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."


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.


Sierra Club Puerto Rico Helps Recycle at San Sebastian Festival

January 23, 2014

Puerto rico recycling3

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.
Puerto rico recycling2

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.
Puerto rico recycling4

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


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.


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 " »

NOAA Releases Annual Climate Report for 2013

January 16, 2014

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has released its 2013 Annual Climate Report, which found that the United States experienced seven weather- and climate-related disasters that resulted in more than $1 billion in damages. (See infographic below.) Specific dollar amounts for each event will be released later this year.

Weather-&-climate-disasters(Graphic courtesy of NOAA)

The report contains numerous maps, charts, and graphics such as the one below, highlighting some of last year's significant weather and climate events.

Weather-and-climate-events(Graphic courtesy of NOAA)

2013 was both warmer and wetter than average for the contiguous United States. The report includes a summary of national and regional temperatures and precipitation, including drought, wildfires, hurricanes and tropical storms, snow and ice, tornadoes, and -- for the more technically minded -- a "Synoptic Discussion describing recent weather events and climate anomalies in relation to the phenomena that cause the weather."

Check out the full report.

Carbon Sequestration No Salvation for Virginia's Coalfields

January 10, 2014


By Ivy Main, Virginia Chapter Vice-Chair

Many elected officials who care about the stark challenges confronting America's coal-producing regions today are pinning their hopes on carbon capture and sequestration. This technology takes carbon dioxide out of power plant emissions and stores it underground. (See infographic below.) Since coal is the number one emitter of carbon dioxide, the greenhouse gas primarily responsible for heating the planet, carbon sequestration might be the only way to continue our use of coal in a world increasingly worried about climate disruption.


Virginia's newly-elected governor, Terry McAuliffe, has high hopes for carbon sequestration. McAuliffe is confronting a problem that confounded his predecessors: how to deal with the continuing economic decline of southwest Virginia's coal-producing counties. But, enthusiastic as he is about new technology, McAuliffe should be skeptical of suggestions that carbon sequestration offers a solution to Virginia's coal decline. It does not.

This decline has been going on for decades. It predates the recession and the Obama presidency and tighter regulations aimed at protecting public health. It predates the explosion in natural gas fracking that has made gas cheaper than coal. Coal employment in Virginia has steadily dropped and is now below 5,000 workers, less than half of what it was in 1990. The best coal seams have been mined out, exacerbating the problem that Virginia coal is more expensive to mine than coal from other states. To get at the remaining seams as cheaply as possible, coal companies increasingly resort to mountaintop removal, destroying vast tracts of the Appalachians with explosives and giant machines (but very few workers). Even if carbon capture and storage proves successful, coal employment in the commonwealth won't recover.

Continue reading "Carbon Sequestration No Salvation for Virginia's Coalfields" »

The New Year Brings New Wind Energy to the Midwest

January 08, 2014


Today, Kansas City Power & Light (KCP&L), a utility that serves over 800,000 customers in Kansas and Missouri, announced that it will nearly double its existing wind portfolio with the purchase of 400 megawatts (MW) of power from facilities located in both Kansas and Missouri.

EDP Renewables will construct and operate the first facility in Waverly, Kansas, while Element Power will build and manage the second site in Holt County, Missouri. Expected to be operational by the end of 2015, each facility will be capable of producing up to 200 MW of electricity. KCP&L will purchase power from these wind farms via 20-year power purchase agreements that will be cheaper than purchasing power from other sources. In fact, KCP&L estimates that this wind energy purchase will save its customers approximately $600 million over the lifetime of the agreements. KCP&L's wind energy purchase puts the utility on par with other Midwestern utilities that are investing in wind and saving customers money. [Note: A recent report from the Department of Energy describes downward-trending wind prices and skyrocketing demand, noting that in 2012, wind was the largest source of new electrical generation capacity in the United States.]

So, how did this happen? In 2007, the Sierra Club and Concerned Citizens of Platte County entered into a settlement agreement with KCP&L where we agreed to drop legal challenges concerning the Iatan coal-fired power plant in exchange for, among other things, the utility's procurement of 400 MW of wind-generated electric power by December 31, 2012. By the end of 2012, KCP&L had come up short on its promise, so we sent the utility a demand letter indicating our intent to sue over breach of contract. KCP&L took these allegations seriously and respectfully, and we commenced a series of very productive conversations about the need to comply with the legal agreement that the parties had negotiated in good faith, as well as the incredible value that wind energy can bring to a utility like KCP&L.

With the procurement of 400 MW of new wind, KCP&L will power past its original obligations under our settlement, resulting in a net win for the climate and the utility's customers. Unfortunately, Missouri's wind energy portfolio currently lags behind neighboring states like Illinois and Iowa, which hold nearly eight and eleven times more installed wind capacity, respectively. Still, we commend KCP&L for its efforts here, which are in stark contrast to those of Ameren Missouri, the state's largest electric utility. Today's announcement will bring KCP&L's total wind energy portfolio to 939 MW, making it a clear leader in both Kansas and Missouri, and over nine times larger than Ameren Missouri's 102 MW wind portfolio.

KCP&L's announcement is a refreshing way to ring in the New Year, particularly for the state of Missouri, which generated over 80 percent of its electricity from coal-fired power plants in 2011, the most recent year for which data is available. In 2014, we will continue to push both Ameren and KCP&L to invest in clean, renewable energy while we simultaneously advocate for a timely and responsible phase-out of the utilities' oldest and dirtiest coal-fired power plants.

Sunil Bector is an attorney with the Sierra Club.

Patrick Goldsworthy: A Gentleman, Relentless in His Advocacy

December 23, 2013

Dr.-Patrick-GoldsworthyAt its final meeting of 2013, the Sierra Club's Board of Directors passed a resolution honoring lifelong conservationist and longtime Sierra Club volunteer leader Patrick Goldsworthy, who died this October at age 94.

In 1957, Goldsworthy helped establish the Sierra Club's first chapter in the Pacific Northwest (then called the Northwest Chapter) and its close ally, the North Cascades Conservation Council (NCCC).

"Dr. Goldsworthy was present at the creation of the Northwest's conservation movement, back in the days when horn-blasting logging trucks lined up outside wilderness hearings," writes Joel Connelly of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. "Goldsworthy was a gentleman, but relentless in his advocacy."

Born in Ireland in 1919, Patrick Donovan Goldsworthy earned his Ph.D. at the University of California, Berkeley, joining the Sierra Club while still a student there. After serving in the U.S. Army and Air Force, he moved to Seattle in 1952 to become a professor of biochemistry at the University of Washington.

No sooner had Goldsworthy settled in Seattle than he heard about illegal logging being allowed in Olympic National Park by the park superintendent. His response was to travel to the park, photograph the destruction, and help stop the logging.

In 1956 he was elected to the board of Olympic Park Associates, and the following year he helped found the Club's Northwest Chapter (now split into the Washington State and Oregon chapters) and the NCCC. The two organizations led the fight to establish the Glacier Peak Wilderness in 1960, pass the Wilderness Act in 1964, and establish the iconic North Cascades National Park in 1968.

"Pat always impressed me as one of the true gentlemen of Northwest Conservation," says author and fellow Olympic Park Associates activist Tim McNulty. But Goldsworthy was nothing if not tenacious in pursuit of his conservation goals.

In 1962, when Interior Secretary Stewart Udall came to Seattle for the 1962 World's Fair, local attorney/conservationist Irving Clark, Jr., invited Goldsworthy to a beach party honoring Udall on nearby Bainbridge Island. Joel Connelly relates the story in the Post-Intelligencer:

"Now Pat," Clark admonished Goldsworthy, "Steward Udall is a busy man." Clark gently suggested that Goldsworthy let Udall relax and hold off lobbying for a national park in the North Cascades.

No way! Armed with maps, Goldsworthy positioned himself just inside the door of the beach house. He waylaid Udall, took him into the study, and laid out the case for a park. Goldsworthy, lugging topographical maps, became a familiar figure in Washington congressional offices.

Six years post-Bainbridge, Goldsworthy stood with Udall at the White House while President Lyndon Johnson signed the North Cascades Act into law. He received a pen used by LBJ to sign the act."

Below, Goldsworthy with LBJ at the 1968 creation of North Cascades National Park.


In 1966 Goldsworthy received the Sierra Club's William E. Colby Award for outstanding leadership and service to the Sierra Club.

Patrick-Goldsworthy"Pat was perpetually genial, always self-effacing, ever eager to give credit to others," reads the Sierra Club  resolution honoring Goldsworthy. "He was a particular inspiration to each young person he encountered. Pat remained active in every major wilderness battle in Western Washington up until his death. As a result of his work and inspiration, Americans have a nearly unbroken block of wilderness and national park land stretching along the crest of the Cascades from the Canadian border to just south of Mt. Rainier National Park.

"Pat inspired generations of the Sierra Club's chapter and group leaders and staff members with his dedication, his persistence, and his confidence that our political system could and would match his vision if we were effective advocates. There was not a cynical bone in his body. Pat lived a full life, so we cannot so much mourn his passing as honor his legacy and take his example to renew our own commitment to the work he pioneered."

Other places Goldworthy was instrumental in protecting include the Wild Sky, Alpine Lakes, William O. Douglag, Norse Peak, Boulder River, Chelan-Sawtooth, Henry M. Jackson, Mt. Baker, and Noisy-Diobsud wilderness areas.

"If you want to see his legacy," says Joel Connelly, "lift your eyes to the hills."

Fighting for Environmental Justice -- From the Inland Empire to Deep in the Heart of Texas

December 19, 2013


Erica Thames grew up and spent most of her life in a low-income community in Southern California's Inland Empire, a region of more than four million people just east of Los Angeles that is beset with some of the worst air pollution in the U.S.

"Growing up, I had a general idea of environmentalism in the form of recycling, saving water, etc.," the 23-year-old activist told MTV in an interview this fall. "But it wasn't until I started learning about environmental justice and environmental racism that I became really involved."

Thames hooked up with the Sierra Club in 2012 when she was a student at San Bernadino Valley College. While volunteering at an Inland Empire cultural collective called Chicccaa (Chicano Indigenous Community for Culturally Conscious Advocacy and Action), she met Allen Hernandez, an organizer with the Club's My Generation campaign.

Thames quickly became a key volunteer leader with the campaign, going door-to-door to ask local residents to sign petitions supporting rooftop solar in low-income communities, and organizing demonstrations opposing California utilities' restrictions on renewable energy.


"Erica took the lead in organizing these demonstrations," says Hernandez. "We wouldn't have had such a successful rally outside Southern California Edison's headquarters this August if it wasn't for her." The demonstration, pictured above and below, was held to protest the utility's opposition to California families installing solar panels on their homes.


Thames, above at right, said that many of her friends and neighbors in the Inland Empire were initially skeptical when she began working to bring rooftop solar to her working-class community, which in addition to being plagued with bad air also suffers from high unemployment.

"People would say, how does that apply to me? I don't have $20,000 to put rooftop solar on my house," she told the Associated Press this fall. But when she explained that the growth of rooftop solar would mean local construction jobs, savings for local property owners, and lower electric bills and cleaner air for everyone, it hit home. "When you start talking about health benefits and jobs, people become really intrigued."

Erica-ThamesHernandez calls Thames "the most critical volunteer I've had." The admiration runs both ways. "Allen mentored me completely," Thames says. "I wasn't sure what to expect when I started out as a Sierra Club volunteer. Allen taught me all about environmental justice -- and injustice. He really drove home the point that the area where I grew up was hit hard by environmental racism."

This fall, Thames moved to Austin, Texas, to work for the Sierra Club's Beyond Coal campaign. "Being a staff organizer gives me the time and resources to be able to dedicate myself to creating change," she says. "It was a bit of a challenge at first dealing with culture shock -- Texas and California are totally different worlds! But the skills I learned in California helped greatly, and I was able to make the transition with not much problem."

Thames stresses that organizations like the Sierra Club must make it a priority to assist communities like the one in which she grew up in their fight of resistance against environmental racism.

"Erica is an example of what investment in our communities can produce," says Hernandez. "She was already a student leader at her college, but her involvement and development with the My Generation campaign helped her achieve community leader status. Her furious and unwavering commitment to social justice and environmental justice is both humbling and inspiring."

Alt Rockers and Sierra Club Team Up for Clean Energy

December 16, 2013


You know somebody is really walking the green walk when you meet them in Los Angeles and they show up on their bicycle. That was the first thing that impressed me about Skylar Funk, above at left, when I met him recently at a coffee shop in the Silver Lake neighborhood near downtown L.A. The second was his infectious enthusiasm for a project that is now coming down the home stretch.

Funk is co-leader with Merritt Graves, at right above, of the alternative rock band Trapdoor Social, which broke onto the music scene last December with their debut EP release, Death of a Friend. The two met in an Environmental Analysis program at Pomona College in 2007 and quickly bonded over their shared passion for music and the environment. After graduating, Funk spent a year volunteering for the Sierra Club's Beyond Coal campaign.


Now, Trapdoor Social is partnering with the Sierra Club, Everybody Solar, and GRID Alternatives to raise $30,000 for a solar energy project in Los Angeles. All proceeds from pre-orders of Trapdoor Social's new album, due out in the new year, will go toward installing solar panels on the roof of Homeboy Industries, a non-profit that provides services, counseling, and job training -- with a special focus on the green energy sector -- to formerly gang-involved men and women.


"Merritt and I want Trapdoor Social to be part of a movement that engages people in making social change," Funk says. "Climate disruption is an urgent matter, and the Homeboy solar fundraiser is an opportunity for us to make a point about the importance of renewable energy."

"We're excited about the emerging clean-energy economy, which will promote national security through energy independence and job creation in a new sustainable sector," says Graves.


Trapdoor Social is using Pledge Music, an online "direct-to-fan" music platform, to host the fundraiser. Anyone who makes a donation by the end of 2013 will get the band's new album prior to its official public release, along with the satisfaction of knowing they've contributed to two righteous causes: clean energy and a non-profit that is making a real difference in helping motivated people turn their lives around.

Continue reading "Alt Rockers and Sierra Club Team Up for Clean Energy" »

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