Utilities Attack Rooftop Solar and the People Fight Back

September 11, 2014


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."


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

September 09, 2014

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

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

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

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


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

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


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


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


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


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

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


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

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

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

Diversity in Environmental Organizations

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

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

Continue reading "Diversity in Environmental Organizations" »

Our Shared Responsibility -- A Journey Against Coal and Oil

September 05, 2014


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

By Robin Everett, Sierra Club Beyond Coal Campaign

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


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


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


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

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


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


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


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

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

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


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


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


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


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

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

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

Lummi-Totem-Pole-JourneyPhoto by Alex Garland

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

Dow-ConstantinePhoto by Alex Garland

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


Photos by James Leder except where noted.

It Takes a Team to Fill the Bus

September 04, 2014


By Greg Gorman, Skylands Group Conservation Chair

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

Lummi Totem Pole Journey

August 23, 2014


By Robin Everett, Sierra Club Beyond Coal Campaign

Last year, members of the Pacific Northwest's Lummi Nation made a historic trip to the Otter Creek Valley of Montana with a traditional, hand-carved totem pole. Together with local ranchers and members of the Northern Cheyenne Tribe, they began a journey across the West, stopping in towns and cities along the way to raise the call to help fight ill-conceived coal export projects.


This month, members of the Lummi Nation have once again embarked on a totem pole journey called "Our Shared Responsibility -- the Land, the Waters, the People." The purpose of this journey is to call attention to the proposed shipment of an unprecedented volume of coal and oil from the American heartland to the Pacific Coast.


"One primary goal of the journey is to connect tribal nations along the coal corridor," says Lummi master carver Jewell James, above at left, and below with the 19-foot-tall totem he carved for this year's journey. "Tribal Nations innately understand and honor the need to protect sacred landscapes and treaty rights. Uniting the Tribal Nations is important for this particular issue and for tribal communities that would be affected by coal transport and export."


In the face of the proposed Cherry Point coal export terminal that would sit on their ancestral lands, members of the Lummi tribe are making a protest journey to unite tribal and nontribal communities whose lives intersect with the paths of coal exports and other fossil fuel mega-projects.


Endorsed by the Lummi Nation, the 2,500-mile binational trip will travel from South Dakota and the proposed Keystone XL pipeline route, home to the Pacific Northwest before turning back and winding north to the Canadian tar sands.


The Lummi community is making this trip at a pivotal time. Although the Ambre Energy export proposal in Oregon received a major blow last week in the form of a critical permit denial, two export proposals remain on the table in Washington State. One of them, at Cherry Point, would sit atop Lummi ancestral lands known as Xwe'chi'eXen. The mining of that coal would also destroy Northern Cheyenne lands in Montana's Powder River Basin, and all along the way fossil fuel transport would harm the fishing and treaty rights of Native Americans.


Totem poles are one of the oldest forms of North American storytelling. "The totem itself is not sacred," explains Jewell James. "It is only when it is touched and shared by many communities standing together that the totem becomes a lasting part of our memories and a symbol of our resistance."


And that resistence is strong. Last week's denial of Ambre Energy's permit for its proposed coal export terminal on the Columbia River demostrates the real power of local communities to stop coal exports in their tracks.


Visit the Totem Pole Journey's official website for more information.

Follow #TotemPoleJourney for live updates.

Follow the journey on Facebook.


All photos by James Leder


Big Clean Air Victory in Indianapolis

August 22, 2014


After a two-year campaign by 50 organizations in the Power Indy Forward Coalition, Indianapolis Power & Light (IPL) has announced its intention to stop burning coal at its downtown Harding Street power plant in 2016 and close the unlined coal ash lagoons at the plant, located on the city's south side.


"Harding Street is the largest single source of industrial pollution, sulfur dioxide, soot, and carbon in our city," says Megan Anderson, an Indianapolis-based organizer with the Sierra Club's Beyond Coal campaign. (That's Anderson at center, below, delivering petitions to IPL headquarters in 2012.) "This retirement marks the 500th coal boiler to be retired since the launch of the Club's Beyond Coal campaign in 2010, so we're dubbing this victory the Indy 500."


[Note: Coal plants are made up of one or more boilers, or "units" -- Harding Street has three. With the Aug. 21 announcement that TVA's Allen plant in Memphis will be retired, the Beyond Coal campaign has helped retire 178 coal plants and 503 boilers since the campaign launched in 2010.]


A long-standing tradition at the Indianapolis 500 car race is for the victor to drink a bottle of milk immediately after the race. Below, local volunteers toast the Harding Street victory in downtown Indy.


IPL's August 15 announcement came as the Indianapolis City-County Council was preparing to vote on a resolution urging IPL to stop burning coal at Harding Street by 2020. Resolution 241, which also urged IPL to invest in greater amounts of clean, renewable energy, had 11 co-sponsors, and a majority of council members had pledged to vote yes.

Harding-Street-victoryPhoto by Alicia Tucker, courtesy of A.L.T.ERNATIVE PHOTOGRAPHY

The measure passed the Community Affairs Committee 4-1 last month, with supporters of the resolution vastly outnumbering opponents at the hearing. Hours earlier, the Sierra Club released a poll showing that nearly 7 in 10 Indianapolis voters supported IPL phasing out coal entirely in Marion County, and for the utility to increase its energy efficiency and use of renewable energy like wind and solar.


Among those who testified at the July hearing was Amber Sparks, below in tan jacket, who lives about three miles from the Harding Street plant. She told the City-County Council how asthma-related illnesses have regularly kept her children home from school, led to about 20 emergency room visits and half a dozen intensive care stays, and thousands of dollars in medical bills.


"Asthma has changed our lives," she said. "We continue to adjust and eliminate as many triggers as possible … but there are some triggers I can't control. On bad air days, the children must stay indoors, limit physical activities, and have round-the-clock breathing treatments. Their quality of life is affected, and it breaks my heart each time they look at me and ask why they have asthma."

Below, clean-air activists at the hearing.


According to the EPA, Harding Street was responsible for 88 percent of the toxic industrial pollution released in 2012 in Marion County. It is also the largest source of dangerous soot and sulfur dioxide pollution in the county, contributing to central Indiana's failing grades for air quality announced earlier this year by the American Lung Association.

Harding-Street-StationPhoto courtesy of NUVO News

Over 55 churches, neighborhood associations, student groups, and other organizations comprising the Power Indy Forward Coalition passed resolutions urging IPL to power our city with clean energy and put an end to toxic pollution in Indianapolis. Hoosier Chapter volunteers knocked on doors, talked to people at festivals and on the street, made phone calls, and spoke out at rallies and public hearings about the public health impacts of burning coal.


Above and below, clean-energy activists celebrate IPL's August 15 announcement.


"For the past two years, thousands of Indianapolis residents have demanded clean air for our community," says Jodi Perras, Indiana representative for Beyond Coal. "They've signed petitions and postcards, rallied on the steps of Monument Circle (above) and at the Indiana State Museum, and urged their City-County Councilors to call on IPL to stop burning coal at Harding Street. Today, those calls have been answered."

Harding-Street-victoryPhoto by Alicia Tucker, courtesy of A.L.T.ERNATIVE PHOTOGRAPHY

Perras gives a shout-out to coalition partners Hoosier Interfaith Power & Light, Citizens Action Coalition, Indiana NAACP, Organizing for Action, Concerned Clergy, and students and faculty at Purdue University Indianapolis and Butler University.


Sierra & Tierra: The Tyranny of Asthma

August 20, 2014

By Javier Sierra

Fear is Pati Calzada’s constant companion. Her 6-year old son, Abraham, has asthma, and his frequent attacks fill them both with terror and anguish.

“He gets scared and calls me, ‘Mommy!’ And I can hear him wheezing, and he asks me, ‘why can’t I breathe?’ And then I have to calm him down because I can’t give him his medicine while he’s panicking,” says Pati, who also has asthma.

The illness, which was diagnosed a few months ago, has completely changed Abraham´s life.

“He’s a very active child, he loves running,” Pati says. “And now he cannot run even half the time he used to be able to run because he cannot breathe, and it really scares me.”

PatiCalzadaPati Calzada and her son, Abraham, two victims of the tyranny of asthma (Photo: Sierra Club)

The cause of her misfortune is an undesirable neighbor called smog, also known as ground level ozone, a corrosive pollutant that causes abrasions in the lungs comparable to sunburn. Smog is formed by the effect of sunlight and heat on fossil fuel pollutants from vehicles, factories and power plants. In Colton, California, where Pati and Abraham live, there is an abundance of these ingredients.

“There is a freeway right in front of us,” says Pati. “To our right are the train tracks, behind us is the train station, and a few miles from here, we have the dirtiest power plant in California [the Mountainview Generation Station in Redlands].”

According to the American Lung Association, the barrio where the Calzadas live in San Bernardino County has the highest smog level in the whole country.

“In our county, 1.5 million people have asthma, including half of our children,” says Pati. “The problem is we can’t afford to live anywhere else. We either have a roof over our heads or have to live on the streets somewhere else where the air is clean.”

But facing this cruel dilemma is unnecessary. The federal government needs to improve the national ozone standard from 75 ppb (parts per billion) to 60 ppb. Recently, a committee of experts chartered by the EPA concluded that the current smog standard is insufficient to protect public health.

The experts determined that even a 70ppb standard would continue to cause “adverse effects, such as decrease in lung function, increase in respiratory symptoms and increase in airway inflammation.”

According to the EPA itself, every year, a 60ppb standard would prevent up to 12,000 premature deaths, 21,000 hospitalizations, and the loss of 2.5 million work and school days.

The last time this standard was updated was in 2008, when the Bush administration rejected the recommendations of another committee of experts, who warned of the terrible consequences of adopting a weak 75 ppb standard. The decision has caused massive suffering to families like Pati’s.

For polluters and those who protect them, Pati has a few questions: “How many times have you actually woken in the middle of the night because your son or daughter cannot breath? What would happen if you were out of breath and could not reach your medicine? Are you aware of the consequences of your actions?”

The Clean Air Act requires that the EPA review the federal smog standards every five years, and a court order mandates that the agency issue a new proposal by December 14.

The health of millions of people, such as Pati and Abraham, is at stake. The EPA must establish a new 60ppb smog standard to help end the tyranny of asthma.

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

Sierra Club Brings Clean Energy Investments to Mississippi

August 19, 2014


Six years of legal challenges and grassroots pressure from the Sierra Club against the Kemper coal plant have resulted in a landmark legal settlement that will bring $15 million in energy efficiency and clean energy investments to Mississippi. The agreement between the Sierra Club and Mississippi Power will also make it easier for homeowners in the state to install solar power, and will require power plants in Gulfport, Mississippi, and Greene County, Alabama, to stop burning coal over the next 20 months.


In exchange for these and other concessions, the Sierra Club has agreed to drop its legal challenges of the now-nearly-completed Kemper coal plant. The Club's legal challenges and grassroots pressure led state regulators to block Mississippi Power from billing its customers for cost overruns, which have now soared to $5.6 billion -- more than twice the original projected cost of building the plant.


"With this agreement, we are building a future where dirty, expensive, and unnecessary projects like Kemper coal plants will be things of the past," says Louie Miller, below, state director of the Mississippi Sierra Club and Kemper's leading opponent over the last six years. "This agreement represents a quantum leap forward for Mississippians by creating a clear path for residents to install solar on their homes, make their own clean energy choices, and avoid huge rate hikes for unnecessary coal plants."


While Sierra Club attorneys repeatedly challenged Kemper in court, local volunteers and staff kept up the grassroots pressure in the court of public opinion, holding rallies, tabling events, protests, town hall meetings, and press conferences all along the Gulf Coast. The Club also took out giant billboards at three key junctures during the campaign.


"The legal effort and grassroots activism went hand-in-hand," Miller says. "We couldn't have accomplished what we did without both."


Linda St. Martin, below, a Sierra Club activist and volunteer leader with Mississippians for Affordable Energy who died this May, helped Miller to build a grassroots coalition of Gulf Coast residents opposed to the plant and the rate hikes the Mississippi Public Service Commission (PSC) was attempting to foist on ratepayers.


"Linda worked closely with Louie to fill buses with people who traveled from the Gulf Coast to Jackson to testify at PSC hearings," says Jenna Garland of the Sierra Club's Beyond Coal campaign. "They probably chartered buses to Jackson nearly a dozen times."

Linda-St-Martin"Jackson is far removed from Mississippi Power's service area in the southern part of the state, so it was easy for the PSC to ignore customers hit hard by Kemper rate hikes," Garland says. "One married couple, commercial fishers, made the trip every time, and told the PSC how the rate hikes would hamper the Gulf Coast's economic recovery from Hurricane Katrina. Getting folks like this to Jackson forced the commission to face the people who were being affected."

"Linda was the heart and soul of our work in coastal Mississippi," Miller says. "We are all saddened that she was unable to see how years of fighting the Kemper plant has resulted in this agreement, but we honor her work that will put her beloved Mississippi on the path to a clean energy economy, cleaner, air, and support for those hardest hit by Kemper's costs."

Part of the settlement with Mississippi Power will provide $2 million to protect habitat for the endangered gopher frog, and the Sierra Club will work to name this new preserve in honor of St. Martin.


The Sierra Club challenged the Kemper plant from its inception, building an unprecedented coalition of Mississippi Power customers in central and southern Mississippi, homeowners and Kemper County residents, low-income and environmental justice advocates. The Club's expert witnesses accurately predicted the cost overruns and delays that have plagued the plant from the get-go. Mississippi attorney Robert Wiygul and the Sierra Club's Environmental Law Program staff successfully challenged the plant's first construction permit, winning a unanimous decision from the Mississippi Supreme Court. Below, Club activists and other Gulf Coast residents outside the Supreme Court's chambers in Jackson.


After that ruling, the Public Service Commission rushed to issue a new permit to allow Mississippi Power to continue construction work on the plant, but the Club's lawyers challenged that permit as well, arguing that the utility was passing on rate increases to its customers to cover cost overruns.


Ultimately the Club won concessions in the August 4, 2014, settlement that include phasing out coal at the Gulfport and Greene County power plants, securing a binding commitment from Mississippi Power not to oppose measures to make solar more affordable for homeowners, and requiring the company to strengthen flood protections adjacent to the Kemper plant that will help keep toxic pollution out of groundwater and local waterways.


The agreement will reduce air and water pollution and significantly improve air quality in the region, leading to fewer asthma attacks in children, fewer emergency room visits, and improved quality of life for hundreds of thousands of people. It will also provide millions of dollars to assist low-income Mississippi Power customers in making their home more energy-efficient.

Due to the increasing cost of coal and rapidly declining cost of clean energy, Kemper -- the only new coal plant to break ground during the Obama administration -- is likely to be the last coal-fired power plant built in the U.S.


New Jerseyans Organize for People's Climate March

August 14, 2014


Nearly 100 citizen activists gathered on the Princeton University campus earlier this week for a training session to help mobilize 10,000 New Jerseyans to join the People's Climate March in New York City on September 21. The training was put together by 350.org volunteer Rosemary Dreger Carey and New Jersey Chapter staffer Nicole Dallara. That's Dallara at right in jean jacket, above.

Participants included Sierra Clubbers and other concerned citizens, representatives from civic and environmental groups including 350.org, municipal and faith leaders, labor union members, and students from Princeton, Rutgers, Montclair State, Monmouth College, and Ramapo College.


"It was a great crowd with lots of energy and excitement," says Dallara. "We have a great group of volunteers which continues to grow every day. Our original goal was to get 1,500 Sierra Club members to be among the 10,000 New Jerseyans participating in the march, but this training makes me confident that we're going to easily surpass that number."

Community organizer and social change activist Paul Getsos gave a detailed overview of the People's Climate March route in Manhattan, the significance of the march, and the larger goal of building a people-driven movement demanding climate solutions and climate justice.

Kevin Buckland, an artist and activist coordinator with 350.org, enlisted volunteers to hoist hand-made fabric banners called cantastoria -- Italian for "sung story" or "singing history" -- that will be carried at the march.


Above and below, two of the cantastoria.


Buckland explained why climate action is so urgently needed, and how we can transition away from fossil fuels and build a clean energy infrastructure that will create good-paying jobs and benefit public health.

Five breakout sessions allowed participants to explore key organizational challenges: Organizing for Faith-Based Groups, Campus Organizing, Art-Inspired mobilization, Bus Coordination, and Recruiting for the People's Climate March.


"Everyone at the training shared the common desire to influence the world leaders who will be convening in New York for the UN Climate Summit on September 23-- as well as influence friends, families, and communities -- to respond to the climate crisis with boldness, speed, and fairness," says Dreger Carey, who designed the training curriculum with Dallara.


Dallara gives a shout-out to Princeton student Isaac Lederman, co-president of Students for a Responsible Global Environment (SURGE), for booking the training venue on the Princeton campus.

"People from around the country will be coming together on September 21 to march as one, calling on our world leaders to tackle the most important issue of our time: climate change," says Dallara. "This is a march for the planet that we want to protect for future generations."


Join the People's Climate March


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