Photo © David Sammonds
Some of the best green tidings of the year arrived on December 6 when the House of Representatives passed an historic energy bill that would establish a national renewable electricity standard and increase the fuel efficiency of cars, trucks, and SUVs to 35 miles per gallon by 2020. The next day, the Senate failed to muster the 60 votes neccessary to avoid a filibuster, and ended up passing a watered-down version of the bill, which was then signed into law by President Bush on December 19.
Even the weakened bill is good news in that it includes the first significant improvement in automobile mileage standards in more than 30 years. But it would have had far greater impact had the Senate not killed two key provisions: requiring utilities to generate an increasing share of their power from renewable sources, and a rollback of approximately $12 billion in tax breaks to oil companies. The House overwhelmingly passed the final version of the bill on December 18.
Still, it feels unmistakably as though the tide is turning, and federal lawmakers are beginning to catch up with the majority of Americans who want to move toward a more sustainable energy economy and reestablish the United States as a global environmental leader.
The Sierra Club is on the leading edge of this green wave, and grassroots activists have lots to cheer about when they look back on 2007. Just after Thanksgiving, New Mexico became the 13th state to adopt California Clean Car legislation. Seventeen states, accounting for nearly half of the country's vehicle sales, have now adopted the legislation or announced plans to do so.
The Cool Cities campaign is a continuing success story--that's a Live Earth ECOncert pictured above in Boulder, Colorado, organized by the Sierra Club this summer. Nearly 750 cities and towns have signed the U.S. Mayors Climate Protection Agreement and pledged to reduce local global warming emissions. In Maine alone, 13 cities have jumped on the Cool Cities bandwagon; others who came onboard this year thanks to Sierra Club grassroots efforts include Raleigh, North Carolina; Topeka, Kansas; Tulsa, Oklahoma; and Iowa City, Iowa.
The Club is on the frontlines fighting the coal rush, as Big Coal scrambles to build hundreds of new coal-fired power plants around the country as quickly as possible before new pollution controls are put in place. The Club's Lone Star Chapter organized a February rally in Austin, above, where more than 2,000 Texans gathered to oppose new coal plants in their state. (Eight off the 11 proposed plants were subsequently shelved.) Among this year's coal victories, too numerous to recap here, were big wins in Wisconsin, Florida, and Kansas. And in a major court victory for clean air, the Supreme Court ruled that the EPA must regulate carbon emissions from the burning of fossil fuels as a pollutant.
Other energy success stories in 2007 include a new wind energy deal in Delaware, a citizens energy plan for Virginia, and defeating a ballot measure in Washington State that would have earmarked billions for highway expansion, exacerbating global warming. Above, a polar bear makes his (her?) feelings clear about the Washington State ballot measure at a Sierra Club rally in downtown Seattle. Below, Sierra Club organizer Carl Zichella celebrates with fellow organizers and another polar bear at a Climate Project rally in Sacramento this summer.
Wilderness activists cheered passage of a New England Wilderness Bill for New Hampshire and Vermont and the Wild Sky Wilderness Bill in Washington State, while the Club's newest chapter celebrated when Puerto Rico's governor signed a bill protecting the island's Northeast Ecological Corridor. The Club was also pivotal in thwarting an attempt to sell off more than 300,000 acres of national forest lands.
On the Great Plains, the Club is working with hunters and anglers to establish the nation's first grasslands wilderness, and burgeoning partnerships are bearing fruit with tribal, faith, and community groups. In Alabama, Club activists are working with educators to help them teach young people to be good environmental stewards. Below, participants weating Sierra Club t-shirts help clean up Bridgeport Park in Wilcox County, Alabama.
Youth power was in evidence when the Sierra Student Coalition helped organize the first-ever youth climate summit, Power Shift 2007, pictured below, in the nation's capital. Student activists from Maine to Maryland to Minnesota spoke out and made a difference this year. In Iowa, a student activist "sat agape" when the text of a clean energy flyer he'd handed to rocker Ben Folds on a Des Moines street corner was sung by Folds in concert that evening. Another fortuitous encounter occurred on a plane flight in Montana.
Not all encounters went so smoothly: tempers flared when Club activists spoke out against a proposed racetrack on New York's Staten Island, but the city council ended up seeing things the Sierra Club's way. Feathers didn't fly in small-town Kentucky, however, where the Club worked with locals to keep out an unwanted industrial chicken factory. In Michigan, too, Club activists led the charge against factory farms.
On the Gulf Coast, volunteers revealed that displaced victims of Hurricane Katrina were being housed in toxic trailers, a Mississippi mother fought toxic pollution and the state's lax regulatory envirnment on the "Cancer Coast," and in Texas the Club reached across the international border to keep a polluting smelter from reopening. Below, 1,000 people from both sides of the border gathered to protest the smelter's reopening, and this photograph was placed on a billboard in Austin for the governor to see.
In Atlanta and Charlotte, Club activists helped secure rail funding; in Madison, Wisconsin, they brainstormed a bright energy-saving idea; in Southern California, they led the fight to block a proposed offshore liquified natural gas terminal; and in Utah they reestablished a green presence in one of America's reddest counties.
From organizing neighborhood cleanups in New Orleans, above, to working with church groups to plant trees in Idaho, below, or helping tribes protect sacred lands in Arizona, the Sierra Club was in the thick of things.
And all this is just the tip of the proverbial iceberg. To learn more and find out how you can get involved, please visit http://www.sierraclub.org.
Photos used with permission.