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Marching for the Mountains


On Valentine's Day, an estimated 1,500 Kentuckains showed their love for their mountains by marching and rallying on the steps of the State Capitol in Frankfort to celebrate I Love Mountains Day.


The annual event is led by the Kentuckians for the Commonwealth (KFTC), with support from the Sierra Club's Cumberland Chapter and a host of other groups including the Kentucky Environmental Foundation, Interfaith Power and Light, and the Louisville Climate Action Network, among many others.


The Sierra Club and KFTC have been working hand-in-hand for years to end the destructive practice of mountaintop removal coal mining in eastern Kentucky.


"The Sierra Club has been supporting this event for many years, and we mobilized a lot of our members to go," says Louisville-based Sierra Club organizer Thomas Pearce. "It's always an empowering day. People who love our sacred mountains come together in greater and greater numbers every year and send a strong message to the Kentucky state government that we want them to protect our mountains and our water, and stand up for a better quality of life for the people of Appalachia."


Drew Foley, chair of the Greater Louisville Sierra Club, and his wife Jayne were among the ralliers. That's the Foleys, at left above and below, holding the Sierra Club banner on the capitol steps.


"This is the third year we've done the march, and it's always a great experience," Drew says. "We gather at a bridge over the Kentucky River and then walk about half a mile up the hill to the capitol. There's chanting, signing, people are carrying signs, banners, American flags, valentines for the governor—it's fun. But it's for a serious purpose; outlawing mountaintop removal and protecting Kentucky's streams."


Continue reading "Marching for the Mountains" »

Inner City Outings: Where Are We Going Next?

March 08, 2013

ICO Atlanta

Of all the lessons Inner City Outings teaches to kids, one that stands out is that there are always special natural places nearby to explore. And in Atlanta, outings leaders have a lot to choose from: Fort Yargo State Park, Blood Mountain, Kennesaw Mountain…the list goes on.

"This weekend we're going caving in Raccoon Mountain Caverns in Chattanooga," ICO leader Susie Scarr says. "We ask the kids whether they've been camping, and most of them have not. Usually these trips are a first time for them. We went to hike at Kennesaw Mountain, and half of them had never even been on a hike or a trail. It opens their eyes to what's available to them and what they are able to enjoy."

ICO's Atlanta group is one of 50 groups across the country that connects city kids with nature. ICO leads 800 outings a year and serves about 14,000 kids, providing memorable, educational outdoor experiences they would not otherwise have. 

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Inspiration Through Inner City Outings

February 27, 2013

Chicago ICO
That's ICO leader Chris Grenier, in the upper left, having fun.

Years ago, while doing trail maintenance in the White Mountains, Chris Grenier listened to one of the leaders describe hiking the Appalachian Trail.

"He had story after story," Chris recalls.

Chris had limited hiking and camping experience up to that point. But, inspired by what he had heard, Chris hiked the Appalacian Trail two years later.

"And now, thanks to Inner City Outings, I have story after story when kids ask me about the various places I've been. It's a great topic around the campfire."

Chris is a leader with ICO's Chicago group, which helps kids who would otherwise not get the chance to experience the outdoors connect with nature. Inner City Outings is made up of 50 groups across the country, leading more than 800 outings each year and serving more than 14,000 kids.

Chicago ICO

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Georgia Activists Greet Obama, Keep the Pressure On

February 21, 2013


It's hard to catch a president whose travel schedule is always up in the air. But that didn't discourage Georgia activists from greeting President Obama during a recent last-minute stop in Atlanta.

Mere days after President Obama used strong words to address the climate crisis in his State of the Union address, organizers and activists mobilized quickly after Beyond Coal campaign leaders learned about the president's pit stop, turning out more than 30 people to a rapid-response text message.

Nearly half the responders -- "mostly first time action takers" according to Sierra Club Conservation Organizer Seth Gunning -- gathered to make signs, buttons, and banners beforehand. Then more than three dozen activists showed up to greet the president at his Decatur, Ga., visit.


The goal was to urge the president to make good on his promise to take immediate, strong action on climate disruption. During his State of the Union address, Obama said, "We can choose to believe that Superstorm Sandy, and the most severe drought in decades, and the worst wildfires some states have ever seen, were all just a freak coincidence. Or we can choose to believe in the overwhelming judgment of science, and act before it's too late."

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Enormous Grassroots Response to Coal Export Plan in Washington

February 19, 2013

WA Beyond Coal 1

How many messages do you need to leave before they get the hint?

One can only wonder what Big Coal is thinking after more than 124,000 comments poured onto the desks of decision-makers who will be overseeing an environmental impact statement concerning a massive coal exporting scheme that would alter Washington state's coastline and send countless coal trains through people's neighborhoods.

The issue surrounds Cherry Point, where SSA Marine wants to build an export terminal that would connect the coal mines of Powder River Basin with energy-hungry East Asia.

Mayor Coal Train 01

It's one part of a larger plan to open up the coastline to coal exports and completely reverse any progress on the climate crisis. It would send millions of tons of coal each year through Washington communities and farmland, clogging up rail lines and roads and leaving coal dust behind.

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Riding the Earth Train to Washington

February 15, 2013


By Claire Currens,

On February 15, more than 70 Minnesotans discovered that changing one word can help change the world. As they gathered at the St. Paul Amtrak station, a flash mob blossomed, singing, "Ride on the earth train" — a heartfelt adaptation of Cat Stevens' "Peace Train."

Photo courtesy of Minnesota Progressive Project

The dream of an earth train was born last November 30 as Susan and Jim Lenfestey left Bill McKibben's Do the Math tour feeling inspired and ready for action. Bill had suggested that attendees join him for a rally in Washington, D.C., in February (the Forward on Climate rally), to encourage President Obama to take meaningful action towards a clean, sustainable energy future. Susan joked, "Well, we know we can't fly. Let's take the train!"


Her offhanded joke was really a deeper reflection of a commitment to a clean energy future. Planes are one of the biggest contributors of carbon pollution, and if we are to significantly lower the carbon in our atmosphere, limiting our air travel is an excellent place to start. The train ride to D.C. will be long, but it will be a chance to enjoy the landscape, engage with other passengers, and minimize carbon emissions on a long journey. (Read more about Amtrak's commitment to environmental sustainability). Below, Minneapolis organizer Julia Nerbonne at the Earth Train sendoff.


"This is a hopeful campaign, not a doomsday campaign," said Susan Lenfestey. The group of 72 Minnesotans comes from all walks of life; the full range of the human family is on board, from one-year-olds to toddlers to retirees. Below, Minneapolis resident Terry Hokenson and Minnesota State Representative Frank Hornstein.


Others climbing aboard the train included storyteller Kevin Kling, National Book Award-winning author Louise Erdrich, musicians Prudence Johnson and Simone Perrin, Kate Jacobson of, and Margaret Levin of the Sierra Club (below, speaking, to the right of the banner). They are all united by a hope and a shared sense of urgency. "We're all on the earth train, aren't we?" said author and activist Jim Lenfestey. "It's the responsibility of all of us to keep it on the rails."


Riding the earth train is about bringing forth that message, and encouraging President Obama to make clean energy and a sustainable future his top priority. That means canceling the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline. If the pipeline is constructed, it will increase dependence on oil and postpone the implementation of sustainable energy sources. In order to realize this goal, these Minnesotans know they have to bring forth the political will and demonstrate widespread support. Senator Al Franken, for example, supported the president's rejection of the Keystone pipeline last year, and we need him to stand strong again. Riding the train, joining in community together instead of flying, is one of many ways they demonstrate that support.


As the flash mob reached a crescendo, a young woman named Allie Byrd (above, with braid) stepped up and said, "I'm riding the earth train because the adults aren't paying attendion." A poignant message, capturing the urgency of the issue. And while Jim Lenfestey (below) is happy to hear such conviction, he believes the responsibility cannot be placed solely on the next generation. "All of us contributed unwittingly to this problem and we need to take our responsibility seriously," he says.


That's the beautiful part of the Earth Train message, all generations have a responsibility to address the growing threat of climate change, with urgency and hope. We are all on the Earth Train, and we've all played a role in the climate crisis, however inadvertently. Instead of being burdened by guilt or fear of failure, the passengers on the Earth Train are energized and ready to ensure a clean energy future for all aboard the Earth Train.


Beating the Drums Against Coal in Montana

February 12, 2013


When the Montana Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) tried to mute public opposition to the proposed Otter Creek coal mine in southeastern Montana, the Sierra Club, the National Wildlife Federation, and members of the Northern Cheyenne Nation called them on their tactics and made their voices heard.

The Otter Creek coal tracts, below, contain approximately 1.3 billion tons of coal that, once strip-mined and burned, would emit roughly 2.4 billion tons of climate-disrupting pollution into the atmosphere. Otter Creek Coal, a subsidiary of Arch Coal, has leased 616 million tons of that coal from the State of Montana.

Photo by Kestrel Aerial Services, courtesy of the Montana Environmental Information Center

The DEQ set up a "scoping hearing" in Lame Deer, Montana—home of the Northern Cheyenne tribal headquarters—to accept public comments on the Otter Creek project. But instead of allowing people to stand up and speak in public, DEQ set up an "open house" which provided information but effectively kept public comments off the record.

"The open house format features a lot of different tables where people can mill around," says Montana-based Sierra Club organizer Mike Scott. "But if people want to comment they have to go sit down with someone from DEQ instead of being heard by the public. When people get up and speak in public, it's a totally different dynamic—it can make others think about the situation differently. The open house format was a way for DEQ to make sure they were controlling all the information."

That's Scott, below at left, with Northern Cheyenne activists Martin Braided Hair and Tom Mexican Cheyenne.


The scoping hearing in Lame Deer was one of several on the Otter Creek project, all held in communities near the proposed mine, so the Sierra Club, NWF, and Northern Cheyenne knew about DEQ's open house tactic in advance. "We were able to organize the group together pretty quickly and develop a plan," Scott says.

We'll let Scott describe what ensured:

Continue reading "Beating the Drums Against Coal in Montana" »

It's Time: Move America Forward on Climate

February 08, 2013


By Michael Marx, Senior Campaign Director, Beyond Oil

It sounds like the set-up for a bad joke: "A bright-eyed college student from upstate New York, a soft-spoken Unitarian from Santa Barbara, California, an environmental justice advocate from the Texas Gulf Coast, and a retired elementary school teacher and grandmother from Nebraska all get on the same bus…"

But it's real—an amazing grassroots movement demanding solutions to the climate crisis, gaining momentum from coast to coast in preparation for the Forward on Climate rally on February 17. The Sierra Club and, along with more than 120 partner organizations, are expecting tens of thousands of Americans to gather in front of the White House the Sunday of President's Day weekend, making Forward on Climate the largest climate-related rally in U.S. history.

Over the past few weeks, I've had the privilege of talking with activists who are organizing carpools, buses, and van rides, participating in phonebanks, building Facebook events, drumming up press coverage, and working around-the-clock to organize their communities for the Washington, D.C., rally.

The goal of the rally is to demand that President Obama move America forward on climate in 2013 with decisive action to reduce dangerous carbon pollution, phase out carbon-intensive fossil fuels, and lead the way in promoting energy efficiency and clean-energy sources. The first steps he must take are to finalize strong carbon-pollution standards for power plants and reject the proposed Keystone XL tar sands pipeline.

John Bolenbaugh, a Navy veteran from Battle Creek, Michigan, will be participating in the rally. "I'm a different man than I used to be," John says. "I used to be just a normal union worker. I never thought I'd become an activist. But that all changed when I saw what these Big Oil companies were doing to my community." 

In July 2010, a tar sands pipeline burst near Battle Creek, spilling more than a million gallons of oil into the Kalamazoo River. John worked for a Michigan-based company that was contracted by Enbridge, a Canadian tar sands oil company and the owner of the pipeline, to clean up the spill. 

But after a few weeks on the job, John realized "they weren't cleaning up properly. Oil was being buried instead of cleaned up. And all that oil that was being buried could drip down into the groundwater. All these chemicals could make us sick."

John lodged complaints with the EPA, Enbridge, and his local employer about seeing the oil being buried. "No one would do anything about it," he says. "One night, I came to Enbridge and said, 'I live here, and I don't want to see this happen. Kids are swimming in the river.' The next day my boss let me go. It was a good job, and the economy is bad in Michigan. But I couldn't sleep at night, seeing all this happen."

Since losing his job, John has become an outspoken opponent of the Keystone pipeline, which would stretch 1,700 miles across American six states, carrying up to 830,000 barrels per day of toxic tar sands crude.  And he is among the tens of thousands of people demanding that President Obama reject TransCanada's permits for the pipeline. Tar sands crude is the dirtiest oil on earth, with more heavy metals and cancer-causing toxins than conventional oil, and a production process that creates up to three times more climate-disrupting pollution. Tar sands pipelines are dangerous—an earlier TransCanada pipeline suffered 14 spills in its first 12 months of operation.

John says he's traveling to Washington, D.C., to tell President Obama: "I've seen the damage from a tar sands oil spill. It's killed people and poisoned our water and land. If you allow this pipeline to be built, Mr. President, it will happen again. There will be a spill along the pipeline route, and it could be above the aquifer that gives us 30 percent of our water in the Midwest. We can't let this happen."

John's voice—along with those of the New York college student, the Santa Barbara churchgoer, the Texan environmental justice activist, and the Nebraska grandmother—is going to ring out loud and clear on February 17.  President Obama must lead our nation in the transition to a clean-energy economy that will create jobs, clean our air and water, protect our wild places, and improve our health. It's time to move America Forward on Climate.


Angry in Indy: Activists Take On Big Coal's Plan to Raise Rates

February 06, 2013

Indiana Beyond Coal

Big Coal got a rude awakening recently after angry customers and clean-air advocates in Indiana filled a public hearing after Indianapolis Power & Light (IPL) released a proposal to increase rates. The utility's at least $510 million plan toward pollution controls at two old, dirty coal plants excluded any hope for investing that money into forward-thinking clean energy.

"If we're going to have a rate increase, it would be better to invest in a plant that isn't going to poison our air and contaminate our soil with mercury," said City Councilman Zach Adamson in the Indianapolis Star.

Beyond Coal Organizer Megan Anderson said her team had less than two weeks to mobilize activists and turn out for the recent Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission hearing. About 150 people showed up with 33 testifying, some waiting as long as three hours to give the commission their two cents.

"The team went all-in for this critical event," said Anderson. "We held multiple phone banks, did one-on-one outreach, and leveraged our grassroots and grasstops networks. Our leaders spent hours inviting petition signers and we saw huge success as a result."

Continue reading "Angry in Indy: Activists Take On Big Coal's Plan to Raise Rates" »

Sierra & Tierra: Were Your Children Born a Generation Too Late?

February 04, 2013

By Javier Sierra

Are you ready to tell your children they were born a generation too late? That there is nothing you can do to fight the destruction of the earth’s climate?

Me neither. And perhaps you’d like to know that there is a whole lot we all can do to confront the most serious challenge of our era.

And there is very good news about this. President Obama, in his second inaugural address, stated the most categorical declaration of intentions against climate disruption in the history of the US presidency.

“We will respond to the threat of climate change, knowing that failure to do so would betray our children and future generations,” Mr. Obama said, devoting more time to this subject than to any other in his speech. “Some may still deny the overwhelming judgment of science, but none can avoid the devastating impact of raging fires, and crippling drought, and more powerful storms.”

It’s in President Obama’s power to do more to fight climate disruption than any other human being on earth. For starters, he can, and must, keep fossil fuel corporations accountable for their carbon, soot, smog and mercury pollution, which poisons everyone’s air and water, especially those of Latino communities.

This climatic threat is also a unique opportunity for our country’s prosperity. The President must double down on clean energy by opening innovative financial and investment avenues for energy efficiency and renewable energy, thus creating millions of jobs and revitalizing the national economy.

The climate violence we are already experiencing underlines the urgency to protect our communities even more. The President must marshal his federal government to ensure equal, appropriate and just emergency and disaster responses, bearing in mind minority communities are the most vulnerable to climate disruption.

President Obama also has the unique opportunity to protect the nation’s lands and wildlife from oil, coal and gas exploitation. The natural legacy is not ours. We just borrowed it from the next generation.

But his most pressing decision is to reject the permit to build a veritable climate bomb, the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline, which would transport the dirtiest crude on the planet from Alberta, Canada, to the Gulf of Mexico.

Climate experts call it a climate bomb because the burning of this crude of extremely high carbon content would cause irreparable damage to the planet’s atmospheric balance.

Stop the pipeline parade 3

The pipeline poses such a grave threat to the future of humanity the Sierra Club and several other environmental groups have organized a rally —the largest in the history of America’s environmental movement— on Feb. 17 at the National Mall in front of the White House to put pressure on the Obama administration. And then another one will also take place in Washington, DC, on April 22, Earth Day, to culminate this crucial campaign.

Humankind finds itself at a historic crossroads that will define the future of our children and grandchildren, whether they will have a benign climate in which to prosper or a hostile one that will make life on our planet a constant challenge.

But I do have faith that our descendants will read in their history books that in the early months of 2013 our society refused to tell their sons and daughters that they were born a generation too late.

Javier Sierra is a Sierra Club columnist. Follow him on Twitter @javier_SC

Clean Energy Rally Sends Utah Governor a Message

January 31, 2013


When Utah Governor Gary Herbert convened his annual two-day Energy Summit inside Salt Lake City's Salt Palace this month, some 200 demonstrators gathered outside on the plaza in front of the building and staged a Clean Energy Rally to protest the governor's energy policies.


"The Energy Summit is basically the governor's annual love fest with the fossil fuels industry," said Salt Lake City-based Sierra Club organizer Tim Wagner, below at the rally with his wife and fellow Sierra Club activist Shawna Hershfield.


Lest this sound like hyperbole, consider this editorial from the Salt Lake Tribune, entitled Energy summit: Policies make Utahns the losers:

"Gov. Gary Herbert's energy summit this week was not about promoting job growth or economic development. Not really. The meeting mostly served to bring Herbert and his single-minded energy advisers and like-minded legislators together with fossil-fuel developers. ... The discussion was not about how to improve life for Utahns, but about boosting the bottom lines of industries that inevitably will leave Utah economically vulnerable, dirtier and less healthy. ... In short, the summit resembled a meeting of an exclusive club that might as well have had a 'No renewables allowed' sign tacked on the Salt Palace door."


"We went after the governor from numerous angles at the rally," Wagner says, "including what his energy policies mean for Utah's spectacular public lands, our health, and the state's lackluster performance when it comes to capitalizing on the clean-energy economy. Utah is dead last among the western states."


Carrying signs reading "Don't frack with Utah!" and "Your Children Are Breathing Your Mistakes," demonstrators chanted, "Dirty Gary, make our day/Get real on climate right away/Dirty Gary, make our day/Wind and solar are here to stay."


The Clean Energy Rally was organized by the Sierra Club, HEAL Utah, and Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment, with active participation from a wide range of groups including the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, Utah Moms for Clean Air, Utah Tar Sands Resistance, Peaceful Uprising, the Utah Clean Air Alliance, and Backcountry Hunters and Anglers.

Continue reading "Clean Energy Rally Sends Utah Governor a Message" »

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