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'River Heroes' Honored by Alabama Rivers Alliance

April 01, 2009

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On March 20, the Alabama Rivers Alliance presented River Heroes awards to Reverend Mark Johnston and Dr. Bryan Burgess, pictured above. Cindy Lowry, Executive Director for ARA, presented the awards "in recognition of lifetime achievement." Rev. Johnston and Dr. Burgess have provided environmental education to more than 120,000 Alabama youth.

Burgess, a farmer and former professor of earth sciences at Jacksonville State University, served for four years as conservation chair of the Sierra Club's Alabama Chapter. After getting certified in water-quality monitoring by Alabama Water Watch, he brought the Club's Water Sentinels Program to Alabama and was co-leader for six years. The program has provided environmental training to more than 30,000 school kids and placed water monitoring kits in schools and county offices throughout the state.

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Johnston, below, an avid fisherman "since I could walk," is the Executive Director of Camp McDowell, an Episcopal camp and conference center in Nauvoo, Alabama. In 1991 he founded the McDowell Environmental Center, now directed by his wife, Maggie. To date, more than 80,000 students have attended the residential environmental education program.

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"Mark and I share a common goal," says Burgess, "to provide training for youth and to equip them for making informed decisions about their environment. We're now seeing the results at the polls as the youth are advancing to voting age." He and Maggie Johnston jointly established a watershed training program for Alabama public school teachers at Camp McDowell. Participants in a 2007 training are pictured below.

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Continue reading "'River Heroes' Honored by Alabama Rivers Alliance" »

Sierra Stalwart Is Garden State's Go-To Green Gadfly

March 27, 2009

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Photo by Saed Hindash, courtesy of Inside Jersey Magazine

According to Inside Jersey Magazine, over the last five years New Jersey Sierra Club Director Jeff Tittel has been quoted eight times more often in the state's newspapers than the "runner-up green guy." Not only that, over the last two years Tittel was quoted 400 more times than the Speaker of the New Jersey State Assembly. New Jersey Business Magazine has called him the most visible environmental activist in the state.

Part of the reason is Tittel's penchant for candor and the pointed verbal zinger. The New York Times has referred to the "rhetorical hand grenades" he lobs to reporters. He called New Jersey's environmental commissioner a "pander bear" for changing his position on a state-sanctioned bear hunt, referred to pharmaceutically tainted drinking water as "Viagra Falls," and characterized suburban sprawl as "land cancer." Asked if he ever actually hugged trees, he said yeah, but only after keg parties.

But the real reason Tittel makes the news so often is his indefatigable work on behalf of New Jersey's air, water, public lands, built environment, and clean energy future. According to the Times, political insiders in the state capital know him as one of Trenton's most hard-edged lobbyists.

"Mr. Tittel's influence in Trenton has spread like an oil spill in wind-whipped waters," the newspaper says. "It would [be] difficult for even the most casual consumers of New Jersey's news in recent years to avoid coming across the name Jeff Tittel."

More than a decade ago Tittel gave up a more lucrative career as a political consultant for environmental activism when he became a staff organizer for the Sierra Club. He is credited with transforming the New Jersey Chapter into a force to be reckoned with, and "raising the profile of environmentalists across the board." In 2005, Tittel received the Sierra Club's staff Excellence Award.

Read Inside Jersey's interview with the Sierra Club's go-to guy in the Garden State.

Glen Hooks Named Arkansas "Eco-Hero of the Year"

March 26, 2009

Glen Hooks

Congratulations to Glen Hooks, Eastern Region Director for the club's Beyond Coal Campaign. The Arkansas Business Journal just named him an Arkansas "Eco-Hero of the Year."

The newspaper published a great article on Glen, citing all his hard work in the state to fight for clean energy and against coal-fired power plants.

Hooks says his coal work in the state has centered around stopping a proposed 600 MW plant in southwest Arkansas, a struggle that has been going on for quite a while.

"Our Arkansas campaign has been a nonstop barrage of legal fights, administrative hearings, State Capitol rallies, press conferences, benefit concerts, and phone banks," said Hooks. "I'm happy to have played a part in making the dirty coal fight the number one environmental issue in Arkansas."

Hooks credits the great coal organizers in the state for all their hard work - as well as the many coal team members across the U.S. "I'm proud that Sierra Club and our allies have played a part in stopping 95 proposed coal-fired power plants in the past three years," he said.

"We have a ton of environmental fights in this country, but the coal fight is the one I want to be in.  Solving our country's energy future properly is the only way to stop global warming, which can't happen if we continue depending on dirty coal.  I'm glad to be part of the team that will help our country finally say no to dirty coal and yes to clean, renewable sources of energy."

Hundreds Rally for Clean Energy at Kansas Capitol

March 24, 2009

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A large Sierra Club contingent joined hundreds of activists representing labor unions, faith groups, farmers, environmentalists, health groups, and others for a Clean Energy Day rally at the Kansas State Capitol in Topeka on March 19. The diverse coalition gathered to oppose a bill in the state legislature that would allow construction of two 700-megawatt coal-burning power plants in the state.

"It's clear Kansans want clean energy and are willing to work for it," says Kansas Sierra Club organizer Stephanie Cole, at left below. "I'm continually amazed by the dedication of clean energy advocates in Kansas. Many people took the day off of work to participate in the rally, and others drove several hours to make their voice heard. This is democracy at its best." Below right, Kansas Chapter lobbyist Tom Thompson, who spoke at the rally.

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Kansas Governor Kathleen Sebelius, who has been nominated to become U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services, has vetoed three bills by the state legislature to build the new plants near Holcomb in the southwestern part of the state. The latest bill is now in a joint House-Senate conference committee.

"The governor has promised to veto the new bill, but attempts to overturn her veto are expected and the pro-coal lobby is spending lots of money and working hard to make that happen," Cole says. "The legislation is an attempt to force coal plants on Kansans, packaged with a few weak 'green provisions.' Kansans aren't interested in a future tied to coal. It's our hope that state leaders will support the governor and give Kansas an opportunity to be a leader in the clean energy economy, rather than locking us into outdated, dirty power."

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This was the second year the Sierra Club has helped organize Clean Energy Day in Topeka. Cole says many rally participants were inspired to see such strong and diverse support for clean energy, whether the reason was jobs, clean air, or to slow climate change.

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"Today was a smashing success," says Tom Thompson. "The coalition of people who came together to voice their opinions about clean energy was heard throughout the capital and the state. The legislature needed to hear, with a clear voice, that building sources of energy that emit carbon dioxide and add to global warming is unacceptable."

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Top photo by Carey Maynard Mooney. Stephanie Cole and Tom Thompson photos by Mary Thompson. Bottom three photos by Claus Wawrzinek.

This story was co-reported by Heather Moyer.

Preservation Meets Sustainability in the Crescent City

March 23, 2009

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From March 10-20, the Sierra Club joined 25 other organizations in sponsoring the second annual "Historic Green" project in New Orleans to rebuild the city's Lower 9th Ward as the nation's first zero carbon community. Students, green builders and architects, and volunteers from an array of activist groups from around the country participated in projects ranging from cleanups to carpentry, weatherization to wetlands restoration.

Above, students from the Chicago-Kent College of Law worked with the Holy Cross Neighborhood Association the week of March 16-20. This photo was taken after they had helped clean up the Bayou Bienvenue trail and reinstalled the no dumping sign which some other students found in the weeds. Holy Cross is one of two neighborhoods making up the Lower 9th Ward.

Below, a group from Jewish Funds for Justice worked with Holy Cross residents to restore homes in the neighborhood. They started scraping the house pictured below on March 17 and finished painting by the end of the week.

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Spearheading the Sierra Club's efforts was longtime environmental justice organizer Darryl Malek-Wiley, pictured at far right in top photo. Malek-Wiley, who heads up the Club's EJ program in Louisiana, first coined the term "cancer alley" to describe the concentration of petrochemical and other industrial plants lining the Mississippi River between Baton Rouge and New Orleans.

Malek-Wiley says the big contributors to this year's Historic Green were emerging green builders and organizations like the Green Building Council. "I played only a support role. I rented a pick-up truck to move supplies and people around, talked with student groups about the recovery work in the Lower 9th and the Sierra Club's role in that effort, led walking tours and bus tours highlighting green rebuilding in the Lower 9th, purchased work materials for different projects, publicized Historic Green to the media, talked with reporters and got the Times-Picayune to run an article about green jobs…"

You get the picture.

"Darryl is a natural leader in creating volunteer opportunities and bringing together diverse groups on community projects," says Louisiana Sierra Club organizer Jill Mastrototaro. "His Spring Greening work is just one example of how he engages and educates those near and far on our environmental justice work in Louisiana."

Learn more about Historic Green and the Club's environmental justice work.

Club Coal Leader Among Rolling Stone's Top 100 'Agents of Change'

March 19, 2009

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Photo by Kira Stackhouse  

Rolling Stone magazine has published its list of "The 100 People Who Are Changing America." And holding down the #74 spot is Sierra Club coal activist Bruce Nilles.

"This list is not necessarily about power in the old-fashioned sense," write Rolling Stone's editors, "but about the power of ideas, the power of innovation, the power of making people think and making them move."

Says the magazine of Nilles: "The director of the Move Beyond Coal campaign, Nilles is Big Coal's worst nightmare: an aggressive, strategic lawyer who knows how to monkey-wrench the industry. Behind Nilles' efforts, the Sierra Club claims to have stopped plans for 24 new coal plants in the U.S. last year."

The longer-term numbers are even more impressive: the Sierra Club's work to Stop the Coal Rush has halted plans for 95 coal plants since Nilles joined the Environmental Law Program and became the Club's point person on coal.

"Bruce is running the most successful campaign the environmental movement has seen in more than a decade," says Michael Brune, executive director of Rainforest Action Network, in Rolling Stone.

Read Nilles' ongoing Daily Kos discussion on the shift from coal to clean energy.

District Meetings Engage New Clean Energy Activists

March 17, 2009

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A new District Meetings project was initiated in February as nearly 500 Sierra Club activists from 33 congressional districts lobbied their U.S. Representative in support of President Obama's clean energy agenda while the lawmakers were back home over President's Day. The targeted legislators were newly-elected members of the House.

Above, Southern Nevada Sierra Club volunteers and Club organizer Lydia Ball, front and center, at the Las Vegas office of Congresswoman Dina Titus (D), where they met with Titus staffer Susan Petersen. Below, New Jersey Chapter activists meet with Congressman Leonard Lance (R), center, at his home office in Westfield.

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"We tripled the number of contacts grassroots activists normally have with lawmakers during the spring recess," says Natalie Foster, the Club's Director of Online Organizing. "An average of 15 activists per district signed up to participate, and two-thirds of the meetings were led by volunteers."

To get the project rolling, Club organizers e-mailed chapter leaders and active members in all 33 targeted districts, asking them to participate and sign up to be a leader. "The project was initially met with some skepticism," says Foster, "but we ultimately generated substantial numbers of new activists."

Each participating chapter convened an organizing team to select a leader in each targeted district. That leader then contacted their Representative to set up a meeting. When the Rep was unavailable to meet personally, activists met with top staff, hand-delivered material to their offices, or participated in town hall meetings in their home district.

"The project worked best in places where there was strong chapter support," says Foster, "but by combining online and traditional organizing, we recruited new leaders even in districts and states where we aren't staffed. There was a lot of excitement among those who were asked to participate."

Stopping the Shell Oil Water Grab

March 12, 2009

Smallmouth bass2 In a major water use case, the Sierra Club is fighting against a request from Shell Oil to use water from the Yampa River in dirty oil shale development. Working as part of a coalition with Trout Unlimited, the Division of Wildlife, the Park Service, ranchers and many others to stop this water grab, the Club and its allies have filed statements of opposition in Colorado Water Court to block Shell’s request.

Shell’s plan calls for diverting nearly one-tenth of the Yampa River’s water into a massive reservoir where it would be used in the development of oil shale. The Yampa River is one of the finest Smallmouth Bass and Northern Pike fisheries in the United States.

"It takes three barrels of water to produce a single barrel of oil from shale," said Sierra Club representative Eric Huber, who is helping lead the fight. In Colorado alone, oil shale development could consume more water than the Denver Metro area, home to over 2 million people.

"Communities, ranchers, fish and wildlife all rely on the Yampa River. It doesn’t make sense to hand over our scarce water just so an oil company can squander it on a pipe dream like oil shale," continued Huber.

With 25 government agencies, businesses, and conservation groups sending opposition letters, it’s clear Huber’s sentiments are shared.

photo: USFWS

Double-Barreled Coal Victory in the Silver State

March 11, 2009

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The Sierra Club and its clean energy allies in Nevada won twin victories when two proposed coal plants in the state were scrapped in the last month.

On February 9, a three-year Sierra Club campaign concluded successfully when NV Energy called off plans to construct the Ely Energy Center in eastern Nevada "due to increasing environmental and economic uncertainties." Then on March 5, LS Power withdrew its request for a permit from the Nevada Public Utilities Commission to build the White Pine Energy Station, also near Ely.

The Club's dynamic duo in the Nevada coal wars was Lydia Ball, above left, who led the statewide fight for three years from the Club's Las Vegas office, and Emily Rhodenbaugh, above right, who has spearheaded operations in the Club's Reno office since April 2008.

The Nevada Sierra Club deployed 1,500 individual activists over the last three years to attend BLM environmental impact statement hearings and air permit hearings with the Nevada Department of Environmental Protection and the federal EPA.

"In September 2008 we turned out 450 people in Las Vegas," Ball says, "the largest turnout ever for an environmental event there."

More than 300 clean energy activists attended the last round of BLM public hearings100 each in Las Vegas and Reno, and 50 each in Ely and Elko.

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Continue reading "Double-Barreled Coal Victory in the Silver State" »

Iowa Chapter Cheers Coal Plant Cancellation

March 09, 2009

Coal The Sierra Club's Iowa Chapter is cheering last week's Alliant Energy decision to cancel its planned coal-fired power plant in Marshalltown. The decision comes after months of hard work from chapter staff, volunteers and a whole coalition of organizations committed to bringing clean energy to the state.

Neila Seaman, chapter director for Iowa, said everyone pitched in to the let the state Department of Natural Resources know that they wanted more hearings on this plant so they could voice their concerns over the dirty energy.

"Our strategy was twofold. First, our plan was to get the comment period extended from 30 to 90 days," explained Seaman. "We also knew from previous meetings with Iowa Department of Natural Resources Director Rich Leopold and his staff that the Iowa DNR was planning to require only two hearing sites." The chapter and coalition wanted more meetings.

Continue reading "Iowa Chapter Cheers Coal Plant Cancellation" »


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