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Thanks, Sierra Club, For Coming Clean on Natural Gas

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  • Felix Kramer
    This morning we re learning that the Sierra Club received $30 million from a natural gas company to fight coal, until its incoming Executive Director got the
    Message 1 of 1 , Feb 6, 2012
      This morning we're learning that the Sierra Club received $30 million
      from a natural gas company to fight coal, until its incoming
      Executive Director got the Board to agree in Sept 2010 to stop
      accepting money from fossil fuel companies. This is an important
      moment. I want to talk about its implications -- and why supporting
      the Sierra Club now will send an important message! Plus how this
      ties in to plug-in cars, and at the end, the three things we should
      now expect of environmental organizations.

      (Shortly after it goes out on email, this posting will also be
      viewable at http://www.calcars.org/news-archive.html -- there you can
      add CalCars-News to your RSS feed.)

      OUR TAKE: Here are our conclusions:
      "We're glad Sierra Club has changed its policies, and people who
      agree with Sierra's goals can show it with their support. It's time
      for all environmental groups to disclose any funding from the fossil
      fuel industry. Companies and trade groups are spending hundreds of
      millions of dollars to deliver a misleading message about how natural
      gas is clean -- and natural! We need to get off coal as soon as
      possible, but we can't replace it with an addiction to natural gas.
      We need clean renewable fuels harvested from heaven, not poisonous
      fuels extracted from hell. And we certainly shouldn't spend tens of
      thousands of dollars subsidizing conversions of vehicles to run on a
      'slightly less bad' fossil fuel when we could fix them to plug in."

      SOME PERSONAL HISTORY: I've been a Sierra Club member for decades.
      Last year as I became even more enthusiastic, I became a Lifetime
      Member (a one-time $1,000 helps the Club a lot
      http://www.sierraclub.org/membership/ ). I had first come to Sierra
      through its spectacular wilderness calendars
      http://www.sierraclub.org/store/ . Then I learned about its roots in
      John Muir's advocacy for national parks
      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sierra_club#History . I grew to
      appreciate its unique position as a bottoms-up organization, whose
      chapters set policy for the entire organization.

      I had some rocky moments after founding CalCars, when one of the
      Club's DC policy leaders kept dissing EVs as dirty because some
      electricity comes from coal; when the Club barred EV advocates from
      its Sierra Summit; when it pitched Ford's non-pluggable hybrid SUVs
      to its members; and when the former Executive Director joined T.
      Boone Pickens promoting natural gas. (Details on all at
      http://www.calcars.org/calcars-news/1056.html .) I felt a true breath
      of fresh air when Michael Brune, former Executive Director of the
      Rainforest Action Network (a fearless grassroots group that truly
      lives up its name) became the new ED; when the Beyond Coal Campaign
      http://www.beyondcoal.org started racking up wins; and when the
      organization launched the first truly energetic and staff-funded
      effort by an environmental group to promote plug-ins and combat
      misinformation, ably led by Gina Coplon-Newfield
      http://www.sierraclub.org/electric-vehicles/ .

      WHAT JUST HAPPENED? Today the Sierra Club disclosed that since 2007,
      it had taken over $26 million from individuals or subsidiaries of
      Chesapeake Energy, a large natural gas company. Upon becoming
      Executive Director in March 2010, Michael Brune started a review. And
      in August 2010, the Board decided to stop taking funds from all
      fossil fuel companies and executives -- at that time, up to a quarter
      of its budget. Unfortunately, rather than announce the decision at
      that time, over the past year and a half, several times, the Club
      responded to questions by fudging responses that it "does not take"
      (present tense) such contributions.

      The story started to emerge last week. An analysis by Forbes
      http://onforb.es/wMuGPh compares Sierra's response favorably to last
      week's Komen Foundation-Planned Parenthood controversy, and links to
      the Club's misleading responses to the Corporate Crime Reporter
      publication. Then Sierra got in front of the issue: Brune posted his
      (see many comments). And when Sierra gave an exclusive story to
      environmental reporter Bryan Walsh at Time Magazine, you can see the
      resulting favorable spin in the URL that repeats the headline:

      MY RECOMMENDATIONS TODAY: Just as we saw last week with breast cancer
      screenings, it's up to individuals to step up to replace the millions
      from the fossil fuel industry. In the wake of this news, I urge you
      to JOIN the Sierra Club and GIVE to Beyond Coal (URLs above). Tell
      them you're doing so because they've come clean and you support
      plug-in vehicles -- and say CalCars sent you!

      AMERICANS ARE UNDERSTANDABLY CONFUSED about coal, natural gas, and
      electricity. Here's our quick, non-technical summary: COAL is by far
      the worst in terms of greenhouse gases, mercury and other
      conventional emissions, mining's impact, dangers to workers, and the
      industry's power on elected officials and the media. (Each of those
      criteria cries out for a national dialogue.) NATURAL GAS, compared to
      coal, is better in terms of greenhouse gases and other emissions
      (especially when burned in new combined cycle electric power plants).
      BUT it's still a fossil fuel. AND as fracking begins to overtake
      conventional extraction methods and promise us centuries of cheap
      fossil gas and oil, we're only beginning to understand its impact on
      water and communities. Manwhile, people right up to President Obama
      are now touting an "all of the above" strategy for "American Energy,"
      including more drilling and mining.

      media campaign to position itself, as what Brune describes as a
      "kinder, gentler" energy source," the industry suggests it makes
      replacing gasoline with natural gas for vehicles is a winner. Most
      analysts initially said gas (on a "well-to-wheels" basis) was 30-40%
      lower in greenhouse gases than gasoline. But when some stepped back
      and looked at the entire fuel extraction and distribution system,
      they realized that byproduct methane emissions can make gas as bad as
      gasoline. We've talked about all this in the past
      http://www.calcars.org/calcars-news/1108.html .

      Boone Pickens poured $50 million into promoting the NatGas Act
      http://www.ngvc.org/ that Congress may still enact, he included
      converting millions of vehicles, spending tens of thousands per
      vehicle. In a speech in Las Vegas on January 26, Obama suggested high
      spending to "upgrade" corporate fleets to natural gas, despite little
      environmental benefit

      can't just celebrate the tens of thousands of plug-in cars coming to
      market, and hope we get to a million by 2015. Remember why we need
      these cars -- in addition to their being fun to drive, quiet and cost
      much lower per mile? Wouldn't it be great within a decade to have
      more than a token impact on fossil fuel use and greenhouse gases from
      transportation? The only way that will happen is if we get tens and
      then hundreds of millions of plug-in cars on the road. And the only
      way to do that quickly enough is to convert many of our 250 million
      existing vehicles. That's why CalCars has promoted "The Big Fix"
      http://www.calcars.org/ice-conversions as the logical next step after
      the widespread introduction of plug-in vehicles. (So far, we've
      gotten little uptake.)

      Carmakers have built great cars -- but we can't rely on them to sell
      them! The latest evidence is the Chevrolet Volt's Super Bowl ads
      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JVQtoeTiIyM that trumpet uncertainty
      and anxiety about aliens instead of promoting the Volt's pleasures.
      (It reminded many of GM's jaw-droopingly sinister ad for the EV1
      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3g7cgUm7o9k .) And while GM did well
      at the Congressional hearings, it was left to Bob Lutz to provide the
      best rebuttal
      to conservatives who condemn "Obamacars" and tax credits that were in
      fact developed by the Bush Administration.

      * FULLY DISCLOSE all their corporate contributions, voluntarily. In
      the age of Citizens United and Occupy Wall Street, we must expect no
      less. As we suggest above, trumpet your support for those who come
      clean on fossil fuel support.
      * HELP SELL PLUG-IN CARS: As many great cars come to market,
      organizations can educate the public and actively encourage their
      members to check them out in showrooms. Most of their audiences are
      in the marketing category called "LOHAS" -- tens of millions of
      individuals and families who embrace "Lifestyles of Health and
      Sustainability." They will pay more up front for products that
      benefit them personally, have an impact on society and could prove to
      be smart purchases as oil prices rise. By themselves these millions
      can buy every plug-in hybrid and electric vehicle the industry can
      make. (That's not to say that EVs are only for greens. Many people --
      including Lutz -- support them simply to reduce our dependence on
      fossil fuels.)
      the idea of high-volume, safe, warrantied EV conversions. Just as
      we're retrofitting our buildings, it's an imperative. There are great
      technical solutions, and there can be viable business models. Green
      groups can be helping to build companies and making the case for
      government incentives to jump start a Pearl Harbor-style transition
      from fossil fuels.

      -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- --
      Felix Kramer fkramer@...
      Founder California Cars Initiative
      -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- --
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