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Club Staffers Back Up President Obama at Acceptance Speech

November 07, 2012


Who are those smiling folks above? From left to right, Chicago-based Sierra Club staffers Claire Orphan, Emily Rosenwasser, and Colleen Sarna, and Sarna's husband Thom Cmar, backstage at McCormick Place in Chicago, where President Obama gave his acceptance speech late Tuesday night after winning reelection.


Orphan and Rosenwasser are press secretaries with the Club's Beyond Coal campaign and Sarna is a Chicago-based online organizer.


"We just got pulled from the crowd as we were walking into McCormick Place and asked if we wanted to sit onstage behind President Obama when he spoke," Rosenwasser says. "We ended up in the fourth row in back of Obama!" Below, the onstage crowd gets fired up just moments before the president's acceptance speech.


We'll let Rosenwasser describe how the events of the evening unfolded:

Continue reading "Club Staffers Back Up President Obama at Acceptance Speech" »

Huge Turnout in Washington State for Hearing on Coal Export Terminal

October 31, 2012


On Saturday, October 27, an estimated 2,000 people stood in line for hours in the pouring rain in Bellingham, Washington, to participate in the first of seven public hearings to gather public feedback on the proposed Cherry Point coal export terminal near Bellingham.


"Citizens opposing the terminal overwhelmingly dominated the hearing," says Cesia Kearns, an organizer with the Sierra Club's Beyond Coal campaign. "Only about 30 people spoke in favor of the project, and most of them were Gateway Pacific Terminal staff."


The Sierra Club and its partners in the Power Past Coal coalition have been preparing for over a year for the "scoping hearings," which will define the scope of the environmental impact statement for the Cherry Point terminal. The Club and its allies succeeded in securing multiple scoping hearings throughout Washington State.


"We set out on to make this a state-wide and regional fight, and to take into account all the impacts of the proposal, from mine to rail and port to plant," says Kearns. "We've made the scoping hearings a major priority, focusing especially on the first hearing in Bellingham, which has now set the tone for the other hearings."


The Club has been working for the last year-and-a-half to educate the public in the Pacific Northwest about the risks and folly of transporting more than 100 million tons of coal a year in open train cars from Wyoming and Montana to five proposed coal export terminals on the Washington and Oregon coasts. To date, Seattle, Portland, and numerous other cities and locales in Washington and Oregon have passed resolutions opposing the coal export terminals.


Continue reading "Huge Turnout in Washington State for Hearing on Coal Export Terminal" »

Sierra Club, Anglers Prevail in Fight to Protect Legendary Trout Stream

October 26, 2012

Creative Commons photo courtesy of Pretty Emmy

After a nearly decade-long battle, the Sierra Club and Anglers of the Au Sable won a huge victory when Savoy Energy, a Michigan-based oil-and-gas exploration company, withdrew a permit request to drill for gas underneath the Mason Tract near northern Michigan's Au Sable River. The Mason Tract and the Au Sable are hallowed ground for anglers, sportsmen, outdoor recreationists, and conservationists.

Photo courtesy of Anglers of the Au Sable

"This is a victory for everyone—the environment, the state of Michigan, and the people who enjoy and appreciate the beauty of the Au Sable River," says Anne Woiwode, director of the Sierra Club's Michigan Chapter.


Featured in the book Fifty Places to Fly Fish Before you Die, the Au Sable is a Wild & Scenic River, a designated blue ribbon trout stream, and is widely considered to be one of the premier brown trout fisheries east of the Rockies—many would say in the entire Lower 48. Anglers, who come from all over the world to fish the Au Sable, refer to one especially renowned stretch of the river as "the Holy Water" (pictured below).

Photo by Adolph Greenberg

Among the many heroes in the fight to protect the Au Sable and the Mason Tract are Sierra Club forest ecologist Marvin Roberson, chapter volunteer Nancy Shiffler, Sierra Club attorney Marianne Dugan, and Calvin "Rusty" Gates, who founded Anglers of the Au Sable in 1987 with five other Michigan anglers. A former "Angler of the Year" in Fly Rod & Reel magazine, Gates served as president of Anglers of the Au Sable from its founding until 2009, when he died at age 54 after a year-long battle with lung cancer.


"Rusty was a quiet guy, but when he spoke, people listened," says Bruce Pregler, the current president of Anglers of the Au Sable. "He knew how to find the right players and get them involved. We met with Marvin in 2003 and developed a battle plan, and the Sierra Club brought key people to the table for us, like Marianne Dugan, who was just phenomenal. Once we got in the trenches it was a total team effort. This victory is a tribute to the perseverance of the Sierra Club and Anglers of the Au Sable."

Savoy Energy's proposal to drill in a renowned angler's paradise helped cement the alliance between sportsmen and conservationists in Michigan. "Anglers are up in arms over this," Gates said in 2006, when the area was still very much under threat. "We'll be darned if they're going to ruin once of the most special places we've got left."

Two years earlier in the town of Grayling, the closest town of any size to the Mason Tract, 500 of the town's 2,000 residents showed up to speak out against drilling at a public hearing. Roberson says Savoy's drilling proposal elicited more public comments than any project in Michigan's history. And the Sierra Club and Anglers of the Au Sable were the catalysts for this outpouring.

"The combination of the Sierra Club's policy expertise coupled with the extensive on-the-ground knowledge of Anglers of the Au Sable made for a terrific partnership," says Roberson, pictured below in the Mason Tract. "The Mason Tract is safe for now, but we have to stay vigilant and hope this sets a precedent so other companies won't try to foolishly drill near our few remaining precious pieces of wilderness."


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Big Coal Bullying Prompts University to Destroy Artwork

October 25, 2012


Bullied by coal companies and their allies in the Wyoming legislature, the University of Wyoming earlier this year caved to threats that millions of dollars in funding were in jeopardy if they didn't remove an outdoor art installation on the university campus that Big Coal deemed offensive.

The sculpture, "Carbon Sink: What Goes Around Comes Around," was installed on the campus by British artist Chris Drury in July 2011. A spiral of logs made from trees killed by a pine-beetle infestation, the center of the 36-foot-diameter sculpture featured coal-blackened logs surrounded by lumps of coal.


The $45,000 piece was paid for by an anonymous donor and the Wyoming Cultural Trust. Drury, pictured below installing the piece, said the sculpture wasn't intended as a political statement, but he hoped it would prompt viewers to "have a conversation about climate change," which scientists say has exacerbated a pine beetle infestation that has decimated more than 3 million acres of lodgepole pine forest in Wyoming.


But no sooner had the piece been installed than fossil fuel executives and coal-friendly lawmakers began lashing out, implying that the university was treading on thin ice.

"While I would never tinker with the University of Wyoming budget—I'm a great supporter of the university—every now and then you have these opportunities to educate some of the folks at the University of Wyoming about where their paychecks come from," state legislator and Republican majority leader Tom Lubnau told the Casper Star-Tribune.

Martin Loomis, executive director of the Wyoming Mining Association, pointed out in the same newspaper that the university "get[s] millions of dollars in royalties from oil, gas, and coal to run the university, and then they put up a monument attacking me and demonizing the industry. I understand academic freedom, and we're very supportive of it, but it's still disappointing."

Initially the university insisted that the sculpture would remain in place for at least two years and perhaps indefinitely as it naturally decayed. But behind the scenes, much stronger language and tactics were being used to cow university officials, as revealed by emails requested by Wyoming Public Radio and obtained by the Star-Tribune.

Continue reading "Big Coal Bullying Prompts University to Destroy Artwork" »

Floating Beyond Coal in Asheville

October 19, 2012


On October 14, the Sierra Club teamed up with half-a-dozen allied groups comprising the Asheville Beyond Coal Coalition to create a 34-boat flotilla on Lake Julian in front of the Asheville Plant, a coal-fired generating station in Asheville, North Carolina.


Undeterred by windy, rainy weather, more than a hundred citizens took to the water in kayaks and canoes and deployed three 17-foot-long banners with the Asheville Plant as a backdrop, sending the message, "Let's Move Asheville Beyond Coal."


"This is the largest Beyond Coal flotilla yet," says Sierra Club organizer Kelly Martin, below. The Club has organized similar floating rallies recently in Baltimore, Seattle, and other locales around the country.


Back on dry land, participants took further action by signing petition postcards and drafting a letter-to-the-editor for submission to area newspapers. "The afternoon wrapped up with solar-powered bluegrass music, food, mingling, and fun!" says Martin.


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A Clear Energy Choice in Chicago

October 18, 2012


The choice is clear.

Less than three months after Chicago turned off two coal plants that were harming the health of local communities, voters will have the chance to give a nod to clean energy this November. A referendum on the ballot – if approved – would allow the city to purchase its energy from different sources, such as residents who generate power from clean energy.

"We are trying to enlighten and inform as many people as possible on this, and of course, we only have a few months to do it," 20-year Sierra Club activist Rose Gomez said last month. "Our coalition is made up of nearly 20 different organizations and everyone is reaching out and working with the same effort to get to as many votes as possible."

To help push the referendum past the goal line, Sierra Club activists joined the Chicago Clean Power Coalition in launching Chicago Community Energy Choice, a campaign to mobilize voters and city leaders to make clean energy a top priority. Earlier this month, campaign organizers helped turn out 100 volunteers at City Hall, who delivered 3,000 petition signatures to the desk of Mayor Rahm Emanuel.


The event featured speakers from Blue Green Alliance, Respiratory Health Association, Little Village Environmental Justice Organization, and Solar Service.

"Not only could Chicago see significant cost savings by using its collective bargaining power, but the city could also see a new energy plan crafted with a focus on clean, renewable power," said Christine Nannicelli, a Sierra Club organizer.

Continue reading "A Clear Energy Choice in Chicago" »

Georgia Activists Rally for Offshore Wind Power

October 15, 2012


Between 300 and 400 Georgia Sierra Club members and supporters came together on Tybee Island, near Savannah, for an end-of-summer rally to support the Production Tax Credit (PTC) and the creation of wind energy jobs in Georgia.


The "Wind Works: for Jobs, for Georgians" rally was co-sponsored by the Sierra Club and the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy.


Volunteers gathered more than 150 petition signatures asking Governor Nathan Deal to encourage the creation of wind-energy jobs in Georgia by joining the Atlantic Offshore Wind Energy Consortium. Deal is one of only two Atlantic coast governors not currently working with the Department of Interior's "Smart from the Start" program to kick-start wind energy jobs and development and streamline the permitting process. If the PTC isn't renewed by the end of this year, the U.S. wind industry would take a major hit and 35,000 to 40,000 jobs could be lost.


Wind-energy supporters wrote to the governor, engaged beach-goers with kite flying, helped kids make pinwheels, and talked up offshore wind energy and its job-creating potential in interviews with local newspapers and television stations.


Above, two local residents tell the camera why they support offshore wind. Below, Savannah-based country rockers The Train Wrecks—"the hardest-gigging band in Savannah"—were on hand to lend their musical and moral support to the cause.


Continue reading "Georgia Activists Rally for Offshore Wind Power" »

Arkansans Speak Up for a Clean-Energy Future

October 11, 2012

Sierra Club Organizer Lev Guter.

Sierra Club activists, supporters, and friends held several successful town halls to call on Arkansas Governor Mike Beebe to move the state beyond coal and push for a clean-energy economy that will provide good jobs. Town hall attendance surpassed 300 people, ranging from toddlers to college students to seniors.

"This has helped build the momentum to influence the creation of a clean and sustainable energy plan that will later be turned into proposed bills and voted on early next year," said Lev Guter, a Sierra Club Arkansas organizer.

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Monument to a National Treasure

October 10, 2012

Official White House photo by Pete Souza

By Leslie Fields, Sierra Club Environmental Justice and Community Partnerships Director

On October 8, on a gorgeous early autumn day in the oak-dappled foothills of California's Tehachapi Mountains, President Obama formally designated the César E. Chávez National Monument. The designation is the fourth of Obama's presidency, but the first-ever national monument dedicated to a Latino.

Below, the president with Helen Chávez at her late husband's gravesite at Nuestra Señora Reina de la Paz (Our Lady Queen of Peace), or La Paz, in the town of Keene, California, site of the new national monument.

Official White House photo by Pete Souza

"César Chávez was a true labor and environmental champion whose work helped result in the passage of landmark laws that protect our air, water, land, and—most important—people," said Sierra Club executive director Michael Brune. "His work helped link people's health and the environment, and his fight for environmental justice is one that the Sierra Club remains committed to today."


César Chávez was one of the forefathers of the environmental justice movement, which includes where people live, work, play, go to school, and worship. The farmworker movement led the way for better working conditions, chemical/pesticide policies, housing, improved health and education outcomes, immigration status, and access to justice.

President Obama greeted the crowd, estimated at 7,000, with an exhortation of "Si, se puede"—the motto of the United Farm Workers: "Yes, it can be done"—and they roared back with a chant of, "Four more years! Four more years!"

Screen shot from official White House video

The ceremony took place at La Paz, Chávez's former home and later the headquarters of the United Farmworkers, which Chávez and fellow labor leader and civil rights activist Dolores Huerta co-founded in 1962 as the National Farm Workers Association. Huerta was among those on hand for the President's speech, in which he acknowledged Huerta by name.

"Today, La Paz joins a long line of national monuments stretching from the Statue of Liberty to the Grand Canyon—monuments that tell the story of who we are as Americans," President Obama said. "It's a story of natural wonders and modern marvels; of fierce battles and quiet progress. But it's also the story of people-of determined, fearless, hopeful people who have always been willing to devote their lives to making this country a little more just and a little more free.

"One of those people lies here, beneath a rose garden at the foot of a hill he used to climb to watch the sun rise. And so today we celebrate César Chávez."

Continue reading "Monument to a National Treasure" »

How One Activist Holds Big Coal Accountable in Kentucky

October 04, 2012

KY Kathy LittleNearby families breathed a little easier after Louisville Gas and Electric (LG&E) reversed course and withdrew plans to build a coal-burning waste dump at its Cane Run site. The news concluded a three-year battle between the coal plant and Sierra Club activists and nearby communities.

One of those activists was Kathy Little, who lives down the street from the Cane Run site. Kathy was named 2011 Louisvillian of the Year by LEO Weekly, Louisville's weekly magazine. She was also awarded the Sierra Club's 2012 Special Achievement Award for her instrumental role in LG&E’s decision to convert its coal plant to natural gas.

As LEO's profile explains it, Kathy's story of activism started with the view from her porch, which included open acres of farms and orchards when she bought her home in 1979. It's a different story these days. The Cane Run site got a lot bigger. Which is why Kathy uses YouTube and the media to share images of LG&E's dangerous coal dust, like the following:

Continue reading "How One Activist Holds Big Coal Accountable in Kentucky" »

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