Inspiring Connections Outdoors

July 11, 2014


By Stacy Bare, Sierra Club Outdoors Director

Please join us in our excitement over a new name for our beloved ICO program. As of July 1, we are no longer Inner City Outings. We are Sierra Club Inspiring Connections Outdoors.


The acronym ICO and the mission -- to provide opportunities for people (especially youth) with limited access to the outdoors to safely explore, enjoy and project the natural world -- remain the same. We have 55 ICO groups in cities and towns across America going outdoors with 14,000 participants each year. And that number grows every year thanks to our dedicated volunteers and the growing nationwide movement to (re)connect with nature.


So why change the name?


There's a lot of familiarity with ICO, our long-standing moniker and acronym, and for many people, "InnerCityOutings" runs together as one word and quickly encapsulates the pride we all have in the tremendous work this program has done.


However, to some people the words "Inner City" have negative connotations, and have been a barrier to deeper engagement on the part of many participants, volunteers, would-be volunteers, donors, and agency partners.


Additionally, the term "Inner City" does not fully represent the geographic areas our program serves, which include rural and suburban neighborhoods and, frankly, anywhere Sierra Club leaders want to go outdoors with people who may not otherwise have easy access to the outdoors. "Inner City" is a term of the past. And ultimately, these were sufficiently compelling reasons to change the name.


To quote one of our San Francisco Bay Area volunteers, "We are in the business of empowering others, encouraging others, connecting with others, and -- dare I say it -- inspiring others."


We are excited about this next step in the future of Sierra Club Inspiring Connections Outdoors. Last year we grew by 20 percent, and we are working hard to double the number of participants getting outdoors with the Sierra Club nationwide by 2020.


Inner City Outings has served the Sierra Club -- and all who participated in the program -- well. Now ICO moves onward and upward with a new name that better encapsulates the full spectrum of people ICO seeks to reach.


Want to get involved? Find an ICO group near you -- or start one of your own!

Clean Energy Victory in New York

July 09, 2014

16707.1This week the New York Public Service Commission announced that it will require the state to invest in more clean energy as part of its renewable portfolio standard -- and all thanks to action from the Sierra Club and nine other groups.

New York had been lagging behind in its progress to meet its renewable portfolio standard -- NY must obtain 30 percent of its energy from renewable sources by 2015 -- so the Sierra Club and these nine other groups took action. In December 2013, the Sierra Club, along with Alliance for Clean Energy New York, Inc, Citizens Campaign for the Environment, Environmental Advocates of New York, Natural Resources Defense Council, New York League of Conservation Voters, New York Public Interest Research Group, Pace Energy And Climate Center, Renewable Energy Long Island, and the Vote Solar Initiative, submitted a petition to the New York Public Service Commission seeking changes to the method by which the state engages in large-scale procurement of renewable energy resources.

Last week, the Club's efforts were rewarded with an order by the commission adopting the Sierra Club's core recommendation and requiring additional renewable procurement solicitations in 2014 and 2015. These solicitations should produce hundreds of millions of dollars in economic and environmental benefits for New Yorkers -- creating jobs and stimulating investment while also reducing emissions and New York’s dependency on fossil fuels.  

The primary mechanism for procuring large-scale renewable generation is through contracts between the state and developers for renewable energy credits (RECs).  Traditionally, these contracts have been limited to ten years. In the past, the ten-year REC contracts provided developers with sufficient certainty to obtain financing for their projects.  Indeed, analysis of the RPS program as recently as 2013 showed that early solicitations were highly successful, with benefits to the state significantly outweighing costs -- every $1 spent on the RPS generated $3 of direct investment in New York.

More recently, however, inconsistency by the state in the timing of project solicitations, as well as more attractive contracting structures in other states, made New York a less favorable place for renewable developers to site projects. As a result, progress toward New York's RPS goals slowed markedly.  

To help address the uncertainties in the solicitation process and provide renewable energy developers the contracting flexibility required to finance projects, the Sierra Club coordinated with a broad range of organizations on a petition to the Public Service Commission to remedy the shortcomings of the RPS.  

The petition made the case for more regular project solicitations by the state as well as for increased contract flexibility to help bring renewable energy developers back to New York State. The commission's order, released last week, broadly adopted the Sierra Club's requests.  The commission required that the state engage in two large-scale renewable project solicitations between now and the end of 2015, one in each calendar year.

This is great news for New Yorkers, and we look forward to seeing the continued expansion of clean energy in the Empire State.

-- Joshua Berman, Sierra Club Staff Attorney

Sierra Club Victory in Colorado a Rebuke Against Coal Leasing

July 08, 2014

In a victory for wild lands and our climate, U.S. District Court Judge R. Brooke Jackson last week rejected Arch Coal's plans to bulldoze six miles of roads through 1,700 acres of Colorado's wild and natural Sunset Roadless Area in order to expand its underground West Elk coal mine.

While the decision is an enormous victory for protecting these precious wild lands and halts Arch Coal's coal mining plans for now, Judge Jackson's ruling also represents the first time that a coal mine has been rejected because of the failure to adequately consider and disclose the impacts that a mine would have on climate disruption.


Sunset Trails Roadless Area in Colorado. Photo courtesy of WildEarth Guardians.

The landmark decision, affirming a challenge brought by the Sierra Club and allies at Earthjustice, WildEarth Guardians, and High Country Conservation Advocates, could have far-reaching implications for protecting our climate from the threat of mining and burning of coal, natural gas, tar sands, and other fossil fuels.

In addition to building on the Sierra Club's recent successes establishing legal standing to raise climate arguments (1) and telling the agencies that they cannot simply ignore the Social Cost of Carbon when weighing the impacts of coal leasing, Judge Jackson squarely rejected the notion that massive coal mines would have no impact on our climate.

For years, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) has used tortured economic logic to mask its willful ignorance of the tremendous harm done to our climate and people through federal leasing of more than five billions of tons of coal.

Spoiler alert: There's a direct connection between BLM's federal coal leasing program and the amount of carbon pollution disrupting our climate. Coal that's mined from federal lands is burned in coal-fired power plants; coal-fired power plants emit carbon pollution; and carbon pollution warms our planet and contributes to increasingly destructive weather events and other consequences of climate disruption (2).

Judge Jackson's ruling exposes the bogus economic assumptions underlying nearly all of BLM's coal leasing decisions, and it will help hold BLM accountable for the climate impacts of other decisions on coal and fossil fuel extraction. BLM continues to claim that if it were to deny a coal lease, that same amount of coal would just get mined from someplace else. The result, according to BLM, would be the same amount of coal mined, the same amount of coal burned, and the same amount of carbon pollution emitted from coal-fired power plants. And if the impacts to climate are the same no matter what, why deny a coal lease?

As recognized by Judge Jackson, that logic ignores basic principles of supply and demand. After summarizing BLM's economic assumption, Judge Jackson debunked it, stating:

"The production of coal in the North Fork exemption will increase the supply of cheap, low-sulfur coal. At some point this additional supply will impact the demand for coal relative to other fuel sources, and coal that would otherwise have been left in the ground will be burned." (Slip op. at 30) (emphasis added).

Judge Jackson's point is key. BLM's topsy-turvy approach on climate has brought us a federal coal binge that is indirectly subsidizing the coal industry and worsening climate disruption. The economic principles at play are not complicated. Broadly stated: If you reject a lease and take a large portion of a commodity (here coal, but it could have been natural gas, tar sands, etc.) off the market, you decrease the supply, increase the cost, and, over the long term, decrease the use of that commodity. Because switching from coal to cleaner and more affordable energy would result in less coal mined, less coal burned, and less carbon pollution emitted, BLM's decisions do have a climate impact -- and a big one at that.

In Wyoming's Powder River Basin, BLM has approved four mine expansions that alone would dig up 2.3 billion tons of coal. These "Wright Area" leases, which have been challenged by the Sierra Club and its allies, would dump more than 3.3 billion tons of carbon pollution into our atmosphere. There too, BLM continues to hold tight to its economic fiction as a way to deny the climate impacts of its decisions.

Meanwhile, through its Buffalo Resource Management Plant update, BLM has called for an additional 10 billion tons of coal to come out of the ground over the next 20 years, all while claiming the federal coal program has no impact on our climate. By preventing private companies from mining and burning coal from federal lands, BLM can better protect our climate and public health, the waters we use, the air we breathe, and the wild places we enjoy. We cannot ignore the enormous impact that mining and burning coal will have on our climate, and with last week's decision, it’s clear that the BLM and Forest Service can't either.

-- Nathaniel Shoaff, Sierra Club staff attorney


(1) See WildEarth Guardians v. Jewell, 738 F.3d 298 (D.C. Cir. 2013); WildEarth Guardians v. BLM, Case No. 11-cv-1481-RJL (D.D.C. Mar. 30, 2014), 2014 WL 1285505.

(2) For underground mines like West Elk, the climate impact is compounded by companies venting methane directly into the atmosphere during mining. Methane is a potent greenhouse gas with 86 times the heat trapping properties of carbon dioxide over 20 years. And while underground mines must remove methane to protect workers, there's no reason other than corporate profit margins that it can't be captured and used instead of vented into our atmosphere.

Sierra Club victory in Colorado a rebuke against coal leasing

Sunset Trails Roadless Area in Colorado. Photo courtesy of WildEarth Guardians.

By Nathaniel Shoaff, Sierra Club staff attorney

In a victory for wild lands and our climate, U.S. District Court Judge R. Brooke Jackson last week rejected Arch Coal's plans to bulldoze six miles of roads through 1,700 acres of Colorado's wild and natural Sunset Roadless Area in order to expand its underground West Elk coal mine.

While the decision is an enormous victory for protecting these precious wild lands and halts Arch Coal's coal mining plans for now, Judge Jackson's ruling also represents the first time that a coal mine has been rejected because of the failure to adequately consider and disclose the impacts that a mine would have on climate disruption.

The landmark decision, affirming a challenge brought by the Sierra Club and allies at Earthjustice, WildEarth Guardians, and High Country Conservation Advocates, could have far-reaching implications for protecting our climate from the threat of mining and burning of coal, natural gas, tar sands, and other fossil fuels.

Continue reading " Sierra Club victory in Colorado a rebuke against coal leasing" »

An Innovation A Day Keeps the Emissions Away

July 01, 2014

800px-New_Teslas_at_the_factoryJust about every day, I'm hearing about new innovation in electric vehicle (EV) technology on the market or in the works.

Sustainia, an annual guide to innovative sustainable solutions worldwide, just announced its 100 top picks. Among the companies were at least five in the EV space. One is Proterra, the electric bus company about which we've blogged before, for its EcoRide Fast Charging Electric Buses. Proterra says these buses get the equivalent (in terms of efficiency and emissions) of 20.8 mpg as compared to 5.25 mpg for hybrid, 3.86 mpg for diesel, and 3.27 mpg for CNG. These e-buses are seriously cleaner!

Honeywell & Safran made the Sustainia 100 list for its new electric taxiing system for airplanes, which is expected to equip A320 aircrafts with autonomous taxiing technology from gate to runway to save the CO2 equivalent per plane of planting 835 trees or eliminating 717 automobiles.

ChargePoint was on Sustainia 100 for the company's technology at 17,000+ EV charging stations nationwide. ChargePoint is clearly charging ahead -- with millions more in venture capital support recently secured and a new partnership with French electrical systems giant Schneider Electric.

Finally, there were two battery technology companies on the Sustainia list; Aquion Energy and Ambri are both making strides in renewable energy battery storage. My Sierra Club colleague Reed McManus wrote for the current edition of Sierra Magazine about research underway for EV batteries that will allow electric cars to charge faster and go further.

So is it competition or collaboration that is enabling these kind of advances? Tesla recently surprised many by announcing that it would open up its 172 current patents to any company that works "in good faith" to advance the EV market. When we read that "Nissan wants a three-way with Tesla and BMW" (not my words!) for supercharger technology, we know this kind of collaboration could mean that EV drivers are soon enjoying big benefits from this kind of corporate love-in.

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

The Great Climate March Arrives in Denver

June 27, 2014


Many readers of The Planet blog know about the Great March for Climate Action -- an eight-month, 3,000-mile march from Los Angeles to Washington, D.C., to demonstrate to the American people and our elected leaders the need to act now to combat climate disruption.


The Great March for Climate Action commenced on March 1 with a big rally at the Port of Los Angeles with an oil refinery as the backdrop, and is scheduled to end on the National Mall in Washington on November 1, with rallies scheduled at 35 stops along the way. Marchers in the "mobile community" are welcome to join any segment of the march they wish. The next rally is scheduled for July 4 in Omaha.


At the previous stop, in Denver on June 16, more than 150 people rallied at the state capitol, marched through downtown, and gathered across the street from EPA Region 8 headquarters to hear from the regional EPA administrator about the agency's new carbon pollution standards, and concluded at a local restaurant for a symposium that addressed a wide range of issues including fracking, renewable energy, tar sands and the Keystone XL pipeline, transportation, and moving beyond fossil fuels.


Partner groups in the day's event included 350 Colorado, AFGE (the federal union that helps represent EPA employees), and the Citizens' Climate Lobby, among others. We'll let Denver-based Sierra Club organizer Bryce Carter pick up the story from here.

Continue reading "The Great Climate March Arrives in Denver" »

A Whale of a Story

June 26, 2014


In 2007, Sierra Club member Joshua Horwitz traveled with his 13-year-old daughter Julia to one of the last pristine whale lagoons on the Pacific coast of Baja, Mexico. The experience so moved the Washington, D.C.-based writer that for the next seven years he immersed himself in what he describes as a "fascinating and bottomless" study of whales and their struggle for survival.

War-of-the-WhalesThe result is War of the Whales, which goes on sale today, published by Simon & Schuster. War of the Whales is a true story of how a whale researcher and an environmental lawyer took on the world's most powerful navy after they both stumbled on evidence linking sonar exercises to mass strandings of whales. Their fight went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Horwitz says that prior to seeing whales in the wild in Baja, "what I knew about whales was essentially what I'd learned in Mr. Biggs's fifth grade biology class: that they were mammals who had once lived on land." But seeing and touching the whales and their newborn calves was an utterly transforming experience for Horwitz and his daughter.


"Every winter, the gray whales return to this lagoon to give birth to their calves, suckle them, and head out for their months-long journey to the Bering Sea, where they have their winter feeding grounds," Horwitz says in this short video.


"We went out on these tiny boats, and there's a remarkable phenomenon in this whale lagoon where the mother whales and their calves actually approach you in these boats, to the point where you can actually reach out and touch them and run your hands through the baleen in their mouth."


"The experience of that kind of contact with wild whales is just indescribable," Horwitz says. "And once you've had that experience, it changes the way you think about these animals. Having that experience and looking at my 13-year-old daughter's response to these animals, particularly in the presence of a mother and a calf, I just felt that I had to do something, and as a writer I decided to try to tell the story of this generation of whales and what they've struggled with for survival."


Horwitz says he hopes what readers will take away from War of the Whales is an understanding of the importance of tenacity in social change. "The book is really a story about two individuals who stood up to the most powerful navy in the world. I think that they are real role models for anyone, particularly young people, who really want to fight for change."


Above, environmental attorney Joel Reynolds and whale researcher Ken Balcomb, the book's two main protagonists. Below, Horwitz and Balcomb at Balcomb's research station on San Juan Island, Washington.


The Planet talked with Horwitz last week about his newfound fascination with "nature's experiment in gigantism" and War of the Whales.

Continue reading "A Whale of a Story" »

Pedal Your Bike, Power Your Movement


Want to have an amazing bicycle adventure and support the Sierra Club's work at the same time? Then Climate Ride may be just the event you've been looking for.


Climate Ride is about cycling, green energy, combating climate change, promoting sustainability, meeting inspirational people doing great work in all these realms, and making lifelong friends. It's also about riding 300 miles through some of the country's most beautiful and historic regions."


The reward for this commitment is the experience of a lifetime through some of America's most beautiful landscapes. Participants meet and network with leaders in sustainability, renewable energy, and environmental causes while raising awareness about the Sierra Club's cause. Climate Ride also has optional bus transportation for people to March and Ride.


A 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, Climate Ride is the nation's largest cycling event dedicated to active transportation, sustainability, and environmental causes. The national Sierra Club is a beneficiary of this year's Climate Ride, and now is the time to register for the remaining 2014 events.


This September, Sierra Club volunteers and staff will be participating in Climate Rides in the Midwest and Northeast. (The first Climate Ride of 2014, a 250-mile ride through California wine country from San Francisco to Sacramento, took place in late May.)


But there are still a few spots left in the 300-mile Midwest Ride from Grand Rapids, Michigan, to Chicago on September 6-9, and the 300-mile bike ride from NYC-DC Ride from New York City to Washington on September 20-24 if you register now. (There are also spots still open for a 5-day Climate Hike in Glacier National Park from August 24-28.)

Continue reading "Pedal Your Bike, Power Your Movement" »

Club Cleans Up at National Puerto Rican Parade

June 20, 2014


On June 7-8, Sierra Club volunteers and staff participated in a weekend of Puerto Rican pride in New York City. On Saturday, the 116th Street Festival in East Harlem, below, kicked off the weekend's festivities with a celebration of Puerto Rican culture attended by hundreds of thousands. That's Puerto Rico Sierra Club volunteer leader Estrella Perez, talking to local residents about recycling.


The following day, more than 80,000 people marched up Fifth Avenue from 44th St. to 86th St. in the annual National Puerto Rican Day parade, below. First held in 1958, the parade now attracts nearly two million spectators, making it not only one of the largest parades in New York, but one of the largest outdoor events in the U.S.


This year, 50 volunteers from the Sierra Club's Puerto Rico Chapter teamed up with local volunteers from GrowNYC to recover 350 pounds of recycling material along the parade route before, during, and after the event. Activists with the global civic organization Avaaz marched alongside the recycling brigade, handing out literature encouraging people to get involved in decision-making on climate disruption, environmental justice, poverty, and a range of other issues.


Sierra Club volunteers collected more than 100 bags of glass, metal, and plastic, which were then separated for recycling. Once volunteers' bags were full, they weighed the bags prior to placing them curbside for collection by DSNY (the New York City Department of Sanitation).

Adriana-Gonzalez"Two leaders from our 'sustainability team' carried hand-held scales and noted the weight of each bag as it was filled, and parade staff passed out gloves and hand sanitizer, helped volunteers weigh the full bags, and provided them with new empty ones," says Puerto Rico-based Sierra Club staffer Adriana Gonzalez, at left, the Club's lead orgnizer for the weekend's events.

Sustainability team volunteers worked from 10:30 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. the day of the parade, with a 45-minute check-in, breakfast, and a training session before walking to the parade entrance.

"Spectators and fellow marchers were very happy to see recycling so prominent in this year's parade," Gonzalez says. "The volunteers were well-trained, they interacted a lot with the spectators, and their efforts left people with an impression of a clean, well-planned event. I heard many people thanking our volunteers."


Above and below, sustainability team volunteers and spectators along the parade route.


Continue reading "Club Cleans Up at National Puerto Rican Parade" »

100-Mile Run for Wind Energy

June 16, 2014


How far would you go to promote clean energy? For Sierra Club member Matt Kearns of Long Island, the answer is 100 miles. This past Saturday, June 14, Kearns took off from Montauk, at the far eastern tip of Long Island, and ran to the town of Babylon, N.Y., to draw attention to Long Island's potential to develop clean, renewable, offshore wind power off the coasts of Montauk and Long Beach, just west of New York City.


Building offshore wind capacity would create jobs, drive millions of dollars in investments to Long Island and position New York as a national leader with one of America's first offshore wind projects.


Kearns' run was originally to end at the Long Beach Boardwalk, but medical reasons forced him to stop just short of his 100-mile goal. He arrived at the boardwalk in the support van, having run 90 miles from Montauk to Babylon -- the equivalent of back-to-back-to-back marathons plus an additional 12 miles.

Wind-100Photo by Jack McCoy, courtesy of Jack McCoy Photography

A resident of North Babylon who worked for Green Homes and is now project manager for a construction company, Kearns grew up in East Setauket on Long Island's north shore, where he was initially inspired to tackle environmental problems after a dangerous gas pipeline leak that contaminated the water under the town. More recently, his sense of urgency was bolstered by witnessing the destruction wrought by Superstorm Sandy, which inspired him to take action to find solutions to the climate crisis.


Kearns started working as a home energy efficiency contractor where he spent time everyday talking to Long Islanders about energy issues in their homes. At the same time, he joined the Sierra Club, where he got involved in efforts calling on Long Island Power Authority (LIPA), the local utility, to invest in offshore wind power. This year, PSEG-Long Island (Public Service Electricity and Gas) along with LIPA's trustees could decide to invest in an offshore wind project proposed 30 miles off the coast of Montauk that would produce enough renewable electricity to power 120,000 Long Island homes.


Continue reading "100-Mile Run for Wind Energy" »

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