COAL-FIRED POWER PLANTS already provide about half of our nation's electricity, and the coal industry wants to increase our dependence on the dirty fossil fuel. With new laws to combat global warming on the horizon, Big Coal is scrambling to build plants as quickly as possible before governments enact more-stringent pollution controls. (About 100 facilities are proposed nationwide.) But through a combination of grassroots activism and legal savvy, the Sierra Club is thwarting the coal rush.
Last fall Club volunteers and staff in Kansas helped persuade state regulators to deny an air permit for a coal-fired plant near Holcomb because of its potential global-warming pollution--the first time a U.S. government agency has cited carbon dioxide emissions as the reason for refusing such a permit. In Iowa, the Club and other opponents of a massive new plant planned in Waterloo prevailed when the local development board refused to rezone land for the project. Wisconsin reached an agreement with the Club to clean up 13 of its power plants and cut its coal use by 20,000 tons beginning this year. And in Michigan, a coalition of environmental groups including the Sierra Club launched a campaign to fight seven proposed plants.
Not all the action is in the Midwest. Earlier in 2007, Club activists teamed with Native leaders in New Mexico to oppose coal development on Navajo Nation lands. And in Texas, in response to protests and lawsuits by the Club and others, TXU Corporation scrapped plans for 8 of 11 coal plants. "We're seeing major cracks in the coal rush," says Bruce Nilles, director of the Club's National Coal Campaign.
It's ballot time: Every year, eligible Sierra Club members can vote for representatives to the Club's volunteer board of directors, each of whom will serve a three-year term. The 15-person board sets conservation priorities, approves the annual budget, and oversees staff and volunteer activities. Ballots will be sent in March to life members and those who have renewed at least once by January 31. Return your ballot by noon eastern daylight time on April 21, or follow the instructions to vote
online. Sierra will report the results in our July/August issue.
Stinky is ready for his close-up. Last November, the animated character's climate-change-denying antics in "Big Fun With Global Warming," a short cartoon cosponsored by the Sierra Club, garnered an Emmy for best broadband public service announcement. In the film, "the nasty little office man" isn't too concerned that the average American produces the equivalent of ten grand pianos' worth of carbon pollution every year until the truth hits home--literally. Watch "Big Fun" at sierraclub.org/cartoons/greene/stinky1. —K.K.
Learn to Lead
Instead of just catching z's this summer, how about brushing up on your activist ABC's? Every year, the Sierra Student Coalition sponsors weeklong training programs for high school and college students who want to become eco-rock stars. While camping out, participants learn how to start green groups and run successful campaigns like the Campus Climate Challenge. Students also enjoy fireside chats with guest speakers.
The trainings cost $150 to $200; need-based scholarships and group discounts are available. For locations (most sessions will be held in state parks nationwide) and dates, go to ssc.org/sprog. —Karina Kinik
MORE INFORMATIONTo apply, visitssc.org/sprogor call (888) JOIN-SSC. Applications will be accepted until programs are full.
Utah: Red Sees Green
The region some call "the reddest county in the reddest state in the union" looks a little greener these days, thanks to the Utah Valley Sierra Forum. Sierra Club member Jim Westwater organized the group in 2006 to protect the "world-class natural beauty" of the fast-growing Provo, Utah, area. It's not an official Club organization, but it allies itself with the Utah Chapter, mounting campaigns against new coal-burning power plants and a proposed eight-lane freeway. The forum's biggest goal is to improve residents' perception of the environmental movement in a region not known for hugging trees. Through community-involvement projects including a service outing to Diamond Fork Hot Springs and a campaign to clean up Utah Lake, volunteers are showing other locals the importance of such activism. "Our motto is 'For a better, smarter, healthier, sustainable Utah Valley and planet,'" Westwater says. "There's not much you can object to there, regardless of your politics." For more information, visit uvsf.us. —Lea Hartog
Kentucky: Fowl Neighbor
When a vigilant local alerted the Sierra Club's Cumberland Chapter about a Tyson Foods factory farm under construction next to the Payneville, Kentucky, elementary school, volunteers flew into action. The mountains of waste created by giant corporate farms can contaminate nearby waterways and soil. The ammonia fumes emitted also pose a threat to human respiratory health--and children are particularly susceptible, says Aloma Dew, an organizer for the Club's Building Environmental Community Campaign. Responding to pressure from the Club and concerned citizens, Tyson halted its plans for the facility. But, Dew cautions, as long as consumers keep buying factory-raised chicken, communities will continue to battle Big Poultry. —Katie Mathis
Washington: Transit Yes, Highways No
Seattle-area Sierra Club members had their work cut out for them: defeating a flawed tax on roads and transit backed by a long list of businesses and government entities. Proposition 1 would have paid for 50 miles of light-rail transit, but it earmarked billions to expand highways that would have exacerbated global-warming pollution. Vastly outspent by the opposition, the Club pulled out the stops with a time-tested arsenal of lobbying, rallying, door-to-door canvassing, and phoning voters--as well as newer techniques like blanketing the blogosphere. Last November, voters solidly rejected the proposition. Says Club organizer Kathleen Ridihalgh, "This is the first major public-works proposal I know of to be defeated because it would worsen global warming." —Tom Valtin
Illustrations, from top: Debbie Drechsler, John Ueland; used with permission.