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LETTERS | What our readers have to say

Readers are encouraged to post comments online. You can also e-mail us at sierra.mail@sierraclub.org. Please include your name, city, and e-mail address or phone number. Letters may be edited for length and clarity.

KICKING COAL
"Kick Coal, Save Jobs, Right Now" (January/February) praises the plan to close TransAlta's coal-fired power plant in Centralia, Washington, but fails to mention that mining companies in Montana and Wyoming propose to ship millions of tons of coal every year through Washington to China. The impact of those exports on the global climate would dwarf the benefits of closing the Centralia plant.

Fortunately, several environmental groups, led by Bellingham-based RE Sources for Sustainable Communities, have combined forces in opposition to the Whatcom coal facility. The coalition includes the Sierra Club, Earthjustice, and others.
Eric Hirst
Bellingham, Washington


I fail to see how anyone can view the closing of the TransAlta power plant as a win. This is a substantial loss for workers not only in Centralia but also in the coal mines of Wyoming. Loss of employment is a hard pill to swallow even if it is good for the environment. We need to remember that this isn't just about saving or improving the environment; it's also about the people who live in it.
Thomas J. Toutant
Knightdale, North Carolina


BAN THE BOOM BOX
You have got to be kidding! After years of writing about noise pollution and escaping to the wilderness for respite, you recommend portable speakers so you can hear your music when you are in the wilderness or at a campground ("Music Under the Stars," January/February). It's bad enough that so many campers feel it's their right to get noisily drunk. What's next: a solar-battery disco ball so I can suffer endless light pollution as well as noise when I enter the wilderness?

I sentence you to another reading of John Muir's journals: "The night wind was a mere soft breathing, and the meadow brook was heard plainly speaking and singing its pebbly words."
Theresa Blair
Martinez, California


TRASHY TRENDSETTER
I was surprised and very disappointed to find Eva Longoria featured as a "Trendsetter" ("Enjoy," January/February). Her TV show Desperate Housewives clearly represents an extreme example of low-quality entertainment and cynically reinforces sexual, racial, and class stereotypes. It also features conspicuous consumption patterns in its content and commercials--consumption that drains the limited resources of our planet.
Guy Lanza
Amherst, Massachusetts


CORRECTIONS
Correction "Kick Coal, Save Jobs, Right Now" erroneously reported that the TransAlta facility in Centralia, Washington, is the last coal-fired power plant in the Pacific Northwest. Portland General Electric currently operates a coal-fired plant in Boardman, Oregon, which, thanks to an agreement between PGE and the Sierra Club, is scheduled to shut down in 2020.


web-only letters

"Kick Coal, Save Jobs, Right Now"

In the January/February 2012 issue of Sierra magazine, both Michael Brune, executive director of the Sierra Club, and Scott Martelle in his article "Kick Coal, Save Jobs, Right Now" refer to the TransAlta power plant in Centralia, Washington, as the last coal-fired power plant in the Northwest. Sorry to say, that is not true. Portland General Electric operates a coal fired plant in Boardman, Oregon (the only such plant in Oregon), which will tentatively be shut down in 2020. I live in Portland, and I do believe Oregon is considered by most people to be part of the Northwest! On a positive side, once both plants are closed, the Pacific Northwest will indeed be free of such power plants.
Joseph J Bucuzzo
Portland, Oregon


[Editor's note: "Kick Coal Save Jobs Right Now" erroneously reported that the TransAlta facility in Centralia, Washington, is the last coal-fired power plant in the Pacific Northwest. Portland General Electric currently operates a coal-fired plant in Boardman, Oregon, which, thanks to an agreement between PGE and the Sierra Club, is scheduled to shut down in 2020.]


The article on the Centralia coal fired plant gives the impression that there are no other coal fired plants in the Northwest. In fact, your author should have known that there is an enormous coal fired plant in Boardman, Oregon, which is the largest source of air pollution in the state. Portland General is facing stricter emission regulations and is considering changing the plant partly or completely to biomass by 2020, but as far as I know, this is not firmly decided and the plant may just add emission controls and stay with coal. In the meantime, coal burning is running strong there.
Hollis G. Wright


The January/February 2012 issue of Sierra featured the article "Kick Coal Save Jobs Right Now," by Scott Martelle, but I find the title a bit of a misnomer. There is not much substance to the article on the jobs saved. Actually there seems to be more patting-on-the-back for the plant's shutdown than on the avenues for jobs created, or actual jobs saved. The article featured one paragraph that discussed the shutdown, millions of dollars TransAlta will give to the town, and the fact that 60 percent of the current 250-man workforce will have to find jobs. When the discussion turns to those that are not happy, I find a bit of the article I agree with. The workers have a right to worry about their future. They will be older and out of work from a now non-existent industry. What will they do? They may have eight years to plan, but they may find themselves forced to move when they don't want to. Shutting down coal power plants is a good thing, but throwing money out and giving a little time does not save jobs. I would have liked to have read an article that discussed potential green job companies looking to relocate there, or how the state is intending on applying certain measures to see those workers stay working. None of this existed and left me disappointed and feeling a bit deceived. Sure everyone can feel better for the improved environmental picture but the workers still seem left holding a bag of hot air.
Stephen Harlan
Anacortes, Washington


"Kick Coal" praises Washington State's efforts to close its Centralia coal fired power plant. However, large companies propose to ship tens of millions of tons of coal every year to China through Washington. That coal would come from Montana and Wyoming by rail to Longview and/or Whatcom County and then be loaded onto supersize ships for China. The associated global climate impacts would dwarf the benefits of closing the Centralia coal units. In addition, the local and regional effects of greatly increased rail traffic (air pollution, traffic congestion, and noise) through the most populated parts of Washington; marine habitat destruction; and air and water pollution at the coal-handling facilities suggest a disaster waiting to happen. Fortunately, several environmental groups, led by Bellingham-based RE Sources for Sustainable Communities, is leading a coalition opposed to building the Whatcom coal facility. The coalition includes the Sierra Club, Earthjustice, and other groups.
Eric Hirst
Bellingham, Washington


I recently read the principal article for the January/February Sierra touting a victory for the environment and the residents of Washington, but I fail to see how anyone can view this as a win. Although there was a significant change in considering the future of Centralia and the workers from the power plant, this still appears to be a substantial loss for the miners not only in Centralia but also in Wyoming. Loss of employment is a hard pill to swallow even if it is good for the environment. We need to remember that this isn't just about saving or improving the environment; it's also about the people who live in it. The future employment prospects for the bulk of the individuals affected by this negotiation have not been considered. Before everyone around your offices continues slapping each other on the back for this tremendous victory please remember that it failed to consider a large percentage of the people who will eventually be affected by this lack of peripheral vision. I hope in the future that the Sierra Club broadens their concerns and considers all of the workers affected by their initiatives. How about locating potential start-ups and the money to finance these opportunities that could eventually replace the loss of jobs, and lobbying for changes to the government's retraining policies relating to trade-affected workers. We need to do more before this can truly be considered a win.
Thomas J. Toutant
Knightdale, North Carolina


"Kick Coal" reported Sierra leaders felt good phasing out Pacific Northwest coal-fired power plants by 2025. Fine work, but tardy as global overheating accelerates! Florida has 6,000 miles of heavily developed tidewater property where most Floridians live and work. Faster rising seas may overwhelm coasts, but some Floridians strive to prevent it. Gainesville municipal utility's Feed-In-Tariff (FIT) program has catapulted this small Florida city to leadership in solar kilowatts capacity per person—ahead of California. The utility expects to double installed solar capacity by 2016. FIT programs work, but Congress prefers immediate rewards from fossil fuel interests vs. leading global efforts to restrain climate changes. Wise Homo sapiens are becoming self-destructive Homo stupidos.
Lee Bidgood, Jr.
Gainesville, Florida


I read with interest your recent article about how Centralia is closing a plant with a coal fire, benefiting many. In Pennsylvania, there is another Centralia. It, too, has a harmful coal fire. Likewise putting that fire out would benefit many. Unfortunately, that fire, in an underground coal seam, has been burning for many years.
Ed Storey
Falcon, Colorado


"Music Under the Stars"

You have GOT to be kidding! After years of writing about noise pollution, escaping to the wilderness for respite, etc. you recommend not one but two different portable speakers so you can hear your music when you are either in the wilderness or at a campground. What's next, a solar battery disco ball so I can suffer endless light pollution as well as noise when I came to the wilderness or campground? The admonition to not do it if other campers are in earshot is as effective as the 4by ads showing a truck driving through a creek with the small print stating "don't do this." Ever wonder why you don't see any wildlife? Noise drives them away. It's bad enough that so many campers feel its their right to get noisily drunk. Loud talking, music and drunken carousing can all be better accomplished at home with four walls to enclose the clamor. There is also the modern invention of iPods for personal noise/music preferences without annoying people who want to hear birds instead of the highway where they live. I sentence you to another reading of John Muir's journals: "The night wind was a mere soft breathing, and the meadow brook was heard plainly speaking and singing its pebbly words and songs." — "Exploring the Sequoia Belt" from John of the Mountains: The Unpublished Journals of John Muir Sorry, John, I couldn't hear them! Please take it back!
Theresa Blair
Lifetime Member and former volunteer
Martinez, California


I was reading the latest issue of Sierra magazine when I came upon a two-page spread touting the joys of various portable music-making devices. "Today's sturdy, portable audio gear lets you bring your own playlist into the wild without straining your back or your budget" is the cheerful message. I cannot let this pass without comment, although I know there are few things people are more protective of than their music, and their freedom to have it whenever and wherever they want it. Nonetheless, a few salient points: The devices shown are made largely of plastic, and, far from being sturdy, are designed to break easily. More plastic in the trash (or left behind in the wilderness). Silence has become endangered along with much of the wildlife in our remaining wilderness areas. Frankly, the prospect of coming upon someone playing a guitar (or a CD or an iPod) through an amplifier in the middle of Yosemite makes me cringe. Music is potent medicine, and like other medicines, or drugs, when used to excess often turns against the user. In well-apportioned "doses" music can lead us to joy, meditation, or even tragic reflection; listened to continuously it dulls down our receptivity and sensitivity. Listening through earphones is particularly questionable, for two reasons. First, because the general level of noise in our urban environment is such that we turn up the volume of our portable sound system, both to hear the music and to create a sort of shield between ourselves and the bedlam outside. This can lead to quite serious damage to our hearing. Second, wearing earphones in the wilderness not only cuts us off from the surroundings that we have gone to such trouble to be in, it can also prevent us from hearing sounds signaling danger (rockslide, avalanche, bear). There is a considerable literature at this point describing the deleterious effects of noise, in cities, the wilderness, and the oceans. Two books I recommend to start things off: The Tuning of the World, R. M. Schaefer The Unwanted Sound of Everything We Want, by Garret Keizer and numerous organizations, most listed here: http://www.acousticecology.org/organizations.html

Sierra magazine could do a good turn by exploring the noise problem in greater depth than I have been able to in this short note.
Alden Jenks


"Parkinson's Alley"

In 1962 Rachel Carson in her book Silent Spring awakened the world to the dangers of pesticides and the effects associated with their use. Joy Horowitz's article in the January/February issue of Sierra has alerted Californians to the dangers associated with spraying pesticides on farmlands with an increase (beyond the expected number of cases) in Parkinson's disease in the rural farm towns. It is believed that the town folk have been ingesting the pesticides from wells supplying drinking water. What is need, as Horowitz aptly points out, is a law mandating the testing of well water for pesticides. It is good to read that the researches from UCLA gathering the evidence of pesticide poisoning and Parkinson's disease. It would gladden the heart of Rachel Carson.
Sydney Bluestone
Fresno, California


I just finished reading the story about the suspected relationship of Parkinson's and the use of pesticides in the Central Valley of California. It is very good and very pathetic. I am somewhat familiar with the region as I lived and worked in the Fresno area while attending Fresno State College (as it was known then). I did notice a likely error, however. The error(s) were at the part of the visit with Jim Greaser. The story states that he is a part time DJ. Fine but it also says that he is "on K6RGZ." In his use of that call sign he is a radio amateur owner/operator and his call is likely from the 1950s. I know that because I too am a radio "ham" and my call is from the early 1950s (K6PIU). The "tapes decks and vinyl records" as part of his being a DJ and his use of the call K6RDJ are separate. Broadcasting and the use of any music is not allowed on the amateur radio bands. I would expect that he is a General class or higher as an operator. His DJing would need to be on a broadcast station.
Robert Munsey


I loved the latest Sierra magazine cover. Eddie Colla, I really like his bold, graphic style. Bravo! I was also very excited to see the article "Parkinson's Alley". This was the research that my friend Nicole Gatto had been working on. What an important story, proof that pesticides are causing such a terrible disease. It's horrible that Central Valley people are suffering so much, subsidizing our vegetables and fruit with their lives and health. One question that I have after reading the article: how come Nicole Gatto wasn't credited? I know from talking to her that she was the source for much of the article. Other people that were interviewed got credit. The photographers got credit. Eddie Colla got credit for the cover art. It seems that the right thing to do would be to have given Nicole Gatto her credit too.
Gina di Bari Carlos
Burbank, California


"Create" (January/February 2012)

Michael Brune is right on target in calling attention to agreement among Sierra Club Board, volunteers, and staff that we need to be more solutions-oriented. Among solutions for getting Beyond Coal is construction of thorium-fueled nuclear reactors as a source of power in plants generating electricity. A thorium-fueled nuclear reactor, in contrast to one using uranium, is safe and economical. A liquid flouride thorium reactor (LFTR) will not melt down, its waste material is benign within 350 years (in contrast to the many thousands of years duration of waste from uranium reactors), and it is practical. An LFTR reactor operated successfully from 1959 to 1965 at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory. The process was abandoned by the government only because LFTR could not be used to produce atomic weapons. Well, we need no more atomic weapons; we need inexpensive, abundant generation of electrical power. For more information, go to www.thoriumenergyalliance.com. I urge the Sierra Club to promote thorium-fueled power plants among solutions for getting Beyond Coal.
Hershey Julien
Sunnyvale, California


"Explore" (January/February 2012)

As a professional archaeologist I couldn't help but write you about a correction to Molly Oleson's otherwise interesting and well-written piece on the Haro Strait's orcas. She uses the word "petrograms" to describe what I believe is Native American rock art. The correct term would be "petroglyphs", meaning "rock writing". A minor issue but I felt it necessary to point it out. Sincerely, Marshall Henderson


"Enjoy" (January/February 2012)

I was surprised and very disappointed to find Eva Longoria featured in Sierra magazine as a "Trendsetter." Ms. Longoria and the TV show Desperate Housewives clearly represent an extreme example of low quality entertainment. The show Desperate Housewives cynically reinforces sexual, racial, and class stereotypes. And to make matters worse, the show features conspicuous consumption patterns in the show content and it's commercials —consumption that drains the limited resources of our planet. Surely Sierra can do better in selecting "Trendsetters."
Guy Lanza
Amherst, Massachusetts


"Survive" (January/February 2012)

The scenario presented in this month's "Survive" was "doomed" with too many arrogant "know-it-alls" to start with, if the leader of the group "correctly identified the route out, but others overruled her" . . . and then the skiers "couldn't agree on the route either." "What should we have done differently?" . . . everything. I agree with the expert.
Gail Noon
San Pedro, California


"Grapple" (January/February 2012)

Mr. Hurowitz's article on Gibson Guitar Corporation is an example of something the editor(s) of Sierra should have squashed. Mr. Hurowitz presents no substantiation of the claims of smuggling. It is purely a piece of insinuation and innuendo. He really did a "hatchet job" or, if you prefer, he "has an ax to grind." One can only speculate about Mr. Hurowitz's motives. Gibson CEO Henry Juszkiewicz's political views do not make Gibson guilty. It seems clear that Mr. Hurowitz has no more idea of the facts of the Feds seizure than I do. Briefly, the types of mahogany, rosewood, and ebony used by Gibson and other guitar makers do not grow in North America, hence its importation. Juszkiewicz has previously expressed frustration with the vagueness and the Feds selective interpretation/application of the Lacey Act. Sierra should be ashamed for publishing hack jobs like this. The Gibson/Feds case will resolve one way or another. If Sierra's only issue is Juszkiewicz's politics, why the hack job of a company? Incidentally, Mr. Hurowitz's assertion of the origins of the slang "Axes" for guitars in the title belies a profound ignorance of the music world populated by musicians.
James Fredrickson
San Ramon, California


It amazes me that the editors cannot see that two articles in January/February issue of Sierra are the inevitable result of the same approach to government policy. You chastise the heavy hand of government in "Raw-Milk Menace," but praise the same sort of heavy handed actions in "Why They Call Them Axes." As you do correctly note, other observers of both actions can come to opposite conclusions as to the correctness of those action. However, in both cases we have bureaucrats attempting to justify their own existence by picking on small threats to while ignoring larger threats that have more clout to fight back. Unless laws are carefully and narrowly targeted, this will continue to the ultimate determent of all of us.
David Amsler
Franklinville, New York


Dashka Slater's article ["Raw Milk Menace"] seems to ignore the history of food borne illnesses caused by consumption of tainted raw milk. Slater seems to dismiss the importance of proper care and production of this important food. Due to the relative success of the government's and industry's efforts the public has become either complacent with or ignorant of the difficulty of bringing a highly perishable food to market. The infrequency of mass outbreaks of food borne illness speaks to the success of these programs. Raw milk is known to cause the listeria infections, which can lead to miscarriages, newborn illnesses, and even death. A list of other illnesses caused by consumption of tainted raw milk is frightening. These include but are not limited to: listeria infections, Typhoid, TB, Diphtheria, Brucellosis, vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal pain, and E Coli and Salmonella infections. I for one do not long for a return to the "bad ole' days" of risking illness and death by simply eating my dinner.
Mark A. Livingood
Washington, Pennsylvania


"Raw Milk Menace" read like tabloid journalism, complete with naked biases and inflammatory content. Aside from mocking government for enforcing safe milk standards, it implied that raw milk is a good thing. This in the face of unpasteurized milk causing numerous and serious disease outbreaks around the country, with a notable one here in Minnesota recently, and the accepted fact that milk pasteurization is a major public health milestone achievement. Raw milk is a bad thing. The biases apparent in the article characterize and support the anti-science attitude that is seriously hampering progress in our country. Sierracontent should be, if nothing else, based on facts, not opinion or belief. Environmental progress depends on fact-based actions and decisions.
Ron Carlson
Lake St. Croix Beach, Minnesota
North Star Chapter (dairy country)


Pasteurization solved the public health problem of one diseased cow contaminating the milk of 1,000 cows in a commercial dairy. Now bovine tuberculosis has very nearly disappeared from cows —when a modern cow has tuberculosis, it is human tuberculosis and we look for the tubercular farmer who milked her. Pasteurization protects us also from diseased cows whose diseases haven't been discovered along with tuberculosis and brucellosis that I learned about more than half a century ago in medical school. When, as a physician, I dealt with a question about pasteurization from farm families concerned about their own domestic routines, I would say, "Select one young, healthy cow, milk her first and segregate her milk for your use and you will get the benefit of pasteurization with almost no effort." Bovine growth hormone is no problem for humans. Administering it to cows does stress them metabolically and causes increased veterinary bills. Manufactured bovine growth hormone is identical to the natural hormone present in milk. Any extra hormone the cow receives is diluted in the extra milk that the administered hormone has stimulated her to produce —so the concentration in her milk is not increased and it is the same stuff that would have been in the smaller volume of milk of an untreated cow. Fortunately, there are a few things that are simpler than they initially seem to be.
John A. Frantz, MD, NASW (National Association of Science Writers)
Monroe, Wisconsin


I am so tired of "two wrongs make it right" mentality. I love the statement that the loss of $535 million is "small potatoes." The idea that comparing this to other boondoggles somehow justifies this, is a sad statement and shows the mentality that I'm sure many politicians share. I'm surprised that Sierrawould share this sentiment in a vain attempt to protect politicians who you support. Business as usual, I guess. I expect better of you.
Dan Adams
San Diego, California


The brief item on "Pig Poop Power" in "The Next Big Thing" article described the use of methane gas from a 9,000-head hog "farm" in North Carolina to run an electricity-generating turbine, and mentioned that the project has won support from Google as Google seeks ways to offset its carbon footprint. This "power source" is not a farm. It is an industrial agribusiness animal protein factory (AKA Confined Animal Feeding Operation, or CAFO) with a waste stream that is highly toxic. A factory like this generates an amount of raw sewage (euphemistically referred to as "manure" or liquid nutrient' by the industry) that is equivalent to the excretions from a city of 25,000 people. That's a close approximation of how much raw sewage is generated by 9,000 hogs in a CAFO. The article doesn't mention what happens to the raw sewage that remains after the methane is drawn off of and burned to generate electricity. Is it treated or otherwise processed, as human waste is legally required to be, before it is spread on farm fields as fertilizer? I doubt it. It certainly isn't here in Iowa, and the resulting pollution of the air and surface water is horrendous and well documented. Concentrated livestock operations threaten the environment and human health in ways that traditional farms do not. Traditional, smaller-scale farming is better than factory farming for people, animals and the environment. Manure as used on traditional farms, when properly composted, greatly benefits soil fertility and tilth, increases water-holding capacity, reduces wind erosion, improves aeration and promotes beneficial organisms. Modern, high-efficency wind generators are used on more and more small farms to generate electricity, along with other sustainable and renewable energy and farming technologies. These benefits are lost in the industrial approaches required for extracting methane from the animal excrement generated by CAFOs. "Green power from manure" gives industrialized, confinement livestock operations a handy way to "greenwash" themselves. I'd strongly prefer that the Sierra Club not be a party to such public relations campaigns. We'll be far better off if we expose these operations for what they are and encourage investment in truly sustainable, sensible ways of producing energy and food.
Patrick Bosold
Conservation Chair, Leopold Group, S.E. Iowa chapter of Iowa Sierra Club
Fairfield, Iowa


"Taking the Initiative" (January/February 2012)

Thank you for calling for a return to manufacturing "Time to Build Stuff Again." Offshoring of manufacturing jobs forces us to become ever more dependent on polluting resource extraction, unsustainable use of natural resources, and a perpetual cycle of business manipulated population growth to provide a market for ecosystem destroying construction. Mr. Pope, however, is in error when he suggests that only a small group of ideologues stand in the way of an American "manufacturing policy." Environmentalists must confront the largely bipartisan belief of our business community, that they have a right to do almost anything to achieve higher profits. While high-wage countries like Japan and Germany still have manufacturing, because their business-political leaders and respective societies have agreed to accept less than maximum profits (and pay their taxes) in order to preserve their human and natural communities' welfare. Our businesses can compete with human rights deprived low wage labor and government subsidized monopolies and intellectual property theft by lobbying for strong compensating tariffs and embargoes- as opposed to their current behavior of collaborating with foreign 1%ers to split up the loot of denied fair wages, evaded taxes, profits gained from environmental destruction and all manner of other criminal business practices.
Winthrop Staples
Newbury Park, California


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