National Sierra Club News

The Latest National Sierra Club News

Here are the latest stories from The Compass, our RSS ticker of current national Sierra Club news:

Terrible news out of Washington, DC today - the Senate has confirmed Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt as head of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), despite his being a climate denier, sworn enemy of the EPA, and close ally of the fossil fuel industry.

Sierra Club activists are among  the millions of Americans who spoke out against Pruitt since he was first nominated, and because of that public opposition he will enter office as the most controversial, unpopular EPA Administrator in history - that‘s important, and it wouldn’t have happened without the hard work of the grassroots. In a bold and rarely used move, Democrats boycotted his subcommittee hearing because of his refusal to provide clear answers to important questions. Journalists and non-profits uncovered scandal after scandal with Pruitt - the list seemed to grow daily.

From refusing to release thousands of emails that would show the extent of his ties to the fossil fuel industry; to suing the EPA to stop climate, clean air and water safeguards; to ignoring pleas from Oklahomans suffering from nearby coal ash pollution or fracking-related earthquakes; to denying climate science and so much more - Pruitt demonstrated that he is the most dangerous person  to take the helm of the agency charged with protecting public health and the environment.

Then, on the day before the vote in an eleventh hour twist, a judge ordered him to turn over thousands of emails with the fossil fuel industry that he had withheld for years. Unfortunately, that wasn’t enough to persuade GOP leaders to delay his vote, but we will see them nonetheless. Make no mistake about it, Scott Pruitt will have a rocky road ahead.

Scott Pruitt is the most controversial and dangerous EPA chief ever. He will start work next week with a dark cloud of opposition and contention over his head.

So now what? We continue the resistance! We hold accountable those senators who voted for Pruitt’s confirmation. We fight back in court. We talk to our friends and get them involved when Pruitt attempts to rollback our bedrock air, water, and climate protections. Here are some specific things you can do right away:

1. Show up a the town hall meetings your Members of Congress are holding next week during the Congressional recess, February 20 - 24, and demand they push the EPA and Pruitt to not bow to the coal, oil, and gas industry. You can find the town hall meetings near you in this spreadsheet created by the Town Hall Project 2018.

2. If you don’t have a town hall meeting in your area, we drop off postcards or letters at your nearest Congressional district offices, take a photo, and post it to social media tagging @SierraClub and #SaveTheEPA or #ClimateResistance. You can download a printable postcard and find other tips at our Town Hall guide here.

The EPA must be guided by science to protect public health and the environment. We will fight to block all Pruitts schemes that will poison our air and water, expose people to toxins, and threaten any work aimed at halting climate disruption.

Time and time again, Scott Pruitt has stood up for polluters, and has left regular Americans harmed by pollution to fend for themselves as they suffer the losses of their health and property.

Join us as we resist and protect our air, water, and climate for everyone.

Mary Anne Hitt From Compass

Download this guide to a pdf and print to take with you -- or bookmark this page on your phone.1. Find out when your Representative or Senator’s next town hall or public meeting is being held. ​Check Town Hall Project, check local news outlets, or call your member of Congress directly to ask.2. Prepare! Think of the question you want to ask (we’ve included some samples below), show up early, ​find a comfortable seat, and look for any microphones that have been set up to take comments. Sit close to one so you will be more likely to be able to ask a question. If you are planning on bringing a sign that opposes your member of Congress and her or his agenda, remember that it decreases the likelihood that you will be able to ask a question.3. Be civil, but don’t let them off the hook ​-- demand they answer the question you asked, not the question that they want to answer.4. Take pictures and video.​ Having video of what your elected officials say is a great way to hold them accountable. Post pictures and video on Twitter, Facebook or Instagram and tag @SierraClub so we can see and share them.Sample Questions:

Trump’s plans for the EPA will put our communities and health at risk. Relaxing enforcement on clean air, water, and climate hurt me and my family because (we have asthma, we are worried about water quality, I’m concerned about climate change, etc). What will you do to stand up to his radical agenda?

We are seeing the impacts of climate change around the country with more wildfires, severe drought, more dangerous storms and even here in our state. Will you oppose efforts to stop action to curb carbon pollution?

Both the House and Senate are pushing legislation to make it harder for our environmental agencies to issue standards to protect the environment and public health and our environment. These safeguards protect communities, will you oppose efforts to undermine agency rulemaking authority?

Will you stand up for critical environmental protections enacted by the Obama Administration, like rules to limit methane pollution?

Senator Toomey has introduced a resolution to repeal standards protecting downwind states from air pollution like smog, will you vote no on any effort to gut clean air standards?

Congress has targeted a number of clean air and clean water standards for repeal. Will you oppose efforts to repeal important clean air and clean water standards so that our kids and communities are safe and healthy?

President Trump and leaders in Congress are threatening to slash the budget of the Environmental Protection Agency and one Florida congressman introduced a bill to eliminate the EPA. Will you oppose efforts to kill the EPA -- an important agency charged with protecting our clean air clean water and kids health?

Some in Congress have said that the Endangered Species Act should be thrown out. America is blessed with a unique natural heritage of wildlife. Will you stand up to those would would gut the ESA?

America has a rich heritage of national parks, national monuments and national refuges. Will you oppose legislation to eliminate protections for new national monuments like Bears Ears in Utah?

Some in Congress have threatened to use the budget process to push for drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, will you vote against backdoor efforts to allow oil drilling in America's last great wilderness?

Congress is using a controversial legislative tool to overturn recently finalized standards from the Obama administration. The Congressional Review Act, or CRA, is a blunt instrument that allows Congress to nullify important protections for our air, water, and public health. Will you oppose all use of the CRA to kill lifesaving safeguards?

Trump has pledged to renegotiate trade agreements, and I'm deeply concerned that his renegotiation will not be based in concern for communities and our climate. My basis for uating any trade deal is clear: Does it support -- not undermine -- a more stable climate, clean air and water, healthy communities, and good union jobs? Will you commit to opposing any trade renegotiation that fails to meet this standard?

From Compass

States across the U.S. have been introducing legislation that would punish people for switching to electric vehicles. Since the start of 2017, six states (Indiana, South Carolina, Kansas, Tennessee, New Hampshire, and Montana) have introduced legislation that would require EV owners to pay a fee of up to $180 a year.

Sadly, this isn’t the first time people have been penalized for driving green. Wyoming, Colorado, Virginia, Nebraska, Missouri, Washington, North Carolina, Idaho, Georgia, and Michigan have all implemented yearly fees on electric and hybrid vehicles that vary from $50 to $300 per driver per year.  Arizona’s and Arkansas’ respective Department of Transportations are also suggesting  legislators cast a fee for EV ownership. Georgia, formerly the state with the second most EV sales, used to offer a tax credit of up to $5,000, but replaced the program with a $200 yearly fee that led to an 80 percent drop in EV sales.  

This attack is coming at a time when EVs are just starting to take off within the larger auto industry--and it’s likely no coincidence this attack is coming now. Reportedly, for more than a year, Koch Industries has spent nearly $10 million dollars, and plans to do so every year, on a campaign to boost petroleum-based transportation fuels and attack government support for electric vehicles. This campaign was presumably created because of the risk EVs place on the oil and coal industry. American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a right-wing state legislation machine funded by the Koch brothers and several other multinational corporations, introduced in December of 2015 a resolution to discourage states from providing subsidies for EVs at their States and Nation Policy Summit.

When oil tycoons consider a rise in EV drivers to be a threat to their wallets, you know EVs are taking off. They’re right to be scared--between 2015 and 2016, U.S. electric vehicle sales jumped an impressive 37 percent. According to The Guardian, by 2020 the prices of electric vehicles are expected to fall, which will cause a significant reduction in the demand for oil. A study done by the Grantham Institute for Imperial College London and the Carbon Tracker Initiative found that EVs will account for approximately 35 percent of the road transport market by 2035. They predict that by 2050, EVs will account for more than two-thirds of the road transport market, where they could displace 25m barrels of oil per day.

The proponents of these EV fee bills argue that EVs are causing a drop in gas tax revenue. The gasoline tax was created in 1957 to create funding streams for projects such as roads, transit, and bridges.  But the tax hasn’t risen with inflation since 1993, so the revenue covers only a little more than 40 percent of project costs, causing states to search for their lost revenue. But, EVs aren’t the correct source to replace this lost funding. Composing just  a tiny slice U.S. auto sales, it is more fuel efficient conventional vehicles that account for a much bigger loss in gas tax funds.

A gas tax, as currently implemented, is an outdated revenue source for funding transportation infrastructure. Multiple states have proposed and even developed ways to modernize funding sources for funding public road services, transit, and other projects.

Some states have considered a carbon tax, a vehicle miles travelled fee, and vehicle weight fees in order to create modern revenue sources for transportation infrastructure funds. Oregon considered an EV fee of $100 per year back in 2013, but the legislation didn’t succeed. Instead the state created OReGo, an optional road traveled tax that saves conventional gas vehicles money while still encouraging consumers to go electric. Massachusetts and Illinois have also considered vehicle miles traveled tax programs. Wyoming is considering raising registration fees by a vehicle's weight, something that Washington State has been similarly doing through a fee that changes depending on the weight of the vehicle. Experimenting with these kind of alternatives to the gas tax is a much better approach than penalizing drivers of cleaner cars.

Massachusetts just passed legislation to study if an EV purchasing fee would be financially beneficial enough to compensate for low gas tax revenue. Without having to recreate the wheel, they should look to Vermont’s Department of Transportation’s recently published report that found that until electric vehicles make up at least 15 percent of car purchases, it’s within the state’s best interest to incentivize consumers into buying EVs, not penalize them for doing so.

If you’re opposing an EV fee bill in your state (first of all, thank you!), here are some key points to keep in mind when talking to legislators, allies, and the media:

The main reasons for the decline in gas tax revenue are a) most states haven’t raised gas taxes in many years; and b) conventional cars have become more efficient.

Vermont leaders have recommended holding off on an EV fee until EVs make up at least 15 percent of the state’s vehicle fleet.

Now is the time to incentivize, not penalize, people to driver cleaner, greener vehicles that benefit all of us by reducing air pollution dangerous to our health and climate.

Similar EV fee bills have been introduced recently in many states, and oil industry backed groups (like the Koch brothers and ALEC) have indicated their plans to back such efforts. Rather than a genuine push for a fair solution to fund our roads, bridges, and transit, this is a coordinated attempt to defend the financial interests of the oil industry.

Cleaner, greener and fun to drive, electric vehicle  are, not surprisingly, rising in popularity. We should not let the Koch brothers or Big Oil slow this momentum. If there is an EV fee proposed in your state, please reach out to Sierra Club’s Mary Lunetta for materials on how to fight back.   


Gina Coplon-Newfield, Maggie Newshan From Compass

Scott Pruitt continues to stonewall the Senate by refusing to release public documents and emails. 

Here are five things we could learn if he released his email.

-- We could learn exactly how close the relationship is between Pruitt and the Industry. We already know he cuts and pastes their content into official documents, but how often does he do that? Maybe it's in the emails he doesn't want us to see.

-- We could learn exactly what he thinks is pollution. We already know he doesn't consider mercury a serious public health threat or know about the dangers of lead toxicity, particularly for children. We already know he doesn't think carbon pollution from power plants is a threat. What other dangerous pollution does he think is okay for people to breathe, eat and drink? Maybe it's in the emails he doesn't want us to see.

-- We could learn about how he raised political contributions from the industry he oversees. We know he mislead the Senate with his evasive answers to questions about his fundraising practices. And we've learned that his staff directly solicited contributions on his behalf. Did Pruitt use his official office to raise political contributions from the oil and gas industry? Maybe it's in the emails he doesn't want us to see.

-- We could learn about his conflicts of interest. We already know he's filed multiple lawsuits against public health protections on behalf of his political supporters in the oil and gas industry. Maybe we find evidence of Pruitt standing up for sick kids and against the polluters? Or, maybe we don't. Maybe it's in the emails he doesn't want us to see.

-- We could learn about what else Pruitt is hiding. Pruitt doesn't want more information about his record of using his taxpayer funded office as a law firm for the polluters. What else has he done? Has he schemed additional lawsuits on their behalf? Maybe it's all in the emails he doesn't want us to see.

The Senate shouldn't confirm someone who is blatantly hiding something from the American people. The way Pruitt's stalling, there's likely evidence of one or all of these in these documents. Senator Barrasso is forcing the nomination through the process so that this information never comes to light. He's an accomplice in the effort to suppress this information and keep it from the American public. Pruitt was fine with waiting more than two years to deliver these documents — surely he can wait a little longer so the Senate can ensure he will work in the public interest.

Matthew Gravatt From Compass

We’re just weeks in, and President Trump has already followed through on one of several campaign pledges which defy international law and norms. Trump released an executive order banning the entrance into the United States of citizens from seven majority Muslim countries. Now, with Trump’s EPA nominee Scott Pruitt nearing a confirmation vote in the U.S Senate, we’re poised to see another serious attack on universally acknowledged basic rights -- the right of all people to clean air and water.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted by 192 nations including the United States, lists these among twenty-seven other inalienable human rights. No government, President, Prime Minister, or any other governing body should strip these rights away.

With the enactment of Trump’s travel ban, particularly on green card holders, President Trump flouted Article #13:

“Everyone has the right to leave any country, including his own, and to return to his country”

And his attacks on clean air and water directly contradict other elements of the UDHR, including:

Article #25:

“Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control.”

As well as the UN’s Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights General Comment #15:

"The human right to water is indispensable for leading a life in human dignity. It is a prerequisite for the realization of other human rights"

Under a Trump administration, with the EPA in the hands of Scott Pruitt, access to clean air and water for every family in America are directly threatened. Rather than protect the welfare of the American people, it seems they care more about satisfying the pay-to-play politics of the oil and gas industry.

While Pruitt would be sworn to protect the environment and uphold the inalienable rights of all Americans to clean air and water, his clear intention is to do the exact opposite. Pruitt will attack existing safeguards and protections that grant fossil fuel corporations carte blanche. Welcome back, Mercury pollution! Welcome back, smog! Over the next four years, America is at risk of undergoing an extensive rollback of environmental progress under President Trump and Scott Pruitt; the consequences could be profound and irreversible. Access to clean air and water is not a privilege. It’s an inalienable human right which the Trump administration should be held accountable to defend.

The U.S. Senate can get a head start on preventing this sad state of affairs by rejecting Scott Pruitt for EPA right away.

David Golembeski From Compass

I live in West Virginia, one of the states where residents can now expect more toxic coal pollution in our streams and rivers thanks to a repeal of mining safeguards by the Republican-controlled Congress. A few short days after that disastrous decision, the White House cancelled an environmental review and then approved the permit for the Dakota Access pipeline, which threatens the drinking water for the Standing Rock Sioux and millions more people downstream.

The Standing Rock Sioux have long opposed the Dakota Access pipeline because of the risk to drinking water, and this week’s decision was one more painful demonstration of how quickly some political leaders will put profits over public health and tribal sovereignty. In December of 2016, the Obama administration had ordered an environmental review of the pipeline to study the effect it would have on the Standing Rock Sioux’s land and Lake Oahe, the body of water the pipeline would cut through, after thousands of tenacious, prayerful water protectors inspired the nation by resisting the pipeline with a simple message: water is life.

Here in Appalachia, where our streams have been ravaged for decades by coal mining, we were eager for the same basic, common-sense water pollution protections that the rest of the country takes for granted. The Stream Protection Rule had been in the works for eight years, but in wiping it off the books last week using an arcane maneuver that the New York Times described as a “legislative cudgel that has rarely been used,” Trump and the GOP again chose to side with polluters over people.

They didn’t just repeal the Stream Protection Rule - House Speaker Paul Ryan bragged in a press release that it was “the first regulation repeal going to President Trump’s desk.” Frankly, that doesn’t surprise me, given Trump’s rhetoric on the campaign trail and the GOP’s cozy relationships with their fossil fuel cronies. But thankfully, it’s also energizing millions of Americans, who are fighting back against the rollback of environmental protections.

As I said in my recent column, the Stream Protection Rule sought to tackle the decades-old practice of coal companies dumping tons of dangerous mining waste from their mining operations into nearby waterways that were frequently used for drinking, farming, and fishing by local communities. This practice contaminates local water with dangerous heavy metals like mercury, selenium, and arsenic, which can cause severe mental development problems and stunted cognitive growth in children exposed to these toxins.  

Families in the coal mining areas of Appalachia - including in the state of West Virginia, where I live - have been fighting for over a decade to get these fundamental protections in place to keep toxic mining pollution out of their drinking water. Those long-overdue standards were finally put in place last year, and now as one of its first votes, the new Congress not only threw them out, but is also trying to prevent any similar protections in the future. It’s outrageous and unconscionable.

From Appalachia to Standing Rock, water is life. If you think this could never happen in your community, to your water, remember that we all live downstream. And with new federal leadership that’s toying with the idea of eliminating the environmental enforcement office of the EPA -- or even getting rid of the EPA altogether -- no one should take the safety of their water for granted anymore.

What can you do to help? On the Stream Protection Rule, find out here how your US Senators voted by clicking here (a “Yay” vote is bad and “No” vote is good), and then call them at 888-454-0483 to thank them or hold them accountable.

On the Dakota Access Pipeline, President Trump recently claimed that he hadn’t received any calls opposing and that it wasn’t controversial - an alternative fact if I’ve ever heard one! So raise your voice. Send him a message here or give him a call at 888-201-9377 - even better, snap a pic or video of you making your call and tweet it at him! If you tag @sierraclub we might share it.

Making it easier for fossil fuel companies to pollute our water is not what the American people voted for in this election, and it doesn’t match our values or the future we want for our kids. Join us in standing up for clean water, and make sure your voice is heard.

Mary Anne Hitt From Compass

If you want to know whether your U.S. senators are on the side of the people or polluters, there are four votes to watch coming up over the next two weeks. Check out the list below, and then here’s what you can do: call and write to them before the votes, pay attention to how they vote, and then call and write to express either your thanks or your disappointment. In the long fight that has begun to defend our air, water, and climate safeguards, your elected officials need to know the people they represent are watching, listening, and prepared to hold them accountable for their votes.

Rex Tillerson - nominated for Secretary of State

Tillerson is the former CEO of ExxonMobil - one who received an “Order of Friendship” award from Russia. While Tillerson was at the helm of Exxon, the company regularly put profit over public health and even today continues to be embroiled in a lawsuit alleging that the company knew about climate disruption for decades but covered it up.

Tillerson’s final confirmation vote is expected in the Senate on Tuesday, Feb. 1. Need more reasons to oppose the climate-denying Tillerson? Read on - there are plenty.

Scott Pruitt - nominated to head the Environmental Protection Agency

Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt has been a chief architect of efforts to dismantle our core clean air, water, and climate protections, doing the bidding of the fossil fuel industry - even using their exact talking points to write letters to the EPA opposing their public health and environmental safeguards. He also sued the EPA numerous times over its pollution standards, and has taken serious money from the oil and coal industry. Pruitt fights the Clean Power Plan, denies the science of climate disruption - the list goes on and on.

Votes on Pruitt will begin this week, first in committee, and then on the floor of the Senate. If he’s confirmed, it will be bad news for the health of our families, clean air and water, and our climate. Pruitt will side with polluters every time - learn more.

Two Congressional votes:

Two important clean air, water, and climate safeguards are under threat in Congress this week under the Congressional Review Act (CRA), a blunt instrument with dangerous consequences. The CRA allows Congress to pass by simple majority ‘Resolutions of Disapproval’ that, if signed by the President, not only nullifies a target rule in its entirety, but also prevents any rule that is “substantially similar” from being promulgated in the future. This process is subject to limited debate, provides no ability for filibuster while under consideration in the Senate, and expressly prohibits judicial review. In effect, the CRA strips agencies of their authority to issue rules in the public interest and silences the voices of millions of Americans who comment and participate in the rulemaking process. Using this blunt instrument to undo essential environmental safeguards is dangerous and irresponsible on account of is disruptive, unknowable, and long-lasting consequences.

One of the main CRA targets of the GOP? The Stream Protection Rule - which aims to reduce water pollution from coal mining operations. Families in the coal mining areas of Appalachia - including in the state of West Virginia, where I live - have been fighting for over a decade to get these basic, common-sense protections in place to keep toxic mining pollution out of their drinking water. Those long-overdue standards were finally put in place last year, and now as one of its first votes, the new Congress wants to not only throw them out, but to try and prevent any similar protections in the future. It’s outrageous and unconscionable.

Also a target of the GOP’s CRA power - the Methane and Waste Prevention Rule from the Bureau of Land Management. This standard aims to “curb methane emissions from oil and gas flaring, venting and leakage on public and tribal lands.” Methane is a potent greenhouse gas - some 87 times more potent than carbon dioxide. BLM’s standard advances common sense measures to reduce methane emissions on public and tribal lands through stopping wasteful leaks, venting, and flaring of natural gas and dangerous pollutants. These hazardous emissions, which include cancer causing volatile organic compounds, benzene, and formaldehyde, put our families and children at considerable health risk while wasting public resources at the public expense.

This BLM standard holds polluters accountable for outdated and reckless practices that put the American people in danger, and does so through cost effective emissions mitigation practices. Research estimates that more than $330 million worth of natural gas is wasted each year and project nearly $800 million in missed royalties from venting and flaring alone over the next decade.

Fighting both the Stream Protection Rule and the BLM’s methane standard are moves by the GOP to appease their huge fossil fuel donors and the Koch brothers - groups who will always put profits over public health.

Together we can help stop these attacks on our measures that keep our air and water clean. We urge you to call your members of Congress to tell them to oppose these measures that put the interests of polluters before people. We must stand together to protect public health, clean air and clean water.

And then in the days ahead, on these four votes to watch, pay attention to how your U.S. senators vote. Do they side with people, or polluters? If they vote the right way, call them, write to them, and/or visit their state offices and thank them. If they vote the wrong way, hold them accountable with calls and letters and visits, and also spread the word to your networks on social media. We’re going to be in a long fight together to save our air, water, and climate protections, and we need our elected officials to know we are watching.

Mary Anne Hitt From Compass

Today, the U.S. Senate is expected to vote on the nomination of Rex Tillerson, ExxonMobil’s former CEO, to serve as our Secretary of State. This first week of the Trump presidency has been rough, but even in this world of fake news and redoubling lies from our new president’s mouth, this pick is almost too egregious to believe. Well, believe it. And then call your senators and tell them to vote NO on Tillerson.

As a reminder, here are a few of the egregious items that make Tillerson such a disastrous pick for this post:

He is an oil man and will always be an oil man. He has spent his entire professional career, over 40 years, at ExxonMobil, pursuing the profits of the oil industry at all costs - including human rights abuses, destruction of the environment, and skirting US sanctions to do business with state sponsors of terror like Iran, Syria and Sudan while he served as a senior executive.

ExxonMobil funded a massive misinformation campaign to hide the reality of climate change from the American public, for which they are now under investigation. Detailed investigations have revealed that Exxon not only knew about the threat of climate change many decades ago and failed to take action to avoid the coming crisis, but chose instead to launch a major effort to prevent action on climate change by obscuring the clarity of the science, attacking lead scientists, and funding the production of misinformation. And now this fraudster-in-chief could be in charge of leading our international negotiations on climate change? During his confirmation hearing before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Tillerson refused to answer Senator Tim Kaine’s (D-VA) question about Exxon’s climate coverup. When Kaine asked whether he was refusing to answer or whether he lacked the knowledge to do, Tillerson flippantly replied “A little of both.” This disrespect for both the severity of the matter at hand and for Senator Kaine,was outrageous.

Tillerson has no experience in government or diplomacy, yet has been applauded by Trump for his close ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin, with whom Tillerson has had more interactive time than nearly any other American. Tillerson’s negotiations led to a deal allowing Exxon access rights to explore for oil and gas resources in the Russian-Arctic for $500 billion -- but this deal can go through only if the U.S. lifts sanctions instituted against Russia. Guess what Donald Trump said he was considering doing last week? Lifting those Russian sanctions. Looks like that Tillerson friendship could pay dividends for Putin.

Simply put, Tillerson is an unqualified and inappropriate pick for this role (and this might have had something to do with the unprecedented mass exodus of senior staff who walked off the job from the State Department on Friday). His nomination alone signals Trump’s confusion of fossil fuel industry profits with the public interest and his misguided desire to drag us back into the fossil fuel era.

Call your senators now at (202) 224-3121 and tell them to vote NO on Rex Tillerson’s nomination for Secretary of State. The silver lining of Trump’s climate-denying, bigoted, backward administration is that it is sparking a movement -- as evidenced by the millions of Americans who took to the streets in protest for unprecedented and jubilant rallies the day after the inauguration, far outnumbering those who attended the actual inauguration. A movement is brewing. Join us in the resistance and call your senators now!

Lena Moffitt From Compass

In my small West Virginia town this week, all the Democrats in the US Senate saw with their own eyes what democracy looks like. Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, Kamala Harris, Tammy Duckworth, and Amy Klobuchar got on the megaphone, with the Senate Democratic caucus behind them, to fire up hundreds Shepherdstown residents who had pulled together a rally in just 24 hours, after we learned Senate Democrats were meeting in our town at the beautiful Bavarian Inn. By that evening, our small town rally was making national headlines and Senator Al Franken was talking about it on national television.

Many things about the Women’s March last weekend made me hopeful that a new spirit of activism was being born in this nation - living in a town of 2,000 people that organized seven buses to the march, stepping off one of those buses and into a river of humanity that flowed from the bus to the metro to Independence Avenue, witnessing the leadership of women of color and young women in DC, seeing photos of family and friends who had never marched before joining rallies across the country. It was one of the most powerful days of my life, and I felt like I was helping to make history.

Yes, the Women’s March gave me hope that a new era of activism was dawning in America. But it was the rally Thursday morning in Shepherdstown that confirmed it.

Just Wednesday, word began to spread locally on social media that the likes of Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren -- leaders that Americans are counting on to block the Trump agenda -- would be in town for two days, for the winter retreat of the Senate Democrats. A CNN truck appeared by the public library. The West Virginia Women’s March group announced a rally.

In less than 24 hours, at least 300 people -- almost a quarter of the population of our town -- had assembled outside the Bavarian Inn with signs and banners, and by 9:45 am that feisty crowd had the ear of every Democratic US Senator in the nation. Over 700 people streamed through over the course of the day. By that evening, video footage of the rally by local small business owner Maria Allen, which is included with this post, was front and center on the Rachel Maddow Show (listen at the 26 minute mark here), and Senator Franken made it clear we had gotten the attention of all the Senate Democrats.

If you were worried that the Women’s March was a flash in the pan, worry no more. I’m here to report from small-town America that a new era of activism is upon us.

As one participant in the Shepherdstown rally told a reporter, "I've never fought for anything like I am now." Millions of us can relate, and we’re turning out, from the hundreds who rallied at the White House on Tuesday just hours after Trump signed executive orders to move forward the Keystone and Dakota Access Pipelines, to the thousands who flooded the streets of Philadelphia for three straight days of massive protests against congressional Republicans meeting in Philly for their retreat.

Trump’s first few days in office have been rough, from issuing orders on the Keystone and Dakota Access Pipelines, to suspending grants and websites and free speech at the EPA, to targeting immigrants and initiating the border wall. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Fighting back is going to take the kind of sustained activist spirit I just saw in my town this week, and that I hope you’re seeing in your town, too.

We can block the Trump agenda -- make no mistake about it. Most of the big changes Trump wants have to go through the US Congress, which is where all those Senate Democrats come in. If they stay strong and united, many of Trump’s bad ideas will be dead in the water. That’s why we have to keep turning out to rallies, going to events with our elected officials, meeting with them and their staff, calling and writing and posting on their social media pages, and making sure they hear the voice of the people.

For those items on Trump’s agenda that don’t involve Congress, we’ll fight back in the courts and in our communities. When it comes to climate change and clean air and water, states and cities are still the places where most decisions are made about how we make energy, and the number of coal power plants and solar panels we have four years from now will be determined by grassroots Americans -- not Donald Trump.

As one example of how we keep moving forward, just yesterday a New York utility approved, with the support of Governor Andrew Cuomo, the nation’s largest wind farm off the shores of Long Island, which will produce enough energy to power 50,000 homes and support lots of good jobs. This victory came shortly after the Governor committed in his 2017 State of the State to build enough offshore wind to power 1.25 million homes over the next decade and directed his agencies to begin to plan the pathway to 100% clean energy for New York. This milestone victory was the result of a five-year campaign by a coalition of over 40 environmental groups (including Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal Campaign), labor unions, and community leaders.

This is the kind of progress that Donald Trump can’t stop, and we’re going to keep moving forward. Here is how you can help right now:

Join a Sierra Club rapid response team in your state by filling out the form at

Go to our action center and take action now at

Plan to march with us in DC on April 29, or at a sister event near you, at the sure-to-be-massive People’s Climate March.

White folks -- we must educate ourselves about white privilege and work to end racism. I encourage you to check out Showing Up For Racial Justice for resources and actions.

Most importantly, get together with friends and starting plotting what you can do in your community, with your networks, to make sure decision makers are hearing your voices. Show up. Stand up. Speak up. We need you, now more than ever. Join us, and let’s keep making history together.

Mary Anne Hitt From Compass

Note: This post has been updated to address reader questions about Los Angeles’ overall track record on climate and the state regulation informing the utility’s decision to replace its aging fleet with new power plants.

In January, the Sierra Club released a new report, “The Gas Rush: Locking America Into Another Fossil Fuel for Decades.” The analysis captures the full scope of the proposed build out of natural gas infrastructure across the country, from new power plants to pipelines. In total, there are proposals to build 200 new gas plants, totaling 111 gigawatts of additional gas capacity.

gas report map

View the report and the interactive map HERE.

Looking at the map, it’s easy to spot the clusters of gas: Texas, Pennsylvania, North Carolina, and Virginia all rank in the top five states driving natural gas expansion. In fact, just five states are driving more than half of the build out. The fifth state? California, and at the heart of the dash for gas is the city of Los Angeles.

Wait, what?

Yes, Los Angeles’s utility the Department of Water and Power (DWP) is proposing a major commitment to new natural gas power plants that risks locking the utility into fossil fuels for decades to come.  If Los Angeles were ranked as a state, it would rank 10th among states in the report; the city is responsible for 2,882 MW of new natural gas power plants. Locally, DWP  proposes 1,682 MW of new gas across three power plants: 346 MW at Scattergood Generating Station; 1,090 MW at Haynes Generating Station; 246 MW at Harbor Generating Station.

An additional 1,200 MW of gas generation is proposed in Utah at the site of Intermountain Power Plant, as DWP proposes to shift from one fossil fuel (coal) to another (gas) (The Utah power plant replaces a larger 1,850 MW coal plant. LADWP has not finalized plans for the plant in Utah and they are on record stating that the plant could be smaller, and LADWP’s share of the plant smaller still as they are building the power plant with other much smaller utilities. Still, their filing at the Energy Commission from last year requests approval for a 1,200 MW facility). All of this comes on the heels of DWP recently building 1,097 MW of gas power plants over the past 4 years, while purchasing another 531 MW gas power plant in Nevada.

So, what is going on here? In 2010, the State Water Resources Control Board finalized a rule ending the use of ocean water to cool coastal power plants. It should come as no surprise that burning things to create electricity creates a lot of excess heat, and historically power plants have used water manage this heat. This is why you see a lot of power plants along the coast. The ocean, afterall, has a lot of water. But, when power plants suck in water, they also suck in marine life, and they dump hot water back into the ocean, harming the aquatic habitat around the plant. Ending this practice and shifting to dry-cooling towers was a major victory for the environment. You can read more about the rule here.  

Principally, the rule brought an end to the practice of using ocean water at power plants, but it forced some other important questions for utilities. In short: retire or rebuild? Most of the plants impacted by the rule were built decades ago, and so were old, inefficient, and polluted our air as well. Rather than just shift to dry cooling, California utilities proposed retiring some power plants outright, while using the opportunity to finance new power plants throughout the state that were more efficient and avoided ocean water.

Sierra Club’s My Generation campaign has fiercely opposed these new plants, particularly in Edison and SDG&E territory. Throughout the Public Utility Commission (PUC) proceeding that determined how to replace the retiring power plants across investor-owned utility service territory, Sierra Club and Earthjustice argued that, among other things, future efficiency and rooftop solar growth would obviate the need to replace these power plants. Rather, they should simply retire. And, while San Onofre’s retirement further compounded the issue, rooftop solar and efficiency growth have outpaced even Sierra Club’s optimistic expectations. For example,  the PUC approved a 500 MW gas plant in Carlsbad, based on 2012 regional electricity demand projections. But, thanks to efficiency and rooftop solar, demand projections have fallen 700 MW since 2012. So, SDG&E customers are going to shell out more than $2 billion over the next 25 years for a power plant they don’t need. In short, utilities continue to press for new gas plants, despite declining overall demand and cleaner, more cost-effective alternatives.

OK, back to LADWP. The utility is in the midst of  implementing its compliance plan for the ocean water cooling rule. It sought and received an extended timeline, and thus has until 2030 to fully comply with the rule.  It is choosing to tear down its old coastal power plants and rebuild them as new, “state of the art” power plants that will run through the middle of this century.  This is, almost certainly, a mistake. It’s sort of like abandoning a rotary phone for a flip phone: it’s progress, but now you’re the not so proud owner of a flip phone. The decision feels like an upgrade, but it’s one that we’ll quickly come to regret, as technology rapidly evolves.

Now, DWP waves away the new power plants problem, pointing to overall declining fossil fuel use, increased reliance on clean energy, and ambitions efficiency goals - actions that Sierra Club applauds. It’s also true that figuring out how to replace gas plants with clean energy is complicated, certainly more complicated than a blog post can do justice to. This is all to say that DWP is doing some really great things they should be commended for, and they’re also currently planning to spend a huge sum of DWP customer money on new polluting power plants ($630m for Scattergood alone) that tether us to natural gas for decades. This latter action should be scrutinized, challenged, and ultimately resisted vigorously.

If you couldn’t already tell, Sierra Club is extremely concerned about these long term commitments to new power plants. We’ve spent the last 8 years pushing to accelerate the city’s transition away from coal, and fear a similar scenario with gas, where we’re stuck with costly, regrettable investments and want a do-over. Recently, Earthjustice and Sierra Club recently submitted comments to DWP that lay out our concerns. You can read them here. The city’s plans for plants raise several concerns, ranging from high cost and stranded assets to reliability and air quality, clean energy, and more.  I want to expand on one simple point touched on, albeit briefly, in our comments: it is very hard to square DWP’s plans to lock in decades of new dirty power plants with the City Council and Mayor’s publicly stated climate and clean energy goals.

In recent years, Los Angeles has taken some important steps to fight climate change, while signaling even bigger (and necessary) ambitions in recent months.  In September, the Los Angeles City Council unanimously passed a motion requesting DWP study and develop a plan for 100 percent clean energy. The motion reads, “Today, with the LADWP on the verge of making significant investments in infrastructure ... the city has an opportunity to re-create its utility in a way that recognizes the potential for a fossil-free future, demonstrates global leadership limits commitment to clear energy, and protects ratepayers from the increasing costs of carbon-based fuels.”

Near the end of November, Mayor Garcetti committed L.A. to being among the first cities to explore and pursue every possible strategy for doing its part to limit global temperature rise to 1.5°C in an address to the C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group. Analysis indicates that emissions need to be upwards of 95 percent lower by 2050, with an added emphasis on rapid transformation of the electric sector.

No doubt, pursuing policies to phase out fossil fuels and limit warming to 1.5 is hard and critical work; it’s the type of bold leadership we need. But it’s absolutely true that the utility’s plans place DWP  in conflict with the Mayor’s own commitment and impedes the City Council’s goal of moving away from “significant investments” in fossil fuels. We know that natural gas is a major contributor to climate change, and methane leaked in pipelines or storage facilities is an even more potent climate pollutant. Climate science demands that utilities rapidly decarbonize, and rebuilding these power plants commits Los Angeles to burning fossil fuels through 2050 and beyond.

Look, it’d be silly and possibly self-serving to argue that Los Angeles isn’t doing a lot to fight climate change. This post is not intended as a comprehensive environmental scorecard for the utility or the city. DWP is jettisoning coal, increasing its use of renewable energy,  cutting energy demand, and electrifying its vehicle fleet.  We’re focusing here on what we view as a substantial threat to a proud and growing record when it comes to the environment.  Rebuilding these power plants not only cuts against the city’s record of leadership on climate, but constrains further climate action in the years to come. Once these power plants are built, they’re going to run for decades. Furthermore, these power plants siphon money from clean alternatives and limit the renewable energy and other technologies we’ll need to adequately reduce our greenhouse gas emissions.

It doesn’t have to be this way.

While the dash to gas is sobering, we’ve been here before. In early 2000s, the Bush Administration proposed more than 200 coal plants - threat to all breathers and current and future generations threatened by a warming planet. In the midst of the rush, Los Angeles was first to step up and say no. It helped negotiate the retirement of the highly polluting Mojave Generating Station, and said  no to a proposal to expand the Intermountain Power Project. Today, the area on the IPP site where the third unit was proposed sits vacant. The effort to shift away from coal, ditching Mojave and later IPP’s proposal to expand was led by a young and bold Councilmember named … Eric Garcetti.

Now, in the midst of the gas rush, the Mayor’s leadership is needed again. Angelenos and many more are counting on Los Angeles to be a source of climate inspiration in the coming years. Los Angeles was an early symbol in the fight against coal and it can be again when it comes to natural gas. But, time is tight: DWP wants to move ahead now with its next expenditure - a $630 million 346 MW of the Scattergood Generating Station. Our city has long been a leader in the fight against climate change, but that’s now at risk as the city contemplates a multi-billion dollar investment in fossil fuels. It’s simple: Los Angeles can build its power plants, or it can lead on climate. But it can’t do both. It’s time for the Mayor to step up again and tell DWP to scrap its polluting plan and follow through in developing its plan for 100 percent clean energy.  

Evan Gillespie From Compass

Header photo by Vero Villa

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