Welcoming Michael Brune and His Family to Oregon

July 17, 2014

In case you've missed the news lately, Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune and his family are touring some beautiful wilderness sites in the Pacific Northwest in celebration of the 50th anniversary of the Wilderness Act. This write-up from the Oregon Chapter on the Brune family visit to Waldo Lake is a great one we had to re-post:

Brune familyThe week of July 7 was an exciting one for the Oregon Chapter, as we welcomed national Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune to Oregon for several days. Mike and his family are currently in the midst of a Northwest roadtrip in celebration of the 50th anniversary of the Wilderness Act. After departing their home in the Bay Area and stopping over for a night in the redwoods of northern California, their first stop in Oregon was at Odell Lake, just down the road from Waldo Lake.

We had a nice gathering of Sierra Club volunteers and staff with Mike and his family (wife Mary, daughters Olivia and Genevieve, and son Sebastian) on Monday evening, enjoying a cookout at a cabin near Crescent Lake. Then on Tuesday morning, the real fun began!

We began the morning with a press conference and briefing on the scenic shore of Waldo Lake about the Sierra Club's Keep Waldo Wild campaign. In addition to Brune and his family and Sierra Club staff and volunteers, we also had a good assemblage of Congressional and Forest Service staffers present. They heard about our exciting plan to protect more than 76,000 acres of forest and wild areas around Waldo, developed in concert with other non-motorized user groups like the Central Oregon Trail Alliance mountain biking organization. We were pleased to be joined by COTA Chairman, Woody Starr, and by Bruce and Brian Johnson, the great-grandsons of Judge John Waldo, for whom the lake is named.

Brune looking at Waldo Lake plansAfter the briefing, we took the Brunes for a fun, 3.5-mile hike around Charlton Lake. Despite the heat and the mosquitoes, Mike's 9 and 5-year-old children did an amazing job on the hike. Then we did a great 5-mile roundtrip mountain biking trek over to Bobby Lake. Mike and his 5-year-old son Sebastian had to turn back about midway through the mountain bike ride, but his 9-year-old daughter Olivia did the entire ride and wanted even more when we were finished!

Click here to read Mike's Huffington Post blog about his visit to Waldo Lake!

Then, on Wednesday, July 9, with the assistance of several members of our Many Rivers Group from Eugene and outdoor writer William Sullivan, we treated Mike and his family to an excellent hike up Mt. June, just outside of Dexter, Oregon. This hike is found in the Hardesty Wildlands area about 25 miles east of Eugene/Springfield, which our Many Rivers Group has been working to protect.

Thursday was another busy day for the Brunes, who had to depart their cabin at Odell Lake early in order for Mike to get to a morning Editorial Board meeting with the Eugene Register-Guard. Then they drove up to Portland for an exciting evening program with a packed room at the Chapter office with former national Sierra Club Executive Director Mike McCloskey, who discussed his great new book, Conserving Oregon's Environment.

Michael Brune and Mike McCloskeyMike Brune also spoke movingly about his road trip and about his desire to preserve wilderness and protect the planet for his (and all of our) kids to enjoy. And then it was off to Seattle for the Brunes, as they continued on to the next leg of their road trip.

It was a great few days with Mike, Mary, Olivia, Sebastian, and Genevieve, and I was honored to be one of the tour guides showing them some of the spectacular areas of our state. Obviously, four days is not nearly enough to really let them see the wonders Oregon has to offer, so we hope they will be back soon. We've got a few hundred other places we'd like to take them to!

Florida Coalition Speaks Out for Clean Energy

July 16, 2014

Florida hearing

Earlier this month more than 130 people joined the Sierra Club Florida-led Sunshine State Clean Energy Coalition at a Citizens' Hearing for Clean Energy Solutions to call for greater investments in energy savings and solar power in the state.
Sierra Club Florida organizer Julia Hathaway said the Tampa meeting drew people from around the region -- including seven public officials -- to tell the Florida Public Service Commission (PSC) to boost energy savings goals, clean air, and clean energy jobs in 2014.

The Sierra Club and the Sunshine State Clean Energy Coalition held this public hearing because the PSC had denied a request to hold an official hearing in the area. The Florida PSC decides this summer whether to strengthen or weaken state-wide energy efficiency programs.

"We want to create a forum to ensure public participation in the decision making process, which will set the course for the next ten years," says Hathaway.

"At our hearing, after opening statements by some of the elected officials, three expert presentations set a compelling case for why Floridians need to stand up for their own energy future. Then people lined up to testify themselves."
Linda Varonich testifying
A number of groups new to the coalition -- including the NAACP and the League of Women Voters -- also had members attend the hearing. Hathaway says the meeting was a huge success because of how many people got involved. "We saw increased involvement by elected officials, not only in terms of individuals present but also depth of engagement," she explains. "At the end of the evening, County Commissioner Ken Welch, a former Progress Florida employee, took the floor to say that he would press the county commission for greater leadership."

Hathway credits the amazing volunteers with the coalition for this great hearing success.

"In addition to collecting formal comments, this Citizens Hearing served as a ramp-up to the Coalition's Rally for Energy Savings, which will take place during the public hearing at the Public Service Commission on July 21st," she says. "Our coalition is working to fill up the buses!"

The Sierra Club and Sunshine State Clean Energy Coalition will hold a rally on Monday, July 21 at 11 AM outside the PSC building in Tallahassee, repeating their call for the PSC to strengthen energy savings goals in 2014.

Walking the Talk in Tucson

July 15, 2014


By Briana Okyere

Asked why she feels it's important to expose young people to the natural environment and the great outdoors, Tucson elementary school teacher Cheryl Walling, above, responds with a John Muir quote from his 1912 book, The Yosemite:

"Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in, where nature may heal and give strength to body and soul."

This quote appropriately describes the verve and enthusiasm that Walling brings to her position as an Inner City Outings leader in Tucson.

[Editor's note: On July 1, the name Inner City Outings was officially changed to Inspiring Connections Outdoors.]


Walling has been a volunteer leader with Tucson ICO for eight years. During that time, she has taken students from across the Tucson Unified School District on outdoor adventures at least once a month -- from short forays into Tucson's nearby nature to Grand Canyon outings to multi-day wilderness backpacking trips.


Getting out into nature has always been a passion for Walling. Growing up in Illinois and Michigan, she regularly went hiking and camping with her family. "When I became a teacher I noticed that many of my students didn't get to go out in the wilderness," Walling says. Determined to expose her students to the natural environment, she connected with a teacher at her daughter's school, who directed her to the local ICO program.

For Walling, the program means more than just getting her students to connect with nature -- it's about forming a bond with the participants, and bringing that personal element back with her to the classroom. "The kids see me as teacher, but they also see me as something more," she says. "They open up to me on the trips and I learn about them. Then I use the knowledge gained on our trips and connect it to what we're learning about in class."


Walling goes to great effort to encourage young ICO participants to form a strong and lasting bond with nature. At the end of all the outings she leads, Walling sets aside ten minutes for quiet reflection. "I want the kids to really connect with the wilderness," she says. "Often they say this is one their favorite parts of the trip."

This was the case with a sixth-grader named Anthony, who participated in several of Walling's outings over the years. On his first several trips, the 11-year-old would suffer from panic attacks and constantly have to use his inhaler. "The entire group helped him overcome his fears and his dependence on the inhaler," Walling says.

By the time Anthony was in the eighth grade, he was hiking challenging peaks and extreme terrain and walking the Grand Canyon, all without his inhaler. And upon entering college, he won a scholarship for his writings about his experiences with ICO. "He now helps me as a volunteer leader on my trips," Walling says. "The kids love to hear about his experiences."

Stories like Anthony's motivate Walling to continually push for more funding for Tucson ICO, applying for grants to help fund trips within the school district so that she can lead more frequent outings and make them even more enriching for her students. "Although our program doesn't have a lot of money, we've been able to get grants from some amazing local businesses that have really helped with expenses this last year," she says with obvious pride.

"These trips really change the students and the way they relate to the outdoors," Walling says. Three years ago, Arizona threatened to close multiple state parks due to budget cuts. Incensed, Walling's students wrote letters to the governor, insisting that the parks stay open. "And they did!" she beams.


Walling and her fellow Tucson ICO volunteers constantly remind young participants in the program that it is their responsibility to maintain and care for the parks and wilderness in their community, but they take pains to impart this message in a way that the students enjoy.

Nothing makes Walling happier than to see a student who is truly inspired by the environment. "I love seeing their faces when they discover a new place and when they realized they have completed a goal," she says.

Learn more about ICO. Find a group near you -- or start your own.

Briana Okyere is a freelance writer based in San Francisco.

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" »

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