Ellen Davis, 512-639-9959 or email@example.com
(Oakland, California) – A set of twins from Idaho, a young Tennessee lawmaker who gained national attention this year and a woman who has led Sierra Club outings for 50 years are among those receiving the Sierra Club’s 2023 national awards.
The organization’s top honor, the Sierra Club Changemaker of the Year Award, goes to Tennessee State Rep. Justin Pearson. After graduating from college, Pearson returned to his hometown and co-founded Memphis Community Against the Pipeline (MCAP), which successfully blocked construction of the Byhalia Pipeline through black neighborhoods in south Memphis. That group is now called Memphis Community Against Pollution and focuses on a broad range of environmental justice concerns. Pearson won a special election to the Tennessee House in 2022, becoming the second youngest person ever to serve in that body. He gained national attention in 2023 when he was expelled from the legislature for allegedly breaking decorum in the wake of a school shooting in Tennessee.
“Justin has already proved himself to be a unique and powerful advocate for climate action, environmental justice and equity,” said Sierra Club President Allison Chin. “His successful campaign to stop the Byhalia Pipeline and his leadership in the corridors of power shows how community organizing can succeed against the most daunting odds.”
The Club’s top award for public officials, the Edgar Wayburn Environmental Champion Award, goes to Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal of Washington State. Rep. Jayapal played a critical role in advocating for historic climate action and environmental justice provisions that were included in the Inflation Reduction Act of 2022. She also co-founded the United for Climate and Environmental Justice Congressional Task Force to address the disproportionate environmental impact on communities of color, low-income families, and other marginalized groups.
The club also is honoring Nevada Congresswoman Dina Titus this year with its Environmental Achievement Award. Rep. Titus led efforts to designate the Avi Kwa Ame National Monument in southern Nevada, which protects more than 500,000 acres of biologically diverse and culturally significant lands.
Melissa Dunn of Lauderhill, Florida, and Sarah Peters of Reno, Nevada, are receiving the Environmental Service Award, which honors persons in public service for long-term commitment to the environment and/or environmental justice. Dunn has become a strong voice for environmental issues on the City of Lauderhill Commission in Florida and Peters is a strong advocate for environmental legislation in the Nevada State Assembly.
Four young people who have fought for the environment in Republican-led states are receiving the Emerging Changemaker Award: Hannah Hayes of Des Moines, Iowa; Nikita and Nicholas Thomas of Boise, Idaho; and Muskan Walia of Woods Cross, Utah. Hayes has urged business leaders and Iowa legislators to take climate change seriously. The Thomas twins have been leaders in the Idaho Climate Justice League since they were 15 years old. Walia is a leader in Utah Youth Environmental Solutions (UYES), a youth-led environmental justice group formed by the Utah Chapter of the Sierra Club in 2017 to educate the Utah State Legislature about climate change.
The Rachel Carson Award, which honors sustained achievement by professional journalists or authors, goes to Erica Gies, a freelance journalist from Los Gatos, California. Gies is the author of the 2022 book, Water Always Wins: Thriving in an Age of Drought and Deluge.
The William O. Douglas Award, which recognizes individuals who have made outstanding use of the legal/judicial process to achieve environmental goals, goes to Cecilia Wang of San Francisco. Wang has helped lead the Sierra Club’s work to oppose construction and maintenance of the wall along the U.S.-Mexico border.
The EarthCare Award, which honors individuals or organizations that have made a unique contribution to international environmental protection and conservation, goes to Climate TRACE, a U.S.-based organization that has developed technology to track greenhouse gasses in real time and identify the worst culprits.
The Chico Mendes Courage Award, which honors individuals outside the United States who have exhibited extraordinary courage in the universal struggle to protect the environment, goes to Lucas Ferrante of Manaus, Brazil. Ferrante has spent years documenting threats to the Amazon such as illegal gold mining, illegal logging and land grabbing – often at considerable personal risk.
The Raymond J. Sherwin International Volunteer Award, which honors Sierra Club volunteers for extraordinary work in the areas of international environmental protection or environmental justice, goes to Andy Katz of Berkeley, California. Katz has participated in more than 20 UN-sponsored climate conferences and meetings in the past 12 years and has used his legal skills to help ensure the environmental integrity of proposals developed at these talks.
The William E. Colby Volunteer Leadership Award, the Sierra Club’s top award for volunteers, goes to Anne Woiwode of Okemos, Michigan. Woiwode has been an invaluable asset to the Sierra Club in Michigan.
Others receiving national awards from the Sierra Club this year are:
Atlas Award (for administrative contributions to Sierra Club chapters): Jenna Duffin of Boise, Idaho; Helen LeBlanc of Williamston, Michigan; and Jim Wylie of West Chester, Pennsylvania. Duffin has held a variety of leadership roles in the Idaho Chapter and helped establish the Chapter’s most lucrative fundraiser, the Wild & Scenic Film Festival. Leblanc served as treasurer of the Michigan Chapter for more than 30 years. Wylie has held a variety of leadership roles in the Pennsylvania Chapter.
Chapter Strong Award (honors Sierra Club groups or chapters for outstanding work in building chapter strength and capacity and includes a $3,000 prize): Idaho Chapter. Over the past few years, the chapter has integrated equity, inclusion and justice into nearly every part of its programs and processes. It also has formed a high school activist team known as the Idaho Climate Justice League.
Communication Excellence Award (honors the best use of communications by volunteer(s) in a Sierra Club group, chapter or other entity to further the Club's mission): The Rio Grande Sierran published by the Rio Grande Chapter in New Mexico.
Environmental Alliance Award (honors Sierra Club volunteers who have helped further environmental goals through collaboration with other, non-Sierra Club constituencies): Dr. Rhea Jezer of Tully, New York. Dr. Jezer organizes the Symposium on Energy in the 21st Century, one of the most important annual energy policy conferences in the Northeast.
Madelyn Pyeatt Outdoors for All Award (honors Sierra Club volunteers who have worked proactively to make outings more accessible and more inclusive for persons of any age and includes a $500 prize): Gloria Chen of San Leandro, California. Chen is a volunteer with the San Jose (California) Inspiring Connections Outdoors program.
Oliver Kehrlein Outings Leadership Award (honors service to the Sierra Club Outings Program either at the local or national level over an extended period of time): Faye Sitzman of Omaha, Nebraska. Sitzman has led outings and service trips for the Sierra Club for 50 years.
Outings for Action Award (honors Sierra Club volunteers who combine outings with education and/or advocacy work): Terrence Owen of Albuquerque, New Mexico. Owen is Outings Chair for the Sierra Club’s Rio Grande Chapter.
Volunteer Achievement Award (honors Sierra Club volunteers for a single act of importance to the environment or to the Sierra Club): Logan Cross of Jacksonville, Florida; Richard Grosso of Plantation, Florida; and Nancy Stevens of Tampa, Florida. Cross led efforts to make Jacksonville’s municipal utility use more renewable energy. Grosso has led efforts to stop development of a 30-story condominium on a pristine barrier island. Stevens led the Tampa Bay Group’s efforts to stop funding for an unpopular reclaimed water project in Tampa.
Volunteer Service Award (honors Sierra Club volunteers for strong and consistent commitment to the environment or the Sierra Club over an extended period of time): Elaine Giessel of Overland Park, Kansas; George Hague of Moreno Valley, California; Gregory Monahan of Portland, Oregon; Ray Pingle of El Dorado Hills, California; Al Poplawsky of Moscow, Idaho;
and the late Rod Webster of Merced, California. Giessel is a long-time volunteer in both Texas and Kansas. Hague was one of the founders of the Sierra Club Moreno Valley Group and has been relentless in the fight against irresponsible development in Moreno Valley. Monahan is a long-time volunteer with the Club’s Oregon Chapter. Pingle is a long-time advocate for zero-emission buses and trucks to reduce health-threatening diesel pollution. Poplawsky has been a volunteer leader in the Idaho Chapter for more than 30 years. Webster held a variety of leadership positions with the Merced Group before his death in May 2023 and was instrumental in blocking many environmentally sensitive projects in the Merced area.
The awards will be presented in Chicago Sept. 9 in conjunction with the Sierra Club’s 2023 Annual Meeting. For more information on the Sierra Club awards program, visit www.sierraclub.org/awards.
Note to editors: Photos of the award winners will be available upon request
About the Sierra Club
The Sierra Club is America’s largest and most influential grassroots environmental organization, with millions of members and supporters. In addition to protecting every person's right to get outdoors and access the healing power of nature, the Sierra Club works to promote clean energy, safeguard the health of our communities, protect wildlife, and preserve our remaining wild places through grassroots activism, public education, lobbying, and legal action. For more information, visit www.sierraclub.org.