That's Reyes, above, speaking at the community celebration held immediately after the signing ceremony.

Formerly the Director of Human Resources with the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, last year Reyes joined Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti's Sustainability Team, where she is a senior analyst.

The Planet spoke with Reyes just hours before President Obama dedicated the nation's newest national monument.

Planet: You've been championing a San Gabriel Mountains National Monument for years. What does today's designation mean to you?

Reyes: Greater visibility for these mountains has a real power to affect the lives of people in the community. Studies show that it's a de-stressor to connect with the outdoors. We're protecting these mountains forever so that future generations will be able to enjoy them.

I'm a local; I've lived in Glendale, right up against the San Gabriels, for more than 20 years, and I've been a Sierra Club activist since 1999. I think one of the most gratifying things about the new San Gabriel Mountains National Monument is what it will mean to the diverse communities who will now have greater awareness and access to this amazing resource. These are communities that have traditionally been underserved in terms of access to the outdoors.

The San Gabriels contain about 70 percent of the open space in Los Angeles County and provide a third of its drinking water. The mountain range receives about 3.5 million visitors a year, many of them from L.A.'s Latino community. But the visitor experience has been lacking due to inadequate maintenance and services. The San Gabriels are a majestic backdrop to Los Angeles, but they have long been neglected. Even though some 17 million people live nearby, many low income communities and communities of color haven't been fully aware of the incredible resourse these mountains provide.

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Planet: Why do you think this is?

Reyes: Recreational and wilderness resources in the San Gabriels have been poorly maintained because the U.S. Forest Service has lacked an adequate budget. Now the National Park Service and the Forest Service will be co-managing the national monument. Public access will be improved, as will the visitor experience. Many of the communities closest to the San Gabriels are socio-economically underserved, and haven't felt they had a real decision-making stake in the San Gabriels. Many of them use the San Gabriels for recreation, but until recently they haven't been organized in making their experience there a better one. But that has been changing, in large part due to the Sierra Club.

Planet:  Tell us about the Sierra Club's role in helping bring about this change.

Reyes: The Sierra Club's role in this has been hugely important. We've been involved for more than a decade -- for the last several years as a member of the San Gabriel Mountains Forever Coalition, which formed when President Obama began designating national monuments and Congresswoman Hilda Solis was championing greater protections for the San Gabriels. Once Solis became the U.S. Secretary of Labor, her successor Judy Chu took the lead in Congress for enhancements and national monument status for the San Gabriels.

Monsen-Chu-ReyesSierra Club volunteer John Monsen, Congresswoman Judy Chu, and Reyes at the community celebration following the national monument signing ceremony. Reyes was among the featured speakers at the community celebration.

The Sierra Club hosted or co-hosted many, many community meetings to promote the national monument and recruit local champions from the community. The Club paid many times for buses to pick people up and get them to the meetings. We've worked closely from the get-go with the Latino community, faith, groups, and environmental justice groups. Sierra Club volunteers and staff translated campaign materials into Spanish. Organizers like Juana Torres, Fabiola Lao, Bill Corcoran, Sarah Matsumoto, Hop Hopkins, Eva Hernandez-Simmons, and Nidia Erceg really connected with the Latino community and helped bring them into the coalition.

Planet: What has your own involvement been?

Reyes: When the Sierra Club or the San Gabriel Mountains Forever Coalition gave presentations, I would be there to support the team. I've been a liaison with Congresswomen Solis and Chu. I was in contact with them whenever there were efforts to write letters of support, I had input into those letters, and I wrote many of them in person. I also helped with fundraising, although that effort was mostly led by Juana Torres. As a member of the Sierra Club's Board of Directors, I was the most visible volunteer, but I wanted to make sure that local volunteers got most of the credit, as they deserve.

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Planet: Tell us how Club volunteers have been critical to the campaign's success.

Reyes: Volunteers have been huge in this effort. They have the skills, the passion, and they've long organized for this campaign, helping us pack rooms with people and channel support for the national monument. Three who have been key to our efforts are Don Bremner and John Monsen of the Angeles Chapter's forest committee, and Joyce Burk of the San Gorgonio Chapter's forest committee -- and I would be remiss not to mention Joan Licari, Joan Holtz, David Czamanske, Bob Cates, Judy Anderson, Jeff Yann, Lizz Pomeroy, Joanne Sarachman, and Jennifer Robinson, who have all made important contributions to this campaign over the years.

San-Gabriel-Mts-meetingSierra Club/San Gabriel Mountains Forever Coalition meeting in 2013.

All the capacities of the Sierra Club were pulled together by our volunteers to help build momentum toward national monument designation. Through this campaign, the Sierra Club has really connected with the Latino community in L.A. and gotten them involved. We don't just enter the community unprepared; we listen and learn first. The Club's campaign was very inclusive, a demonstration of our diversity, and it exemplifies the way we communicate and incorporate the social and cultural beliefs of the community into our work. It's been a huge success so far as movement-building and the diversity of the Club.

This wasn't just the Sierra Club standing alone, but the Sierra Club standing with diverse communities. In order to make this happen, we needed to push all of our goals to explore, enjoy, and protect the planet, but we also needed to work with the people who are going to use this mountain range and bring them into the process. National monument status will enhance their awareness of the San Gabriels, their experience enjoying the mountains and rivers, and their sense of ownership of this incredible resource. And of course, it will ensure that the things we love about the San Gabriels will remain to be enjoyed by others.

San-Gabriel-MountainsPhoto by Ricraider, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Why Latinos Were So Crucial in the San Gabriels Designation

By Guest Blogger Rod Torrez

After the long campaign to protect the region, last Friday's designation of the San Gabriel Mountains as a National Monument is a victory for Latinos to celebrate. The monument's designation represents a significant moment in which we can see how effectively our community can engage in protecting public lands —as well as the ways we enjoy them.

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The numbers clearly show that the Latino community supports this designation. Reflecting outcomes of other recent polls addressing Latino attitudes towards environmental conservation and land preservation, a recent poll of Los Angeles voters revealed that an overwhelming majority (88 percent) of Latinos supported protecting the San Gabriel Mountains and rivers. In addition to a wide coalition of conservationists, a number of Latino organizations backed the effort to protect the San Gabriels, including, to name just a few, California LULAC, Mujeres de la Tierra, Latino Coalition for a Healthy California and the faith-based alliance Por la Creación.

The San Gabriel Mountains National Monument is the third of three large areas of public land that has been granted National Monument status by the Obama administration in the last two years, thanks in large part to support from Latino communities that surround them. The other two are Rio Grande del Norte National Monument and Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument, both in New Mexico. This trend of course raises the question: why is protecting these places so important to Latinos?

Latinos in the Southwest have witnessed extractive industries such as oil, gas and mineral development, as well as urban growth, mar the landscapes, pollute watersheds and affect the wildlife that have sustained us for generations. These lands are part of our heritage and are as treasured to us as are the Grand Tetons in Wyoming or the Florida Everglades.

Yet Latinos, especially Latino hunters and anglers, would argue that protecting the land by setting it aside and cutting off our recreational and traditional uses would be unsatisfactory to the community.  We support these new monuments largely because they not only protect the land and waterways, but also respect continued access for hunting, fishing, camping and hiking —activities that our communities throughout the Southwest have pursued for generations.

The San Gabriel Mountains in particular have always been a welcome reprieve from the city for Latinos, especially for hunting and fishing, and have been increasingly valuable as a destination for outdoor education programs, with private organizations and public agencies using the area to connect many Latino urban youth to the outdoors. Moreover, the San Gabriel Mountains watershed provides a significant portion of the region's clean water supply; protecting the health of the resource is paramount to the health of communities downstream.

There are many good reasons to celebrate the new national monument. But it is important to note that the San Gabriel Mountains, along with the Rio Grande del Norte, and the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monuments represent a new approach by protecting the land we love and respecting how we have enjoyed the land for generations. It's encouraging to know that we can continue to enjoy these places for generations to come. It's also satisfying to know that Latinos have played a significant role in protecting them.

Rod Torrez is director of Hispanics Enjoying Camping, Hunting and Outdoors (HECHO)

Hands Across the Sand in Waukegan

October 10, 2014

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More than 120 residents and community leaders who live near coal-fired power plants in Waukegan, Romeoville, and Pekin, Illinois, gathered at Waukegan's Municipal Beach on Lake Michigan in view of NRG Energy's 60-year-old Waukegan Generating Station for an event called Hands Across the Sand: Solidarity for Clean Water and Clean Power.

The event, organized by the Sierra Club's Clean Power Lake County campaign, began with a beach cleanup of several acres and ended with a program that included speakers from all three communities, each of which is home to an NRG coal plant.

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"This was the largest beach sweep in Waukegan history," says Christine Nannicelli, an organizer with the Sierra Club's Beyond Coal Illinois campaign. "We had a fantastic turnout from the Latino community, and we concluded the program holding hands along the lakefront in the shadow of the Waukegan coal plant."

Waukegan-photo-petitionCommunity members took photo petitions such as the one at left, demanding that New Jersey-based NRG transition from coal to clean energy. (David Crane is the president and CEO of NRG.)

"We've gathered almost 500 photo petitions, and they've been a very effective campaign tool," Nannicelli says. "People are ready to begin a new chapter and really turn up the pressure on NRG."

The Waukegan Generating Station is the largest source of water pollution in Lake County, which also has the highest ozone smog levels in Illinois. Asthma rates among children in Waukegan are more than three times the national average. However, NRG announced in August that it would continue to burn coal at the Waukegan plant.

All of NRG's coal plants in Illinois damage local waterways with mercury emissions and toxic coal ash waste. The Waukegan plant's coal ash ponds sit right next to the Lake Michigan shoreline.

The Illinois Environmental Protection Agency issued violation notices to the Waukegan, Romeoville, and Pekin power plants in 2012 for high levels of contaminants in groundwater near their coal ash ponds.

Sierra Club volunteer David Villalobos, a leader in the Clean Power Lake County campaign, emceed the Hands Across the Sands event. Other speakers included Dulce Ortiz from Coalitión Latinos Unidos de Lake County; Ellen Rendulich from Citizens Against Ruining the Environment (CARE); Tracy Fox from Peoria Families Against Toxic Waste; Faith Bugel from the Environmental Law & Policy Center; and Antonio Lopez of the Little Village Environmental Justice Organization.

Below, Lopez presents Ortiz with a bandana from the People's Climate Justice Summit, held in New York City following the People's Climate March and concurrent with the UN Climate Summit, in recognition of their shared goals of environmental and economic justice.

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"We also had prayers from our two church partners in the campaign," Nannicelli says. "This was the first time residents of Waukegan, Romeoville, and Pekin have gathered in solidarity to share their vision of a clean-energy future and call on NRG to commit to retirement dates for their coal fleet in Illinois. Folks are fired up."

All photos except photo petition by Karen Long MacLeod, courtesy of Clean Power Lake County.

Sierra Club Delivers 10,000 Clean-Energy Petitions to Washington State Utility

October 09, 2014

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On October 8, some 30 Sierra Club volunteers and four staffers with the Club's Beyond Coal campaign delivered more than 10,000 petitions to Puget Sound Energy's legislative office in Olympia, urging PSE to replace the coal power in its portfolio with clean energy such as wind and solar and efficiency measures that would create thousands of jobs in the Pacific Northwest.

Prior to delivering the petitions, the activists held a press conference in the Legislative Rotunda at the state capitol, below, where they presented a report card grading PSE on its current energy portfolio. The utility's marks were generally high, but it received an "F" for coal, as more than 30 percent of its electricity supply comes from the Colstrip coal-burning power plant in Montana, the Northwest's largest source of carbon pollution. PSE is the primary owner of the Colstrip plant.

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"We're fortunate to have Puget Sound Energy as a strong community partner that has supported incentives for homes, businesses, and government offices to save electricity," said Beyond Coal senior campaign representative Doug Howell. "Now we're asking PSE take the next step in its energy leadership by replacing dirty coal with clean energy and efficiency."

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Governor Jay Inslee has laid out a climate plan for Washington, and transitioning away from out-of-state coal electricity -- what he calls "coal-by-wire" -- is among his priorities. Inslee signed his Climate Action Plan on the back of a solar panel at a signing ceremony in April, saying the state has a moral responsibility to act on climate change.

PSE has been responsive in developing an ever-cleaner energy portfolio, but it continues to draw power from Colstrip, maintaining that coal-fired electricity is reliable and cost-effective. "As one of Colstrip's owners, PSE could be liable for its carbon pollution, groundwater contamination, and toxic, leaking coal ash ponds," Howell said. "Moving beyond coal is a smart investment for Northwest families and PSE alike."

PSE is now planning the next 20 years of electricity delivery, but the Sierra Club report card gave the utility an "Incomplete" due to uncertainty about whether it will replace coal power with clean energy.

"PSE can either continue investing in old-fashioned, dirty, and increasingly expensive out-of-state coal plants, or in clean, renewable wind, solar, and efficiency that creates family-wage jobs," said Club organizer Seth Ballhorn. "Washington has abundant clean, affordable energy resources and a tradition of innovation and leadership and sustainability. It's time for PSE to join us in transitioning beyond coal."

Also speaking was Bob Guenther, a longtime union representative with the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers. The Club and labor-affiliated groups share a strong commitment to ensuring that Washington's coal-to-clean-energy transition creates good family-wage jobs for Northwest workers.

"Good family living jobs will come with solar, wind, and efficiency," Guenther said. "We'd like PSE to look into these alternative ways to produce energy in the Northwest. IBEW will help provide a world-class workforce."

Photos by Meg Matthews.

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.

People's-Climate-PilgrimageSanta Fe

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.

People's-Climate-PilgrimageSanta Fe

"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."

People's-Climate-PilgrimageAlbuquerque

"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."

People's-Climate-PilgrimageAlbuquerque

"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."

People's-Climate-PilgrimageAlbuquerque

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

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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.
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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


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