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Sierra Club Newsmakers -- 3.14.2008

March 14, 2008

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Communities in the Chicago area are using a mixture of beet juice and salt to mitigate damage from road salt that has caused chloride levels to spike in local waterways. Illinois Sierra Club leader Paul Mack, pictured above left taking water samples in the west branch of the DuPage River, found chloride levels that violate state water quality standards. "[The salt] is so prevalent it can be tasted," he told the Chicago Tribune.

After the EPA tightened smog standards this weekthough not by as much as environmentalists hopedcounties across the nation found themselves out of compliance with federal regulations, including Hamilton County, Ohio, where Cincinnati is located. "Hamilton County has had a smog problem forever, and this is one of the reasons why we oppose new highways being built," Ohio Sierra Club leader Enid Nagel, second from left, above, told the Cincinnati Enquirer.

The EPA says Honolulu has been violating the Clean Water Act by not treating wastewater twice before releasing it into the ocean. The city requested permission not to clean wastewater a second time, but the EPA denied the requesta decision the Sierra Club supports. "They take the chunks out... but it's really not a lot of treatment," said Hawaii Sierra Club Director Jeff Mikulina, second from right, above. "We're putting into the ocean some... pretty nasty stuff." Watch Mikulina in this March 12 segment from Honolulu's KGMB9 News.

Martin LeBlanc, above right, director of the Club's Building Bridges to the Outdoors program, was largely responsible for a $1.5 million appropriation last year by the Washington State legislature to fund nature education for the state's youth. The Club and 235 other groups have applied for a combined $8.9 million to fund outdoor education next year. "There will likely be a recession," Leblanc said. "We want to get a source of sustainable funding."

There were many mentions in the media this week of the "Good Jobs, Green Jobs" conference in Pittsburgh, coordinated by the Blue-Green Alliance, a partnership of the United Steelworkers and the Sierra Club. More than 80 organizations participated in the first-ever national forum on green jobs and the economic and employment benefits of a clean energy future.

A measure now before the California legislature would strip the California Coastal Commission of its ability to self-initiate appeals of local-government development decisions and restrict it to hearing appeals brought by other individuals or groups. "We believe the legislation is terribly misguided," said Sierra Club coastal programs director Mark Massara, explaining that it's difficult for the public to track everything and grasp the implications of key decisions that could harm coastal ecosystems or restrict public access.

In Mississippi, a measure in the state legislature would allow the Public Service Commission to decide whether energy companies can raise customers' rates to fund the construction of a nuclear reactor and a new coal plant. Mississippi Sierra Club organizer Louie Miller, who opposes the bill, said he was unsure how House Public Utilities Chairman Tyrone Ellis felt about it. "From what I see at the Capitol, the energy lobbyists are walking around seemingly as clueless as I am on the man's intentions. Maybe that's a good thing and he can't be bought."

The EPA is concerned about the presence of pharmaceutical drugs in drinking water supplies around the country. An Associated Press report found that drugs have been detected in drinking water in 24 major metropolitan areas. New Hampshire Sierra Club organizer Kurt Ehrenberg laid much of the blame on the Bush administration for not doing more to help states get a leg up on the issue, calling the problem an example of "the unintended consequences of human activity" the federal government needs to address. "We need a more active Environmental Protection Agency to learn more about this and find solutions."

State legislators in Oklahoma are considering weakening a law prohibiting large hog farms from locating within three miles of church camps and recreation sites. Oklahoma Sierra Club director Billie Brown told state lawmakers at the Capitol that the law has worked well for at least 10 years to stop "the intrusion of corporate hog factories."

"Historic Green" Event Helps Rebuild Lower Ninth Ward

March 07, 2008

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From March 8-23, the Sierra Club will be participating in the 2008 Historic Green event to rebuild a sustainable New Orleans. Hundreds of students and young professionals in the construction industryarchitects, engineers, planners, landscape architects, interior designers, and contractorswill converge on the Crescent City to work hand-in-hand with residents of the Holy Cross Historic District, part of the Lower Ninth Ward that was among the city's hardest-hit areas during Hurricane Katrina.

Sierra Club organizer Darryl Malek-Wiley, pictured above, and below with volunteers at a Public Lands Day cleanup of Bayou Bienvenue in the Lower Ninth Ward last year, has been working for years with Club volunteers and the Holy Cross Neighborhood Association to help rebuild and renew the area. "We're hoping Historic Green will be an annual event until the whole Lower Ninth is rebuilt as a sustainable, carbon-neutral neighborhood," Malek-Wiley says.

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Organized by the Center for Sustainable Engagement and Development, Historic Green will help homeowners "green up" their historic properties, provide free sustainable rebuilding consulting services, help with green deconstruction of homes that are beyond repair, initiate a playground/park rehabilitation project, plant community gardens, and offer neighborhood survey services in cooperation with the Lower Ninth Ward's Neighborhood Empowerment Network Association.

The Sierra Club is hosting lectures and coordinating bayou restoration and trail work on the path leading to Bayou Bienvenue, an historic cypress swamp that was inundated with salt water by an Army Corps of Engineers project in the late 1950s, and which residents of the Lower Ninth now want to bring back. Once the trail work is done, the Club's New Orleans Group will be sponsoring a canoe trip on the bayou.

Learn more about the Sierra Club's work to help rebuild the Gulf Coast.

Sierra Club Newsmakers -- 3.7.08

March 06, 2008

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In West Virginia, Sierra Student Coalition is hosting a "Save the Ales" party to highlight the urgency of addressing global warming. "While global climate change has already affected polar bears and seals, climate change is also expected to severely impact hops production, a main ingredient in all beer," said the SSC's Heather Sprouse. Global warming has disrupted the hops-growing regions in Germany and the Czech Republic and higher prices are ahead for imported beers.

New Hampshire Chapter Director Cathy Corkery wrote an op ed in the New Hampshire Union Leader blasting the Forest Service plan, backed by Senator Judd Gregg (and the Union Leader), that would allow timber sales in the Than Brook roadless area of White Mountain National Forest (above), the most substantial incursions into roadless areas east of the Rockies. "Gregg’s claims that clear cutting the forests now will save the North Country economy are false. North Country leaders have said again and again that they want to move forward and diversify and reinvent the local economy, not live in the past. Giving a handful of guys with chainsaws temporary jobs clear cutting the Whites is not going to do that."

New Jersey Sierra Club Director Jeff Tittel called problem-plagued $1 billion Meadowlands redevelopment next to Giants Stadium in East Rutherfield,  "the Baghdad of redevelopment.'' Tittel also voiced the Club's support for a proposed wind farm off the Jersey shore as "the first step to really implementing the governor's global-warming initiative."

A University of Washington report concludes that when air conditions in the Columbia River Gorge are at their worst, Portland General Electric, Oregon's only coal-fired power plant, is responsible for more than half the particulate pollution, prompting the Club's Nat Parker to call the report a "smoking gun."

Kansas City Power & Light, which made an agreement with the Sierra Club last year to build 100 megawatts of wind energy by the end of 2010 and 300 by 2012, has postponed plans to build a wind farm this year, but says it will still abide by the agreement.

Following an interview of Carl Pope in the Oil and Gas Investor magazine, the business press has been abuzz with stories saying that the Sierra Club had changed its position and come out in favor of the U.S. natural gas industry. Pope did say that the Club "favors producing all [the natural gas] that the U.S. can put out," but everything he said in the interview was consistent with existing Club policy, and it was a mischaracterization to interpret Pope's statements as an endorsement of the entire industry."We recognize that gas is cleaner than coal or oil but is still not as preferable as renewables and efficiency," clarified Pope.

After more than a year of monitoring the Upper Verde River in Arizona, Sierra Club Water Sentinels have found heightened levels of nitrogen and phosphate as well as common detergent compound that, said Yavapai Group chair Tom Slaback, acts as "an endocrine disruptor known to cause sex change in fish and hormonal changes in other organisms." The Club has called on local cities to change their current practice of applying treated sewage sludge near waterways.

In a CBS News story on how green a President John McCain would be, Debbie Sease, the Sierra Club's legislative director, said McCain's record on environmental issues is wildly erratic. "We never know where he's going to come from," she said. "As a general rule, on land and conservation issues ... he tends to be pretty good. But he's a doctrinaire conservative on the role of government in protecting people from pollution."

Arizona Activist Wins Human Rights Award for Border Work

March 05, 2008

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Arizona Sierra Club activist Sean Sullivan, co-chair of the Grand Canyon Chapter's Rincon Group, received the Justicia de Corazon award on March 2 from Tucson-based Derechos Humanos (Human Rights Commission) for his work on border issues.

Sullivan, pictured above with Carolyn Campbell of the Coalition for Sonoran Desert Protection (l), and his mother, Linda Sullivan (r), has lobbied Congress to support the Borderlands Conservation and Security Act, which would ensure that environmental protections are addressed as changes are made to border infrastructure. He also developed a grassroots educational outreach program through the Sierra Club to inform people about the realities and costs of U.S. border policy and the underlying causes of migration.

"We want to engage elected officials and Sierra Club membership across the country and educate them about the border wall," Sullivan says. "The Secure Fence Act of 2006 cuts a whole ecoregion in half, and many species, some of them endangered, need to use both sides of the border to continue viable populations. The public process was pulled out from under our feet with the Real ID Act of 2005, which gives the secretary of Homeland Security the authority to waive all state and federal laws."

Sullivan has been a leader in promoting the Sonoran Desert Conservation Plan, protecting wildlife habitat and corridors, and defending special places like the San Pedro Riparian National Conservation Area. An ongoing component of his work is integrating environmental protection and human rights. "With NAFTA and the maquilladoros along the border, we see that those who exploit people are the same ones who exploit and pollute the land. You're not going to be able to protect one without the other. If people can live safely and modestly in a sustainable way it will go a long way to achieving environmental protection."

Sierra Club Newsmakers -- 2.29.08

February 29, 2008

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Longtime Mississippi Sierra Club activist Becky Gillette, above left, who led the fight against toxic FEMA trailers on the Gulf Coast after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, has earned a new moniker: The Erin Brockovich of Formaldehyde. In a bizarre twist, Gillette had scarcely relocated to the Arkansas Ozarks when tornadoes struck the state earlier this month, and FEMA is sending victims unused trailers ordered for Katrina and Rita evacuees.

Next door in Mississippi, avid hiker, traveler, and youthful environmentalist Travis Hunsicker, above center, was featured in a Voice of America news story, "Tupelo, Mississippi: Cool City," for spearheading citizen efforts to green his hometown.

South Dakota Chapter activist Mahala Bach, above right, handed out compact fluorescent light bulbs and spread the gospel of energy efficiency at a "Being Green" forum in Rapid City. "When people are informed about environmental issues," she said, "they want to do the right thing."

Montana Sierra Club organizer Bob Clark was taken aback when an angry blogger, seething after a federal judge agreed with the Club that timber sales must be subject to environmental analysis, wrote: "If you know a Sierra Club member, please feel free to set their home on fire." Clark, who keeps a file of death threats in his office, responded, "He's connecting dots that don't exist."

In California's Sacramento Valley, life member Eric Rey and his company Arcadia Biosciences are crafting "green" rice that thrives on half the standard dose of nitrogen fertilizer, a source of global warming emissions on a par with all the world's automobiles.

Further south, the Club is fighting to protect the Tejon Ranch, still a working farm and ranch and at 270,000 acres the largest contiguous parcel of privately-owned land in California, from industrial overdevelopment by the Tejon Ranch Company, which has recently built three massive warehouses on the property. "There is no other place like this in California," the Club's Bill Corcoran told the New York Times. "What is needed is a conservation plan for the entire ranch."

In another Times story, on how upstart Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal is shaking up the state's famously brazen political culture by ramming through a series of ethics bills, Delta Chapter lobbyist Darrell Hunt called the move "huge. This is a sea change. This will seriously, dramatically change things."

Speaking at a Madison, Wisconsin, town hall meeting, National Coal Campaign Director Bruce Nilles and fellow Club organizer Jennifer Feyerherm promoted renewable energy and urged an immediate move away from coal. The State and the University of Wisconsin are embarking on a feasibility study of energy options compelled by the recent settlement of a Sierra Club court challenge.

Kansas Chapter leader Tom Kneil advocated a cap on greenhouse gas emissions after a spokesman for Sunflower Electric, which is seeking to expand a coal plant in the state, questioned whether regulating CO2 is a good idea. "Really, utilities don't have a carbon footprint, their customers do," the Sunflower rep said. Also in Kansas, chapter lobbyist Tom Thompson urged state lawmakers to do more to promote conservation and renewable energy sources instead of passing incentives for nuclear power.

The Massachusetts Sierra Club is fighting a proposal by developers to conduct environmental reviews of large development projects behind closed doors. "There's no valid reason that we can see to exclude the public from that part of the process," said chapter director James McCaffrey.

In Connecticut, where many housing developments and community associations have bylaws prohibiting outdoor clotheslines, the Club is supporting a "right to dry" bill that would allow people to dry their laundry outside. "The real driver to this is the global warming crisis we face," said chapter leader Martin Mador. "This bill goes to what an individual can doit doesn't force anyone to use a clothesline."

And in a riff on James Carville's famous exhortation to candidate Bill Clinton in 1992, Club Executive Director Carl Pope authored a piece on the Huffington Post entitled, "It's Green Jobs, Stupid."

Turning Down the Temperature in Tupelo

February 27, 2008

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Travis Hunsicker of Tupelo, Mississippithat's right, Elvis's birthplacean avid hiker who last year walked Peru's Inca Trail to Machu Pichu (above), says it was an article in an adventure travel magazine article that jump-started his environmental activism. "It was a special on what people can do locally to help out with the environment," he told Voice of America this month. "I guess it's kind of a thing where if you enjoy the outdoors, you also want to give back."

The way he decided to act was through the Sierra Club's Cool Cities program, to get cities and towns to adopt smart energy solutions to reduce their global warming emissions. The first step was to get Tupelo Mayor Ed Neeley to sign the U.S. Mayors' Climate Protection Agreement. Neely was receptive, and said he would recommend that the City Council approve the move.

Hunsicker now plans to form a local board to determine what actions the city and individuals can take. "A lot of people have thought about doing something but never took those steps. I want to give them the opportunity to say, 'Yeah, let's help out.'"

The main pushback he has gotten from civic and industry leaders is the up-front cost of switching to energy-efficient technologies. Hunsicker points to a survey of Tupelo's municipal buildings which shows that the city's annual energy bill dropped by half after implementing green changes. "If we can do it here in Tupelo," he says, "what could be done around the state? That's my ultimate goalto have a positive influence on other cities to do the same thing."

Online Cartoon Teaches Kids About Global Warming

February 26, 2008

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Hippo Works, an environmentally-themed online cartoon created by Los Angeles Sierra Club member Denis Thomopoulos, above left, features a lineup of animal characters including Simon the Hippo, above right, Peep the Bird, and the ever-skeptical Bob the Rodent, among others. Weekly episodes of "It's a Jungle Out There" are syndicated to subscribers and Web sites like AOL's Kids Channel.

Thomopoulos is now producing a weekly series to teach kids about global warming. The series, which debuted on February 11, opens with a view of the earth from space, zooming in on the melting snowcap atop Kenya's Mt. Kilimanjaro. Episode Two picks up the theme with a musical offering by Peep the Bird, "The Snows of Kilimanjaro," with lyrics suggesting ways people can take steps to combat global warming. And at the end of each short segment, a colorful form appears that lets kids forward the cartoon to their friends.

To watch episodes of "It's a Jungle Out There," play games like Hippodoku and the Extinction Game, create your own cartoon, send environmental e-cards, and to subscribe, visit hippoworks.com.

Sierra Club Newsmakers -- 2.22.08

February 22, 2008

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On Wednesday, the Sierra Club launched a national grassroots campaign urging Dynegy, a Houston-based company planning to build coal plants in Arkansas, Georgia, Iowa, Michigan, Nevada and Texas, to shift its investments away from coal and into cleaner energy sources. Call-in events in 20 states generated thousands of calls to Dynegy headquarters. "Many companies, states and cities across the country are already moving beyond coal. Just last year increased wind development added $9 billion to our economy. Dynegy has an opportunity to really be a leader in the new energy economy," said Alex Levinson, director of the Sierra Club's Clean Energy Solutions Campaign.

Business Week reported that while the formation last year of U.S. Climate Action Partnership -- which comprises 4 environmental groups and 27 U.S. corporations (including General Electric, General Motors, and Duke Energy) -- has endorsed cuts in global warming emissions of 60 percent to 80 percent by 2050, behind the scenes they are also supporting efforts that will make it nearly impossible to meet those goals. Pushing for more coal plants, for example. "If you're serious about stopping climate change, you don't dig the hole deeper by building new coal-fired power plants," said Bruce Nilles, director of the Sierra Club's coal program. 

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service called the removal of gray wolves from the endangered species list a remarkable comeback story, but Club spokesperson Melanie Stein called the delisting premature. "This is like declaring victory at mile eighteen in a marathon,” she said.

Used to be that the arguments against nuclear power revolved around their potential dangers, but in the wake of a proposal by Progress Energy to add a second reactor in Wake County, North Carolina, opponents like Molly Diggins, director of the Club's North Carolina Chapter, are focusing on their staggering costs. "We think that nuclear will sink under its own weight," she said. "Nuclear is the least likely option to be built, due to the financial risk."

Plans to build 22 miles of concrete levees on the Rio Grande in Hidalgo County, Texas, to ameliorate flooding and discourage illegal immigration traffic, face opposition from environmental activists. “Every environmental problem that was associated with the fence is the same or worse with this (concrete) wall idea,” said Jim Chapman, chair of the Club's Lower Rio Grande Valley Group.

On its editorial page, the Capitol Times in Madison, Wisconsin, backed a state bill, supported by the Sierra Club's John Muir Chapter, that would prohibit retail stories from distributing non-biodegradable plastic bags to customers. They're debating a ban on plastic bags in Maui too. And a similar ban in Annapolis, Maryland, supported by the Sierra Club failed last November, but now the council is considering a measure to distribute reusable bags to residents.

Chris Wilhite, director of the Sierra Club Rhode Island Chapter, and George Nee, treasurer-secretary of the Rhode Island AFL-CIO, jointly penned an op ed in the Providence Journal about how renewable-energy and energy-efficiency could "jolt Rhode Island back to life" and "create a whole new generation of good-paying manufacturing jobs."

It took Matthew Schwartz, a Club outings leader from Broward County, Florida, five hours of bushwhacking through Big Cypress National Preserve to find a Florida panther paw print in the swamp muck. But the panther track underscores the Club's opposition to ORV use in the Bear Island region of the preserve.

In suburban Minneapolis-St. Paul, promoters of a region-wide transit system are giving free coffee to commuters this week in selected bus stations, courtesy of the Sierra Club and several other community groups and coffee vendors, and in Corpus Christi, Texas, Pat Suter, chair of the Club's Coastal Bend Group, and her teammate Phyllis Yochem, competed with 15 other teams in the Coastal Birding Challenge, a bird counting game to raise money for a local bird and animal rehabilitation center. The winning team identified 107 species in a 24-hour period.


Club Protects Salmon, Wins Plaudits from President

February 21, 2008

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"Never in my life did I think I'd receive a letter from President Bush recognizing my 'dedicated efforts to help keep America beautiful for future generations and build a cleaner, safer, and healthier environment for people everywhere,'" says Alaska Sierra Club organizer Katherine Fuselier.

The Club received the letter from Bush as part of an award from the Coastal America program for its involvement with the Salmon in the City program in Anchorage. The program works to ensure healthy populations of Pacific salmon in an urban setting, and emphasizes the economic, cultural, and recreational importance of sustaining salmon in Anchorage.

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"The Sierra Club plays a central role in the program's public education and outreach efforts, mainly through the Salmon in the City Festival that's been held every summer for the past six years," says Fuselier, pictured above with a young helper, working on a salmon mural project at last year's festival. The banner was displayed at the festival, pictured atop this post, and now hangs in the mayor's office in Anchorage.

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Fuselier says the Club also organizes watershed walks, fishing derbies, salmon fries, and Salmon & Beer events to promote public awareness and help protect local salmon fisheries. Local activist and Salmon in the City Director David Wigglesworth is pictured above and below, leading a recent outing to the site of a former trailer park that has been reclaimed and restored. The Sierra Club went door-to-door to talk about the project and recruit volunteers.

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Learn more about what the Club is doing to protect wildlife and their habitat.

Photos by Katherine Fuselier, except photo of Fuselier by David Wigglesworth.

Surfers, Sierra Clubbers Celebrate

February 15, 2008

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Surfers and environmental groups in Orange County, California, have been fighting a proposed toll road through a world-renowned surf break (Trestles) for several years now, and last week, after a 12-hour hearing at the Del Mar Fairgrounds,  the state Coastal Commission voted 8-2 against a road. The proposed Foothill-South Toll Road would have cut through the heart of San Onofre State Beach located near San Clemente, destroying nearly 60 percent of the park, affecting a popular campground, pristine watershed, as well as the surf beach.

More than 3,000 people turned out at the hearing, many wearing "Save the Park" t-shirts and carrying signs and painted surfboards -- the largest turnout ever for a Coastal Commission hearing.

This was not only a big win for the Sierra Club's Friend of the Foothills project, but a testament to creative tactics and exceptional organizing by Brittany McKee, Mark Massara, Robin Everett, Rebecca Robles, Deborah Fry, Shannon Raj, Elizabeth Lambe, and others.

Here are just a few highlights of the campaign

  • In 2005, three dozen surfers presented a surfboard to Governor Schwarzenegger signed by a thousand activists expressing their opposition to the toll road. (See photo here.)
  • In January, activists set up 161 tents in front of the capitol in Sacramento -- to represent the 161 campsites that would be harmed by the Foothill South Toll Road. (See photo below.)
  • Native America activist Rebecca Robles, a member of the Achejeman tribe and a leader of the Sacred Sites Task Force of the Sierra Club, led about 85 people on an outing to the campground where she pointed out where the proposed road would harm her ancestral village.
  • On the morning of the hearing, Brittany McKee and Robin Everett organized two buses going to the hearing from San Clemente. (That's Robin above, holding the surfboard over her head.) Many participants signed decorative surfboards that were later presented to the commissioners by Mark Massara, Sierra Club Coastal Director, who testified on behalf of the Club.
Add to this dozens of community meetings, phone banking, mailing, and press briefings. Congratulations to all the volunteers and staff who contributed to this victory.

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