Sunday, September 22, 2013

Nothing could be better

By Phil Coleman
Co-editor, The Sylvanian

We sat outside a backwoods cabin. Having just finished a day of whitewater boating, we were putting together some supper plans. Jerry was going to make a pizza run.
Jerry offered a joint, which I declined.  Somehow we got on the topic of peak oil.  We itemized all the difficulties the world faces if we are to sustain our extravagant life.  Climate Change, rising oil costs, starvation, growing population, growing gulf between rich and poor, gun violence, etc., etc. 

“Yes!” said Jerry. “We’re living at the very best of times. Things were worse. Things will get worse. But right now, nothing could be better. I plan to enjoy it while I can.”

Jerry has no children, doesn’t plan to have any. He is living for now. He is a nice, compassionate, generous guy. It’s easy to ignore his selfishness. And why shouldn’t we? His style fits the American style better than mine does.

Often, we bemoan our wastefulness – the fact that we drive our cars with no regard for how much gas we use, the fact that we air condition to refrigerator levels in summer and heat our homes hotter than Hell in winter, the fact that we eat for pleasure without concern for how far our avocados, bananas, and grapefruit have been shipped or how much energy went into producing the meat we eat, the fact that we waste water prodigiously just because we won’t run out today.

But even though we bemoan, we continue to waste. We conserve only when conserving is no great inconvenience. Jerry is more blatant and cheerful in his excess than I am. But shortly, I will be drinking beer out of aluminum cans.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

The Man and His Wood Stove

A Short Story by Wendi Taylor
Chair - Sierra Club PA Chapter

There was man who lived with his wife in the North Country.  They lived comfortably in their home, which was heated with wood.  Every morning he would rise, go out to the shed and fill the rack next to the old stove with wood. And every morning his wife would complain that he had tracked mud into the house, along with wood dust and debris. 

The man would shovel out the ash and dump it into an ash can – wood ash and soot flying everywhere -- build the fire and, before he left for work, remind his wife to feed the fire throughout the day.  Every morning after the man left, his wife would scrub the kitchen floor, sweep up the wood droppings and wipe away the wood ash and soot.

As the years passed, the woman began to resent these tasks. If he would be more careful, she would not have to clean up after him, she thought.  So she began to go behind him and demand that he take off his boots. She purchased several rugs, one to lay the wood on as he removed his boots and runner rugs, which made a pathway to the old wood stove.  She also supervised the disposal of the wood ash. After he left, she would pick up the rugs and shake them outside. Those always made her sneeze three times.

One day, a traveling salesman came to the door selling a new device that would heat their home without wood. “Hmmm,” she thought, “this is a better idea!” Her husband would not have to build a fire in the old stove and there would be no more mess to clean up. She bought the device and placed it in the room. It worked!  

When her husband came home, the house was toasty warm and the rack by the wood stove was still nearly full. When she showed him the device and the way it worked, instead of being pleased, the man was furious!  

The woman was perplexed!  “I thought you would be happy,” she told him. 

The man said that wood was good enough. “Hadn’t it always kept them warm?” he asked. “But it is dirty,” the woman complained. He did not agree because he never had to clean up the mess.

He forbade her to use the device.

Then change came to the North Country. The forests began to die and instead of snow, they got rain, and wood became harder to get. The man told his wife that they needed to conserve the wood they had. They could no longer keep the house warm. “Use just enough to keep it from being cold inside,” he said.

And as they both shivered with cold, the woman thought of the device that would heat their home without wood.

Sound familiar? We have always relied on fossil fuels but it is dirty. While regulations have reduced some of the problems with burning fossil fuels, it doesn't solve the problem. Fossil fuels are finite resources, which will only get scarcer.  Conservation helps but it merely forestalls the eventual outcome. The time will come when there will be no more.

Why not use the device?

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Sierra Club Statement on Conditional Authorization of LNG Exports from Cove Point, MD

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- This afternoon, the Department of Energy announced conditional approval for Dominion's Cove Point, Maryland facility to export liquefied natural gas.

In response Deb Nardone, director of the Sierra Club’s Beyond Natural Gas Campaign, released the following statement:

"With the Department of Energy (DOE) today conditionally authorizing Dominion Resources to export gas from a liquefied natural gas terminal in Cove Point, Maryland, it is deeply disappointing to see that Secretary Moniz persists in leading the nation and the world into a dirty energy future. It's a bad deal all around: for public health, the environment, and America's working people.  The economic study the DOE itself commissioned clearly states that LNG export will transfer wealth from wage earners to fossil fuel executives.  LNG export is nothing but a giveaway to the dirty fossil fuel industry, at the expense of everyday Americans.
"Exporting LNG to foreign buyers will lock us into decades-long contracts, which in turn will lead to more drilling -- and that means more fracking, more air and water pollution, and more climate-fueled weather disasters like record fires, droughts, and superstorms like last year's Sandy.  And all this when we know that the dangers of natural gas will only become more clear as we learn more about its effects on health and the climate. 
"As we have shown, once environmental impacts are evaluated, it becomes clear that the additional fracking and gas production exports would induce is unacceptable. DOE did not consider these impacts or any other impacts in today's conditional authorization. Instead, DOE is basing its decision on environmental reviews that the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission has yet to conduct. When these environmental impacts are considered, it is clear that natural gas needs to stay in the ground, and the administration needs to double down on clean energy like wind and solar that would protect us from the worst effects of climate disruption while putting Americans to work.
"The Sierra Club has been granted party status in this docket, and will hold DOE to its commitment to fully review environmental issues before deciding whether to issue final authorization. We will also monitor all other permits and approvals that the Cove Point Facility will require, and will take action as necessary.  Additionally, Sierra Club continues to seek enforcement of a decades-old agreement between the Sierra Club and Dominion Cove Point LNG which clearly prohibits expansion of this facility to allow for exports.  The Sierra Club intends to hold Dominion accountable for complying with the commitments it made to protect the Cove Point environment." 

Friday, September 13, 2013

Time to Update Water Quality Standards

Opinion by Karen Melton
Published in Roxborough Review, Sept. 4. 

Standards governing water pollution from coal-fired power plants have not been updated in 30 years.  Pennsylvania has 28 active coal power plants and only 8 have permits that limit dumping of any toxic metal, while only 4 plants have permits that limit selenium, mercury, and lead.

According to the EPA, more than half of all toxic water pollution in the country comes from coal-fired power plants, making coal plants the number one source of toxic water pollution in the U.S. More than 23,000 miles of U.S. rivers and streams are being damaged by steam electric plant discharges, which include arsenic, mercury, lead, boron, cadmium, selenium, bromides and more.  Each year nearly 65,000 pounds of lead, 3,000 pounds of mercury, and 80,000 pounds of arsenic are discharged into surface waters.

The health effects of many of these pollutants are well known, ranging from increasing risk of certain cancers as a result of exposure to arsenic, and neurological and developmental damage in children exposed to lead.  Once in the environment, these toxics can remain for many years.

In June the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) published new proposed national standards on discharging toxic metals into waterways. The updated standards would also require coal power plants to monitor and report the amount of pollution being dumped.

The period for public comment on the new standard ends September 20th.  A number of local organizations such as the Sierra Club, Clean Water Action and the Delaware Riverkeeper Network have been working to inform the public about the proposed standards and the opportunity for citizens to provide comments to the EPA.

You can read more by logging onto and you can submit comments in support of clean water standards by sending an email to, Attention Docket ID EPA–HQ–OW–2009–0819 or by logging onto and referencing the docket ID.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Pennsylvania Ranks 4th for Global Warming Pollution from Power Plants

For Immediate Release: September 10th, 2013
Contact: Erika Staaf, (412) 491-4801,

Pennsylvania Ranks 4th for Global Warming Pollution from Power Plants

[Johnstown, PA] –A new report from PennEnvironment Research & Policy Center finds that Pennsylvania ranks 4th in the country for most carbon pollution from its power plants, the state’s largest single source of global warming pollution. Scientists predict that extreme weather events will become more frequent and severe for future generations, unless we cut the dangerous carbon pollution fueling the problem.

“America's dirtiest power plants are the elephant in the room when it comes to global warming," said Erika Staaf, Advocate for PennEnvironment. "If we want a cleaner, safer future for our kids, we can't afford to ignore power plants' overwhelming contribution to global warming. into our atmosphere would be to build more power plants like Blah Blah that would dump even more carbon into the air."ng carbon For Pennsylvania, tackling the problem means cleaning up the dirtiest power plants.”

The report, titled, ‘America’s Dirtiest Power Plants,’ comes as the Obama administration readies a new set of rules to tackle global warming. It illustrates the scale of carbon pollution from Pennsylvania power sector and ranks Pennsylvania biggest carbon polluters.

Key findings from the report include:
  •         Pennsylvania’s power plants are the 4th most polluting in the country.
  •         In Pennsylvania, the top five most polluting power plants are, in order, FirstEnergy’s Bruce Mansfield; Allegheny Energy Supply’s Hatfield Ferry Power Station; GenOn’s Keystone Station; GenOn’s Conemaugh Station; and Midwest Generation’s Homer City Station.
  •         Pennsylvania’s power plants are its single largest source of carbon pollution - responsible for 47% percent of statewide emissions.
  •         First Energy’s Bruce Mansfield’s plant is the 8th most carbon-polluting power plant in the nation.
  •         Pennsylvania’s power plants produce as much carbon each year as nearly 25 million cars.

“We in this nation and throughout world have some big choices to make, and we have to make them soon, before it’s too late,” said Rev. William Thwing, Pastor of St. Paul’s United Church of Christ. “It’s time we woke up and stopped this out of control freight train that is climate change.”

This summer, President Obama directed his Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to propose limits on carbon pollution from new and existing power plants, the largest single source of carbon pollution. In a major step, the EPA is expected to propose an updated rule for cutting carbon pollution from new power plants on September 20. 243,000 Pennsylvanians have already submitted public comments in support of limiting carbon pollution from power plants.

"We cannot afford any further delays in limiting the carbon pollution that increases the risk of floods, powerful storms, and dangerous heat waves.  But we can lead the transition to clean energy and efficiency and create many family-supporting jobs in the process,” said Tom Schuster, Campaign Representative with the Sierra Club.

PennEnvironment Research and Policy Center called on state leaders like Senators Bob Casey and Pat Toomey to join them in supporting limits on power plants’ carbon pollution. PennEnvironment Research and Policy Center also advocated state-level strategies to avert the worst impacts of climate change, including increasing the share of renewable energy in our energy portfolio and making Pennsylvania a leader again in terms of our energy efficient building standards.

“Pennsylvania is the 4th biggest emitter of carbon pollution from the biggest sources. Pennsylvania cannot wait to act on climate, so it’s critical that our elected leaders step up and support action,” said Staaf.


PennEnvironment Research & Policy Center is a statewide, environmental organization dedicated to protecting our air water and open spaces. For more information, visit  

Monday, September 9, 2013

US District Court Allow PPL to Proceed to Destroy Delaware Water Gap

For more information, contact
Don Miles, Chair, Sierra Club PA Chapter Transmission Committee 


Last week the US District Court issued a decision allowing PPL Electric Utilities Corporation to begin construction of the  Susquehanna to Roseland Transmission Line (“S-R Line”)through three national park areas -- the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area, the Middle Delaware National Scenic and Recreational River, and the Appalachian National Scenic Trail. The Pennsylvania Sierra Club is extremely disappointed that the court did not halt the PPL’s construction of the high-voltage Susquehanna Roseland power line through these natural areas.

“This is a crushing blow for one of the nation’s most treasured natural places”, Transmission Committee Chair Don Miles said. “This construction will forever change the landscape of this spectacular vista that welcomes five million visitors annually, including those traveling along the Appalachian Trail. It is a loss for nature, for Pennsylvanians and for all who treasure this special place.”

The Sierra Club and nine other environmental groups was seeking an injunction to halt PPL’s construction of the 500kv, 200-ft towers, which was to begin the first week of September. The US District Court of D.C. not only ruled against the injunction but also against the basis for the appeal, clearing the way for PPL to begin construction.

The 145-mile, high-voltage power line will cut through the heart of the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area, the Delaware "Wild & Scenic" River, and the Appalachian Trail.  Although the power line will use parts of  existing rights of way, the construction will expand these corridors, impacting wildlife, tourism and recreation.

The environmental groups filed the appeal, arguing that the power line would cause significant harm to the natural integrity of the park and disfigure the region.  The groups asserted that the "no-build" option was not properly considered by the National Parks Service.


Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Dams Aren't Spigots

By Phil Coleman, Sylvanian Co-Editor

I remember only one public hearing when I was booed by the audience. Back 40 years ago, the Soil Conservation Service wanted to dam three small streams in southwestern Pennsylvania in order, as they said, to provide flood protection for people who lived in the flood plain downstream. I stood up at the hearing and made two points: 

1) people who live in the flood plain do so at some risk; 

2) dams aren’t spigots: they can’t turn off the water, they just hold it back for a while. 

People didn’t want to hear point number one. And very few of them understood point number two. So they booed. One young father said I would be to blame when his children drowned.

Let’s fast forward. After Hurricane Sandy wrecked coastal communities in New Jersey and New York and FEMA needed massive funds to aid flood victims, many in Congress (and elsewhere) objected to the deficit spending required to supply aid: this at a time when Congress was blaming the President and the President was blaming Congress over their inability to construct a deficit-free budget.

In response, Congress developed and passed the Biggert-Waters Flood Insurance Reform Act of 2012. It is a massive and detailed act that tries to deal with several different aspects of flooding and flood protection. I can’t summarize it in detail; I don’t understand all the details. But it tries to deal both with the areas of repeated flooding and areas that haven’t flooded yet.
If you live in the flood plain of a big river, you may be flooded every few years. [In fact, one problem people have to deal with is that the so-called hundred year flood may occur several times in a hundred years.]

If you live on the coast (as I do, by the way), you may not have experienced a flood ever, but the flood when it comes in the form of a hurricane may totally demolish your home and all the infrastructure that goes with it.

The Biggert-Waters Bill tries to deal with the home that has been repeatedly flooded and the home that has never been flooded. And that’s a challenge. Creating a fund that is large enough to handle all possible damages without relying on deficit spending has meant phasing in massive increases to flood insurance premiums – even when it is phased in over five years – threatens to upset local economies.

We are faced with problems we don’t want to admit. A huge and growing population crowds more people into flood prone areas. Deforestation, expanding highways and parking lots contribute to rapid rain runoff and floods. A less than healthy economy puts a pinch on everyone and makes taxation a burden. The tremendous and growing inequality in wealth has added to poverty – even in our prosperous country.

We can’t seem to come close to agreeing on priorities. [For instance, which is more important: public education or military strength?]

In this era of economic stagnation, the Biggert – Waters Bill, which will bring hardship and even bankruptcy to a few million who have thought of themselves as secure, may be the best Congress can manage.

By the way, do you know how a dam differs from a spigot?

Why Do We Care About the Voter ID Law?

By Wendi Taylor, PA Chapter Chair

Why should the Sierra Club care about Pennsylvania’s Voter ID law?

The Sierra Club relies on a fair political system in order to protect the environment. Suppressing the votes of young people, Latinos and African Americans directly affects our ability to protect the environment because these are the same people who are most likely to vote for candidates who support efforts to combat pollution and climate disruption… and candidates that support clean, renewable energy sources and the good jobs they create.

Further, the rash of Voter ID laws can be traced directly to the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), and the many business interests that supports them, including some of the most polluting industries in the world. They know that shrinking the vote will expand their ability to run our state legislature. Our elections should not be based on who can give the most money

Some people ask: Why is the voter ID law a big deal?” After all, we have to show our ID all the time --to apply for a library card, to cash a check or to get a driver’s license. However, those aren’t rights, they’re privileges. Voting is a right – a constitutionally guaranteed right. 

When our state legislature deliberately -- and without cause -- throws obstacles in the way of a person’s right to vote, that’s wrong.  And any law that is enacted which discriminates against certain people, that’s wrong.

The Sierra Club should always protect access to the ballot box.

The labor movement and the civil rights movement has taught us that if all stand together, we can win! Together, we must make sure that every citizen has the ability to vote. One person, one vote; That’s the American way! 

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Loyalsock petition to Governor Corbett: "Keep the 'Public' in Public Lands"

Planning for followup action is underway in response to last week's petition delivery to the Governor. Just in case you didn't see this:

12,000 Want Hearings, Public Comment On Potential For Loyalsock State Forest Drilling

Coalition web site:

Rep. Greg Vitali at the podium

Petitions being handed to Gov. Corbett's proxy

Sierra Club Chapter Director, Jeff Schmidt at the podium