Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Welcome Tom Torres!

It’s hard for me to talk about myself because what I really want to do is talk about all of the incredible individuals I have had the opportunity to learn from over the past six years. I have supported rural groups resisting extraction in Appalachia, worked with communities of color in the Southeast to build new economic futures, and helped build broad coalitions all across the region to fight for self-determination. I don’t think it’s possible to talk about campaigns and not mention who makes the wins possible: the communities driving and defining our work.

As the Conservation Program Coordinator, I’ll be supporting the Chapter through the Forest Watch Initiative, a program that empowers Sierra Club members to become the eyes and ears of the forest. Through member outings and an interactive campaign platform, we hope to make connections between public land issues, oil and gas infrastructure, and frontline struggles all over the state. With over 20,000 members and a long history of successful grassroots work, the Pennsylvania Sierra Club is in a strong position to push back against the dirty industries that threaten our land, water, and people.

Tom overlooking a strip mine on Black Mtn., Appalachia, Va. 

Growing up the child of Mexican immigrants, I know the inherent value in resilient and diverse communities. My experience in Appalachia was as much about immigrants and manufacturing as it was mountains and riverbeds. Navigating different facets of the work — from farmers in Northeast Georgia and black landowners in the Alabama Black Belt to urban residents fighting for security and recognition — I have seen that strong communities are ones that recognize their collective power. Diversity in landscape, in issues, and in people is a value but also a challenge that must be met with compassion and understanding. I’m excited to experience everything Pennsylvania has to offer and I look forward to visiting with all of you across the state.

Tom Torres
Conservation Program Coordinator
Forest Watch Campaign

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Nuclear Knowledge

Late long-time Sierra Club member and ardent activist Dr.Judy Johnsrud shares her knowledge on nuclear energy. The video includes 3 different segments over multiple years. Everyone will learn a lot as Judy describes the fundamental issues linked to the production and necessary isolation of nuclear waste. Some of Judy’s main points include:
  • No safe level of exposure;
  • Don’t transport the waste, but isolate on site;
  • No radioactive materials in childrens’ toys;
  • There is no radiation that should be below regulatory concern. 

Monday, April 27, 2015

Pennsylvania Supreme Court Justice Debates

Start Date:
Wednesday, April 29, 2015
End Date:
Thursday, April 30, 2015
Widener School of Law
Common Cause Pennsylvania is co-sponsoring two debates among the primary election candidates for the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. This will be an historic election, with three vacant court seats being contested.
Democratic Candidates - Debate April 29th
Republican Candidates - Debate April 30th
When it comes time to vote for your Supreme Court Justices, do you often get to the polling booth and realize you really don’t know what each candidate stands for? This is your opportunity to learn where the candidates stand on the issues and their qualifications for serving on Pennsylvania’s highest court.
The seating is first come, first served, so please show up early!

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Different, But Alike

Three famous men of the 19th century had lives that were dissimilar but also followed the same pattern. John Powell, born in 1834, Mark Twain, in 1835, and John Muir, in 1838, grew up in the developing Midwest -- Illinois, Missouri, and Wisconsin. 

Powell studied biology and geology eagerly. As a teenager, he took several river trips rowing on the Illinois River, studying mollusks along the way and observing variations in appearance up and down the river. He was doing a pre-Origin of Species study of evolution. He studied at Illinois College and at Oberlin but never completed a degree. When the Civil War was imminent, he studied military science and then joined the northern army. He served in the artillery at stations along the Mississippi until he was wounded by an artillery shell and lost an arm. When he recovered from his wound, he returned to active duty. After the war, he planned and went on the trip that he is famous for, down the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon. Powell didn’t make this trip just to do it. He made it to study the history of the earth. The Colorado cuts through rock layers progressively earlier and earlier. He could plot out much of the development of the earth’s crust on this trip.

John Powell in 1881.
Powell went on to serve as director of the U.S. Geological Survey for thirteen years. One of the interesting positions he took as a result of his Grand Canyon trip was that less than 2% of the west had sufficient rainfall to support agriculture. He predicted correctly that development of irrigation systems that removed water from rivers would lead to endless litigation and disappointment. His life led him from rural Illinois to the wilds of the west and then east, to Washington D.C. He died in 1902, age 68, in Maine.

Sam Clemens -- Mark Twain -- grew up in Hannibal, Missouri, on the banks of the Mississippi River. After his father’s death, he dropped out of school and worked as a printer. After a few years, at age 18, he left Hannibal and went east, working as a printer in New York and Philadelphia. When he returned home, he decided to take a trip to South America. But he got no further than New Orleans. He became an apprentice river boat pilot and then embarked on a career as pilot, a profession that paid well and entailed glamour and prestige. He might have stayed on the river if the Civil War hadn’t closed the Mississippi to traffic.
Twain then followed his brother to Nevada where he became a newspaper man, doing more than typesetting, learning to write. Twain left Nevada for San Francisco then to the Sandwich Islands. Two years later he went on what amounted to the first cruise ship cruise, traveling to the Holy Lands.
With his publication of Innocents Abroad, the story of that cruise, his writing career was launched. He soon moved east and settled in Hartford, Connecticut. But Twain’s best known books are the three that involved the Mississippi River. We group together Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn as his most memorable characters, overshadowed, perhaps, only by his own persona. Mark Twain was after all his best known character.

John Muir was born in Scotland but came to the United States when he was four. His parents established a farm in southern Wisconsin. Muir grew up there and did his share of farm work, but he also had a penchant for things mechanical. He built, among other things, a thermometer that was based on the principle of iron shrinking in the cold. And he built a device that would tip him out of bed at 2 in the morning so he could read and learn undistracted by his family.
John Muir and his beard.
He attended the University of Wisconsin, but when his brother left for Canada to avoid conscription into the army, Muir followed him. He soon found himself working at a saw mill where he redesigned the equipment to make it more efficient. In 1866, he moved to Indianapolis and redesigned a factory there. But then a tool broke. He was hit in the eye and lost sight in that eye for several months. At this point, Muir decided he wanted to live a different kind of life. He packed a small kit and started afoot, walking to Florida. After a couple of false steps in Florida, he booked passage to California. He worked at various jobs, but his work as a shepherd led him into the mountains and even to Yosemite. He had read that Yosemite was created by earthquakes; however, his close look at the striations on cliff sides of streams made him conclude that glacial action had created them. He didn’t keep his opinion to himself but challenged the foremost geologists on the subject. Ultimately, his conclusions proved right. Muir began
to write extensively on a variety of subjects, principally on nature. Muir took up grape cultivation and built an extensive and profitable vineyard. He joined and led an outings/mountain climbing club and began to advocate preservation of natural resources. Eventually the club became the Sierra Club.
Unlike Powell and Twain, Muir did not settle in the east. Instead, he kept a home base in California. He hiked there and traveled north to Alaska and southeast to the Grand Canyon. Muir lived a bit longer than Twain, dying in 1914.
These three were strong, unique, creative individuals caught in the same period of American history. Each grew up in the farm culture that prevailed. Each, in his own way, escaped the confines of that culture. They were inquiring, largely self-educated men using their talents to take on the givens of their world.
In a sense, they proved the limits of the Jeffersonian agricultural ideal. In a sense, the Civil War was a catalyst that moved each away from childhood, away from family, away from home. All three moved west. Only Muir stayed there. But they were part of the American frontier experience. 

-Phil Coleman

Monday, March 9, 2015

Sierra Club Responds to DEP Release of Draft Oil and Gas Regulations

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:    Monday, March 9, 2015

Joanne Kilgour, Director Sierra Club PA Chapter, O: 717-232-0101, C:
Thomas Au, Conservation Chair, Sierra Club PA Chapter, P:

Sierra Club Responds to DEP Release of Draft Oil and Gas Regulations

One year ago, in March of 2014, the Sierra Club was among the 24,000 individuals and organizations that submitted comments on proposed revisions to state oil and gas regulations, referred to as “Chapter 78.”  Today, the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) released its updated draft of these regulations, which will be open for additional 30-day comment period. These draft regulations reflect an impressive attention to detail and responsiveness to public comments. 

In joint comments with other environmental organizations, we asked DEP to require that all wells, whether active or inactive, orphaned or abandoned, be identified prior to drilling, and we are pleased to see that DEP is proposing a requirement that operators submit a permit application that includes a map of all active, inactive, abandoned and orphaned wells prior to drilling.   

We agree that centralized open waste impoundments must be addressed, but we remain concerned that DEP's requirement that such impoundments be phased out or upgraded to meet residual waste regulations may not address pollution risks in a timely manner. Under DEP’s proposal, it may take more than 3 years before open storage of waste is eliminated.

In response to these changes, Sierra Club PA Chapter Conservation Chair, Tom Au stated:

"We welcome this new draft, which responds to community concerns.  We appreciate DEP's willingness to address pollution problems that have resulted from lax regulation of the shale gas industry. We need vigorous on-the-ground checks to ensure that new requirements are put into practice."

Sierra Club PA Chapter Director, Joanne Kilgour added:

“We applaud DEP for taking steps to better protect human health and the environment. Importantly, DEP proposes a prohibition on the use of temporary on-site waste storage pits, and would require operators to restore drinking water supplies to pre-drilling condition or to meet state Safe Drinking Water Act standards. We will continue to advocate for regulations and enforcement that best protect our communities, and hope to see the Department further strengthen its approach to a number of issues including centralized wastewater impoundments, which should be prohibited due to significant risk of air and water pollution, as well as risk of human exposure to hazardous substances.”


Thursday, February 26, 2015


I’ve been trying to figure out who’s truly protecting this beautiful, rich country and her citizens?
Pennsylvania has an estimated 60,000 miles of gas pipelines and the PA  Public Utility Commission’s 13 inspectors are responsible for most of them. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) is now issuing “Certificates of Necessity and Public Convenience” to pipeline companies for interstate transport of natural gas like there’s no tomorrow. (Well, maybe there won’t be.) But anyway---in 2005, federal legislative changes to the Natural Gas Act authorized FERC to issue private companies permission to exercise “eminent domain” to facilitate import and export of natural gas.
The “taking” of private property for gas extraction and sale starts when property owners with only surface rights are forced to give ground to sub-surface rights owners to drill and produce. The “public interest” concept got expanded to carry the product interstate, to “out of state” consumers. Now it has been expanded again to transport to foreign buyers. Among others, the proposed PennEast Pipeline carrying Marcellus Shale gas through the southeastern corner of Pennsylvania on the doorstep of the newly approved Cove Point, Md. export terminal.
Proposed PennEast Pipeline
As we see in a lot of other areas of legislative action, after issuing the permit, FERC hands over the responsibility for implementation, safety, compliance, and maintenance to--well, let’s see – the pipeline companies. The pipeline company is to hire and pay inspectors and submit progress reports. And after the line is in place the Department of Transportation (DOT) takes over. Each new pipeline brings more work for the 135 inspectors of the DOT Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Administration who are responsible for inspecting compressors, meters and regulators and relief valves, and other infrastructure nationwide of over 3,000 individual gas companies, some big and some small. The gas companies are supposed to monitor their equipment regularly and submit reports. Something tells me those 135 inspectors are busy folks; or else they sit at their desks all day -- in shock.
Lines are approved even when their necessity is questionable. PennEast representatives said the proposed pipeline will provide gas to 4.8 million households in New Jersey when there are only 3.1 million homes in the state.
How many large, high pressure pipelines are sitting in various stages of approval that plan to go through the same area? Six, seven, or maybe 10? There have been more than 10 worked on in the Delaware River Basin since 2011.
What about damage to streams and rivers and animal habitats? Every newly approved or expanded pipeline carrying product out of state for private gain increases the number of wells that will be drilled, the animals which will be displaced, the water that will be poisoned and removed from our common water supply, which decreases the farms that are able to produce safe food, and on and on and on.
Stop! The entire system needs to be transformed from Environmental Destruction to Environmental Protection. And I can't even figure out where the Department of Environmental Protection fits in. Maybe they can't either.
Let’s stop the madness!!!
Regretfully Yours, Tom Church