Monday, December 15, 2014

70 Billion Deaths in 2014

Anyone who is concerned with our species damage to the life systems of our planet is faced with making many personal choices to limit their individual foot print. We must first become aware of what we are doing that is polluting our air and water, degrading our forests, destroying our soils, and causing the extinction of many life forms. Our use of all types of chemicals like pesticides and herbicides must be considered. Our use of fossil fuels is probably at the top of many people’s lists. Our consumerism which needs an endless supply of raw materials and creates immense amounts of waste needs to be on the list. Maybe the single most destructive of human activities is the practice of animal agriculture - something on which the environmental community has not placed enough emphasis.

There is a considerable amount of evidence that human consumption of meat, dairy, and fish is the single most destructive of all our activities. Animal agriculture is the largest contributor to global warming, water pollution and depletion, habitat destruction, and erosion of our topsoil. Our over consumption of fish is putting over 70% of all fish stocks under threat. 

Humans raise and kill 70 billion creatures for food each year which produce 89,000 pounds of excrement each second. This is 130 times more excrement than humans create. Anyway you think about it, this is a lot of ….. stuff. Much of it ends up polluting our streams causing dead zones in places like the Chesapeake Bay and the Gulf of Mexico. While cow burps play their share in producing the powerful greenhouse gas methane, all of this waste makes its contribution. Especially egregious contributors to this waste problem are confined animal feeding operations (CAFO).

Swine in a CAFO - unable to turn around, lay down, or move for the duration of their lives.
Image courtesy of
Animal agriculture makes the single largest use of the earth’s land area and the destruction of its soils and forests. 70% to 90% of grains raised in this country goes to feed animals. We could produce all the food we need with plants on far less land. Over grazing has transformed entire areas of rangeland with an estimated 700 million acres of destruction. Desertification is a world-wide problem. Our precious top soil is being washed and blown away. All the crops being grown for animal feed greatly increase pesticide an herbicide use. Livestock occupies 30% of the earth’s land mass. Slash and burn destruction of the rainforest to raise cattle is the leading single cause of rainforest and species loss. 

Not only is animal agriculture directly responsible for polluting water, it is also putting a tremendous strain on clean water resources. While we in the eastern part of the United States may not be conscious of the problem, the Western United States consists of much arid and semi-arid land. Great deals of the cattle raised in this country are raised in this area. The Colorado River is so over used that it never makes it to the sea. The vast Ogallala Aquifer is rapidly being drained, mostly to grow feed for cattle. Vast quantities of water are needed to meet livestock’s direct needs, to grow crops to feed them, and to process and package. Each quarter pounder you eat requires at least 660 gallons of water.

The big environmental groups have been unwilling to take on the issue of animal agriculture directly. They skirt around the edges with the issue such as rainforest destruction for cattle, CAFO’s, over fishing, and antibiotic use, but they never go after the root cause of these problems: our unnecessary and unhealthy consumption of so much meat, fish, and dairy.

Why aren’t they putting the reduction of our consumption of animal products right up there with other environmental concerns? Why aren’t they suggesting that we should greatly reduce our consumption of animal products?  If adopting a vegetarian or vegan lifestyle is the single biggest step any of us can take to lighten our impact on the biosphere, why isn’t this front and center?  I suspect that they don’t want to alienate any of their members. Are they more concerned with the health of their groups than they are with the health of the planet?

The "cage free" label carries no standards or regulation and simply indicates that hens are not kept in battery cages- but are still raised in CAFOs which deny birds' natural behavoirs likes nesting, roosting, foraging, even flapping their wings. No grass, no insects, no sunshine. Many die from stress and disease.
Image courtesy of
I don’t know that such a conscious decision has been made, but they are committed to their organizations and they don’t want to lose any of their supporters. I don’t want to in anyway diminish what many of these groups do to protect the environment, but only propose that they must take on directly the problem of animal agriculture if we are going to solve a whole range of environmental problems. While the environmental community promotes many lifestyle changes such as using less energy and buying local, it must strongly add a great reduction of the consumption of animal products to the list. Using less doesn’t mean (for most of us) a lower quality of life. In fact lowering our individual consumption by of just about everything can improve the quality of life for all of us.

As a nation we have been very successful in exporting an over-consumption driven lifestyle. As consumption of consumer products grows throughout the developing world, there is an ever growing stress placed on the earth’s life systems. We are also exporting our “meat eating” lifestyle, an unsustainable development. It is time for us who are concerned with defending the planet lead by real example. Let us not ask others to do what we are not willing to do. Meatless Mondays are not nearly enough!

Written by Jack Miller - Sierra Club PA Chapter Vice Chair

Monday, November 24, 2014

White House Call In Day

November 24, 2014
Coal Ash Phone Script


Call and leave your comment of support for a strong coal ash rule by calling the comment line at the White House!

CALL:  1-888-454-0483 

SAY: Hello. My name is [Full Name] from [City and State].  I respectfully request that President Obama finalize strong safeguards by the end of this year that truly protect the health and environment of all American communities threatened by coal ash.

More talking points if you want to add (OPTIONAL):
  • The rule must close and clean up legacy dumps, provide the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) with enforcement authority, establish clearly defined deadlines and transparent processes for cleanups, end all wet disposal, make publicly available groundwater monitoring data and inspections, protect the public from dangerous reuse of ash, and allow for full public participation in permitting processes.
  • Now is the time for your administration to stand up and protect the many citizens living in the shadows of these dangerous and contaminated sites. I ask that the President finalize strong federal protections this year for coal ash pollution to not only prevent the next big disaster, but to stop the slow poisoning of American communities.
  • Coal ash threatens the respiratory, cardiovascular, and neurological systems of people living near more than 1400 dump sites across the nation. Over 1.5 million children live near coal ash storage sites and 70 percent of all coal ash lagoons disproportionately impact low-income communities.
Social Media:

Attached below are several share-able images to amplify our message on social media. Here is some recommended text for Twitter and Facebook:

Join the national day of action! Call the @WhiteHouse and say you want strong protections against toxic coal ash pollution. 

Join today's national day of action for protections against toxic coal waste in our waters! President Obama and the White House must act now to finalize strong safeguards against dangerous coal ash. Take action now by calling the White House at 1-888-454-0483 and telling them you want strong protections against coal ash!


Coal ash disasters have been plaguing communities living near poisonous and dangerous dump sites - from the 2008 disaster in Tennessee, when a billion gallons of toxic sludge poured onto farmland and into the Emory and Clinch rivers, to the recent failure along North Carolina’s Dan River, when a burst storm water pipe underneath an unlined coal ash pit dumped 140,000 tons of coal ash and toxic waste water into the river - the problem with coal ash pollution is getting worse and more dangerous every day and there are no federal protections.

Coal ash, the waste left over from burning coal, is the second largest industrial waste stream in the United States and poses serious threats to our health, air, and drinking water.  Coal ash contains arsenic, lead, mercury, chromium, and a range of harmful heavy metals and toxic pollutants that poison the air and drinking water supplies of communities living near coal ash dump sites. Coal ash threatens the respiratory, cardiovascular, and neurological systems of people living near more than 1400 dump sites across the nation.  Over 1.5 million children live near coal ash storage sites and 70 percent of all coal ash lagoons disproportionately impact low-income communities.

When coal ash comes in contact with water, a toxic soup of hazardous pollutants can leach out of the waste and poison our water. The EPA has found some coal ash ponds pose a 1 in 50 risk of cancer to residents drinking arsenic-contaminated water - a risk 2000 times higher than EPA’s regulatory goal. The vast majority of states do not require adequate monitoring or liners to stop the release of toxic chemicals, nor do they ensure that massive earthen dams are maintained safely. States have routinely failed to protect their citizens from coal ash - as was evident in North Carolina’s recent handling of the Dan River coal ash spill.

Now is the time for the administration to stand up and protect the many citizens living in the shadows of these dangerous and contaminated dump sites.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

RED ASH: Burning Rights

RED ASHBurning Rights
Sneak Peek Presentation with the Filmmakers and special guests showing clips from the documentary in progress.

Shamokin & Mount Carmel Rotary Club
Monday, November 17, 2014 at 7:00 pm
Independence Fire Company
Arch & Market Street, Shamokin, PA 17872

Free to the general public

Join the filmmakers, Lys Sparrow and Gianfranco Serraino as they take you on a journey to explore the possibility that the former residents of Centralia, PA were denied rights. Was the plan to relocate the town a conspiracy so the government could reclaim the precious mineral rights, valued at billions upon billions of dollars? When coal ash was pumped into the mines for a period of seven years in an attempt to extinguish the fire, were the former residents aware of the 67 toxic chemicals that were polluting their air and water?

RED ASH: BurningRights begins as a story about Centralia but becomes the catalyst to a worldwide environmental crisis that is happening right now. Centralia was a town that was built on coal and obliterated by coal. The documentary explores the devastating dangers of coal ash, the by-product of coal-fired power plants that supply more than half the world’s energy. To date, there is no federal regulation on coal ash disposal. “Governments around the world are selling us on “clean coal” but that is deceptive propaganda. The truth is our governments are allowing big corporations to poison our air, our soil and our drinking water as we speak” say the filmmakers Mr. Serraino and Ms. Sparrow.

Come out and join the conversation.  You’ll be surprised to know that coal ash is being dumped in your own backyard!  Share and like our page at

Friday, November 7, 2014

5 Simple Things that Governor Tom Wolf can do for Pennsylvania’s Environment

UPDATE 1.29.2015 - Governor Wolf signed an executive order placing a moratorium on new leasing for oil and gas drilling in our state parks and forests.   This action reinstates a 2010 moratorium on new leases of state lands that was established after agency review determined that no additional state forest acreage was suitable for natural gas development without compromising its natural character.


In the last four years, Governor Corbett and the Pennsylvania House and Senate have made repeated attacks on environmental protection and sought to maximize the profits of the gas, oil and coal industries at the expense of Pennsylvania’s health and safety.  

The November 4th election saw the loss of pro-environment seats in both houses of the legislature, predicting further attacks on the environment.  Fortunately, Governor-Elect Tom Wolf will have significant power to block those attacks and to move forward on crucial environmental protections, and has promised a cleaner future for Pennsylvania. 

Clean Water Action, Conservation Voters of Pennsylvania, PennEnvironment, PennFuture, and the Sierra Club Pennsylvania Chapter congratulate Governor-Elect Wolf on his victory and look forward to working with his administration to protect Pennsylvania’s environment. 

To that end, these organizations urge Governor-Elect Wolf to prioritize the following during his first 100 days in office.

·         Save Pennsylvania’s State Parks and Forests
·         Plan for the Future on Climate and Energy
·         Let the Department of Environmental Protection Protect the Environment
·         Keep Our Water Safe
·         Regulate Methane and Clean Up Pennsylvania’s Air

Using the executive authority of the Governor of Pennsylvania, Tom Wolf can and should:

Save State Parks and Forests
In 2014, Corbett overturned a 2010 executive order that created a moratorium on gas leasing in public lands managed by the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources. Wolf should reinstate that order and make it clear that the order applies to both state parks and state forests, and to both surface and subsurface leases. Wolf should do everything in his power to prevent natural gas development in the Clarence Moore lands of the Loyalsock State Forest.

Plan for the Future
Both state and federal laws will require Pennsylvania to adopt new plans to reduce global warming pollution in the coming years. Wolf should produce climate and energy plans based on sound science and focused on rebuilding the wind and solar industries in the state.

Let the Department of Environmental Protection Protect the Environment
Wolf can reverse Corbett’s damage to the DEP’s commitment and ability to enforce environmental regulations.  He can start by implementing the recommendations of the state Auditor General to ensure both full transparency and strong enforcement of gas drilling rules.  Wolf should overhaul the DEP’s permitting process for gas drilling and create mandatory enforcement penalties to ensure that public health trumps politics and profits in gas operations.  Finally, he should instruct the DEP to ban fracking waste pits, a simple way to significantly reduce the health risks of toxic fracking chemicals.

Keep Our Water Safe
The Delaware River Basin Commission currently prohibits fracking in the Delaware River Watershed, from which 15 million Americans get their drinking water.  Wolf should publicly restate his support for the moratorium, seek to restore the Commission’s budget, and ensure that the DRBC Commissioner from Pennsylvania works to keep our water clean.  Additionally, he should push the Susquehanna River Basin Commission to launch a cumulative impact assessment of fracking on the Susquehanna watershed.

Regulate Methane and Clean Up Pennsylvania’s Air
Pennsylvania ranks among the worst states in the nation for air pollution and illnesses like asthma. Currently, Pennsylvania does not directly regulate methane pollution from natural gas operations and lags behind other states in controlling air emissions. Governor-Elect Wolf should work with DEP to directly regulate methane emissions from natural gas operations. Additionally, Pennsylvania should enact a strong “Smog Rule,” to limit pollutants like nitrogen oxide and volatile organic compounds.  

To implement these policies, Governor-Elect Wolf needs to build a team of agency leaders committed to environmental protection and independent of the special interests that these bodies oversee – new leadership for the Department of Environmental Protection, the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, the Public Utilities Commission, the Delaware River Basin Commission, and the Susquehanna River Basin Commission.

Leaders of these agencies should know that climate change is a problem; enthusiastically support renewable energy, clean air, and clean water; and understand that their first duty is to protect the health and safety of Pennsylvania’s citizens.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Fairness Needed to Clean Up the Three Rivers

Whenever it rains here in Pittsburgh region – even just a little bit – stormwater runoff from rooftops, parking lots, roads and sidewalks runs into the sewers. There is so much water that it overwhelms the system and that sewage and stormwater are discharged into the Monongahela, the Allegheny and the Ohio – our beloved Three Rivers.

The federal government has mandated that the Allegheny County Sanitary Authority (ALCOSAN), the main sewer authority in the Pittsburgh area, fix this problem. This will be the region’s largest public works project ever and it is ALCOSAN ratepayers that will bear the cost.

Ratepayers in the 83 southwestern Pennsylvania municipalities that ALCOSAN serves will see a cost increase of 60% over the next four years to pay for the purchase of a $70 million bond to finance the project. And that $70 million is just a small fraction of the total projected cost of over $2 billion. Ratepayers will be seeing many rate hikes in the future.

It is very important that the money for fixing this problem be invested wisely, fairly and in a way that brings the most benefits back to our communities. Other communities facing the same mandates have decided to invest in green infrastructure strategies that catch as much of that stormwater where it falls instead of letting it go into the sewer in the first place.

This includes planting trees, installing permeable pavement, building green roofs etc. When those communities made that choice they found that the got many other benefits beyond catching the stormwater. The green investments created jobs. They raised property values. They revitalized business districts. They produced cleaner, cooler air. They reduced flooding.

We want to live in a clean, vibrant Pittsburgh with good jobs and healthy neighborhoods. We have the opportunity to invest in that future now. It is up to us to ensure that this biggest ever public investment creates economic opportunities and healthy communities for generations to come.

ALCOSAN’s original plan was to build big tunnels under the three rivers. This plan was rejected by the EPA because it didn’t give us the clean rivers we need and deserve. ALCOSAN is negotiating with EPA on a new plan but their public announcements indicate they are still planning to prioritize the tunnels.

The Sierra Club is a founding member of the Clean Rivers Campaign. The Campaign is calling for a public meeting to support investing ratepayer money in the wisest way possible. We want all members of the community to pay their fair share of the cost. We want an assistance program for ratepayers who will be unable to pay the large rate increases that are coming. We want maximum benefits coming back to our communities.

Monday, October 20, 2014

2013-2014 PA Environmental Legislative Scorecard

Hi PA Sierrans!

We, along with Conservation Voters of PA and Clean Water Action, released the 2013-2014 PA Environmental Legislative Scorecard.

One thing I want to note for you, our Chapter volunteers and leaders, is that a few of the Republican Senators in the Southeastern part of the state who scored low - Sen. Rafferty, Sen. Greenleaf, and Sen. Tomlinson each at 38% - did come through for us in these last few days of session and vote against the two bad bills that were pushed through just this week - HB 2354 and HB 1565. They represent an important environmental voice in their caucus so I wanted to highlight those votes for you since their scores warranted a bit more explanation, in my view. 

Please let me know if you have any questions about the scorecard, the votes, etc. and please also see the brief additional description below for why some of the votes mattered so much:

The 2014-2015 state budget process also reflects the largely anti-environment sentiment within the legislature. Funding for the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR) has been reduced to unconscionably low levels, making the agency even more dependent on revenue from oil and gas leases on state lands such as our parks and forests. General Fund monies allocated to DCNR were reduced to around $15 million, nearly a 90% cut since 2006. The remainder of DCNR's budget will be largely made up from Oil and Gas Lease Fund transfers, making the state agency charged with conservation of public lands instead dependent on gas drilling and timber cutting for even its most basic adminstrative function. Similarly, funding for the Delaware River Basin Commission (DRBC) was reduced by 53.5%, from $934,000 to $434,000, and notably the DRBC currently has a moratorium on natural gas extraction within the basin.

In addition to the budget bill itself, the legislature passed a Fiscal Code bill, HB 278, to implement the budget, containing several bad environmental provisions. First, the bill authorized the use of revenue from new oil and gas leases on state park and forest land for the General Fund, permitting a transfer of $95 million from the Oil and Gas Lease Fund to the General Fund exclusively from these new leases. The language regarding new leases on state lands in the Fiscal Code bill is also concerning since the bill contained the assertion that the Oil and Gas Lease Fund is not a Constitutional Trust, which could impact legal interpretations regarding the permissive allocation of Oil and Gas Lease Fund monies for non-conservation purposes. In addition, jammed into this bill is a requirement that the Environmental Quality Board promulgate distinct regulations for conventional oil and gas wells and unconventional oil and gas wells after stand-alone legislation that would have required that did not pass; essentially this was a successful attempt to circumvent the full legislative process by inappropriately inserting this language into the Fiscal Code bill. 

HB 1565 takes away current protections provided by forested buffers for some of our finest streams and rivers across the Commonwealth.  Current Chapter 102 regulations exist to protect water quality, requiring 150 foot vegetated streamside buffers for all development along high quality (HQ) and exceptional value (EV) streams.  Stream buffers are better at protecting water quality than any other best management practice.  Buffers capture nutrient pollutants and sediments, and retain roots that are essential to the prevention of erosion and loss of soil. Buffers also protect downstream communities from flooding impacts, increase property values, and support the multi-billion dollar outdoor recreation industry in Pennsylvania. No other management practice can match forested riparian and riparian buffers in protection and enhancement of the biological, chemical, and physical habitat of our valued rivers and streams.

HB 2354, introduced by Democrat Pam Snyder from Greene County, is an effort to hinder state efforts to reduce carbon pollution. HB 2354 will make it harder for Pennsylvania to comply with the Clean Power Plan, which will put the first-ever national limits on carbon pollution from power plants. This bill will allow any one chamber of the state General Assembly to veto any state-level greenhouse gas emission reduction plan required by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) under the proposed Clean Power Plan. However, EPA is required to implement a federal plan in any state that does not provide its own, so if political jockeying interferes with our ability to enact a state implementation plan here in PA, we expose the Commonwealth instead to the possibility of federal mandates.

Air pollution such as that the Clean Power Plan aims to reduce is causes increased risk to our communities from premature death, asthma, heart attacks, and other ailments. In a recent study by Harvard School of Public Health at Harvard University, Pennsylvania was identified as one of 12 states with the most premature deaths avoided as a result of meeting our carbon dioxide emissions reduction. Legislative pressure to politicize the clean power plan the way HB 2354 has in PA could make it more difficult for us to achieve these benefits to the health of our communities. 

All the best,

Joanne Kilgour
Chapter Director
Sierra Club PA Chapter

Wednesday, September 24, 2014



Our woman crush Wednesday goes out to all the female House Democratic & GOP members who voted to oppose HB 1565 - a bill that would put our most precious waterways at risk. 

A big thanks to Representatives: 
  • Boback, Karen
  • Brown, Vanessa
  • Brownlee, Michelle
  • Corbin, Becky
  • Daley, Mary Jo
  • Davidson, Margo
  • Davis, Tina
  • Dean, Madeline
  • DeLissio, Pamela
  • Donatucci, Maria
  • Harper, Kate
  • Kim, Patty
  • Molchany, Erin
  • Mundy, Phyllis
  • Parker, Cherelle
  • Quinn, Marguerite
  • Toepel, Marcy
  • Watson, Kathy

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Wilderness Act marks 50 years
PUBLISHED: SEPTEMBER 08. 2014   Erie Times-News

Wilderness Act marks 50 years

Howard Zahniser didn't live to see President Lyndon Johnson sign into law the Wilderness Act on Sept. 3, 1964.

Zahniser, a Tionesta resident and a fervent conservationist, was the principal author and lobbyist of the six-page landmark conservation bill.

He died at age 58 of heart failure in early May 1964 after spending eight years crafting and recrafting his original proposal in 1956.

Zahniser's grandson, Justin Duewel-Zahniser, 33, of Silver Spring, Md., believes his grandfather knew before his death the passage of the bill was a certainty.

"It's unfortunate that he died before the signing, but I believe he knew at that point it was all over but the signing,'' Justin Zahniser said.

"I don't think he would really have any deep regret over it because he did the piece that was important, which is get it to the point where it was just action,'' he said. "I don't think of him as having missed out on it. It would have been fantastic for him to be there at the signing, but I think he knew that it was done and that was the important thing.''

The Wilderness Act established the National Wilderness Preservation System, which permanently protects more than 109 million acres of federal public land.

As the nation commemorates the 50th anniversary of the Wilderness Act, many people are learning of Howard Zahniser for the first time and realizing the prevalent role he played in implementing the national wilderness policy, his grandson said.

"There are a lot of names that people know, like Aldo Leopold, Henry David Thoreau and all these different characters in American conservation and environmentalism,'' Justin Zahniser said. "Then there's Howard Zahniser, who did one of the most significant things in the last century as far as conservation is concerned and a lot of people aren't really aware of him.''

Justin Zahniser presented a lecture on Wednesday at the Erie Art Museum in which he discussed his grandfather's background and Pennsylvania roots, his conservation legacy and his role in creating the Wilderness Act.

"It's been really interesting to see people celebrate wilderness and the work of my grandfather, and really look on it with reverence and what can we do with this going forward, and having just this life connection to that is really interesting to me,'' said Justin Zahniser, a director of product management for a Washington, D.C., information technology firm.

A monthlong wilderness photography exhibit in Warren honoring Howard Zahniser opened Aug. 30 and is scheduled for viewing through Sept. 28 at Crary Art Gallery, 511 Market St.

The gallery and the Warren-based Friends of Allegheny Wilderness are presenting the exhibit, "Wilderness at 50: Photographic Reflections on the Legacy of Tionesta Visionary Howard Zahniser.''

"We worked on curating some of the biggest names in nature photography and wilderness photography,'' said Kirk Johnson, executive director of Friends of Allegheny Wilderness.

There are currently 758 designated wilderness areas in the nation, managed by four federal land management agencies: the National Park Service, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the U.S. Forest Service, and the Bureau of Land Management.

Pennsylvania's designated wilderness areas encompass two tracts -- Hickory Creek and Allegheny Islands -- totaling 9,000 acres in the 513,000-acre Allegheny National Forest.

"The show and the anniversary honoring his work are important because this (Allegheny National Forest) was his home national forest, and there are many other roadless, untrammeled areas in the Allegheny National Forest that qualify for wilderness designation,'' Johnson said.

The Warren exhibit features photos from 11 professional and three amateur photographers.

"My grandfather was sort of behind the scenes doing the lobbying work on the Wilderness Act bill,'' Justin Zahniser said. "Working on the bill wasn't the sexiest thing in the world, but it was crucial and very effective.''

Justin Zahniser said 50th anniversary commemorations of the Wilderness Act have enabled people "to get connected to it.''

"My grandfather had a real philosophy and a passion for it,'' he said. "He literally poured his life into this, and to bring people to that passion and that way of thinking, and to really introduce them to how he thought about wilderness and how important it was to us as a nation and a people, I think, is really fantastic. It's too bad it's not 50 years every year."

Justin Zahniser said he is trying to "carry the torch'' and continue educating the public on his grandfather's legacy.

"I grew up spending every summer in the Adirondacks, and my dad worked for the National Park Service for many decades,'' Justin Zahniser said. "I grew up climbing mountains, hiking and going on park tours with him out west. I've definitely grown up with that respect for the environment and an understanding of the impact we have on it.''

Howard Zahniser, the son of a minister, was born in Franklin in 1906, but grew up in Tionesta along the banks of the Allegheny River and near the Allegheny National Forest.

His love for nature and wilderness was further cultivated in the fifth grade when one of his teachers steered him toward joining the Junior Audubon Club, Justin Zahniser said.

"His parents honored books and education,'' Justin Zahniser said.

Later in life, Howard Zahniser developed a love of the Adirondack Mountains.

From 1930 through 1943, he worked for the U.S. Bureau of Biological Survey, and in 1935 he began writing a monthly book review column for Nature Magazine.

In 1945, he joined the Wilderness Society as executive secretary and later served as the organization's executive director.

He served as editor of the Wilderness Society's magazine, "The Living Wilderness,'' from 1945 to 1964.

"My grandfather made a leap from a lucrative civil service career to go to the Wilderness Society, take a big pay cut and a big cut in his future and security,'' Justin Zahniser said.

Justin Zahniser said it was during the early 1950s when his grandfather began to realize the need to craft a national wilderness policy into law.

Howard Zahniser drafted the original Wilderness Act in 1956.

Later that year, the bill was introduced in Congress. U.S. Rep. John P. Saylor, of Pennsylvania, introduced it in the House of Representatives and Minnesota Sen. Hubert Humphrey introduced it in the Senate.

From 1956 to its passage in 1964, Howard Zahniser wrote 66 drafts of the Wilderness Act and attended all 18 public hearings on the bill.

He also personally lobbied nearly every member of Congress in support of the legislation.

"He even had my dad and his siblings lobbying on the weekends,'' Justin Zahniser said. "They would go into Capitol Hill on the weekends. Back in those days, the senators and Congress people couldn't afford to fly home every weekend, so they'd be in the offices unprotected by staff, so my dad and his siblings would go in and leaflet them and tell them about their wilderness experience.''

"His perseverance and persistence were part of the equation, but what he also did is he had a very pragmatic approach to lobbying,'' Johnson said. "He did not have an adversarial relationship with anybody who opposed his legislation. He sets a high example of how other conservationists should and could model their own wilderness advocacy work.''

Howard Zahniser died of a massive heart attack on May 5, 1964.

"He knew it was coming,'' Justin Zahniser said. "There's a remark where he was testifying before, I think, a Senate subcommittee. He had labored breathing and was sweating and it was really tough. He made some comments where he felt like his days were a bit numbered. He said something to the effect that, 'The passage of the bill seems much more guaranteed for survival than me at this point.'''

Howard Zahniser is buried at Tionesta Riverside Cemetery, which overlooks the Allegheny River.

"He worked on every single draft of the bill and he testified at every hearing nationwide,'' Justin Zahniser said. "Even in failing health, he never gave up.''

RON LEONARDI can be reached at 870-1680 or by e-mail.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Climate Change Impacts in Pennsylvania and the Benefits of a Clean Energy Transition

Pennsylvania House Democratic Policy Committee Hearing
Testimony of Thomas Schuster
On behalf of the Sierra Club
Regarding: Climate Change Impacts in Pennsylvania and the Benefits of a Clean Energy Transition

       I             Introduction

My name is Thomas Schuster and I am a Senior Campaign Representative with the Sierra Club in Pennsylvania.  The Sierra Club is the oldest and largest non-profit environmental advocacy organization in the United States, with approximately 24,000 members in Pennsylvania.  My testimony today will address misperceptions about the cost of confronting climate disruption.  Not only is inaction on climate disruption much more costly than mitigating it, but a transition to a clean energy economy will actually create jobs and savings on balance.

     II.            The Need for Action to Address Climate Disruption

The costs of failing to adequately deal with climate disruption, caused mainly by carbon pollution, are immense.  By the end of the century, the northeast as a region is expected to see an additional 57 days per year (nearly 2 more full months) of temperatures over 95 degrees.[1]  This will have severe consequences on our health, our economy, and the infrastructure and natural systems on which we all depend.  Higher average temperature leads to worse air quality, and in turn more hospital admissions and premature deaths, particularly among children.  It leads to the spread of vector-borne diseases that were once only problems in the tropics.  It leads to more frequent intense storms, which can damage our homes and threaten our lives with high winds and flooding.  It also threatens our economy.  A 10-year flood in Allegheny County costs over $8 billion to clean up,[2] and that is money that can’t be invested in growing our regional economy.  These damages will only become more severe if we don’t curtail carbon pollution.  Agriculture currently employs more people in Pennsylvania than extraction of coal, oil, and gas combined.[3]  The sector is projected to suffer from extreme heat, droughts and storms, and could shed many thousands of jobs.  These are but a few examples of the impacts that will touch every aspect of our lives.

It has been recently estimated that allowing global average temperatures to rise by 3 degrees Celsius, rather than 2 degrees (which we are already very likely to experience), will reduce annual economic productivity by 1% per year.[4]   This equates to over $6 billion per year in lost productivity in Pennsylvania.  That is from a one degree differential; even higher temperatures are quite likely if no additional action is taken, and the economic losses would accelerate.  It has also been estimated that every decade of delay in taking action to reduce climate disrupting pollution increases mitigation costs by about 40%.[5]

Pennsylvania makes an outsized contribution to climate disruption.  Pennsylvania is the source of about 1% of global carbon pollution,[6] despite comprising less than 0.2% of the world’s population.  While it is true that neither Pennsylvania nor the United States can solve the climate disruption problem on our own, it is also obvious that due to our disproportionate contribution to the problem, our national leadership on the issue is necessary if we are to reach an international solution, and Pennsylvania will be a key part of a national solution.

  III.            Meeting Clean Power Plan Requirements

On June 2, 2014, the Environmental Protection Agency introduced a proposal that would limit, for the first time, the carbon pollution from existing power plants.  The draft rules for Pennsylvania require a reduction in carbon pollution intensity (or pounds of pollution per MWh of electricity) by 31% between 2012 and 2030.

We are well on our way to meeting this target, according to our internal analysis.  Coal power plant retirements that have occurred or been announced since 2012 will achieve at least 14% of the required reduction.  Our existing energy efficiency requirement for utilities, if continued at current levels, will achieve an additional 14%, while the Alternative Energy Portfolio Standards will achieve more than 23% of our requirement.  Together, these three tranches get us more than halfway to Pennsylvania’s goal, just by maintaining the status quo.  If we increase our clean energy requirement to 20% per year by 2020, and our efficiency target to 1.5% per year, we would achieve about 96% of our required reduction.  These higher targets would merely put us on par with most other states in the northeast.

  IV.            Benefits of Clean Energy and Efficiency

In addition to reducing carbon pollution from the electric sector, efficiency and clean, renewable energy offer numerous other benefits.  I want to focus on the benefits of renewable energy specifically, because it is often misunderstood.

a.     Renewable Energy Reduces Electricity Prices

Numerous studies have shown that addition of renewable energy into the electricity mix causes the most expensive, least efficient fossil fuel generators to operate less, which lowers electricity cost.  Most recently, it was found that the eleven states with the highest amount of wind energy installed have seen electricity prices decrease slightly since 2008, while in the remaining states, the price of electricity has increased by nearly 8% over the same time.[7]  A Pennsylvania-specific analysis of a hypothetical doubling of our renewable energy targets projected that savings from price suppression would outstrip direct costs by a factor of at least 2:1.[8]

b.     Renewable Energy is Reliable

Already, the states of Iowa and South Dakota get more than 20% of their electricity from wind power, but we can go much farther than that.  PJM, the operator of the regional grid, has concluded that we can get at least 30% of our energy from wind and solar by 2026 with no reliability problems, minimal changes to the transmission infrastructure, and net savings on wholesale energy prices.[9]  The non-partisan Regulatory Assistance Project reviewed eleven studies by respected firms and concluded that renewable energy levels well over 50% are feasible given current technology.[10]

Supporters of coal often point to the extreme cold snaps of January 2014 as a reason to continue reliance on coal.  Putting aside for the moment the fact that a polar vortex is a predicted result of rising artic temperatures and melting polar ice that will increase in frequency with warmer global temperatures, it must be noted that coal did not perform particularly well during that time.  In fact, while 22% of the total generating capacity in PJM territory was unavailable during the most critical time, over 1/3 of that total (13.7 gigawatts) was coal capacity.[11]  This included the largest coal-fired power plant in Pennsylvania, the Bruce Mansfield Generating Station.  According to a May PJM report, only two types of resources performed better than expected during this extreme event: demand response and wind power.[12]  Beyond PJM, wind power was also critical to preventing blackouts in the Midwest and in Texas during the polar vortex.[13]

c.      Renewable Energy Creates Jobs

Numerous studies have also shown that clean energy investments create more jobs per dollar spent, per megawatt of capacity, and per megawatt-hour of generation than comparable investments in fossil fuels.  There are already more workers in the solar and wind industries in this country than there are in the coal industry, despite coal being responsible for a much larger share of the current electricity mix.[14]  It has been projected that a transition to a 100% clean energy economy in Pennsylvania by 2050, including maximizing energy efficiency, would create half a million 40-year jobs, which is more than 10 times the number the coal industry currently supports.[15]  Widely distributed sources of energy also offer important tax revenue streams for rural towns and communities, helping keep schools, libraries, and firehouses open.

We recognize that even though the transition to cleaner forms of energy will be a net benefit to the Commonwealth, there are some coal-dependent communities that will be disproportionately impacted by this transition.  We support an effort by leaders at the federal, state, and local levels to work to understand the needs of these communities and their workers, and to develop fully funded programs to aid in the transition.  We cannot afford to postpone the transition to cleaner energy, but we also cannot put all the impacts on the shoulders of a few while the rest enjoy the benefits.

Thank you for your time,

Thomas Schuster
Senior Campaign Representative
The Sierra Club
PO Box 51
Windber, PA 15963
(814) 467-2614

[2] National Conference of State Legislatures, Assessing the Costs of Climate Change,
[3] US Bureau of Economic Analysis, 2012 statistics
[4] Multiple sources, cited in The Cost of Delaying Action to Stem Climate Change, July 2104:
[5] Id.
[6] 2009 Pennsylvania Climate Change Action Plan.  The 2013 update to the plan did not calculate our share of global emissions.
[8] Black &Veatch, “Assessment of a 15 percent Pennsylvania Alternative Energy Portfolio Standard”:
[12] Id. at 20
[14] AWEA U.S. Wind Industry Annual Market Report 2010; Solar Foundation National Solar Jobs Census 2010; U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Monday, August 25, 2014

It’s Electric!

From September 15th to the 21st, the country is going electric. Why? The third week of September celebrates the fourth annual National Drive Electric Week. It’s a nationwide celebration to increase awareness of today’s widespread accessibility of plug-in vehicles. To emphasize the benefits of all-electric and plug-in hybrid-electric vehicles, test-drive events and other related activities will be held in cities from coast to coast and abroad. Approximately 100 cities and 30,000 people participated in 2013. This year, 113 events are registered in 39 states. National organizers including the Sierra Club, Plug In America, and the Electric Auto Association are teaming up with local groups across the country to bring you the best event possible. 

Plug In America president Richard Kelly stresses, “…you do not have to have an electric car to take part in National Drive Electric Week. That’s the point—to introduce [electric vehicles] to prospective buyers who haven’t experienced the thrill of instant torque and a quiet, clean ride, right past the gas station.”

Benefits of going electric:
-Fun to drive
-Less expensive
-More convenient to fuel
-Better for the environment
-Promote local jobs
-Reduce dependence on foreign oil

National Drive Electric Week activities will vary by city. For more information on dates and times, click here. For city-by-city locations and details, visit

You can also volunteer at a National Drive Electric Week event in your city, town, or school.

Hope to see you out!