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Lone Star Video Primers Help Promote Chapter Agenda

February 10, 2009

The Sierra Club's Lone Star Chapter, which maintains a LoneStarSierraClub video page on YouTube, recently produced two videos for the current Texas Legislative session, which meets every two years from January 13-June 1. Both videos were produced and directed by Chapter Communications Coordinator Donna Hoffman.

Visit Your Legislator!, hosted by Chapter Conservation Director Cyrus Reed, above, is a primer on meeting in person with your legislator, starring chapter activists Terry Moore, Don Villa, and Roy Waley as they pay a visit to State Representative Elliott Naishtat at the State Capitol in Austin. But the methods and strategies outlined in this how-to video are applicable no matter where you live.

Legislative Priorities, below, also hosted by Reed, features guest appearances by Chapter Director Ken Kramer, Conservation Chair Evelyn Merz, and Air Quality Chair Brandt Mannchen, talking about specific chapter priorities.

As activists of all stripes increasingly communicate in the video medium, both of these videos are instructive for Club chapters and activists wishing to jump on the YouTube bandwagon. Bottom line: shooting and editing a video on a budget and uploading it to YouTube are a lot easier than you may think.

Puerto Rico Chapter Marks Milestones, Looks Ahead

February 06, 2009

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The Sierra Club's Puerto Rico Chapter celebrated two milestones at its Annual Assembly in late January: its 1,000th member and its fourth anniversary as a chapter. Above, chapter leaders at the Assembly.

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"We started laying the groundwork six years ago," says chapter organizer Camilla Feibelman, "and in 2005 the Club's board of directors came to Puerto Rico to approve us as the organization's first Spanish-speaking chapter. We started with just a couple dozen members, but since then we've gained a thousand more through outings, chats, and conservation campaigns."

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Below, Chapter Outing leader Evalexa Tomei staffs a booth at the Assembly...

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...and Chapter Chair Angel Sosa presents Jose Sesman with a volunteer merit award, below left. Below right, Chapter Conservation Chair Victor Marcial Vega tickles the ivories.

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The Chapter's biggest success to date was helping block two mega-resorts proposed by the Marriott and Four Seasons corporations in the Northeast Ecological Corridor, below, nesting ground for the endangered leatherback sea turtle. With bipartisan support, in October 2007 Governor Anibal Acevedo Vila signed an executive order designating more than 3,200 acres of the Corridor as a nature reserve.

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Below, a Sierra Club outing to el Yunque, immediately adjacent to the Corridor, and the only rainforest in U.S. Forest Service jurisdiction.

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Feibelman cautions that Puerto Rico's new governor has not yet made his position clear on managing the Corridor. "We're trying to get the management and land use plan approved by the planning board so we can begin developing the Corridor as an ecotourism destination and the adjacent towns as gateway communities," she says. "We hope the new governor will lead the way." 

In reaching the 1,000-member mark, Feibelman gives a special shout out to chapter volunteer leaders Angel Sosa, Evalexa Tomei, Nayda Diaz, Alberto Perdomo, Alin Blanchet, Victor Marcial Vega, Francisco Perez, Eva Perez, Jose Menendez, Ana Elisa Perez, Eva Luz Menendez, Jennifer Robles, Kristal Ibarra, Lisette Alvirio, Adriana Gonzalez, and Igri Rosado.

All photos by F. Claudio, except photos of Northeast Ecological Corridor and el Yunque rainforest.

Tampa Bay Sierrans Stash Trash on Super Bowl Sunday

February 03, 2009

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On February 1, two dozen Sierra Club volunteers, above, ranging from age 20 to 86, partnered with the NFL Environmental Program to clean up after Super Bowl XLIII in Tampa, Florida. That's Marguerite and Don Pascoe of Venice, Florida, below, aged 83 and 86.

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After the game's riveting conclusion, as happy Steelers fans and disappointed Cardinals fans left Raymond James Stadium, Sierrans scoured the stands, picking up aluminum cans, plastic cups, and bottles as part of the NFL's effort to recycle at all event venues. Volunteers bagged 22,000 recyclable itemsapproximately 1,000 per volunteer.

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"These folks are all long-term volunteers with the Tampa Bay Group's 'Stash Your Cans' program, which has recycled at every college and professional football game at Raymond James Stadium for the past 18 years," says Florida Sierra Club organizer Phil Compton. "We show hundreds of thousands of fans annually how easy it is to recycle as they enter the stadium from tailgate parties." That's Compton at left, below, with Bill Hilbrands of Lithia, Florida. At right is NFL Environmental Program Director Jack Groh.

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The Tampa Bay Group has been #1 in NFL recycling for all 18 years the Stash Your Cans program has operated. In gratitude, the Tampa Sports Authority donates up to $3,000 annually to the group, in addition to giving Stash Your Cans volunteers free seats at Tampa Bay Buccaneers and USF Bulls games.

"This kind of effort is necessary in states like Florida that lack container deposits, to facilitate recycling at events that include mass consumption of recyclables," Compton says. "This type of program could and should work at every other NFL and college football game in the U.S."
 
This year, volunteers sported green Sierra Club buttons on their red Super Bowl volunteer shirts and Sierra Club stickers on their windbreakers. "As the only Super Bowl Host Committee volunteers out of more than 6,000 total to actually get into the gamefor freeour crew helped the NFL successfully identify another way to minimize its carbon footprint and act in a socially responsible manner," says Compton. Club volunteers also helped set up recycling at the NFL Media Center in the Tampa Convention Center.

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The NFL Environmental Program adds environmental and social benefits to the economic benefits the Super Bowl brings to the host city by planting hundreds of trees, coordinating immediate distribution of all food leftovers to local food banks, and donating all venue signage to local non-profits for fundraising. On Super Bowl Sunday 2009, Tampa Bay Sierrans showed the NFL one more way to make a difference.

Photos by Phil Compton

Harnessing the Sun—and Tax Credits—in Louisiana

January 30, 2009

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Photo by Jeffrey Dubinsky

Jeffrey Dubinsky, a Delta Chapter volunteer who serves as Baton Rouge Group vice chair and outings chair, recently installed a solar hot water heater on the roof of his home. Dubinsky is pictured above with his new solar array. (Photo taken with a self-timer.)

"It eliminates the use of roughly 1,600 pounds of coal burned a year," he says, "and it was a huge incentive that Louisiana offers a 50 percent rebate check along with your state taxes. That's on top of a 30 percent credit from the federal government. So of the total $7,000 cost, our share will be only $1,500." Below, workers help Dubinsky install his system.

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Photos by Jeffrey Dubinsky

According to the latest issue of the Delta Sierran, a typical 3-kilowatt grid-tied solar system sufficient to power a single-family home costs about $25,000. But with the combined federal and state tax credits, the homeowner is responsible for only 20 percent of that costor $5,000 for the "typical" system cited.

One of the provisions of the Emergency Economic Stabilization Act of 2008also known as the financial system bailoutwas extending the Investment Tax Credit to give homeowners 30 percent off solar and wind power investments, either in the form of a refund or a direct tax reduction. Additionally, the $2,000 cap on federal reimbursements to homeowners has been eliminated. And in Louisiana, the state will pick up half the tab for residential solar systems up to a maximum reimbursement of $12,500the "best in the nation state tax credits," according to the Delta Sierran.

Dubinsky says his wife Susan, always conscious of energy costs, has been "totally supportive of my mindset on minimizing our impact on the planet. The great thing is, by doing so we can also save money."

Aussie Chart-Topper Promotes Club's 2% Solution

January 26, 2009

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Australian singer-songwriter Missy Higgins has been a major star Down Under for several years, winning seven ARIA awards (Australia's Grammy), including "Best Female Artist" two years running, and releasing the country's best-selling album in 2005 (The Sound of White) and 2007 (On a Clear Night). But it wasn't until she toured the U.S. last year in support of the latter release that the 25-year-old Melbourne native vaulted to prominence in this country.

Higgins takes her green convictions seriously. Last year she spent two weeks traveling the country in a hybrid Prius, posting Web documentaries on environmental topics en route, and her subsequent tour was kept carbon-neutral by offsetting CO2 emissions with wind power credits. She was named one of Billboard Magazine's "Green 10" Artists for 2008. 

This year, she is embarking on a five-week U.S. tour beginning February 19, traveling in a bio-diesel bus. Higgins recently appeared in print and video Public Service Announcements for the Club, and is offering a free unreleased song download to anyone who pledges to reduce their carbon emissions by being part of the Club's 2% Solution Campaign. You can also make the pledge and download the song on Facebook.

South Carolina Chapter Teams Up Against Coal

January 22, 2009

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The Sierra Club of South Carolina is leading the charge in fighting a 660-megawatt dirty coal plant proposed for the Pee Dee River area. If built, this plant would be the single largest destroyer of Appalachian mountains in the United States.

Earlier this month, National Coal Campaign Director Bruce Nilles joined them for the launch of their "SC Says NO" coalition kickoff. Chapter director John Ramsburgh said the coalition has been getting great publicity.

"We made great use of Bruce's visit to Charleston and Columbia," Ramsburgh explained. "The day started with an editorial board meeting with our state's most important newspaper, Charleston's Post and Courier.  We then drove up to Columbia for a successful press event and coal campaign kickoff meeting.  Fifty people representing over 10 organizations attended, including 15 Sierra Club activists."

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After the kickoff, Sierra Club volunteers Jessica Artz, Pam Greenlaw, and Cynthia Powell led a delegation to a state Department of Health and Environmental Control hearing where the coalition requested a review of the plant's air permit. Their presence was acknowledged by board members and the request for a board hearing on the air permit was granted for Feb. 12.

Ramsburgh said the chapter's 2009 resolution is a simple one: "Put a Palmetto State smack down on this coal plant." The volunteer leaders are grateful for the support from the national coal team and looks forward to sharing positive news with everyone once this plant is defeated.

Here's a taste of all the publicity the SC Chapter drummed up:

-The Columbia Free Times
-The State newspaper, article one and article two
-The Associated Press
-The Charleston Post and Courier, article one and article two

First photo courtesy of John Ramsbaugh, second photo courtesy of Graeme Fouste of the Columbia Free Times

Club Volunteers Help Make Day of Service a Smash Hit

January 20, 2009

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Photo by Victoria Brandon

Sierra Club volunteers from coast to coast answered President-elect (now President!) Obama's call to participate in National Day of Service activities over the Martin Luther King, Jr. Weekend, January 17-19. Above, volunteers with the Club's Lake Group collected trash along California Highway 29 near Lakeport. Below, Missouri volunteers braved cold temperatures and icy stream crossings during an urban hike and trash cleanup in St. Charles County's Quail Ridge Park, just west of St. Louis.

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Photo by Mary Shubert

More than 100 people turned out in Auburn, California, to clean up the Auburn-Folsom Road and Highway 49 near downtown Auburn. "We collected 92 bags of trash and 11 bags of recyclables!" says event "instigator/organizer" Christina Ragsdale of the Sierra Club's Placer Group. "We've been asked by everyoneincluding the City of Auburnto do it again, so it may become an annual thing."

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Photo by Christina Ragsdale

In Michigan, Club member Gina Meola hosted an environmentally-themed movie night and mercury hair-testing clinic at her home in Clawson, just north of Detroit. That's Meola below, cutting Sierra Club organizer Melissa Damaschke's hair. Information was provided by the local Sierra Club office on coal plants and mercury emissions in the state.

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Photo by Michelle Held 

Minnesota activist Tom Holtey and his kids spent the day cleaning an old Civilian Conservation Corps/Works Project Administration building in Buffalo River State Park, "because as we move forward as a country, we also need to look back in history to the 'New Deal' era." That's Sarah, left, and David, right, cleaning the building, below which is going to be used as a warming house for an upcoming "Candlelight Cross-Country Skiing, Showshoing, and Hiking Event."

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Photo by Tom Holtey

The Club's Yahi Group organized and teamed with California State Parks, the City of Chico Park Division, Friends of Bidwell Park, Chico Creek Nature Center, and Habitat for Humanity to turn out nearly 150 people for community service projects in and around Chico, Orland, and Corning, California. Projects included a bike path cleanup, barbwire fence and invasive plant removal along a popular hiking trail, below, native plantings in local parks and a nature center, and trash removal, tree-pruning, and invasive plant removal in preparation for a new Habitat for Humanity home.

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Photo by Dave Garcia 

Local activists and students pitched in at San Diego's Aquatic Adventures, below, to make three-dimensional tide pools and visuals for third-grade classrooms, label restoration supplies for habitat restoration projects, create nature-inspired art pieces for Aquatic Adventures' educational facility, and cut out life-sized shark shapes for use in scientific research. All the supplies will be used in programs to connect San Diego's urban youth to nature and science.

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Photo Photo courtesy of Aquatic Adventures

Just up the coast in Los Angeles County, more than 250 volunteers turned out to help clean up and restore the Ballona Wetlandswatch the YouTube video by Club activist Martin Kasindorf: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SSMjsbK8efQ). Elsewhere in L.A. County, Angeles Chapter volunteers put their backs into trail work in the Santa Monica Mountains, below.

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Photo by Ingeborg Prochazka

Heart of Illinois Group and Prairie Dawgs volunteers braved 9-degree temperatures to cut invasive plants in an area of prairie restoration at Jubilee College State Park near Peoria, below. Park staff has been cut and cannot complete all the projects the park superintendent would like to get done.

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Photo by Joyce Blumenshine

In Indiana, the Sierra Club's "Photographic Day of Service" gave members in central Indiana an opportunity to capture and publicize the wintertime beauty along the historic Monon Trail, below, a rails-to-trails route that runs from Indianapolis to the suburban city of Carmel. A sampling of the photos can be viewed here, here, here, and here.

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Photo by Barb Larkin
 

Outside Philadelphia, the Club's Southeastern Group organized several volunteer service events, including a litter cleanup of Darby Creek in the town of Clifton Heights, below.

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Next door in New Jersey, volunteers came out on the coldest day of the year and collected 25 bags of trash and recyclables in Asbury Park, below. The group signed up to continue their service from April through October when they will continue the cleanups on Sunday afternoons.

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Photo by Malcolm Navias

And below, Vince Semonsen led a group of five youngsters and two adults in collecting trash at Carpenteria Marsh in Carpenteria, California, near Santa Barbara. "The photo shows the rest of the crew at the end of our day yelling, 'Obama!'" says Semonsen.

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Photo by Vince Semonsen

Hundreds Clean Up Bay Under Summer Skies

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Apologies to those who are suffering through frigid temperatures back east, but the Martin Luther King Day of Service event I participated in yesterday in Richmond, California, with my girlfriend Nanette and her kids Lee and Elena, could not have been in a more idyllic setting. The skies were achingly blue, the sun warm and shimmering on the bay, the backdrop of the Bay Bridge and the San Francisco skyline spectacular, and the several hundred volunteers who picked up trash, chopped down clumps of invasive fennel and pampas grass, and planted native seedlings all in high spirits.

"Our new president asked us to serve," said one volunteer, "and here we are!"

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[photos by John Byrne Barry and Nanette Zavala]


Sierra Club Responds to the TN Coal Ash Spill

January 12, 2009

We are all saddened by the destruction caused to families and the environment by the Dec. 22 Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) coal ash spill near Harriman, Tenn. We have many Sierra Club staff and volunteers from or living in that general area, and they've told us about the aftermath as well as sent us some shocking photos and video (click on the photos to see the full-size versions).

Emoryrd3LANE - credit Lane Boldman

Lane Boldman, a leader from the Cumberland (Kentucky) Chapter of the Sierra Club, visited the area and recently answered some questions for me for another column we produce. I'd like to share her responses, as well as some comments from Sierra Club Coal Team member Lyndsay Moseley, whose parents live near the spill and who visited the site shortly after the spill.

From Lane Boldman:
1- What were your first impressions when saw the spill's aftermath?

I was surprised at the scale. Parts of the ash that had solidified were boulders the size of cars and larger. And there were hundreds of them. I was also surprised at how many sets of booms there were on the river to try to contain the spill even a week after it had happened. I was also surprised to see haz-mat workers who did not have respiratory masks.

Graveyard2LANE - credit Lane Boldman

2- Have you spoken with any of the affected families and residents? If yes, what are some of the reactions and comments you're getting from them?

I spoke to some folks at the local general store and one woman who lives in a house on the water just outside of where they have blocked off the roads. Not a single person I spoke to felt the TVA was being candid, and worse, they felt TVA was incompetent to fix the problems. One woman said that a lot of pets were missing and the TVA told her to check the animal shelter, as though there was no consideration that they might have been swamped in the muck, nor was there concern for their whereabouts.

SwanpondrdLANE - credit Lane Boldman

3- What have people been told so far about what's next for their homes?

A week after the incident, the ones I spoke to they had little information on what they needed to do or not do. All they heard was that TVA would purchase land that was uninhabitable. But details were sketchy. The assumption is that the folks in the blockaded areas may have gotten better info and the ones just beyond that 'hot zone' were being told zip.

One woman I talked to had not been told anything about her shoreline even though she is on the water and very near the spill area. She has a fair bit of wetland area at the edge of her property and she said she was not able to see anything. It was difficult to get there.

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4- Are there fences or signs or anything telling people to stay away from the sludge?

I saw no signs with any warnings whatsoever, and I went to several areas. I saw no full fences- There were areas that had barrier tape strung up at driveways and roads to block access by car, so it was not easy to drive to any of the sites, and there were also TVA security patrols watching the areas at strategic entrances where the spill was the worst. But if someone wanted to it would not be hard to get to some of the spill areas. It seemed like the main deterrents were the TVA patrol cars. But I saw nothing posted that listed a hazard.

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From Lyndsay:
The families are experiencing sadness at the losses of their homes, peaceful way of life, health threats. They have concerns for their health, because with a few exceptions, little information about real threats has been shared by the TVA besides comments to have no contact with the ash.

There's also a desire for more media coverage of the incident, residents feel like it's not getting enough attention. There is also an overwhelming desire to give TVA the benefit of the doubt as in "They're doing the best they can at this point."

Residents are also suspicious of outside groups...coming in to "promote their agenda." Others say if TVA doesn't "do right," they will fight for their rights.

The residents are getting mixed signals. The TVA is telling people the water is fine, but the news reported that the schools will be preparing lunches with bottled water and the schools are encouraging parents to send bottled water with their kids.

TVA sludge - credit Dave Cooper
-----

The Sierra Club is heavily involved in the aftermath of this environmental disaster. You can read more about it in the blog of Bruce Nilles, our National Coal Campaign Director, and in this news release. And if you've not yet had a chance to see the video from the ash spill - check out this YouTube channel.

First three photos courtesy of Lane Boldman, second two from Lyndsay Moseley, and final from Dave Cooper

Big Win In 10-Year Fight To Protect Premier Surf Spot

December 23, 2008

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Photo by Chay Peterson    

For more than a decade the Sierra Club has fought a proposed 16-mile toll road through San Onofre State Beach, one of California's most popular state parks. The campaign realized a major victory on December 18 when the U.S. Commerce Department ruled to uphold the California Coastal Commission's rejection of the project.

The Foothill South toll road would have despoiled more than half of the park, including a popular campground, a land conservancy, a sacred Native American burial site, and a pristine watershed feeding into the renowned Trestles surf beach. Below, Club volunteers tabling at Trestles Beach at the Mobile World Championship Surf Tour. Trestles is the only North American stop on the tour.

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Photo by Ed Schlegel

"This is a victory for all our state parks," says Club staffer Robin Everett, who serves as organizer for the Club's Friends of the Foothills campaign. "If this road had been approved it would have opened the door for development in other state parks."

The fight against the toll road started more than ten years ago in the home of Orange Country Sierra Club volunteer Paul Carlton. In 1999 the Club became the first organization to hire staff and start a formal campaign against the project. "It grew from a small group of motivated Sierra Club volunteers meeting in living rooms to a grassroots movement of over 8,000 activists," recalls Club staffer Brittany McKee, who served as campaign organizer from 2000 to 2007.

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Photo by Al Sattler 

Above, McKee (left) and Robin Everett (right) are pictured at a February 2008 Coastal Commission hearing attended by more than 7,000 people, the most ever at a Commission hearing. Below, San Diego Sierra Club organizer Micah Mitrosky, McKee, and Everett put together postcards and surfboards to present to the Commission.

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Photo by Al Sattler 

"We began this fight with a march of 40 people in downtown San Clemente, and ended with thousands of people at the final hearings," says Club activist and Friends of the Foothills Task Force Chair Bill Holmes. "This victory proves that when people come together and don't give up, we can really make a difference."


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