Club Spearheads Clean-Water Rally in Sixteen Florida Cities

February 03, 2014

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The Sierra Club Slime Crimes Campaign team played the leading role in a historic statewide rally on January 22 to make a stand for clean water in the Sunshine State.

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Concerned Floridians from more than 100 different organizations gathered in 16 cities at risk from water pollution and unrestrained over-consumption of water resources.

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"We were joined by local and state-level officials we engaged over the last month who want to join the fight to save Florida from the threat of lost jobs, lost quality of life, and lost natural environments that we now face due to the degradation of our state waters," says Sierra Club organizer Cris Costello.

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"Civic and environmental groups from every corner of the state have come together to launch a historic endeavor -- a collaborative campaign to harness the resources of energy and organizations and individuals from throughout our state to demand and win the protection of Florida's springs, rivers, lakes, and estuaries."

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More than 30 media outlets around the state covered the rallies.

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Continue reading "Club Spearheads Clean-Water Rally in Sixteen Florida Cities" »

MLK Day of Action in Chicago

January 31, 2014

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By J.C. Kibbey, Illinois Sierra Club Volunteer Activist

To celebrate Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s legacy this year, the Illinois Sierra Club joined for the first time with community organizations and churches from around Chicago for a huge public meeting on pressing social issues.

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Prior to the gathering, over 100 Sierra Club members met for lunch to discuss our issues and our movement before bussing together to the meeting, called "Hope in an Age of Crisis: Reclaiming Dr. King's Radical Vision of Economic Justice."

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Above, activists at the lunchtime meeting. Below, Sierra Club organizer Christine Nannicelli leads a discussion about the interconnectedness of the environment with other issues of justice.

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We then joined the more than 2,400 people who packed into St. Michael's Church on Chicago's south side.

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Continue reading "MLK Day of Action in Chicago" »

Sierra Club, Local Residents Stop Illegal Logging for Peabody Coal Mine

January 30, 2014

Rocky-Branch-hearingPhoto by Carrie Otto, courtesy of Prairie Rivers Network.

Working with Illinois-based Prairie Rivers Network and local citizens' group Justice for Rocky Branch, the Sierra Club has successfully stopped Peabody Energy, the world's largest private-sector coal company, from illegally logging 200 acres of hardwood forests at its proposed Rocky Branch coal mine in Saline County in southern Illinois.

Above, local residents at an Illinois Department of Natural Resources (IDNR) public hearing in December. Only one person, a Peabody representative, spoke in favor of the mine.

The Rocky Branch mine would destroy productive farmland, leave a 1,000-acre pit, and destroy nearly eight miles of streams and roughly 200 acres of forests that provide habitat for the at-risk Indiana bat and other wildlife. Citizens and environmental groups have previously raised concerns about the proposed mine, including impacts to waterways, disturbances and damage from blasting, airborne dust, and the destruction of farmland and wildlife habitat.

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So how did the residents of Saline County stand up to Peabody and their own state?

Continue reading "Sierra Club, Local Residents Stop Illegal Logging for Peabody Coal Mine" »

Pete Seeger: Singer of Social Change

January 29, 2014

Pete-SeegerPhoto by Anthony Pepitone, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Legendary folk singer and social activist Pete Seeger, whose career spanned more than 70 years, died this Monday, January 27, at age 94.

A believer that music could be a catalyst for societal change, Seeger championed civil and labor rights, racial equality, and anti-militarism. Although he served in the U.S. Army in World War II, he was a leading voice in opposition to the Vietnam War. Around the same time, after reading Silent Spring by Rachel Carson, he became an environmental activist, co-founding the organization Hudson River Sloop Clearwater in 1966 to highlight pollution in the Hudson River and advocate for its cleanup.

Pete-SeegerPhoto by James Kavalinnes, New York World Telegram, courtesy of the Library of Congress.

In 2009, Sierra Club deputy communications director Orli Cotel interviewed Seeger for Sierra Club Radio. "It was one of my favorite interviews that I've ever done," Cotel says. "He talked with us for nearly 15 minutes about music and social change, his 40-year fight to clean up the Hudson River, performing at President Obama's inauguration, and loads more. He was truly inspiring."

Listen to the interview.


"A good song reminds us what we're fighting for."
- Pete Seeger

Pete-SeegerPete Seeger at the 2009 Newport Folk Festival. Photo by William Wallace, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Toward a Coal-Free Massachusetts

By O'Neil Pryce, Masachusetts Beyond Coal Apprentice

O'Neil-PryceIt is estimated that over 215 premature deaths and more than 5,000 public health incidents in Massachusetts each year are directly linked to pollution from coal-fired power plants. Though Massachusetts is noted as a leader in environmental stewardship and climate change mitigation, we still have room for growth.

With the recently-announced retirement of the Brayton Point coal plant in 2017, and with coal becoming increasingly unviable economically, we are urging our elected officials to join us in creating sustainable infrastructure to help transition workers and communities to a clean energy economy. Our Coal Free Massachusetts Platform does just that while calling for the implementation of energy-efficient technology and clean renewable-energy sources.

In mid-January, in a effort to gain support for our platform and mimic what the Sierra Club and other environmental advocates and activists did in Nevada, we met with senior staff of Senators Elizabeth Warren and Ed Markey to ask their help in moving Massachusetts to a clean-energy economy. To make these meetings a success we had several voices present to help convey our message.

Annie Rushman, Healthy Air Coordinator for the American Lung Association, emphasized the importance of retiring coal in Massachusetts due to the detrimental effects to the health of constituents, especially those living in close proximity to plants like Brayton Point and Mount Tom.

Michael Green of the Clean Action Liaison Coalition described the costly effects extreme weather has on small businesses. Each day these small businesses have to keep their doors closed due to weather-related incidents means a drastic loss in revenue.

Matt Lord, an attorney and Sierra Club volunteer, explained the importance of investing in wind energy and supporting the Production Tax Credit, which keeps electric rates low while encouraging renewable development.

James McCaffrey, Senior Campaign Representative for the Sierra Club's Beyond Coal campaign in New England, stressed the importance of support from our congressional delegation. With their support we can move Massachusetts beyond coal.

I discussed the green economy and the great growth we've been experiencing here in Massachusetts. In recent years, we have seen the creation of over 4,000 clean energy firms employing over 71,000 individuals. That being said we urge champions like Senator Warren and Markey to help us continue this growth in the Commonwealth.

Overall, both senators' offices were receptive to the information we presented, and both meetings seem to be leading to further dialogue between the two offices.

Senate-MeetingAbove, left to right: Matt Lord, Mike Green, Annie Rushman, O'Neil Pryce, and Jay McCaffrey.

Learn more about the Sierra Club's work to move America beyond coal.

Sierra Club Joins Largest Clean Air Rally in Utah History

January 28, 2014

.Utah Clean Air, No Excuses Rally
                                                            Photo courtesy of Tim Wagner

Surrounded by beautiful mountain ranges and world-class ski resorts, Salt Lake City isn’t normally associated with polluted air. Unfortunately, because it’s a valley surrounded by high mountain peaks and with an urban population at nearly two million people, Salt Lake City is victim to the “bowl effect,” which results in temperature inversions. This is where the cold temperatures from high air pressure systems settle in the valley and trap air pollution from cars, trucks, and a plethora of big industry polluters.

Nearly all Salt Lake City residents are affected by this poor air quality, but low-income communities, children, and people of color are affected disproportionately.

Try as they might, these communities have come together and been vocal about their dirty air for many years. Sadly, they have received little but lip service from the state’s very conservative public officials and regulators. But when another 20-plus day-long temperature inversion set in over the holidays, Utahns had enough.

Activists came together and made their voice heard--in a big way. The Sierra Club worked with Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment (UPHE), Utah Moms for Clean Air, and Utah Clean Air Now to organize the largest environmental rally in the history of the state to raise awareness for their vision for Utah: clean air and clean energy access for all communities. The rally featured Salt Lake City Mayor Ralph Becker, several state officials, medical professionals, and representatives from numerous community, air-quality, and faith-based groups.

Continue reading "Sierra Club Joins Largest Clean Air Rally in Utah History" »

Coal Train Blues

January 24, 2014

Counterfeit Cash, a Johnny Cash & June Carter Cash tribute band based in Portland, Oregon, has just released a new music video, "Coal Train Blues," a cover of the Man in Black's famous hit "Folsom Prison Blues."

The revised lyrics tell about the health and environmental risks that coal exports pose to communities across the Pacific Northwest, including the beautiful Columbia River Gorge.

The video was produced by the Sierra Club's partners on the coal export fight -- Friends of the Columbia Gorge and the Power Past Coal coalition. Counterfeit Cash volunteered their talent for the cause.  

"For us, taking part in this project was an easy decision," says Counterfeit Cash singer Daniel Coble, below. "What little is left of wild nature is being destroyed just to keep our toxic, growth-based economy going. We all need to be pushing back against this madness."

Daniel-Coble

Coble rejects the notion that Cash's romanticism of trains might have extended to coal trains. "Johnny didn't romanticize coal. He sang songs like 'Loading Coal' ('And I'll sit around starvin' 'til I'm finally told/There's a nickel more a ton for loadin' coal'). Johnny loved trains, but he also loved wild, unspoiled nature."

Sierra Club organizer Laura Stevens says coal exports anywhere would harm communities everywhere. "From mining the coal in Montana to transporting it through the Pacific Northwest to burning the coal abroad and exacerbating climate disruption, coal exports threaten our environment and people's health. It is imperative to the health and safety of our communities that we stop dirty coal export projects in their tracks."

Learn more about what the Sierra Club is doing to stop coal exports, and follow Counterfeit Cash on Facebook.

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Sierra Club Puerto Rico Helps Recycle at San Sebastian Festival

January 23, 2014

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As part of the Zero Waste Campaign in Puerto Rico, this past weekend Sierra Club was part of the San Sebastian Recycles initiative. Over the four day Festival, starting Thursday January 16 and ending Sunday, January 19, there where thousands of people who visited the old San Juan area to enjoy music, local food and artisans.
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The Sierra Club was one of the organizations that adopted a public plaza to create a recycling center. To achieve the initiative the local municipality provided the waste binds and materials to collect recyclables.
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With over five plazas as recycling centers, the Sierra Club was part of recruiting more than 100 volunteers for the initiative. The volunteers participated in a workshop before the event to learn about the logistics and materials to be recycled.

Puerto rico recycling1The Puerto Rico Sierra Club adopted the "Plaza de Armas" and worked directly with 40 volunteers recycling more than 5,000 pounds of recycling materials in the course of four days.

The volunteers also were part of the educational initiative collecting petitions around stronger recycling infrastructure in the island and informing participants of what materials were being collected.

Volunteers collected over 400 signatures and outreached to more than 600 people. In addition the Sierra Club was part of the inaugural parade of the event with local environmental agencies.

-- Adriana Gonzalez, Sierra Club Puerto Rico Organizer

Sierra & Tierra: A Gale of Wind Energy Good News

January 21, 2014

By Javier Sierra

A gale of good news is hitting both the wind industry and the future of the planet.

The new year started out with two world records. Spain became the first country ever to get more energy from wind than any other source during a complete year in 2013, with a 21.1-percent share at 55 gigawatts (GW). According to Spain’s Wind Energy Association, at the end of 2013, this clean energy was able to bring the price of electricity from $150 per megawatt (MW)/hour down to $7 per MV/hour.

Wind farm in Southern Spain
Wind farm in Southern Spain (Photo: J. Sierra)

And in December, Denmark became the first country ever to generate more than half of its energy from wind, a total of 54.8%. Specifically, on December 21, wind fulfilled that country’s entire energy demand, and over the course of the year, it produced one third of the consumed total.

The good news also abounds here at home. In Texas, during the extreme cold spell that gripped almost the entire country during the first week of the year, wind energy saved the day for a grid that was overwhelmed by demand. On January 7, when several power plants shut down, wind energy from Western Texas avoided dangerous blackouts throughout the state. This is the logical result of Texas having added more wind energy to the grid than any other state.

And throughout the US, the breeze of good news has become a veritable gale. In 2012, the country’s wind energy capacity surpassed 60 GV (enough to power 15 million homes), no other country installed more wind energy than the US, and wind added more power to the national grid than any other source, including natural gas.

It’s no wonder then that the price of wind power is hitting record lows: 4 cents per KW/hour, 50 percent less than in 2009. It’s no wonder also that the utility owned by Warren Buffett has invested $1 billion to purchase enough wind turbines in Iowa to generate 1,000 MW.

The price of the alternative to clean energy, on the other hand, is simply unacceptable. According to a Harvard University study, every year the costs of coal pollution —also known as externalities— hit $500 billion (one 5 followed by 11 zeros), in premature deaths, asthma, emphysema, heart disease, cancer and other factors. Big Coal pays nothing out of this huge price tag. They instead dump it on you, me and the rest of the country.

Considering these arguments, it’s simply astonishing that Congress still is to renew the Production Tax Credit (PTC), one of the several tax incentives that invest in job creation in the clean energy industry. Just wind supports 80,000 jobs in the US, and 72% of the equipment needed to build wind turbines is manufactured in our country.

The fossil fuel industry, on the other hand, calls the US Capitol home. Each year, oil, coal and gas companies receive up to $52 billion in subsidies; that is, a gift from the taxpayer, you, me and everyone else.

Tell Congress that renewing the PTC is crucial for the wind industry to continue its smooth sailing.

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

Clean Energy Caravan Confronts California Commission

January 17, 2014

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Late last month, more than 75 citizen activists and community organizers from Southern California rode on two buses through the night to give public testimony before the California Public Utilities Commission in San Francisco on why the CPUC should not authorize plans to build new natural gas power plants in Southern California to replace the retired San Onofre Nuclear Generation Station.

"The fact that all the hearings took place in San Francisco, glaringly missing outreach and input from Southern Californians, is a troubling factor given the health impacts and economic costs that new natural gas plants would have in the region," says Michael Sarmiento, an organizer with the Sierra Club's My Generation campaign to promote local clean energy. That's Sarmiento at microphone, below.

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Participants in the hearing included volunteers with the Club's My Generation campaign as well as representatives from ally organizations including the California Environmental Justice Alliance, the Asian Pacific Environmental Network, and the Center on Race, Poverty & the Environment.

Jasmin-Vargas"We drove through the night from L.A. so we could start our day early," says Jasmin Vargas, at left, of the Club's Beyond Coal campaign in Los Angeles. San Francisco-based staffer Sarah Matsumoto greeted the Southern California contingent at 6:00 a.m. and let them into Club headquarters so they could prepare for the day ahead.

Sarmiento facilitated in the Club's main conference room as the eight volunteers who would be giving testimony prepared their comments. "The room was abuzz with high school students, parents, grandmas, and children whizzing around, and it was impossible not to be struck by the diversity in the room," recalls Vargas. "One volunteer pointed out that it was inspiring to see a photograph on the wall of recent Sierra Club President Allison Chin, the lone woman of color to hold that position." (Chin has served two terms, from 2008-10 and 2012-13.)

"The hearing started promptly at 9:30 and we were all accounted for, ready to support the volunteers providing their testimonials," Vargas says. "Speakers had two minutes each to compel the commissioners to be accountable to the 30 activists in front of them and the 45 high school students in the overflow room. They called for a clean-energy future, demanded a chance to be heard in their own communities, and urged the Commission to halt any proposed new gas plant construction and deal with pollution and environmental injustice in communities of color."

Continue reading "Clean Energy Caravan Confronts California Commission " »


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