Jersey City Residents Speak Out for Climate Action

June 11, 2014

Jersey City climate action

More than 100 people turned out at an event in Jersey City, NJ, Tuesday night to support the Environmental Protection Agency's proposed carbon pollution safeguards.

The gathering at New Jersey City University featured a screening of the popular Showtime documentary "Years of Living Dangerously" and remarks from Jersey City Mayor Steven Fulop.

"Jersey City residents turned out in big numbers to hear Mayor Fulop talk about his support for climate action and to show their support for the carbon standard," said Christine Guhl, a Beyond Coal organizer in New Jersey. "This really highlighted the strong support New Jersey residents and students have for cutting carbon pollution."

Last week, the EPA announced the first-ever limits on carbon pollution from existing power plants. The new standard, which is the key component of President Obama's Climate Action Plan, will start cleaning up dangerous air pollution from power plants, the industry that creates the lion's share of carbon pollution in the United States. Carbon pollution is the leading cause of climate disruption, contributing to extreme heat, flooding and superstorms in New Jersey and throughout the nation.

Guhl said the carbon standards are of particular concern to Jersey City residents because the area was hard hit by Superstorm Sandy, is especially vulnerable to storm surges and flooding due to climate disruption, and is home to one of the state's last coal plants.
Mayor Fulop and activists
"We know first-hand in Jersey City the effects that climate disruption has had on our community and we commend President Obama and the EPA for this important proposal," said Mayor Fulop, pictured above with local activists.  “Policies that require these industries to reduce carbon pollution will not only benefit the health and well-being of our residents, they will have lasting impact for generations to come."

A great team of volunteers helped make Tuesday's event such a success, and Guhl highlighted the very hard work of local volunteer leader Christine Wiltanger. "She tirelessly tabled and petitioned and recruited and led other volunteers to do the same.  She is champ and we are so lucky to have her on our team."

Guhl says the Jersey City residents and people from around the state are calling on Governor Chris Christie to support EPA's carbon standards. "Last night's attendees have been calling the Governor's office all day to tell him to take action on climate change for New Jersey."
The Hudson County Clean Energy Tabling Team
The new safeguards will not only protect health and communities nationwide, but also spur innovation and strengthen the economy. Guhl says they will continue to call on officials to take action on climate and invest in clean energy because it will create tens of thousands of local jobs and hundreds of millions of dollars in new investment in New Jersey.

Sierra & Tierra: It Reeks of Injustice in Wasco, CA

By Javier Sierra

Very close to the city of Delano, CA, where Cesar Chavez conducted a great deal of his work for justice, it reeks of injustice.

In Wasco —in the San Joaquin Valley where tens of thousands of farm workers toil— a local ordinance has approved the expansion of a railroad coal depot right next to an overwhelmingly Latino barrio.

Every year, the terminal would receive 1.5 million tons of coal to run a proposed coal-powered plant known as Hydrogen Energy California (HECA) in the neighboring Kern County. The terminal would further poison what already is the country’s worst air quality. The proposed terminal lies right next to a barrio housing some 220 Latino farm-working families who were never notified of the project.

“Industries take advantage of the most vulnerable, of those who can’t fight back,” says Ana Martinez, an organizer of Green Action for Health and Environmental Justice, who works to mobilize the community against the expansion. “We already have the worst air in the country. And the air in the barrios is worse than the air in the white neighborhoods.”

During the Wasco project hearings, there were no Spanish-language announcements, and therefore no Latino residents attended the proceedings.

“This was done in typical fashion to keep the victims unaware of what was going on. This exclusion is racism,” she denounces.

The project would exponentially increase the diesel pollution from trains and the relentless truck traffic hauling the coal from the Wasco terminal to the plant. Even without the expansion in place, the already existing smog and potentially deadly particulate matter pollution is costing over $2 billion in health costs to the residents of Kern County.

Also, the coal would arrive from New Mexico in open railroad cars. This would translate in the loss of some 500 pounds of coal dust per trip and car, a dust loaded with mercury, arsenic, chromium and other heavy metals that would end up in lungs and crops.

“Not even the farm owners support this project because they fear the coal dust would ruin their crops,” says Martinez. “This agreement between farm owners and workers is very unusual.”

A comparative study of the air quality in the southern part of the San Joaquin Valley, where Wasco lies, and China, the country with the worst air quality on the planet, illustrates the severity of the pollution problem.

In a three-week period during December and January, the air in the valley was worse than that in China 2/3 of the days, and never, in those three weeks, did the Valley’s air quality reach the safe levels recommended by the World Health Organization.

The Wasco City Council, however, approved the expansion in March without having conducted any health or environmental impact assessments. A month later, the Sierra Club filed a lawsuit against the City Council to stop the expansion.

“Enough is enough!” says Martinez. “Injustice happens in communities of low income and communities of color. These industries need to put people’s health first and then profits.”

Cesar Chavez dedicated his life to fight injustice, to protect the most vulnerable. Ana Martinez is following his steps and has committed herself to clean this air of injustice.

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

Sierra Club Rallies to Support Carbon Protections


Sierra Club members from coast to coast joined with their fellow citizens, allied organizations, and elected officials last week in celebrating the Obama EPA's first-ever national protections against carbon pollution from existing power plants. We'll let the following accounts serve as a representative sample.

In the president's hometown of Chicago, the Sierra Club took the lead in organizing a rally and press conference, above, that brought more than 200 people together in support of the new pollution standards. A coalition of more than 25 partner organizations helped out in some capacity for the event.


Speakers included Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan, Congressmen Mike Quigley, Bobby Rush, and Robin Kelly, Cook County Commissioner Bridget Gainer, Citizen's Utility Board executive director Dave Kolata, business community sustainability director Dan Probst, and 2013 Goldman Prize winner & community activist Kimberly Wasserman. That's Wasserman below, speaking.


"All the speakers outlined the impacts of climate change already facing Illinois, applauded the Obama administration for leading on this critical issue, and pledged a strong and just implementation plan for our state," said Chicago-based Sierra Club organizer Christine Nannicelli. "We also secured supportive press statements from key elected officials, including Governor Quinn.

Below, Attorney General Madigan addresses the crowd.


Continue reading "Sierra Club Rallies to Support Carbon Protections" »

Breaking Down Silos to Harness Collective Power

June 09, 2014

Sierra_Club-6Remarkable things happen when dedicated people working on one cause get a chance to talk shop with dedicated people working on another cause. They not only discover that stories and strategies are similar, but also that seemingly distinct issues share common ground when it comes to questions of equity.

I witnessed this as one of the facilitators at a recent workshop coordinated by Groundwork Portland and the Sierra Club at the Center for Intercultural Organizing. Thirty-five activists from groups such as Right to Dream Too and Right to Survive, Portland Harbor Community Coalition (PHCC), and the Sierra Club gathered to exchange ideas about community organizing.

Covering the philosophical as well as the tactical, houseless advocates shared power maps with campaigners from Beyond Coal. Representatives from Physicians for Social Responsibility and the PHCC modeled how to move decision makers with story-based testimony. People from diverse backgrounds and experiences talked about how to reach out to allies, engage neighbors in conversation, and build relationships that ultimately can help build a movement.

Continue reading "Breaking Down Silos to Harness Collective Power" »

OK in Muskogee

June 06, 2014


In conjunction with Asthma Awareness Month, on the last day of May the Sierra Club and the Muskogee Clean City Coalition sponsored an asthma awareness event in Muskogee, Oklahoma, home to the state's oldest, largest, and dirtiest coal plant, owned and operated by Oklahoma Gas & Electric (OG&E).

Pictured above, local Boy Scout leader Tom Russell, Troop 627 scout Troy Seroble, local activist Linda Turner, Muskogee City Council member Ivory Vann, activist Marylin Brown, and Troop 627 scout Charley Walton.

The Club's Beyond Coal Campaign has been working for the past four years to retire the Muskogee Generating Station and get OG&E to move away from fossil fuels toward clean energy.


Between 75 and 100 people turned out for the event in Robison Park in southwest Muskogee. Sierra Club volunteers set up booths and tables offering information about asthma, air quality, and opportunities to help combat pollution in the city and in Muskogee County.


Local vendors provided food, local musicians provided entertainment, and members of a local Boy Scout troop talked about their involvement with the Muskogee Clean City Coalition, of which the Sierra Club is a part. That's Charley Walton, high school senior and member of Boy Scout Troop 627, above at microphone.

Whitney-Pearson"The Muskogee Clean City Coalition is a growing group of area residents concerned about air and water quality," says Oklahoma-based Sierra Club organizer Whitney Pearson, at left, the Club's lead organizer for the event. "This occasion was about fun, education, and building the coalition's membership. We've been working over the past several years to develop relationships with local residents and organizations who want to clean up the air and improve water quality in Muskogee."

Locals don't just suffer from pollution from the coal plant, Pearson says. "There are numerous industrial facilities in the city of Muskogee and Muskogee County compounding the problem. More than 6,500 people in the county suffer from asthma, including 1,500 children."


At the May 31 event, Sierra Club volunteers gathered signatures petitioning OG&E and other polluters, like Yaffe Metals, to clean up their act. Petitions were also collected targeting elected officials and other local leaders. That's local activist and asthma sufferer Darla Bennett, above at left, and city councilman Ivory Vann, above at right, sporting a Sierra Club Beyond Coal t-shirt.


"We want polluters to know what they're supposed to be doing to reduce their emissions, and let local decision-makers know that people out there are concerned," Pearson says. "We know that polluters heard our message, and this event was a great building block toward creating a strong, sustainable coalition of people who want to work on cleaning up Muskogee."

Pearson gives kudos to Sierra Club colleague and "logistics guru" Shelly Campbell, deputy press secretary Jenna Garland, regional online organizer Andy Wilson, "and of course all the volunteers who made this event such a success."

Steve Pawlowski: In Memoriam

June 03, 2014


Steve Pawlowski, Arizona Water Sentinels coordinator for the Sierra Club's Grand Canyon Chapter, died yesterday while waiting to testify at the state Capitol in Phoenix. He collapsed while standing in line to speak at a hearing organized by U.S. Representatives Paul Gosar and David Schweikert. Pawlowski was 61.

"Steve was there to speak up for having Clean Water Act protections for our many streams that don't flow year-round," says friend, colleague, and Grand Canyon Chapter director Sandy Bahr.

In an op-ed he submitted to the Arizona Republic last week, responding to Congressman Schweikert's attacking the EPA and its proposed rulemaking that would ensure consistent implementation of Clean Water Act protections in Arizona, Pawlowski closed by saying, "Simply put, the Clean Water Act is the only law that protects surface water quality in Arizona. Our state would be in a world of water pollution hurt without it."

In a letter to Pawlowski's wife Jeanie, U.S. Congresswoman Kyrsten Sinema wrote, "[Steve] was an extraordinary man, a passionate champion for the environment, and he will be deeply missed by all who knew him."

A native of Chicopee Falls, Massachusetts, Pawlowski earned a law degree from Arizona State University and worked for the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality for 21 years, specializing in surface water monitoring and assessment, before joining the Sierra Club staff in 2009.


Above and below, Pawlowski doing water-quality testing on Arizona's Verde River with students from a local community college. The Verde, which flows freely for 125 miles through private, state, tribal, and U.S. Forest Service lands, is one of the longest perennial streams in Arizona.


Among the many Arizona waterways Pawlowski worked to protect is the San Pedro River, the last major, free-flowing undammed river in the American Southwest, and considered one of the most important riparian areas in the country. The San Pedro is of major ecological importance as it hosts two-thirds of the avian diversity in the U.S., including 100 species of breeding birds and 300 species of migrating birds.


Above and below, Pawlowski in the field with Arizona Water Sentinels volunteers.


"We cannot think of a kinder person than Steve," says Bahr. "He helped people and our environment. He was knowledgeable about water and other environmental issues and passionate about Arizona's rivers. Steve was dedicated to making this a better world -- and he did. He led our Arizona Water Sentinels for the past five years, during which time he developed a strong and dedicated team of volunteers to protect our rivers. He was also an accomplished musician. Our hearts go out to his family, to his wife Jeanie and daughter Sarah. He was a good friend to us and to our environment. We will miss him immensely."


Eight State EV Action Plan Raises Hope, Questions

EVsIn recent days, eight states came together to release a 'Zero Emission Vehicle Action Plan;' it fleshes out their governors' commitment last fall to slash greenhouse gas emissions and get 3.3 million plug-in vehicles (full battery electrics, plug-in hybrids, and hydrogen fuel cell vehicles) on the road by 2025.

Making up 28 percent of the U.S. vehicle market, California, Oregon, New York, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, Vermont, and Maryland will "drive economies of scale, lowering prices and creating more options for consumers," said Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune in response to the action plan. He continued, "When it comes to fighting climate disruption, EVs are where the rubber hits the road."

The action plan, promoted by a number of government, environmental, and public health groups in the news and social media, reads like a celebration of EV programs already making a difference on the ground. For example:

  • In Rhode Island all new state vehicle purchases will be electrics or hybrids wherever possible.
  • California Governor Jerry Brown met with 40 Fortune 500 executives to announce corporate commitments to plug-in electric vehicle workplace charging.
  • The West Coast Electric Highway has developed a network of charging stations that will provide charging from Canada to Mexico.
  • The Maryland Public Service Commission has created a ‘time of use’ utility pilot program designed to incentivize off-peak charging.
  • Massachusetts has announced a new EV rebate program, to start this summer, that will slice $1,500-2,500 off the purchase or lease of any plug-in vehicle.

The plan lays out 11 types of actions that it recommends for state government –in conjunction with other partners. These include everything from consumer incentives to government fleets, from workplace charging to EV marketing and availability. I encourage you to check out the plan. It's chock full of great examples and recommendations. It also has some compelling factoids, like a study showing that EV drivers are more satisfied with their vehicles than conventional vehicle owners. Additionally, the document shows, the five-year cost of ownership of a typical EV is actually thousands of dollars less than that of a conventional vehicle.

But I think this action plan begs some important questions. If we can't put our all into each and every one of the dozens of action items and recommendations, what are the most effective types of programs and strategies that will most rapidly escalate EV sales in the years to come? What are the pieces of low and medium-hanging fruit, and how does that vary by location? What are the most important studies that show what strategies are working best?

The Sierra Club will be evaluating questions like these in the coming months so we can determine how to best scale up our electric vehicles advocacy and outreach work around the country - and in turn work with these eight states and others to successfully implement this exciting ZEV action plan. In the meantime, we’d love to hear from you: What have you found to be the most successful EV programs in your area? What do you think is most needed? What studies do you think best point to important lessons learned in the plug-in electric vehicles market thus far?

-- Gina Coplon-Newfield is the director of the Sierra Club's Future Fleet & Electric Vehicles Initiative

Electric cars for city dwellers?

May 23, 2014

Front 3Q indy

Many city dwellers don't have cars. Ideally, they rely on their bikes, their feet, and public transit to get around. Certainly that's the best environmental choice.

But what about when they need to go farther, or biking or transit aren't viable options? Some cities and their residents are getting creative about electric cars.

This week in Indianapolis, where the Electric Drive Transportation Association held its annual conference, Mayor Greg Ballard announced a major new electric car sharing program. Other companies, such as Car2Go and Zipcar, have been experimenting with electric car-sharing, but BlueIndy will be the biggest one yet. Set to open within eight months, the program will include up to 500 electric vehicles, 200 service locations, and 1,000 charging stations. It will be run by the Bolloré Group, which currently operates EV car-sharing programs in a number of French cities.

It does matter how the electricity is generated. In Indiana, which relies heavily on coal for its electricity, full battery electric vehicles are at least 37 percent lower in carbon emissions than the average comparable conventional car -- but a bit higher than today's hybrid vehicles. See the Sierra Club's EV Guide and calculate emission comparisons for your own region. As the Midwest shifts away from fossil fuels and toward more renewable sources of power, as it must, EVs in Indianapolis are expected to get even cleaner over time.

For those city dwellers who want to buy an electric car for themselves but don't have access to a charging station at work or in their apartment or condo complex, the installation of EV charging stations may soon get easier in California. AB 2565, a bill introduced by Assemblymember Al Muratsuchi would ensure that a lease cannot unfairly restrict a tenant - a business or apartment dweller - from installing an EV charging station so long as the tenant pays for the station, installation, and upkeep. This kind of policy would allow more people eager to drive EVs to install the charging stations at home or access them at work or in public locations.
In fact, if you live in California, you could help by signing this petition urging state leadership to support this new policy.

Whether it be car-sharing or ownership, electric cars are becoming more viable for urban Americans - but for many not fast enough. Tell us what you think of these programs or ones you’d like introduced in your own community.

-- Gina Coplon-Newfield is the Sierra Club's Director of Future Fleet & Electric Vehicles Initiative.

Rallying for Clean Air in Maryland

May 22, 2014

Md beyond coal

On Thursday more than 40 Marylanders rallied in Baltimore's Carroll Park before delivering 2,000 comments to the Maryland Department of the Environment supporting the agency's proposed clean air standards.

Standing in front of a 20-foot inflatable asthma inhaler, state, city, and local officials joined the Maryland Sierra Club activists and other residents in congratulating the MDE while also encouraging them to be even tougher on coal plant pollution.

"I am here today to tell the Maryland Department of the Environment that people like me need you to move forward with strong, limits on pollution from Maryland's coal-fired power plants," said Doris Toles a Baltimore City resident suffering from asthma and COPD who spoke at the rally. "There are many who have died from asthma. I have lost family and friends."

Anne beyond coalSome rally-goers brought babies in strollers, others carried signs, and many wore air masks to show just how important clean air is in the Old Line State. More than five million Marylanders live in areas that fail to meet air quality safeguards, including Baltimore, which suffers from some of the worst air and highest asthma rates in the nation.

Maryland's coal-fired power plants are responsible for more than 40 percent of all dangerous sulfur dioxide emissions in the state. These plants are also a significant contributor to smog pollution in the state. Smog causes a host of adverse health impacts including inducing asthma attacks in asthmatics and aggravating chronic lung diseases like emphysema and bronchitis. IIts impacts are most harmful to sensitive populations including children and the elderly.

"MDE has a chance to clean up our air while saving lives and money," said Josh Tulkin, Director of the Maryland Chapter of Sierra Club. "These new clean air protections will ensure that folks across the state can breathe a little easier. We're proud to support the administration in its efforts to make it happen."

Josh Tulkin speakingLast October, MDE initiated a "stakeholder process" to address air pollution from coal fired power plants. The Sierra Club has worked closely with MDE through their stakeholder process. MDE's safeguards would reduce dangerous emissions of sulfur dioxide and smog-causing nitrogen oxides from sources including two outdated Baltimore-area coal plants.

For residents like Doris Toles and thousands of others, clean air standards and cleaning up coal plant pollution are a matter of life and death.

"Please help by moving forward with strong protections that will ensure that Maryland’s coal-fired power plants are as clean as possible," said Toles. "Cleaning up pollution from coal plants helps people like me stay alive."

-- Heather Moyer, Sierra Club Senior Content Producer, Baltimore resident, and mom of that cute kid pictured above.

Bringing Out the Kid in All of Us

May 21, 2014


By Briana Okyere

Joy Mayfield has been with the Nashville Inner City Outings program since its inception in 2007, and has watched the program cultivate an appreciation for the environment in the minds of the youth in her community.


"I had looked into starting an Inner City Outings (ICO) program here in Nashville in around 1998, but I couldn't find enough people at that time willing to volunteer to be leaders," the longtime Sierra Club volunteer leader recalls. "Then, to my delight, in 2007 two young ladies in the Sierra Club's Middle Tennessee Group decided to start an ICO program here, and knowing I was already a certified outings leader, asked if I would join them. They also knew I had customized some local outings specifically for families so children could be included."


Joy loves the outdoors, and enjoys exposing nature's intricacies to children who might not otherwise readily have the opportunity to experience the great outdoors. "Working with ICO, I get to be a kid again, exploring the wonders of the natural world. We adults take life so seriously. Sometimes we forget to play and have fun."


Above, Joy with good friend and Nashville ICO chair Craig Jervis. Below, young ICO participants gardening at a local historic site.


It is Joy's mission to share her love of the environment with the youth of Nashville. Sometimes it's not the easiest thing to do.

Continue reading "Bringing Out the Kid in All of Us" »

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