Sometimes the truth isn't stranger than fiction, just better. Unlike the make-believe town of Springfield satirized in The Simpsons, with its dangerous power plant and inept leaders, the real-life Springfield, Illinois, is cleaning up its coal-fired facilities and investing in wind. And it's not alone. Communities across the heartland, where some 50 new coal plants have been proposed, are standing up to King Coal. The Sierra Club's Midwest Clean Energy Campaign is helping them choose smart solutions to global-warming and other pollution.
Last fall, Club activists convinced officials in Springfield to replace two of the city's dirtiest coal-fired plants with a facility that will emit 99 percent less sulfur dioxide. The city's landmark energy plan will also reduce mercury emissions from all of its coal plants by 90 percent over the next two years (to meet state requirements, the most stringent in the country) and slash Springfield's global-warming pollution to 25 percent below 2005 levels by 2012. Says Verena Owen, clean-air chair of the Club's Illinois Chapter, "If we are going to seriously address global warming and protect our children's children, we need all communities to start thinking like Springfield."
Elsewhere in Illinois, Club efforts last fall blocked air permits for two proposed coal plants, including one that would have been built near the federally protected Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie. Snuffing out these plants will prevent about 10 million tons of carbon dioxide from being emitted annually, according to Bruce Nilles, director of the Midwest Clean Energy Campaign.
Other campaign highlights include helping sway Minnesota lawmakers to pass strict mercury regulations for the state's six largest coal plants, and persuading the owner of a coal-fired plant in Green Bay, Wisconsin, (see "Sierra Club Bulletin," November/December 2005, page 64) to address air-quality violations and invest $500,000 in environmental programs. These victories help shift demand to cleaner energy, one power plant at a time.
Every year, eligible Sierra Club members (life members and others who have renewed at least once by January 31) have the chance to elect representatives to the volunteer board of directors. Each will serve a three-year term on the 15-person board, which sets conservation priorities, approves the annual budget, and oversees staff and volunteer activities. Look for your ballot to arrive in the mail by late March. Return it by noon eastern daylight time on April 23, or follow the instructions to vote online. Sierra will report the election results in our July/August issue.
Tired of the usual talk-radio blather? Tune in to Sierra Club Radio, a weekly half-hour program airing in the San Francisco Bay Area and also available online. The show is broadcast Saturdays at 3:30 P.M. on KQKE, 960 AM. Hosted by Club publicist Orli Cotel, it features political commentary; interviews with environmental activists, artists, and writers; and tips from "The Green Life" editor Jennifer Hattam and Sierra's own Mr. Green. Listen to past shows at sierraclubradio.org.
Each summer, the Sierra Student Coalition sponsors weeklong training programs for high school and college students who want to help protect the planet. Participants learn how to start green groups and run successful campaigns like the Campus Climate Challenge, which fights global warming. They also take hikes and enjoy fireside chats with guest speakers from the environmental movement.
The trainings cost $150 to $180 and will be held from mid-June to mid-August at state parks in California, Iowa, Louisiana, Michigan, New Hampshire, New Mexico, Puerto Rico, Virginia, and Washington. Need-based scholarships are available, as are group discounts.
MORE INFORMATIONTo apply, visitssc.org/sprogor call (888) JOIN-SSC. Applications will be accepted until programs are full.
The Planet, the Sierra Club's activist newsletter for the past 13 years, published its final issue last December--but rose phoenixlike online to continue its inspiring coverage of local victories. Sierra Club Grassroots, the new Web-only incarnation of the newsletter, features reporting on environmental campaigns, updates on Club activists in the field, and profiles of our diverse members. Read about "the power of many" to make a difference at sierraclub.org/grassroots.
Join the Sierra Club's Take Action Network at sierraclub.org/takeaction, where you can send e-mails and faxes to your elected officials.
For the latest on Club campaigns, go to sierraclub.org/email, where you can sign up for our biweekly e-newsletter, the Sierra Club Insider, and other Club e-mail communications.
Alaska: Air Strikes
Gray wolves can sprint up to 40 miles per hour, but they're no match for an airplane. In a practice that stretches the definition of hunting as sport, hunters in aircraft pursue wolves and bears until the animals are exhausted, then shoot them. The Sierra Club has joined Defenders of Wildlife and the Alaska Wildlife Alliance in suing the state of Alaska to invalidate its permits for aerial shooting. "It's not an anti-wolf-hunting thing," says Paul Forman, chair of the Club's Alaska Chapter. "It's about ensuring fair chase, ethical hunting practices, and sound science-based game management."
Residents have voted twice to outlaw this fly-by hunting, but both times the state legislature overruled the public in hopes of boosting game animal populations. Says Forman, "Artificially decreasing predators to artificially increase caribou and moose does not create a healthy ecosystem." --Robynne Boyd
Louisiana: Bayou Buffer Zone
In August 2005, the Sierra Club and a coalition of Louisiana environmental groups planned to meet to oppose the clearcutting of cypress swamps--but when Hurricane Katrina hit, their plans were shelved. "It's ironic," says Leslie March of the Club's Delta Chapter. "We were meeting to stop the destruction of a hurricane protector." Cypress woodlands help absorb storm surges, but 30 million board feet of the state tree are harvested annually for everything from cabinets to garden mulch. Scientists warn that the logged forests may not regenerate due to changes in the area's hydrology. The coalition (saveourcypress.org) is calling on Wal-Mart and other retailers to stop selling cypress mulch in favor of sustainable alternatives like pine bark. --Sarah Ives
Arizona: Snow and Sacrilege
Would you dump sewage on church grounds? That's what some Native Americans and activists are wondering after a ski resort announced it would spray treated wastewater on Arizona's San Francisco Peaks, considered sacred by 13 tribes. Arizona Snowbowl hopes to be the first U.S. ski resort to use 100 percent reclaimed sewage water--up to 1.5 million gallons daily--to make artificial snow.
The Sierra Club and others sued to block the project in 2005, citing concerns about exposure to harmful chemicals like endocrine disruptors. They lost the case but filed an appeal late last year. Says Robert Tohe, a Club environmental-justice organizer, "The case begs the court system to consider traditional Native religions on par with Christian religions." --S.I.
Photo by Becki Clayborn
Illustration by Debbie Drechsler