The Sierra Club and the Military: A Long and Fruitful History

November 03, 2014

Stacy Bare

By Stacy Bare, Sierra Club Outdoors Director

On Veterans Day -- and for several days leading up to and after Veterans Day -- we celebrate those women and men who have served their country in uniform. We're lucky at the Sierra Club to have a high percentage among our members and activists. Based on available demographic data, we estimate that 10 percent of the Club's overall 2.4 million members and supporters are veterans. By contrast, only 5 percent of all Americans have served in the Armed Forces. For me as a veteran, it's pretty special to be in a place where more than double the percentage of the general population chooses to continue serving their country.

Vets rafting

There are a few broad generalizations of veterans that hold pretty true across the board, though there are always exceptions. The generalizations that I believe draw those of us who have served in uniform and now at the Club are a commitment to service, team, something bigger than yourself, a sense of mission, and the protection of our democratic values.

Iraq & Afghanistan vets

At the end of the day, ensuring that we have access to public lands -- the very physical incarnation of our drive for equal rights and freedom -- and clean air and water (basic human rights if ever there were any), are right in line with the belief system of the men and women who have served. We as veterans are represented at the Club through far more than our award-winning Sierra Club Military Outdoors program, but with outings as the heart and soul of the Club, its no surprise we have former Army Major and Silver Star recipient Joshua Brandon leading one of the biggest engagement programs for service members and veterans throughout the Club, with more than 13,000 veterans and military families served this year.

People often times ask me when the Sierra Club held its first military outing. The answer is 1903, on a three-night campout that John Muir shared with U.S. veteran President Theodore Roosevelt. PBS reports this "…could be considered the most significant camping trip in conservation history." It led to the creation of Yosemite National Park.

Teddy Roosevelt & John Muir

You'll find men and women who have worn the uniform throughout the Club's: people like the Beyond Coal campaign's Daniel Sawmiller, Ohio Chapter Chair Bob Shields, and rock star ICO volunteer Melaina Sharp. And there are thousands more, as well as those who served as military kids and spouses.

So this Veterans Day, as you consider the long and fruitful history with the Club and the men and women who have served, get outside and march or cheer alongside the veterans in your local Veterans Day parade; take some time to volunteer with your local outings group to reach out to local veterans; or just get out onto our public lands and enjoy the things we fought to protect -- and that you as a Sierra Clubber are still fighting for.

Watch this video about Stacy Bare's personal journey of recovery once he returned from active duty in Iraq.


End of the Coal Era in Massachusetts

October 29, 2014


Back in June, the Sierra Club and its allies in the Coal Free Massachusetts coalition won a long-sought victory when the owners of the 54-year-old Mt. Tom coal plant in Holyoke -- one of the biggest polluters in the state -- announced that the plant would cease coal operations this October.


Unfortunately, the June announcement by GDF Suez, which owns Mt. Tom, was not a binding commitment. "Our worry was that they were just 'mothballing' the facility while they rode out the current economically unfavorable conditions, in hopes of resuming operations at some point down the road," says James McCaffrey, senior campaign representative with the Sierra Club's Beyond Coal campaign. That's McCaffrey at right, below, with Beyond Coal volunteer Rick Purcell.


Those worries were fueled by GDF Suez's attempt last spring to terminate a "compliance demonstration process" designedto ensure that the impact of the plant's emissions of harmful sulfur dioxide did not exceed federal air-quality standards.

But for the past two years, the Sierra Club had consistently been pushing the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) to finalize enforceable sulfur dioxide limits, threatening legal action over the plant's expired air permit, which galvanized DEP's initiation of the compliance demonstration process.

"After GDF Suez announced this June that it was terminating the process, we turned up the heat," McCaffrey says. "Over the summer, the Club and its allies submitted over 1,000 petitions to Governor Deval Patrick and the DEP commissioner, and circulated a letter taking the agency to task for failing to protect public health."


And in early October DEP responded, mandating that the plant comply with the sulfur dioxide emissions standards before it would ever be allowed to resume operation.

Continue reading "End of the Coal Era in Massachusetts" »

America's Secret: "We Had Muir"

October 28, 2014


Fountain Lake Farm in central Wisconsin, the boyhood home of Sierra Club founder John Muir, was recently purchased for protection by a Wisconsin land trust. The newly protected area will adjoin the John Muir Memorial County Park and be part of a larger 1,400-acre natural preserve, which also includes the Fox River National Wildlife Refuge.

Spencer-Black"Muir always credited his upbringing on Fountain Lake Farm with instilling in him a love of wild things," says Sierra Club Vice President Spencer Black, at left, the keynote speaker at an October 15 event in Madison, Wisconsin, celebrating the farmstead's protection. "In The Story of My Boyhood and Youth, published in 1913, he wrote that it was this landscape that first inspired his passion for nature."

The farm was purchased by the Natural Heritage Land Trust, and was funded in part by contributions from the John Muir Chapter of the Sierra Club as well as Wisconsin's Stewardship Fund, a land conservation effort begun by Black when he was a Wisconsin state legislator.

"While Muir achieved fame vividly describing and fighting to protect the Sierra Nevada and other lands out west," Black said in his keynote remarks, "he always credited his love of nature to his upbringing in Wisconsin.

"Galen Rowell, the renowned wilderness photographer and mountaineer, while climbing in the Alps with a European colleague, asked him why the mountains in Europe had so much development compared with many of our American ranges. The European mountaineer replied simply: 'You had Muir.'

"Here in Wisconsin, we can indeed be proud that 'We had Muir.' And now, thanks to the good work of the Natural Heritage Land Trust, we all have, protected for posterity, the landscape that inspired John Muir to protect our wild places."


 Read Black's complete remarks at the celebration of the purchase of Fountain Lake Farm.

 Photos of Fountain Lake Farm by Brant Erickson; photo of Spencer Black by John Murray Mason.

The crude-by-rail fight brewing in Baltimore

October 22, 2014

Rebecca Ruggles and Leah Kelley
Rebecca Ruggles (L) of the Maryland Environmental Health Network and Leah Kelley of the Environmental Integrity Project listen to questions from the group.

On Tuesday night I joined a small group of concerned Baltimore residents to hear more about the threat of crude oil trains running through Charm City.

The Chesapeake Climate Action Network (CCAN) organized the meeting - the first of three in the city to discuss a proposed oil export terminal.

According to CCAN:

The oil industry is targeting Baltimore as an easy through-way to export crude oil to refineries along the East Coast, and potentially throughout the world. In the Baltimore community of Curtis Bay, Targa Terminals is seeking approval to construct a crude oil export facility that would cause more air pollution and bring significant safety risks to South Baltimore and the city as a whole. A crude oil train or port explosion could threaten thousands of Baltimore residents, local property and the environment.

The proposed Targa Terminal would mean 9.125 million barrels of oil every year would be exported out of Baltimore - which means some 12,766 rail cars annually. Broken down further, that's one train of 35 cars every day running right through the city.

In Morrell Park, where this meeting took place, you could say we're suffering from a little activism fatigue. We just won a years-long fight against a polluting rail/truck facility proposed for our neighborhood. The Targa Terminal itself would be in Curtis Bay, a community already very overburdened by industrial pollution and already fighting a proposed incinerator.

While I've heard extensively about crude-by-rail risks because of my work with the Sierra Club, it becomes so much more real when a disaster could happen right in your neighborhood. I've long wondered what all CSX was transporting by rail through our neighborhood. I know some of it is coal cars, and some of the tanker cars are labeled with some very confusing and toxic sounding things - but not all of the tankers are labeled. And now we could see even more rail cars -- and not just more of them, but rail cars that are more prone to derailment (DOT-111 - which the National Transportation Safety Board said have a "high incidence of failure") and will be full of crude oil?

Crude1The meeting's attendees were shocked by the map (shown here at the right - courtesy of ForestEthics) showing the evacuation zones and potential impact zones should just one oil train car derail and explode.

"These cars and rails aren't meant to handle all this," said Jon Kenney, an organizer with CCAN. "All of downtown Baltimore is in an evacuation zone."

Residents of Morrell Park and several surrounding neighborhoods are already very familiar with the huge number of trains running through the neighborhood. A "Welcome to Morrell Park" mural at the community's entrance is dedicated to trains. We know that a number of hazardous chemicals are transported by rail through the area - we just aren't being told what.

"We tried to get a list of what they're transporting, but they won't give it to us," said one Mt. Winans resident (a neighborhood bordering Morrell Park) at the meeting.

This controversy isn't just limited to us. The Maryland Department of the Environment is attempting to force CSX and Norfolk Southern to disclose the amount of crude oil on the cars, but those companies took MDE to court over it.

For now, CCAN, the Environmental Integrity Project, the Maryland Environmental Health Network (all represented at Tuesday's meeting) and many other groups are pushing for MDE to reject the air pollution permit Targa Terminal has applied for and for the Baltimore City Council to pass an ordinance banning any crude-by-rail in the city.

There will be a public hearing on the air permit, the date just hasn't been announced yet. And as I said above, there are more community meetings planned along the crude-by-rail route right through Baltimore. CCAN and others are encouraging and working with these communities to unite against very real the crude-by-rail dangers.

"Communities have to raise the health and safety issues here," said Rebbeca Ruggles of the Maryland Environmental Health Network.

As a resident of Baltimore and a neighborhood dissected by a number of rail lines dedicated to hazardous materials, I plan on being very involved.

-- Heather Moyer, Sierra Club

Fracking Pennsylvania's Public Lands

October 20, 2014


By Robert Gardner, Sierra Club Beyond Natural Gas Campaign

Fracking has exploded throughout the Marcellus Shale region in Pennsylvania. That much is no secret. People around the country have seen the devastation that this extreme form of extraction has caused to communities, peoples' lives, and the landscape of the state. But all around Pennsylvania (and many other states) communities are fighting back -- educating, organizing, litigating, and lobbying their officials. Together, we are taking this fight from the frontlines of the shale fields to the living rooms of America.


What people might know less about is the struggle to keep fracking off of public lands like our state forests and parks. Make no mistake: the gas industry is making a major play to get the fossil fuels out of the ground regardless of whether they have to rip up our favorite local, state, or federal parks and forests.

Such is the case right here in Pennsylvania.


Recently we took to the sky with EcoFlight to look at some of the impacts happening in north-central Pennsylvania. From the air we saw a massive amount of development on the Tiadaghton, Loyalsock, and Sproul State Forests. We could see the large clearings for well pads, staging areas, compressor stations, pipelines, freshwater pits, and all of the trappings of an industrialized forest, like timbering and coal mining.


In Pennsylvania alone, there are more than 2.2 million acres of state-managed forests, of which nearly 1.5 million acres are underlain by the Marcellus Shale formation. Already, more than 700,000 acres are available to industry, and a recent executive order by the administration of Pennsylvania governor Tom Corbett has opened up park and forest land containing environmentally sensitive features such as wetlands, rare or threatened species, and source water protection areas.


These forested landscapes provide critical habitat for wildlife, important recreational opportunities for millions of people, and are an economic driver for the state of Pennsylvania. The landscapes are vitally important for maintaining the unique character and biodiversity of the state and serve as an important heritage area for generations of future Pennsylvanians.


Make no mistake. The forests of Pennsylvania are at risk of being degraded beyond repair.

What we saw from the air is an ongoing disaster. With some forests drilled at ten to fifteen percent, the impacts are already obvious. Nearly 1,500 acres of forest has been converted for well pads and infrastructure, including some areas of once-contiguous forest that have been fragmented by new development. There are fewer opportunities for remote recreational experiences in forests with gas development. Already we know that incidents including spills of diesel fuel and brine have occurred in state forests.


Unless we fight back -- and we are -- the fracking industry will go after every cubic foot of gas and they will drill wherever enables them to maximize their profits. That's a reality that we at the Sierra Club are just unwilling to accept.

Learn more about the Sierra Club's Beyond Natural Gas campaign and how you can get involved.

All photos by EcoFlight.

Club President David Scott Addresses National Wilderness Conference

October 19, 2014


The National Wilderness Conference, commemorating the 50th anniversary of the Wilderness Act, was held in Albuquerque, New Mexico, from October 15-19 -- the largest gathering of the wilderness community since the Act was signed in 1964.

Among the keynote speakers was Sierra Club President David Scott, above.

"I'm honored to have been part of Wilderness 50 in Albuquerque last week, where more than 1,200 people celebrated the 50th anniversary of the signing of the Wilderness Act," Scott says. "That landmark law has protected 757 wilderness areas with a total acreage the size of the state of California.

"Numerous heroes of past wilderness protection fights joined present and future activists, telling the crowd not just how we got to where we are today, but what we need to do if wilderness protection is to meet the challenge of climate change, if we're going to make nature more accessible to all, and if our environmental movement is going to be more open and inclusive, as it must be. I'm proud of the strong Sierra Club contingent at this celebration, and glad I had a chance to join them."

From Scott's remarks at the conference:

As Sierra Club founder John Muir told us, "The battle we have fought, and are still fighting … is a part of the eternal conflict between right and wrong, and we cannot expect to see the end of it."

In this golden anniversary year of the Wilderness Act, my hope is that we all leave this celebration not only proud of what has been accomplished, but rededicated to meet the enormous challenges of the future.  I hope we leave this celebration prepared to not only protect more wild places on a map-- important as that is -- but to also meet the enormous challenge of climate disruption, to make our environmental movement and our society more broad, more just, and more inclusive, and to leave for future generations the beautiful, wild and livable planet that is their birthright.

Read Scott's full speech, and learn more about the Sierra Club's Our Wild America campaign.

First-ever Texas Sierra Club energy conference a huge success

October 15, 2014

A sold-out crowd of more than 250 people people attended the first ever "Earth, Wind, and Fire Energy Summit" earlier this month in Dallas, Texas. The Dallas Group of the Sierra Club Lone Star Chapter organized the event, which also included more than 22 speakers and 19 exhibitors.

Photo (1)"The two-day conference Oct. 4-5 focused on all forms of energy - coal, nuclear, natural gas, oil, wind, solar, geothermal, and waste to energy," said Rita Beving, conservation co-chair of the Dallas Group and coordinator of the conference. "The purpose was to inform the public beyond media 'soundbites' of what is going on currently with these forms of energy from both a national and state perspective, and what does the future hold for the potential use of all of these forms of energy. It also focused on the human and environmental impacts that these sources may have, be it from mining to transport."

Beving said attendees came from across Texas, Arkansas, and Kansas, and speakers included professionals and academics from across the U.S. (Click here to check out the full brochure of all the speakers and workshops - PDF) One of the highlighted speakers was Dr. Nicholas van der Elst of Columbia's Lamont-Doherty Earth Institute in New York, who spoke about fracking, earthquakes and disposal wells.  

"The Dallas/Ft. Worth area has experienced more than 33 earthquakes earlier in 2014 within a few months' timeframe and it is believed that these triggered earthquakes are caused by disposal wells and fracking," explained Beving. "Even the Mayor of Reno, one of the cities that has been afflicted with earthquakes, came to hear this speaker."

DSC06584_Welcome_Rita_Beving_photo_by_Linda_CookeOther speakers discussed the effects of increased oil trains and fossil fuel exports, as well as pipeline safety issues. Just as important and well-attended were the sessions on wind and solar power.

Beving credits a great group of planning volunteers for making the conference so successful that it sold out 10 days in advance.

"It was also gratifying to see that the audience was at least three-fourths new people not affiliated or involved with the Sierra Club," she added. "There were many people who participated who otherwise may not have the kind of exposure to energy and environmental issues that Sierra Club volunteers have. We also had universities participate as sponsors and bring dozens of students."

The conference sponsors were the Dallas County Community College District, Public Citizen, EarthWorks, the Texas Campaign for the Environment Fund, Green Source DFW, the Seed Coalition, Texas Interfaith Power & Light, the League of Women Voters of Dallas, the Population Media Center, Breeze Energy, the Clean Water Fund, EarthDay Texas, Axium Solar, System Change Not Climate Change, Natural Awakenings, and the Texas League of Conservation Voters.

DSC06589_Renewable_Panel_photo_by_Linda_Cooke"The success of this conference shows that people are 'hungry' for better and deeper information on energy," said Beving. "Many attendees remarked that it was great to hear from experts on subjects of their concern, like pipeline vs. rail transport of oil in light of all the incidents reported in the U.S. and Canada.

"People also were interested in hearing about about fracking and groundwater contamination, about the proposed export of America's energy, about the potential for more wind and solar in the country, and that there are options for the financing of such renewables for home use."

Beving says they hope to do another conference next year.

New National Monument Sweet Victory for Sierra Club Board Member

October 13, 2014


Among those taking the greatest pride when President Obama formally designated the 346,000-acre San Gabriel Mountains National Monument in Southern California on October 10 was Susana Reyes, a member of the Sierra Club's Board of Directors since 2012. That's Reyes, above, speaking at the community celebration held immediately after the signing ceremony.

Formerly the Director of Human Resources with the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, last year Reyes joined Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti's Sustainability Team, where she is a senior analyst.

The Planet spoke with Reyes just hours before President Obama dedicated the nation's newest national monument.

Planet: You've been championing a San Gabriel Mountains National Monument for years. What does today's designation mean to you?

Reyes: Greater visibility for these mountains has a real power to affect the lives of people in the community. Studies show that it's a de-stressor to connect with the outdoors. We're protecting these mountains forever so that future generations will be able to enjoy them.

I'm a local; I've lived in Glendale, right up against the San Gabriels, for more than 20 years, and I've been a Sierra Club activist since 1999. I think one of the most gratifying things about the new San Gabriel Mountains National Monument is what it will mean to the diverse communities who will now have greater awareness and access to this amazing resource. These are communities that have traditionally been underserved in terms of access to the outdoors.

The San Gabriels contain about 70 percent of the open space in Los Angeles County and provide a third of its drinking water. The mountain range receives about 3.5 million visitors a year, many of them from L.A.'s Latino community. But the visitor experience has been lacking due to inadequate maintenance and services. The San Gabriels are a majestic backdrop to Los Angeles, but they have long been neglected. Even though some 17 million people live nearby, many low income communities and communities of color haven't been fully aware of the incredible resourse these mountains provide.


Planet: Why do you think this is?

Reyes: Recreational and wilderness resources in the San Gabriels have been poorly maintained because the U.S. Forest Service has lacked an adequate budget. Now the National Park Service and the Forest Service will be co-managing the national monument. Public access will be improved, as will the visitor experience. Many of the communities closest to the San Gabriels are socio-economically underserved, and haven't felt they had a real decision-making stake in the San Gabriels. Many of them use the San Gabriels for recreation, but until recently they haven't been organized in making their experience there a better one. But that has been changing, in large part due to the Sierra Club.

Planet:  Tell us about the Sierra Club's role in helping bring about this change.

Reyes: The Sierra Club's role in this has been hugely important. We've been involved for more than a decade -- for the last several years as a member of the San Gabriel Mountains Forever Coalition, which formed when President Obama began designating national monuments and Congresswoman Hilda Solis was championing greater protections for the San Gabriels. Once Solis became the U.S. Secretary of Labor, her successor Judy Chu took the lead in Congress for enhancements and national monument status for the San Gabriels.

Monsen-Chu-ReyesSierra Club volunteer John Monsen, Congresswoman Judy Chu, and Reyes at the community celebration following the national monument signing ceremony. Reyes was among the featured speakers at the community celebration.

The Sierra Club hosted or co-hosted many, many community meetings to promote the national monument and recruit local champions from the community. The Club paid many times for buses to pick people up and get them to the meetings. We've worked closely from the get-go with the Latino community, faith, groups, and environmental justice groups. Sierra Club volunteers and staff translated campaign materials into Spanish. Organizers like Juana Torres, Fabiola Lao, Bill Corcoran, Sarah Matsumoto, Hop Hopkins, Eva Hernandez-Simmons, and Nidia Erceg really connected with the Latino community and helped bring them into the coalition.

Planet: What has your own involvement been?

Reyes: When the Sierra Club or the San Gabriel Mountains Forever Coalition gave presentations, I would be there to support the team. I've been a liaison with Congresswomen Solis and Chu. I was in contact with them whenever there were efforts to write letters of support, I had input into those letters, and I wrote many of them in person. I also helped with fundraising, although that effort was mostly led by Juana Torres. As a member of the Sierra Club's Board of Directors, I was the most visible volunteer, but I wanted to make sure that local volunteers got most of the credit, as they deserve.


Planet: Tell us how Club volunteers have been critical to the campaign's success.

Reyes: Volunteers have been huge in this effort. They have the skills, the passion, and they've long organized for this campaign, helping us pack rooms with people and channel support for the national monument. Three who have been key to our efforts are Don Bremner and John Monsen of the Angeles Chapter's forest committee, and Joyce Burk of the San Gorgonio Chapter's forest committee -- and I would be remiss not to mention Joan Licari, Joan Holtz, David Czamanske, Bob Cates, Judy Anderson, Jeff Yann, Lizz Pomeroy, Joanne Sarachman, and Jennifer Robinson, who have all made important contributions to this campaign over the years.

San-Gabriel-Mts-meetingSierra Club/San Gabriel Mountains Forever Coalition meeting in 2013.

All the capacities of the Sierra Club were pulled together by our volunteers to help build momentum toward national monument designation. Through this campaign, the Sierra Club has really connected with the Latino community in L.A. and gotten them involved. We don't just enter the community unprepared; we listen and learn first. The Club's campaign was very inclusive, a demonstration of our diversity, and it exemplifies the way we communicate and incorporate the social and cultural beliefs of the community into our work. It's been a huge success so far as movement-building and the diversity of the Club.

This wasn't just the Sierra Club standing alone, but the Sierra Club standing with diverse communities. In order to make this happen, we needed to push all of our goals to explore, enjoy, and protect the planet, but we also needed to work with the people who are going to use this mountain range and bring them into the process. National monument status will enhance their awareness of the San Gabriels, their experience enjoying the mountains and rivers, and their sense of ownership of this incredible resource. And of course, it will ensure that the things we love about the San Gabriels will remain to be enjoyed by others.

San-Gabriel-MountainsPhoto by Ricraider, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Why Latinos Were So Crucial in the San Gabriels Designation

By Guest Blogger Rod Torrez

After the long campaign to protect the region, last Friday's designation of the San Gabriel Mountains as a National Monument is a victory for Latinos to celebrate. The monument's designation represents a significant moment in which we can see how effectively our community can engage in protecting public lands —as well as the ways we enjoy them.


The numbers clearly show that the Latino community supports this designation. Reflecting outcomes of other recent polls addressing Latino attitudes towards environmental conservation and land preservation, a recent poll of Los Angeles voters revealed that an overwhelming majority (88 percent) of Latinos supported protecting the San Gabriel Mountains and rivers. In addition to a wide coalition of conservationists, a number of Latino organizations backed the effort to protect the San Gabriels, including, to name just a few, California LULAC, Mujeres de la Tierra, Latino Coalition for a Healthy California and the faith-based alliance Por la Creación.

The San Gabriel Mountains National Monument is the third of three large areas of public land that has been granted National Monument status by the Obama administration in the last two years, thanks in large part to support from Latino communities that surround them. The other two are Rio Grande del Norte National Monument and Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument, both in New Mexico. This trend of course raises the question: why is protecting these places so important to Latinos?

Latinos in the Southwest have witnessed extractive industries such as oil, gas and mineral development, as well as urban growth, mar the landscapes, pollute watersheds and affect the wildlife that have sustained us for generations. These lands are part of our heritage and are as treasured to us as are the Grand Tetons in Wyoming or the Florida Everglades.

Yet Latinos, especially Latino hunters and anglers, would argue that protecting the land by setting it aside and cutting off our recreational and traditional uses would be unsatisfactory to the community.  We support these new monuments largely because they not only protect the land and waterways, but also respect continued access for hunting, fishing, camping and hiking —activities that our communities throughout the Southwest have pursued for generations.

The San Gabriel Mountains in particular have always been a welcome reprieve from the city for Latinos, especially for hunting and fishing, and have been increasingly valuable as a destination for outdoor education programs, with private organizations and public agencies using the area to connect many Latino urban youth to the outdoors. Moreover, the San Gabriel Mountains watershed provides a significant portion of the region's clean water supply; protecting the health of the resource is paramount to the health of communities downstream.

There are many good reasons to celebrate the new national monument. But it is important to note that the San Gabriel Mountains, along with the Rio Grande del Norte, and the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monuments represent a new approach by protecting the land we love and respecting how we have enjoyed the land for generations. It's encouraging to know that we can continue to enjoy these places for generations to come. It's also satisfying to know that Latinos have played a significant role in protecting them.

Rod Torrez is director of Hispanics Enjoying Camping, Hunting and Outdoors (HECHO)

Hands Across the Sand in Waukegan

October 10, 2014


More than 120 residents and community leaders who live near coal-fired power plants in Waukegan, Romeoville, and Pekin, Illinois, gathered at Waukegan's Municipal Beach on Lake Michigan in view of NRG Energy's 60-year-old Waukegan Generating Station for an event called Hands Across the Sand: Solidarity for Clean Water and Clean Power.

The event, organized by the Sierra Club's Clean Power Lake County campaign, began with a beach cleanup of several acres and ended with a program that included speakers from all three communities, each of which is home to an NRG coal plant.


"This was the largest beach sweep in Waukegan history," says Christine Nannicelli, an organizer with the Sierra Club's Beyond Coal Illinois campaign. "We had a fantastic turnout from the Latino community, and we concluded the program holding hands along the lakefront in the shadow of the Waukegan coal plant."

Waukegan-photo-petitionCommunity members took photo petitions such as the one at left, demanding that New Jersey-based NRG transition from coal to clean energy. (David Crane is the president and CEO of NRG.)

"We've gathered almost 500 photo petitions, and they've been a very effective campaign tool," Nannicelli says. "People are ready to begin a new chapter and really turn up the pressure on NRG."

The Waukegan Generating Station is the largest source of water pollution in Lake County, which also has the highest ozone smog levels in Illinois. Asthma rates among children in Waukegan are more than three times the national average. However, NRG announced in August that it would continue to burn coal at the Waukegan plant.

All of NRG's coal plants in Illinois damage local waterways with mercury emissions and toxic coal ash waste. The Waukegan plant's coal ash ponds sit right next to the Lake Michigan shoreline.

The Illinois Environmental Protection Agency issued violation notices to the Waukegan, Romeoville, and Pekin power plants in 2012 for high levels of contaminants in groundwater near their coal ash ponds.

Sierra Club volunteer David Villalobos, a leader in the Clean Power Lake County campaign, emceed the Hands Across the Sands event. Other speakers included Dulce Ortiz from Coalitión Latinos Unidos de Lake County; Ellen Rendulich from Citizens Against Ruining the Environment (CARE); Tracy Fox from Peoria Families Against Toxic Waste; Faith Bugel from the Environmental Law & Policy Center; and Antonio Lopez of the Little Village Environmental Justice Organization.

Below, Lopez presents Ortiz with a bandana from the People's Climate Justice Summit, held in New York City following the People's Climate March and concurrent with the UN Climate Summit, in recognition of their shared goals of environmental and economic justice.


"We also had prayers from our two church partners in the campaign," Nannicelli says. "This was the first time residents of Waukegan, Romeoville, and Pekin have gathered in solidarity to share their vision of a clean-energy future and call on NRG to commit to retirement dates for their coal fleet in Illinois. Folks are fired up."

All photos except photo petition by Karen Long MacLeod, courtesy of Clean Power Lake County.

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