Sierra Club

To Safeguard the Paris Agreement, Trade Deals Must Align With Climate Policy

The Paris Climate Agreement is now a reality. More than 55 countries representing over 55 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions have ratified the pact, which means the historic agreement is set to enter into force faster than was ever anticipated. As we celebrate this landmark and get ready to grapple with the next steps of how to implement it—a key topic of discussion at COP 22, the upcoming international climate conference in Marrakesh, Morocco—the U.S. Congress may soon vote on the massive Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) with 11 other countries, and the administration continues to negotiate the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) with the European Union.

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California’s World-Class Coastline Could Be Ravaged by Greedy Developers Because One Man Was Unjustly Fired

The most disturbing aspect of the February firing of the respected executive director of the California Coastal Commission, Charles Lester, is that it had so little to do with the coast itself — it was simply about money and power.

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Locavore Movement Overlooks Farmworkers

Locally-grown food from small farms, an alternative to food from “factory farms,” has become, thankfully, popular across the U.S, including the area covered by the Atlantic Chapter of the Sierra Club. On Long Island, where I live, Suffolk County remains the top agricultural county in terms of value of annual produce in New York.

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Grand Canyon Threatened by Uranium Mining

Editor's Note: View a slideshow from Post Carbon Institute with photos by Ecoflight to see the threatened land and take action.

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Senator Murkowski Teams Up Wth Energy Lobbyists to Derail the Regulation of Global Warming Pollution

I suppose it might be sad to say that we were and were not surprised to hear this week that two dirty energy lobbyists helped craft the effort to neuter the Clean Air Act, which could next appear as an amendment to the Senate’s debt ceiling vote next week.

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Mixed Bag on Coal Mining Decision from Obama Administration

This post was co-written by Bruce Nilles and Mary Anne Hitt, director and deputy director, respectively, of the Sierra Club Beyond Coal Campaign.

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South Carolina Stands Up to Big Coal

South Carolina is on the front lines of global warming, being that they are in the path of the more fierce hurricanes and rising sea levels. So it should be no surprise that a coalition has formed against the latest planned coal-fired power plant there – a 660-megawatt near the Pee Dee River area.

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Dynegy Abandons Plans for 5 New Coal Plants

The hints came down in December, but today it is confirmed: Dynegy is abandoning its plans to build five new coal plants as a joint venture with LS Power. Without its larger partner, LS Power will have a very difficult time developing and financing the proposed plants, even though the company has said it will try.

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Duke Energy Gets Slammed on Mercury Emissions

Duke Energy CEO Jim Rogers is the self-appointed coal industry leader in the green game -- he even got a nice spread in the New York Times earlier this year on his big ideas for climate legislation. And yet even the greenest of coal groups, Duke Energy isn't even taking basic steps to control harmful emissions like toxic mercury, much less global-warming-causing carbon dioxide.

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Voters Not Conned By Coal

This week's post was co-written by Mary Anne Hitt, the new deputy director of the National Coal Campaign.

Wow -- what an amazing and transformational time to be an American. Whether you have been voting for decades or you have just voted for the first time, the election of Barack Obama marks an incredible new chapter in the history of our nation, our planet, and our energy future.

In the midst of this renewed spirit of possibility and hope, it is worth noting that in the 11th hour of the Presidential election, as John McCain and Sarah Palin were making their last-ditch attempt to win swing states in America's heartland, they picked one final issue that they hoped would turn those states red. Of all the issues facing the nation -- the economy, health care, the war in Iraq -- which issue did the McCain campaign choose as its Hail Mary, its last hope to win the election?


Did you notice something else?

It didn't work.

When the votes were counted, McCain lost critical coal-producing states he hoped to win over with his last-minute coal blitz -- Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Virginia, to name a few.

The coal industry spent millions this election season, sponsoring the debates and the conventions and blanketing the nation with so-called "clean coal" ads. But I imagine it didn't fool you, and if the election of Barack Obama taught us anything, it's that the American people are ready for honesty and integrity, not spin from well-funded industries. While we heard a lot about clean coal during the election, you know the facts:

- Coal is not clean
- Coal is not cheap
- Coal is not a replacement for oil
- Coal is not abundant

In local elections coal also took a beating, because citizens understand the economic benefits offered by clean energy and demanded that America move beyond coal. 

Here are just two examples:  In Missouri, a state with a long history of coal burning, voters by a margin of 2:1 passed a statewide initiative requiring the state's utilities to turn away from coal and meet 15 percent of their energy needs with clean energy. With its strong manufacturing base and great potential for clean energy, Missouri is now racing to catch up with other Midwest states, such as Minnesota and Iowa, to be a part of this clean energy revolution.   

In Sevier County, Utah, voters overwhelmingly approved an initiative that gives local residents the right to reject zoning for dirty coal plants.  This is likely the end of a long battle over plans to build a new coal plant in that county.

Clearly, the next four years presents us with an incredible, historic opportunity. We can halt the runaway global warming, restore clean air across America, and swiftly end mountaintop removal mining, by moving America beyond coal.  This is a challenge that America is ready to face with creativity and ingenuity, and we will need the help of each and every one of you to ensure we create a truly independent, clean energy future for our nation and our planet. Please join us and sign up here to support the Sierra Club's campaign to move America beyond coal.

How the Government Is Helping Mining Companies Destroy Our Water

And then there were none...The Stream Buffer Zone Rule, the last remaining legal impediment to devastating mountaintop removal coal mining is now just one step away from being abolished, thanks to an Office of Surface Mining decision announced late last week.

On Friday, the Office of Surface Mining (OSM) released its assessment of stream buffer zones - basically giving mining companies the environmental green light to dump mining waste in or near streams.

For years the OSM has failed to enforce the Stream Buffer Zone Rule, which prevents mining within 100 feet of streams, in communities across Appalachia. So instead of enforcing the current law, the OSM decided to just get rid of it - saying this is best possible protection for the environment. In fact, OSM failed even to consider the concept of enforcing the current rule to protect streams and limit the size of mining waste disposal areas in its decision making.  All the alternatives considered involved mining in and around streams.

This decision seems to only aim for expediting mining without regard to environmental damage. And considering how frequently the Sierra Club and others keep finding coal mining companies conducting illegal mining (see Ison Rock, VA; Jellico, TN; and Fish Trap Lake, KY) and releasing unsafe amounts of toxic selenium (see Zeb Mountain, TN; and Hobet and Fola, WV) - you can see how this is just another excuse for these companies to avoid environmental regulations.

There is no doubt that mountaintop removal coal mining is devastating to water quality - one Environmental Protection Agency study found that 93 percent of streams downstream from mountaintop mining waste sites were unfit to support aquatic life.

The Environmental Protection Agency is now the only one standing between the mining companies and our waters. The Stream Buffer Zone cannot be repealed without EPA approval. A poll released today shows that two out of three people opposed repealing the rule, so contact the EPA today and demand that they to side with the American public.

The Best Convention Speech You Missed

While most of the excitement last night was focused on Senator Clinton's speech, Montana Governor Brian Schweitzer gave an electrifying (and highly animated) speech outlining a strong, clear vision for a new energy future.

Given his strong performance, it came as no surprise that Schweitzer was mobbed by bloggers and camera crews this morning as he strode through the Big Tent.

Here's some excerpts from his speech:

On the crises we face:

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How to Tell Greenwashing from Real Corporate Responsibility

It's a little late for Mardi Gras, but let me tell you about another masquerade.

We all know that the environment has become fashionable. The environmental movement -- despite what its detractors might say -- is going through one of its most vibrant periods. Seventy percent of Americans declare themselves environmentalists. Seventy-one percent of Latinos living in the Southwest believe preserving the wilderness is not only a family value but a religious one as well. In California, 91 percent of Latinos believe it's possible to protect the environment at the same time that we build a robust economy.

This national consensus has become a powerful magnet for Corporate America, which in recent years has tried to establish an environmental harmony with consumers by offering products and services that allegedly respect the air we breathe, the water we drink and the land we cultivate.

But all too often, this harmony becomes corrupted by a green veil with which apparent altruistic intentions hide the fact that, after all, both environmentalism and money share the same color. This marketing trick is known as "greenwashing."

ExxonMobil -- the world's richest corporation and the one that interferes the most in the fight against global warming by investing tens of millions of dollars in denying it -- counters its critics by alleging that it funds the Global Warming and Energy Project. This initiative focuses on how to confront global warming emissions once they have been released into the atmosphere. But what ExxonMobil won't tell us is that the applications of that research could take up to a decade to become available. Nor will it tell us whether it has made any commitments to adopt any of those applications.

Chevron, the oil giant, in October launched its flashy "Human Energy" campaign to promote its green credentials. But at the same time it promised bluer skies, Chevron also attacked the viability of solar and wind energies -- the cleanest ones in existence -- by calling them "too futuristic." No wonder a corporation so firmly anchored in a past of fossil fuels is so afraid of the future.

In 2005, General Electric (GE) -- the ninth largest corporation in the world -- launched its "Ecomagination" campaign to announce its environmental commitment to confront challenges such as the need for clean, efficient sources of energy and reducing emissions. Two years later, GE's environmental credentials still need greening, as the corporation continues selling parts to coal-fired power plants -- the largest source of global warming gases -- and investing in oil-and-gas exploration.

Southern Co., the power utility that operates six of the country's dirtiest plants, insists that it invests "billions of dollars" in cleaning its toxic and global warming emissions. Yet according to the Environmental Integrity Project, Southern Co. owns the three plants that emit the most carbon dioxide in the entire U.S. Two of them rate as the second and third that release the most mercury in the country. And five more rate among the ones releasing the most nitrogen-oxide. More than a green veil, what Southern holds is a suffocating rag.

On the other hand, there are countless examples of corporate responsibility that demonstrate a real commitment to protecting the environment and fighting global warming. In fact, according to the latest annual report, 2007 was a record year for the increase of green initiatives by the country's corporations.

For instance, Google is building the largest solar-power facility ever built on any corporate campus in the U.S. This huge solar-panel project will generate 1.6 megawatts, enough to power 1,000 homes, and will allow Google to save 30 percent of its current power use.

Nike has committed itself to becoming a climate-neutral company by 2012. Green Mountain Power Co. has reached the point where only 2 percent of its generated power comes from carbon-dioxide producing sources. Target is phasing out products containing polyvinyl chloride, a potentially harmful compound. Frito-Lay announced that by 2010 its chip production would rely on recycled water and renewable energy.

But all these examples of corporate responsibility, as timid as they may seem, run the risk of being overlooked by consumers if other companies continue to hide their greed behind a green veil.

Let's all put an end to this masquerade.

John McCain Gets a Zero Rating for His Environmental Record

We were shocked -- but definitely not awed -- by Senator McCain's decision two weeks ago to dodge a crucial vote on the future of clean energy in America.

Remember, his choice to stay parked on the tarmac at Dulles (while his two planemates, Senators Lieberman and Graham, dashed to the Capitol in time to vote) doomed the measure to fail by just a single vote.

It was, however, awesome that thousands of Sierra Club e-activists took the phones and called McCain's office to register their discontent with the Arizona senator's no-show act.  In fact, so many called that his phone system was down intermittently for days.  Not awesome: McCain's office lying to our members about how he voted.

But, last week we got an even bigger reminder of John McCain's Not Awesome status when it comes to crucial votes on the environment. He received a big fat ZERO from the League of Conservation Voters on their 2007 National Environmental Scorecard.

Turns out his recent attendance problem is no exception, just merely the most recent example of a consistent pattern of refusing to stand up and be counted when the environment is on the line. In fact, out of 535 Members of Congress, John McCain is the only one who chose to miss every single key environmental vote last year.

John McCain Should Be Ashamed of Himself

Washington, DC -- I have just listened to carefully coached staff members for Senator John McCain lie repeatedly about the Senator's failure to show up and vote on the first Senate economic-stimulus package, which included tax incentives for clean energy. I am in a state of shock not because of the Senator's vote, although that disappointed me, nor over his desire to avoid public accountability for that vote -- that's politics. But to carefully coach your Senate staff (I assume the Chief of Staff, not the Senator, was the author of this shameful performance) in how to mislead callers in such depth is appalling, and surprising, because it was almost certain to be found out.

Here's how it played out:

McCain lands at Dulles last wednesday. He has time to get to the Senate to vote on cloture on the expanded economic-stimulus package, which includes clean-energy incentives. But he doesn't show up, musing on the plane as it landed that  ''I haven't had a chance to talk about it at all, have not had the opportunity to, even ... We've just been too busy, focused on other stuff. I don't know if I'm doing that. We've got a couple of meetings scheduled.''  (For the record, fellow candidates Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama did find time to make up their minds).

McCain doesn't vote. The expanded stimulus package gets 59 votes, one short of what is needed for it to proceed to the Senate Floor. The next day a stripped-down version of the stimulus bill, minus clean energy, is brought to a vote. McCain votes for it; the bill passes.

The Sierra Club sends out an alert: "Where was John McCain on clean energy?" and asks people to call the Senator's office.

Immediately, people begin calling and emailing me, saying, "The Senator's office says he voted for clean energy, and that your alert is wrong." We check. He didn't. We call his office. Stunningly, his staff has been coached to mislead callers. "That's not true at all," they say, "he voted for the bill yesterday." Well, he voted, yesterday, but for a different bill. However we phrase the question, we get a lie. "No, if he had voted for the bill, it would not have passed. That was purely procedural." But McCain's staff knows that if cloture had been invoked, passage of the bill would then only require 51 votes, and the bill with clean energy would have passed.

Has Wal-Mart Warmed to Eco-Responsibility?

Former Sierra Club president Adam Werbach once referred to Wal-Mart as "a virus, infecting and destroying American culture." Now he's an environmental consultant to billionaire Sam Walton's steamroller of sprawl, and you're more likely to hear him spouting the motto "Take sustainability to scale."

So why did the guy who created the Club's nationwide Sierra Student Coalition go to work for a company whose annual revenues of more than $351 billion and some 3,500 U.S. stores make it the world's largest retailer? Werbach says that by going big he can "focus on helping the companies that have the largest consumer impact."

The environmental community's challenge, he says, is to make the realities of global warming "intensely personal and important to the millions of people who don't live in coastal cities and towns." For Werbach, ground zero in that effort is Wal-Mart.

But Wal-Mart was sprouting signs of green even before it hired the iconic tree hugger.

In late 2005, CEO Lee Scott announced the corporation's goal "to be supplied 100 percent by renewable energy, to create zero waste, and to sell products that sustain our resources and the environment." Since then, the company has made strides even a wary environmentalist would find encouraging, among them:

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Global Warming Talk Canceled at Montana School

It all started with the Scopes Monkey Trial in Tennessee way back when. Then more recently many of us have been asking "What's the matter with Kansas?" Well, today I'm wondering just what the deal is in Montana?

Seems that in the tiny hamlet of Choteau, Montana (pop. 1781) a few grumbling conservatives are enough to keep a Nobel laureate from discussing global warming at the local high school.

Dr. Steven Running, a professor of ecology at the University of Montana and one of the lead authors of the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's report, was due to speak to high school students in the small agricultural town located on the plains that spread out east of the Rocky Mountains. It seems that a vocal minority objected to his talk before 130 high school students because it would be "one-sided," so the local school superintendent, Kevin St. John, canceled it.

St. John went on to lamely explain that there simply wasn't time to explain to everyone that Running was a "leading scientist" and not an "agenda-driven ideologue." (I'm guessing I'd be in that latter category. And just how long could it possibly take to explain things in a town of 1,781 anyway?) Sensing he might have some 'splainin' to do, St. John added -- rather unconvincingly methinks -- that "academic freedom is very important here, and science education is very important here."

But apparently not important enough for him to actually do his job as an educator it would seem. If Choteau's anything like the town in Wyoming where yours truly grew up -- where the closest any of us got to a Nobel laureate was a particularly exciting film strip about Marie Curie that we watched in the 3rd grade -- it's pretty stupid to pass up an opportunity like this one.

Besides general objections to reality and science, it seems that the opponents of Running's talk didn't really have too much else to say. One school board member who had opposed the talk hid behind a curt "no comment." He's probably right to keep a low profile -- the seven people who wrote letters to the editor of the local paper criticizing the school board could well represent half the electorate.

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