In 2018, Building a Powerful Movement to Move Beyond Dirty Fuels

When we started off 2018, the Beyond Dirty Fuels campaign had some ambitious goals, including stopping or delaying proposed fossil fuel infrastructure due to the direct threat they pose to our communities, to wildlife, to our forests and parks, and to our climate. But to tell the truth, much of our focus was on how we could ensure that, even if we lost several of our key infrastructure fights, we were building a more powerful movement and a stronger base of support for our issues. The relentless perseverance of grassroots activists and our legal teams kept the hope alive, even when our prospects of success seemed like a long shot.

I did not imagine that at the end of the year I would be reflecting on all of these wins. Yet here we are: We’ve scored major victories on many of our campaigns and far exceeded our goals. Our work together helped stop or delay a number of oil and gas projects this year. What’s more, the work we are doing is following the lead of local communities and those who stand to be most affected by the pollution and damage caused by these projects. We are providing legal resources, digital support, and national attention to the momentum against fossil fuel infrastructure that is truly being built from the ground up. Together, we are winning in a time when winning couldn’t be harder.

This year, our Beyond Dirty Fuels team activated Sierra Club members and supporters to take more than 600,000 online actions to fight back against dirty fossil fuel projects. We generated calls and emails to Congress, the White House, and other decision-makers, and we recruited volunteers to in-person events in states across the country.

We’re also winning the public narrative on many of our issues. Through our work, we’ve taken what had been local fights on campaigns like Line 3 in Minnesota or the Atlantic Coast Pipeline in Virginia and elevated them to a national audience. We’ve shifted the narrative on fracked gas from a clean “bridge fuel” to the truth that it’s a polluting fossil fuel like oil and coal, and we've seen our framing reflected in the media.

All of this work to block proposed fossil fuel projects is helping to keep climate-polluting oil and gas in the ground. This year, we held off construction of the Keystone XL and Line 3 tar sands pipelines, as well as the fracked gas Atlantic Coast and Mountain Valley pipelines. If built, these projects could have spurred a combined 420 million metric tons of CO2 every year, the equivalent of the annual emissions from 104 coal plants or 90 million cars. Every day we keep these projects at bay, we're stopping those dangerous emissions.

Here are just a few examples of these victories against proposed fossil fuel projects:

  • More than a decade after TransCanada proposed Keystone XL, we’re part of the coalition effort that continues to hold off this terrible project. This fall, we won our legal challenge to the Trump administration’s approval of the pipeline. A federal judge vacated the approval, blocked any construction on the project, and sent the administration back to the drawing board on its environmental impact statement. This is a major win, and could set back the project another year or more. We’re also challenging Keystone XL at the state level, contesting the Nebraska Public Service Commission’s approval of the pipeline route. We’re expecting a ruling from the Nebraska Supreme Court soon, and if we’re successful there, that could delay the project even longer.

  • This year, we also fought tar sands pipelines across the border in Canada. Through the combined efforts of our Washington State team, Sierra Club BC, and partners, we raised over $650,000 to go towards Canadian First Nations’ successful legal challenge of the Trans Mountain tar sands pipeline. Our fight against these pipelines is having a direct impact and keeping tar sands, the dirtiest fuel source on the planet, in the ground. Just a few weeks ago, the Alberta government announced a plan to cut tar sands production by almost 10 percent in response to low prices and lack of pipeline capacity.

  • Two major fracked gas pipelines are stalled indefinitely. When the Atlantic Coast Pipeline and Mountain Valley Pipeline were proposed, many people assumed they were a done deal. But now, thanks to years of work by residents, communities, and groups like the Sierra Club and our partners, the tide has turned against these projects. After dozens of legal challenges, thousands of public comments, and countless protests and volunteer hours, these pipeline developers are being held accountable to the law. Since this summer, they’ve both lost a number of key permits needed for construction, and both are ending the year with an uncertain future.

  • As the Trump administration pushes to open more of our public lands to oil and gas drilling, we’re working with local partners in New Mexico to protect the Greater Chaco landscape from expanded fracking. More work remains to be done to fully protect this region and the people who live there, but thanks to strong grassroots organizing and engagement with our champions in the Senate, the Department of the Interior has been forced to defer the sale of thousands of acres near Greater Chaco.

At the same time, we’re continuing to do the important work we set out to do at the beginning of the year: broadening our base of support and building a powerful, diverse, grassroots movement to fight back against proposed fossil fuel infrastructure.

  • Through strong coordination between the Beyond Dirty Fuels campaign team and the North Star Chapter, we’ve worked with local Indigenous groups and faith partners to build a strong movement opposing the Line 3 tar sands pipeline. In response to state regulators’ approval of the pipeline this summer, we organized a powerful action in Northern Minnesota to urge Governor Mark Dayton to stop the project. National Sierra Club leaders risked arrest alongside a coalition of environmental advocates, clergy, youth, and Indigenous partners to send a strong message that pipeline opponents aren’t going anywhere.

  • In response to the Trump administration’s release of a draft five-year plan that would expand oil and gas drilling into nearly every corner of America’s waters, our team helped generate more than 1.3 million public comments and coordinate turnout to public hearings in every coastal state in opposition to offshore drilling.

  • In Washington State, through grassroots organizing, legal advocacy, and coordination with the Puyallup Tribe, we’ve pushed back against proposed fracked gas facilities. We’ve been able to force state agencies to perform real environmental reviews of these projects, including their life-cycle climate impacts, and our statewide coalition is continuing to hold them accountable throughout the review process to ensure that companies and utilities can’t mislead the public about the dangers of fracked gas.

  • We’ve worked to fight methane pollution at the national level through our ongoing defense of Obama-era standards that protect against emissions of methane and other pollutants from the oil and gas industry. We’ve held the administration accountable in court for its attempts to roll back these safeguards, and worked with partners to bring a broad and diverse coalition together to fight back. Through this coalition, we’ve collected hundreds of thousands of public comments and organized hundreds of people to turn out in person for public hearings and speak in favor of keeping these protections in place.

  • Our work has also been more creative and more focused than ever to make sure we’re bringing all angles to bear on our campaigns. We’ve expanded our targets beyond traditional governmental decision-makers and activated our membership to put pressure on big banks and other financial institutions to stop the financing of fossil fuel projects like drilling in the Arctic Refuge and building tar sands pipelines.

These have been tough times, and some days it feels like everything we care about is under attack. But in spite of it all, we’ve built strong partnerships and scored some real victories this year to keep fossil fuels in the ground. Looking toward 2019, I’m so inspired by the work of the Beyond Dirty Fuels team, of our partners, and of the thousands of activists across the country who have worked together to keep their communities and climate safe from fossil fuels. I’m proud to share in all of these victories, and I can’t wait to see what we can accomplish together in the year to come.