Sierra Club Newsmakers -- 5.16.2008
Warm weather brings out the gardeners from coast to coast, but two Chicago suburbs have banned the sale of lawn and garden fertilizers containing phosphorus, which runs off into Lake Michigan, promoting excessive growth of algae and choking off aquatic life. "In recent years, there has been a growing awareness about the problem of nutrient pollution—too much phosphorus and nitrogen in the water," Ed Hopkins (above left), director of the Sierra Club's environmental quality program, told the Chicago Tribune. Last month, after traces of the powerful insect repellant DEET were found in Chicago's drinking water, Hopkins told the Trib's main competitor, the Sun-Times, that the EPA should be more aggressive in keeping contaminants out of water supplies.
Due to community concerns in Detroit, Marathon Oil is finding it more difficult than anticipated to get an air-quality permit from the state for a nearly $2 billion refinery expansion, even though the company claims it will add more than 900 jobs to the local economy boost domestic oil production by 15,000 gallons a day by 2010. "The bottom line is those are temporary construction jobs," said Sierra Club environmental justice organizer Rhonda Anderson (above center). "There will be less than 100 permanent jobs and only a few entry-level jobs. It's not right that people have to choose between a good job and clean air. That's not the American way."
The coal industry is mounting an all-out marketing campaign touting "Clean Coal" as the best and cheapest source of energy for the nation, but many see the campaign as a desperate bid for public support as the prospect of a more environmentally-friendly administration looms, and with it the likelihood of federal limits on carbon dioxide emissions. "When they say 'clean coal,' the first question that comes to mind is have they invented a new product that actually solves global warming, because right now that doesn't exist," Bruce Nilles (above right), director of the Sierra Club's National Coal Campaign, told Salon.com. "It is a figment of their imagination. The Clean Coal campaign is the latest example of trying to sell you the Brooklyn Bridge."
Florence, South Carolina, recently became the seventh city in the Palmetto State to sign onto the U.S. Mayors Climate Protection Agreement after civic leaders learned about the Club's Cool Cities program. South Carolina Sierra Club chapter director John Ramsburgh emphasized that cities can cut millions of dollars from their budgets by investing in efficiency. "Clearly, we have been hearing that energy efficiency and renewables are not just good for the environment, they're good for the economy," he said. "That's what the Cool Cities program is all about."
Last week the Sierra Club and partner groups announced a landmark deal to protect the largest contiguous parcel of land designated for conservation in California history—240,000 acres on the privately-owned Tejon Ranch, in the mountains south of Bakersfield. "There is, in my opinion, no other place like it in California," said Sierra Club senior regional representative Bill Corcoran (above, speaking), who helped negotiate the deal. "For Southern California, this is the equivalent of the Lousiana Purchase."
Earlier this year we reported on Carbonrally.com, a website and real-life game that lets teams from around the country compete to see who can reduce their carbon footprint the most. This week, Carbonrally popped up in Time Magazine online, where Sierra Club environmental-advice columnist Bob Schildgen, a.k.a. Mr. Green, praised the game's fun, competitive approach. "Global warming is an abstract idea that's hard for people to connect to," said Schildgen. "It's good to start at the basic level, with real numbers."
It must have come as a shock to many Kentuckians to learn last week that some $400,000 of their tax dollars are given each year to the coal industry for public campaigns that promote mining, including mountaintop removal. "The state should not be in the business of promoting propaganda for the coal industry," said Dave Cooper, chair of the Sierra Club's Bluegrass Group. "I drive around the country with a slide show to educate people about the damage caused by mountaintop removal mining. Funny, but I receive no government funding for my work at all."
In South Dakota, the Oglala Sioux Tribe is conducting an environmental study of mountain lions after learning that the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation may contain a breeding population. The Sierra Club and other groups have kicked in nearly $6,000 to keep study crews in the field for another year. All wildlife, including mountain lions, needs large areas of stress-free habitat, Sierra Club organizer Jim Margadant told the Greater Dakota News Service. "We got going on the project because of the huge contiguous acreage of wildlife habitat involved here. A large, stable predator population is healthy and maintains those habitat areas in better shape than an area without natural predators."
The polar bear became the first animal to win protections because of global warming when the U.S. government announced on May 14 that it would list the polar bear as a threatened species. But conservationists and others charged that listing the planet's apex predator was a hollow gesture so long as the Bush administration refused to use the Endangered Species Act to limit greenhouse gas emissions or curb Arctic oil and gas development. "Drilling would inundate polar bear habitat with pipelines, well pads, boat traffic, ice-breaking vessels, and seismic blasting," said Sierra Club Executive Director Carl Pope. "Allowing destructive energy development in polar bear habitat is akin to diagnosing someone with lung cancer and then handing them a lit cigarette."