100-Mile Run for Wind Energy

June 16, 2014

Matt-Kearns-Wind-100

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.

Matt-Kearns-Wind-100

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.

Matt-Kearns-Wind-100

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.

Matt-Kearns-Wind-100

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.

Matt-Kearns-Wind-100

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

Celebrating Father's Day with a Father and Sons Outings Leader Team

June 13, 2014

Bart and sons

Bart Carlson is a longtime Sierra Club Outings leader with a pretty special reason why he loves leading outings so much: Because he frequently gets to do it with one or both of his sons, Zach and Bart Jr.

Bart has led rafting trips, weekend trips, and multi-day expeditions for the Sierra Club, and as a nature lover, it just made sense to teach his kids to love being outside, too.

"It's where life-long memories are made," Bart says. "What a great legacy to leave - having my children loving others and the outdoors as much as I do."

Bart's son Zach agrees about the memories. "When my brother Bart Jr. and I were young, we were so blessed to have our father slap life jackets on us and throw us into big blue boats on the river," says the 17-year-old. "To the two of us this meant a day of massive waves and fun in the water."

Over the years, Zach says his dad slowly let the two boys take on more and more responsibility, and it wasn't long before they earned their own place as Sierra Club Outings whitewater rafting guides. "I am a very blessed man and father to have such an opportunity," says Bart.

One of Bart's favorite memories of leading an outing with his sons is a recent trip on California's East Fork Carson River. They were leading a group of eight teenage boys from a center for troubled youth.

"The beauty was beyond our expectations - back-side Sierra views, hot springs, desert plateaus, and an amazing group of kids and Sierra Club Inner City Outings guides," says Bart.

Sierra Club Outings' Mel MacInnis describes it as such: "The last night of the trip, one of the group chaperones shared a great gift with Bart. Most of these boys did not know their fathers or had bad experiences with theirs. Moreover, most of the counselors at Hanna Boys Center are women, so it is rare for them to interact, play and engage with a positive 'father figure.' Bart and his son were total hits with the Hanna Boys, who got to see a positive father/son relationship, while they got some positive male attention too."
Bart and his two sons
For Zach, the whitewater training and trips with his dad have been so much more than learning to be safe on the water.

"He has been guiding us through rapids ever since we were young, and more symbolically he has been guiding us through life to become young men," Zach says. "So when the question is asked, 'what's it like to serve and lead on outings with my father,' the only response I have is that it's an honor to lead beside the man whom I learned everything from."

Bart hopes to keep leading outings with his sons for many years to come.  "As a father, I could not ask for a better opportunity to model to my children the impact of serving others and caring for our environment. I am a very blessed man and father to have such an opportunity."

Happy Father's Day, Bart!

Seattle organizer receives first organizing award in NW Energy Coalition history

Kathleen ridihalghHonoree Kathleen Ridihalgh brings "art, science,  heart and grit" to inclusive energy coalition work
 
In its 33-year history, the NW Energy Coalition has honored dozens of groups and individuals for their efforts in advancing clean and affordable energy policy across the region. But it has never honored someone specifically for their on-the-ground success in mobilizing grassroots support for those policy efforts.
 
That glaring omission was rectified on Thursday, June 12. As part of the Coalition's 2nd annual 4 Under Forty celebration, the inaugural Doug Still Community Organizing Award was given to Kathleen Casey Ridihalgh, senior organizing manager for the Sierra Club.
 
"Kathleen Ridihalgh sets the standard for organizing in the public interest," said NW Energy Coalition executive director Sara Patton. "She represents everything that award namesake Doug Still stood for, and her years of success bear that out."
 
Over the past 15 years, Ridihalgh has overseen outreach efforts on many of the Northwest's most important energy, environmental and political issues, from climate change and coal exports, to clean power and transportation, to environmental and economic justice. Her accomplishments include building significant grassroots support for campaigns that have:

  • Won agreements to end coal-fired electricity production in Washington and Oregon.
  • Stopped three of six coal export proposals.
  • Forced transportation planners to address climate concerns and incorporate public transit options in their projects.
  • Made the Northwest's continued reliance on imported coal power a hot-stove topic regionally and nationally.

Through it all, Ridihalgh pushes for inclusion of all those touched by the campaigns, from electric ratepayers and taxpayers to coal-plant workers and local communities.
 
"Organizing is equal parts art, science, heart and grit," Ridihalgh explained. "The most rewarding times of my career have been helping folks to find their voice and realize they can make a difference against all odds. I have played just a very small part of the huge struggle for equality and justice, but all our small parts add up to great things."
 
She joined the Sierra Club in 1999, just in time to lead public education events around the game-changing WTO meeting in Seattle. After stepping in as the Club's acting regional director, she assumed her current position in 2006, just as the Club was joining with the Coalition and other allies to lead passage of Washington state's clean energy law, Initiative 937.
 
Since then, Ridihalgh commended the Coalition for creating the Doug Still Organizing Award and said she was honored to be its first recipient.
 
-- Meg Matthews, Sierra Club

Jersey City Residents Speak Out for Climate Action

June 11, 2014

Jersey City climate action

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

By Javier Sierra

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sierra Club Rallies to Support Carbon Protections

Chicago-rally

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

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

Chicago-rally

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

Chicago-rally

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

Below, Attorney General Madigan addresses the crowd.

Chicago-rally

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

Breaking Down Silos to Harness Collective Power

June 09, 2014

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

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

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

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

OK in Muskogee

June 06, 2014

Muskogee-asthma-awareness

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

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

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

Muskogee-asthma-awareness

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

Charley-Walton

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

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

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

Muskogee-asthma-awareness

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

Muskogee-asthma-awareness

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

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

Steve Pawlowski: In Memoriam

June 03, 2014

Steve-Pawlowski

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

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

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

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

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

Pawlowski-water-testing

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

Steve-Pawlowski

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

Verde-River-sampling

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

Steve-Pawlowski-in-the-fiel

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

Steve-Pawlowski

Eight State EV Action Plan Raises Hope, Questions

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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