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Connecticut refuses key steps on climate

By Christine Marie - Socialist Action, September 5, 2017

Many cheered when Connecticut joined other states in proclaiming that they would stick to the Paris Agreement although the U.S. was pulling out. Unfortunately, the limits of that gesture became clear very soon.

On July 26, the Connecticut Department of Energy and the Environment released a long-awaited report, a draft Comprehensive Energy Strategy. The document, which was years in the crafting and supposedly influenced by a newly established Governor’s Council on Climate, in which the AFL-CIO and its Roundtable on Climate and Jobs had invested considerable energy, missed proposing the necessary steps to prevent climate catastrophe, and create the related jobs, by a disastrous margin.

Activists from the Sierra Club, Food and Water Watch, 350 CT, and many other organizations are protesting the state’s failure to take climate change seriously. They plan to use a series of public hearings in August and September to make their case to the broad public.

The authors of the Comprehensive Energy Strategy (CES), on the one hand nicely acknowledged all the concerns of climate activists and, on the other, projected business as usual in major areas of energy and environmental justice policy.

CT DEEP refused to commit to turning around the fracked gas build-out that has made New England a driver of and epicenter for disastrous levels of methane emissions. In fact, they entitle a section of their report “Shifting Toward Natural Gas as the Primary Fuel for Electric Generation.”

According to Dr. Robert Howarth, stopping the drilling, transportation, and burning of fracked gas—methane being a greenhouse gas up to 100 times more potent than CO2 in the very short term—is the single best tool that we have to buy time for a full transition to genuinely renewable solar, wind, and geothermal sources, and for carbon drawdown via agro-ecology, aforestation, and other reasonable methods.

Failure to act on methane could render any other measures moot, as the sudden rise of fracked gas emissions, if unchecked until 2040, is a factor that could push the earth over a climate tipping point all by itself.

State Weighs in For Caps on Bay Area Refinery Toxic and Climate Pollution

By Andrés Soto and Greg Karras, Communities for a Better Environment; Ratha Lai, Asian Pacific Environmental Network, and Luis Amuezca, Sierra Club Bay Chapter - April 16, 2017 [Press Release]

Reversing regional of ficials who sided with refiners to claim pollution trading policies force them to allow increasing refinery pollution, the State Air Resources Board supports pollution limits to “cap” increasing particulate and greenhouse gas air pollution from five Bay Ar ea refineries in a letter to the Bay Area Air Quality Management District sent late yesterday.

Oil companies seek to process lower quality grades of oil that could increase refinery emission intensity and refinery mass emissions.  Caps on emission intensi ty and mass work together to protect against those health and climate threats.  The State’s letter supports both protections, finding they work together with its state climate program. That finding contradicts the refiners’ argument that Air District Rule 12 - 16, which sets mass caps, conflicts with the State’s cap - and - trade pollution trading scheme.  Air District staff joined the refiners to make this claim against its own proposal in workshops last week.

'Sheer Reckless Folly': Trump Destroys Obama-Era Climate Rules

By Nika Knight - Common Dreams, March 28, 2017

President Donald Trump on Tuesday set about aggressively dismantling Obama-era climate policies with an executive order decried as "sheer reckless folly," which will increase U.S. greenhouse gas emissions and accelerate the climate crisis.

"Aside from provoking a large-scale nuclear war, it is hard to imagine an American president taking an action more harmful to the U.S. than Trump's effort to accelerate greenhouse gas emissions," said David J. Arkush, managing director of Public Citizen's Climate Program, in a statement.

"This day may be remembered as a low point in human history—a time when the world's preeminent power could have led the world to a better future but instead moved decisively toward catastrophe," Arkush added.

The order instructs the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to rewrite former President Barack Obama's Clean Power Plan (CPP), which would have limited the emissions of coal-powered power plants. It also lifts the moratorium on federal coal leasing, repeals limits on methane emissions from fracking, and directs the agency to reconsider the Social Cost of Carbon and the National Environmental Policy Act guidance on greenhouse gas emissions.

"The EPA's rollback of basic environmental rules demonstrates that when it comes to the health of our children, our communities, and our climate, this is an administration of lawlessness and disorder," said Elizabeth Yeampierre, executive director of the grassroots sustainability group UPROSE, in statement.

"For frontline communities, those of us impacted first and worst by the extraction economy, this means an escalation of public health crises, from asthma to cancer. It means an utter disregard for those of us most vulnerable to climate disasters," Yeampierre added. "It means a  world of volatility and exploitation for our children and grandchildren."

Environmentalists, local and state leaders, and advocacy groups are vowing to resist.

Unions + Environmentalists = A Movement

By Vanessa Warheit - Medium, March 13, 2017

Last week I had the enormous privilege of participating in a two-day pilot workshop designed to help organized labor and environmental groups build a movement together. The free workshop was co-sponsored by The Sierra Club, Blue-Green Alliance, Communication Workers of America, and the United Steel Workers, and hosted by USW Local 5 in the quaint oil-refinery town of Martinez, CA. I attended as the Science/Environment partnerships liaison for Indivisible Berkeley.

One thing that immediately struck me was the genuine goodwill in the room, and the sense that all of us — from refinery workers to climate activists to union managers to cable repair guys — just want a more equitable, safe planet for our families and our communities. I also confess to being somewhat surprised that the union folks were so open, and so friendly. (I think they were equally surprised to find us so open and friendly!) It was exciting, too, to see how well organized and committed they were (yes, I know, it’s called “organized labor” for a reason), as these are essential requirements for building our nascent resistance movement. I’m really looking forward to working more with them in the future, and I feel lucky to have these guys on our side.

But OK —friendly or not, how do you get oil workers and climate activists on the same page? Easy: show them their common enemy.

No Coal in Oakland: a Report on the Campaign

By Margaret Rossoff - No Coal in Oakland, August 2016; image by Brooke Anderson

Many activists have expressed interest in an account of how the No Coal in Oakland campaign was organized.  This article is a response, but is not a history.  It is structured thematically rather than chronologically, and the many amazing activists and organizers are not identified by name.  Some of our initiatives came from organizations and some came from individual activists, but this account does not attempt to credit them, as every idea became a shared project.  Unlike just about every document during the campaign, this is not a collectively written piece.  It was significantly improved by careful readings by several people, for which I am very grateful, but I am responsible for all errors and omissions.  I expect—and hope–others will be writing their own accounts from a variety of perspectives.

I have included many links for documents referred to in this account.  For general background about the campaign, go to NoCoalinOakland.info.  A guide to acronyms is at the end of the article.

Margaret Rossoff
margaretmft@gmail.com

Strategy

No Coal in Oakland’s campaign was focused on persuading the members of the Oakland City Council to ban storage and handling of coal at a bulk export marine terminal to be built on City-owned land.  This would effectively prevent the transport of coal through Oakland and other cities along the rail lines as well as the shipment of coal overseas.

  • Our campaign to get the council members to vote for the ban had several components.  The primary ones were:
  • Direct lobbying with council members.
  • Outreach to Oakland residents, including particularly West Oakland residents and participants in community groups.  This was intended both to influence elected officials through popular opposition, and because we saw our campaign as part of building the larger movement for environmental justice and to contain climate disruption.
  • Insuring that evidence of the dangers of coal was adequately documented and presented to the council, including rebutting misleading claims by the developers.
  • Exploring other routes that might also lead to keeping coal out of Oakland.

This article focuses primarily on the first two aspects of our campaign. 

Why We Withdrew Sponsorship from the Sierra Club’s Rally in Hartford, CT: Comfort Letter, Censorship, and Compromise!

A Statement by Capitalism vs. the Climate, April 21, 2016

We reluctantly withdrew our sponsorship from an April 20th rally against fracked-gas infrastructure in Connecticut, organized mainly by the Sierra Club. While we found actions by the national Sierra Club leading up to the rally to be inexcusable, this statement should not be seen as a criticism of the Connecticut state chapter or its volunteer members. We have reached out to the national Sierra Club and chapter staff and attempted to discuss our concerns regarding the rallies mentioned below in Bridgeport and Hartford, but we have only received evasive responses and claims that our concerns are misled.

The Sierra Club’s call for an April 20th rally against fracked-gas infrastructure in Connecticut said:

“…methane gas is worse at causing climate change than burning oil or coal, because methane produces more global warming than carbon dioxide does. We MUST convert to 100% renewable energy immediately”.[1]

But… the Sierra Club does NOT speak out against PSEG’s proposed fracked-gas plant in Bridgeport, CT.

The Sierra Club campaigned for several years against a coal plant in Bridgeport operated by PSEG. When PSEG offered to switch from burning coal to burning fracked gas, the Sierra Club decided to tacitly accept this awful compromise and not speak out loudly against construction of the gas plant, abandoning local residents and grassroots campaigners who wanted to keep fighting fracked gas. Of the Bridgeport residents who testified on the issue at city hall on February 1st, all but one of them strongly opposed the gas plant.[2]

The Sierra Club admits that they sent a “comfort letter” to PSEG in January that promised they will not take legal action against PSEG’s proposed gas plant.[3] To this day, the Sierra Club refuses to share a copy of the letter with local residents affected by the compromise.

The Sierra Club has also been censoring its own members who try to protest PSEG. According to an email we received from an executive committee member, the Connecticut chapter has been “muzzled” and “can only very quietly and not publicly fight the B-port gas plant.”[4]

  • Earlier this month, likely because of pressure from the national Sierra Club, the Connecticut chapter would not endorse an environmental justice rally organized by residents of Bridgeport. When the chapter did circulate an invitation to the event, they edited out the mention of “PSEG’s proposed fracked-gas plant” from the original event description.[5] Connecticut chapter members say the national Sierra Club pressured them to make such redactions.
  • Our press release on the February 1st public hearing (correctly) stated that “members of…the Connecticut Sierra Club also showed up to support Bridgeport residents fighting PSEG’s coal and gas power plants.”[6] Shortly afterwards, another member of the chapter’s executive committee emailed us and said that due to pressure they receive from the national Sierra Club, the chapter should not be publicly named as protesting the gas plant.[7]

We do not claim to speak for Connecticut Sierra Club members, and they have not asked us to make this statement. Nonetheless, looking in from the outside, we see the national organization interfering with local members who want to support Bridgeport residents fighting against environmental injustice. We see similarities to troubling instances in the past when the national Sierra Club has tried to silence principled chapters who dared to speak out against the Iraq War and against the greenwashing of Clorox.[8]

When it comes to Bridgeport, the Sierra Club’s silence and censorship reveals an ugly double standard. While the Sierra Club devotes resources to supporting campaigns against fracked-gas infrastructure in Connecticut’s wealthy and white communities, they will not vocally oppose fracked gas in the predominantly low-income, black and brown city of Bridgeport. Even if the Sierra Club’s legal agreement with PSEG was not motivated by racist intentions, we are concerned that the Sierra Club’s double standard, on where they will and will not protest fracked gas, could deepen Connecticut’s racial and class disparities in pollution. Since the Sierra Club would not endorse anti-gas testimonies and protest in Bridgeport, we could no longer in good conscience support the Sierra Club’s own anti-gas rally.

That’s not all… the Sierra Club kicked Beyond Extreme Energy out of the rally.

Beyond Extreme Energy (BXE) has been taking admirable direct action to stop fracking and plans to protest outside the homes of FERC’s pipeline rubber-stampers. BXE was originally one of the co-sponsors of the rally in Hartford. Against the wishes of the CT Sierra Club members, the national Sierra Club gave an ultimatum: either kick out BXE or the Sierra Club would withdraw their sponsorship (effectively canceling the rally). The Sierra Club believes (as stated in a conference call[9]) that BXE’s non-violent tactics are too confrontational… in fighting the biggest existential threat to our planet.

While non-violent home demonstrations are controversial, various campaigns have found the tactic very effective in the past (for example, in confronting animal cruelty and the logging of old growth forests[10]). The protests do not physically harm anyone, whereas the same cannot be said about high-level FERC officials who approve flammable fracked-gas pipelines in human and nonhuman communities and even adjacent to the Indian Point nuclear power plant, despite severe social, ecological, and climate risks.

It is appalling that a powerful Big Green group tried to use the Hartford rally to pressure BXE’s courageous campaigners into watering down their tactics. This is especially true at a time when a rapidly warming planet reminds us how insufficient (at best) the Big Greens’ prevailing tactics of compromise and capitulation have been. We believe that environmental organizations with different strategies and tactics should find ways to work together rather than take deliberate actions to exclude and marginalize activists. We felt that withdrawing from the rally was necessary in order to not be complicit in the exclusion of BXE.

The Sierra Club’s kind of green…

As mentioned earlier, the Sierra Club itself admits that fracked gas is not an acceptable bridge fuel. Some scientists say that fracked gas cooks the climate significantly more than coal and oil do. Surveying water contamination, air pollution and ecosystem destruction, a recent report by Environment America found that “fracking poses grave threats to the environment and public health”.[11]

We are concerned, therefore, that the Sierra Club has put money before social justice and climate protection. From 2007 to 2010, the Sierra Club took $25 million from the fracked gas industry. Since 2011, the Sierra Club has taken $80 million from the pro-fracking billionaire Michael Bloomberg. Bloomberg’s fortune is managed by Willet Advisors, which according to BusinessWeek, “invests in real assets focusing on oil and natural gas areas.”[12] Because of this funding, it is not surprising to us that the national Sierra Club has been very slow to protest consistently against fracked gas.

Real solutions will not come from alliances with the richest 1%, no matter how much money they contribute. There is no time to waste compromising core values as the planet burns and communities of color suffocate.

Communities Unite to Fight Coal in Oakland

By Eric K. Arnold - Reimagine, March 2016

Coal, once the staple of American industrial production, may be on its last legs. With domestic production showing a long-term decline, the fossil fuel’s days appear to be numbered.

According to the most recent annual report [1] of the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA), in 2013, U.S. coal production fell below two billion short tons for the first time in two decades; coal mining capacity decreased, as did the average number of coal mine employees, the average sales price of coal, and total U.S. coal stocks. In April of 2015, the EIA projected coal would hit a 28-year low, reflecting significant drops in domestic demand and exports. In August, Goldman Sachs divested itself of its coal holdings; a month later, it issued a gloomy forecast[2] for coal’s future, stating, “the industry does not require new investment,” dashing hopes for a miraculous upturn in the coal market. A report[3] by the Carbon Tracker Initiative (CTI) noted that 26 domestic coal companies have recently gone into bankruptcy proceedings; and coal’s value on the Dow Jones index dropped by 76 percent between 2009-14 (a period when the overall Dow index went up 69 percent).

According to CTI, domestic energy generation has remained flat for the past decade but energy sources have shifted: coal and oil are down, but natural gas and renewable energy are up. America’s largest coal producers are recording annual losses in the billions of dollars, while Chinese coal demand has slumped and new environmental regulations[4] aimed at significantly reducing air pollution and increasing wind and solar consumption are being phased in by the Chinese government. Additionally, all federal coal leasing is currently under moratorium until a comprehensive review can be completed. As the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) noted[5] in its online magazine, OnEarth, “it would be difficult to overstate the industry’s current distress.”

This is scary news for the coal industry, yet a welcome announcement for environmentalists who have waged national campaigns against coal for decades. These desperate times for coal producers have led to desperate measures. Their last hope, it would seem, is to increase coal’s export capacity by transporting the black gunk through West Coast ports. But even there the pro-coal forces have met with unexpected resistance, as city after city in Oregon and Washington have mounted grassroots campaigns to deliver an emphatic message: “Say no to coal.”

A Sierra Club love story: Remembering Bay Chapter hiking leader Louis Prisco

By Staff - Sierra Club Yodeller, February 12, 2016

A note from Jeanne Halpern, Louis Prisco’s long-time domestic partner: Louis and I met at the Hike Leaders’ Bash, the annual hike and potluck for hike leaders on Mt. Tam, in 1993. One thing people don’t realize is how much the Sierra Club brings people with like interests together. When we led the Valentine Lovers’ Hike the first time — which we’d expected would attract people who wanted to fall in love! — we stopped at the log where Louis and I had met. There we reenacted our meeting and then asked the thirty-one hikers to tell a little about themselves, maybe what attracted them to our hike. And we were amazed that almost all of them were couples who’d previously met on Sierra Club hikes! (The odd number was because Guy Mayes’ wife Nancy was home sick.) And I later learned that several couples had met on the Sierra Club hike I used to lead to movie filming sites in S.F. There, they had two things in common, a love of hiking AND of movies. The romance of the Sierra Club is not to be underestimated, but usually is.

Louis Frederick Prisco, a gentle man with a strong social conscience, died at UCSF Medical Center on December 17, 2015, with Jeanne Halpern, his partner of twenty-two years, whispering to him and holding his hand.

Born in Providence, R.I., in 1939 to a large Italian family, Louis became the first of fourteen siblings and cousins to graduate from college, with a BA in Sociology from Providence College in 1961. He entered the army as second lieutenant, serving in France 1962-64, and was promoted to first lieutenant in 1963. He earned an MA in Comparative Literature from San Francisco State in 1972.

For the next twenty-six years, Louis worked for the San Francisco Department of Human Services, where he produced the first computerized “Child Welfare Handbook.” A staunch union supporter, he was active in the SEIU Local 535 as secretary, treasurer, and executive board member. He was also a long-time member of the IWW, Industrial Workers of the World.

An adventurous Sierra Club hike leader, Louis preferred 10-15-mile hikes on Mt. Tamalpais. Sitting on a log there one sunny day in 1993, he met fellow hike leader Jeanne Halpern, a meeting that changed their lives. To celebrate the pivotal role that the Sierra Club had played in their love lives, they created the Valentine Lovers’ Hike on Mt. Tam in 1997, the year they registered as domestic partners. It followed the route of the first hike on which they met, and at every picturesque turn, they read a love poem aloud for their followers. Jeanne’s favorite was “may I feel” by e. e. cummings, and Louis’ was “Symptoms of Love” by Robert Graves. The hike ended with a potluck dinner at the Alpine Club, at which Louis sang “Sweet Little Angel,” a song first recorded by B. B. King in 1956.

Louis’ most popular city hike commemorated the 50th anniversary of the 1934 S.F. Waterfront Strike. Though it started as a ten-mile Sierra Club hike, he honed it to two miles and led it every July as part of LaborFest. The accompanying booklet he wrote, San Francisco Waterfront, impressed participants with its photos, thorough notes and bibliography; it was republished three times.

Community Hosts Teach-In on Environmental Justice as Oakland City Council Delays Action on Coal Exports

By April Thomas and Virginia Reinhart - Sierra Club Press Release, December 10, 2015; video by Labor Video Project, December 9, 2015

Video: ILWU Local 10 Business Agent Derrick Muhammad spoke in Berkeley, California on December 6 about the role of the ILWU in opposed a coal terminal in the part of Oakland, California. This presentation was made on December 6, 2015.

Oakland, Calif. - Activists and community leaders from groups including No Coal in Oakland, Fight for 15 and Black Lives Matter rallied today at Oakland City Hall. Along with SEIU Local 1021 they hosted a teach-in on the alignment of the campaign to block coal exports with struggles for social, economic, and racial justice. At its September hearing on the health and safety impacts of a proposal to export millions of tons of Utah coal through a new terminal at the former Army Base, the Oakland City Council committed to acting by December 8th. They have since delayed their action to February. Activists gathered at City Hall nonetheless, to make their voices heard and gather for a community teach-in that brought together a broad intersection of Oakland’s progressive activists.

“If Oakland Bulk and Oversized Terminal is allowed to store coal on City of Oakland-owned land, it will greatly impact the lives and lungs of people in the Oakland flatlands, who are the most vulnerable members of our community,” said Margaret Gordon, co-founder of West Oakland Environmental Indicators Project. “The developer never proposed coal as a commodity until after agreements were signed with the City. Even now, the developer doesn’t have the funding together to make this terminal a reality without the cooperation of state and local government. The City of Oakland should take the strongest possible stance in opposing the storage of coal at the Oakland Bulk and Oversized Terminal.”

"Low-income communities of color disproportionately overburdened by pollution are on the front lines of potential train derailment in West and East Oakland,” said Ernesto Arevalo, East Oakland environmental justice and housing advocate. “The transportation of coal is another burden to these communities that are already facing other environmental risks and displacement."

"What does social justice look like?" said Shonda Roberts, activist with Fight for 15. "To me it looks like a livable wage, a clean environment and safe communities. The only way that would be attainable is
solidarity."

"We believe it is so important that there be no coal in Oakland because of profound health concerns of residents," said Dominic Ware and Chris Higgenbotham of Black Lives Matter Bay Area. "We've already seen the impacts of gentrification in West Oakland. Now we're being exploited in another way by coal companies who want to pollute our communities."

"Oakland should not be involved in shipping coal overseas, since this fossil fuel is the major contributor to climate change,” said Margaret Rossoff of the Sunflower Alliance. “Coal needs to be left in ground and replaced with renewable resources." 

“The City Council can delay all they like, but we’re not going anywhere,” said Brittany King of the SF Bay Chapter of the Sierra Club. “So much is at stake here, from our global climate to the health of the West Oakland community. Today concerned Oaklanders from many different struggles came together to speak with one voice: We say no to coal exports in Oakland.”
Background: A portion of the former Oakland Army Base is being developed as a bulk export facility, known as the Oakland Bulk and Oversized Terminal (OBOT). CCIG, the developer, promised not include coal as a commodity handled by the terminal, but is now soliciting a partnership with four Utah counties that could allow the terminal to export up to 10 million tons of coal from their mines each year. A Utah funding body approved $53 million to buy space at Oakland Bulk Terminal for these exports. This deal is being conducted behind the backs of the Oakland City Council and the Port, both of which oppose coal as a commodity for shipping in Oakland. While the Mayor, members of the council and residents have demanded a stop to this backroom deal, the developer has yet to abandon the plans.

Those opposing the plan to export coal through Oakland have voiced concerns over how this decision will affect the community’s safety, the environment, and public health. According to a national train company, each open-top rail car of coal can lose up to one ton of dust between the mines and the port, resulting in the release of 60,000 pounds of toxic fine particulate matter in communities near the rails. Additionally, this deal will stifle California’s strong commitment to cutting carbon pollution, especially as the state continues to suffer from extreme drought, forest fires, and other signs of climate disruption.

Unions, Environmental Justice Advocates Say “No!” To Coal Transport through Oakland

By Staff - Emerald Cities Collaborative, October 21, 2015; image by Brooke Anderson

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s.

The Alameda Labor Council was a key player in the nearly 100-member Coal-Free Oakland Coalition of unions, climate justice advocates and environmental groups that has halted the proposed transport of coal through Oakland in its tracks, pending a health impact study by the Oakland City Council.  The coalition includes unions representing nurses, teachers, longshoremen, city workers, recyclers, housekeepers, postal workers, bus drivers, custodians and security officers. City Council staff are to report to the council on their public health study and propose next steps by December.

As part of its strategy, the Labor Council passed a hard-hitting resolution opposing a coal export terminal in the new Oakland Global Trade and Logistics Center. Not only was that document key to the coalition’s win, it also firmly aligned organized labor in Oakland with the city’s environmental justice and climate movements. It did so by acknowledging and commending labor’s growing commitment “to environmental justice issues that affect workers, communities and future generations. ”

According to Emerald Cities Oakland Director Tara Marchant, “This coalition and its victory reflect years of work building alliances along environmental justice and labor unions to reject old, polluting energy."

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