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Showing posts with the label Sierra Club

John Muir, dead at age 175.

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"What creature of all that the Lord has taken the pains to make is not essential to the completeness of that unit--the cosmos? ... They are earth-born companions and our fellow mortals." - John Muir, born 1838.

It is devastatingly ironic to me that the organization that John Muir created is transforming itself into a surrogate of the industrial menace that ravages what he loved. I've written on this before, and I ask for your patience once more.

If the Sierra Club leaders continue with their approach of supporting industry as the solution to the problem that is destroying nature, its credibility as an environmental organization will be severely eroded, and Sierra Club leadership may not notice the decline.  The Sierra Club will have failed at its founding purpose - the appreciation of nature and the protection of what John Muir called "God's cathedrals", referring to beautiful natural landscapes consisting of miracles big and small.

The Sierra Club today w…

Desert Peaks: Then and Now

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In late 1952, Sierra Club member Bill Henderson roused excitement during a New Year's party for the Club's Desert Peaks section for an adventurous hike into the Coxcomb Mountains in present-day Joshua Tree National Park.  Written up in the Sierra Club Bulletin and Desert Magazine, the desert explorers reached the roughly 4400 foot high summit without trails.  As Louise Werner wrote in the May 1953 issue of Desert Magazine, "[t]he view to the southeast encouraged speculation and planning for future climbs. Range after range of desert mountains stretched as far as we could see: the Palens, the Granites, the Little Marias, the Big Marias.  Like an undulating carpet of chocolate-brown velvet, they stretched to the vanishing point."

Today, that same view is threatened by both climate change and industrial-scale renewable energy projects.  Developers have plans -- or have already begun construction -- on solar projects in many of the valleys in view from the Coxcomb summit…

Sierra Club Turns 120 Years Young

The Sierra Club was founded 120 years ago on 28 May 1892.  A year later, the first volume of the Sierra Club Bulletin detailed one member's account of a trip from the Mojave Desert mining town of Daggett, California, to Furnace Creek in what would eventually become Death Valley National Park in a piece titled "Through Death Valley".

After departing Daggett and enduring a rough journey on the first day, the member described the timeless experience of waking up to a cool desert dawn, refreshed from a good night's sleep under the stars:
"The next morning dawned bright and clear. As I threw off my blankets my first impression was that I was in a perfect paradise. All about us were the beautiful yuccas, stretching their spiny arms in all directions, while beneath them was a perfect carpet of gorgeously colored flowers, some like white satin, others a beautiful blue, while from every bit of shaded ground, like golden daisies, nodded a beautiful yellow flower (Anisconi…

Sierra Club Lobbying for Wind Industry; Wind Industry Lobbying Against Wildlife

It's an odd situation when the Sierra Club provides unconditional support to an industry that describes wildlife and conservation goals as "obstacles," lobbies to weaken the environmental laws we have fought hard to institute and enforce, and enjoys comfortable access to a White House promoting an "all of the above" energy policy that is taking its toll on our climate and our public lands.  In a blog post titled "Americans Agree With President Obama: Wind Is the Way," Sierra Club Director of Clean Energy Dave Hamilton calls for the renewal of the Production Tax Credit (PTC) that has driven the wind industry's expansion onto wildlands in recent years,  yet the wind industry simultaneously ignores the Club's conservation concerns and dismisses guidance from the US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) to avoid impacts on protected and endangered bats and birds.

The wind industry is not as toxic as coal, but it has about as much regard for conserva…

Renewable Energy Industry Ignoring National Environmental Groups

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Solar and wind energy companies are seeing their "green" image slip away as they stake claim to large swaths of sensitive wildlife habitat in America's southwest, and balk at conservation groups calling for smarter siting decisions.  Although many in the grassroots conservation community wish the national environmental groups would be more vocal and consistent in their stand on responsible renewable energy standards, even the handful of examples where national groups do demand that renewable energy projects reduce impacts on our ecosystems, the renewable energy industry and even policymakers have resisted.

Calico Solar
The Calico Solar power project is an example of the renewable energy industry watching their "green" image melt away.  National environmental groups gave solar companies and the Federal government a three year opportunity to clean up their act and find a better place to build a 7 square mile solar project.  Neither listened, and now the Sierra C…

Sierra Club: Make Up Your Mind on Ivanpah

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Will we listen to biologists, or First Solar's corporate executives? It seems like the obvious choice for an environmental organization would be to listen to the scientists that have declared Ivanpah Valley too ecologically important to bulldoze for additional solar projects.  For the Sierra Club, I'm still not sure which path we have chosen.

As a Sierra Club member, I am frustrated that my organization remains irresolute regarding the future of the Ivanpah Valley.  The Sierra Club's Beyond Coal campaign has recognized the ecological significance of Ivanpah, and earlier this year encouraged members nationwide to submit comments on  the Department of Interior's Solar Programmatic EIS supplement that mentioned Ivanpah as an area not suitable for additional solar projects. Yet the Club now appears to be working to find a way to permit more large solar projects in this treasured place.

On 21 March, the Sierra Club's Toiyabe Chapter met with First Solar, probably givin…

Sierra Club Joins Call for Mandatory Wind Energy Guidelines

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The Sierra Club informed the Department of Interior in January that it supports mandatory guidelines for the wind energy industry that would protect wildlife,  strengthening its previously expressed position that only favored voluntary guidelines, according to the March issue of the Desert Report.  The move is a positive sign that the Sierra Club hopefully recognizes that we can no longer turn a blind eye to the destructive potential of any energy source -- whether that is coal, natural gas, wind or solar -- and that the conservation community should protect our natural resources instead of facilitating their destruction for the benefit of corporate profit.  The Sierra Club's letter  follows a petition submitted by the American Bird Conservancy in December asking Washington to establish a mandatory permitting system that will hold the wind energy industry accountable to environmental law.

According to the Sierra Club letter to Secretary of the Interior Kenneth Salazar:
"...the…

Citizens Urge Interior to Stop Solar Chaos

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Conservation groups and concerned citizens submitted comments last week on the Department of Interior's proposed policy to guide the siting of utility-scale solar on public lands.  Although the policy represents an improvement from an earlier draft,  the common denominator among the comments was that the proposed policy is still too weak to prevent industrial solar development from inflicting irreparable harm on our desert ecosystems.  In the meantime, we continue to face a status quo where the solar industry has unfettered access to bulldoze some of the most treasured public lands in America's southwestern states, ignoring a more efficient alternative of installing solar panels in our cities.


In the video above, a contractor for BrightSource Solar destroys desert vegetation, including a cluster of Yucca that are probably 400-800 years old.

Interior's Supplement to the Solar Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement attempts to encourage industrial solar development in id…

Energy for the 99%

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Tomorrow is 20 November.  A community group called Solar Mosaic declared 20 November as Occupy Rooftops day.  Meaning, find the rooftop of a building in your community where you would like to see rooftop solar, take a picture and send it to Solar Mosaic.  The organization has already used "crowdfunding" to install solar on the rooftop of a community building in Oakland, and is now raising community investment to install solar on other buildings in Oakland and Flagstaff. (I sponsored a solar tile at an Oakland-based food justice organization).

Solar Mosaic is a small slice of the rooftop solar pie, but one that is emblematic of how distributed generation -- also known as local clean energy -- can cut greenhouse gasses without asking giant utility companies to devastate desert habitat or mountaintops for big solar and wind projects that are hundreds of miles away from our cities.

There is room for utility-scale solar on already-disturbed lands (minimizing ecological destruction…

Environmentalism for the 1%

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The departure of the Sierra Club's chairman -- Carl Pope -- comes during a dark moment for environmentalism.  The vanguards of the green movement have compromised their core conservation ethic, forging alliances with corporations and ignoring the grassroots in order to make way for an unchecked renewable energy industry that is more intent on destroying public lands than saving them.

A recent Los Angeles Times article highlights how Pope may be a casualty of this attempt to gain influence in Washington and Wall Street, but his approach has been practiced by other national environmental groups,  including the Wilderness Society, NRDC, Center for Biological Diversity, and Defenders of Wildlife.  These groups have desperately sought acceptance among business and political elites, painting themselves as job creators by selling out America's landscapes to big wind and solar firms, and then bragging about the jobs they have supported.  What have they gained? Loss of respect among th…

BLM Begins Supplemental Environmental Review for Calico Solar

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Despite opposition from the BNSF railroad, conservation groups, and countless concerned citizens, K Road Solar is still intent on building the Calico Solar power project in the central Mojave Desert.  But first they will need to complete a supplemental environmental impact analysis.  An environmental impact statement was actually completed last year and the project approved, but the project plans were sold to K Road Solar, which then modified them enough to warrant additional impact analysis.

Whether or not the Department of Interior approves the project will be a test for its supposed commitment to more judicious siting of large renewable energy projects on public lands.  Three groups -- Sierra Club, Defenders of Wildlife, and the NRDC -- sent a notice to Interior in August warning against approving the project and pointing out deficiencies in last year's environmental review.  The groups argue that the project could be sited on lands nearby that are already-disturbed for agricul…

Sizing up Ivanpah Valley Destruction

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The desert will make anything seem small.  Consequently, I think we have a hard time grasping the enormity of the destruction solar and wind companies are proposing when they choose to bulldoze intact ecosystems instead of building on already-disturbed lands or investing in distributed generation.

If you walk across a Mojave Desert valley and find a nice perch on one of the surrounding mountains, you'll overlook a vast expanse of creosote bushes, blackbrush, yucca, and Joshua Trees.  The ecosystem may look harsh, but it is teeming with life -- desert tortoises, bobcat, burrowing owls, bighorn sheep, horned lizards, sidewinder snakes, and kangaroo rats, bees, and specialized moths.

When energy companies show up, they see that expanse of nature as a bank account.  The more they build on it, the more money they can put in their pockets.   So when First Solar announced plans to build in the Ivanpah Valley of the northeastern Mojave Desert, it was obvious they had no appreciation for th…