October 7, 2015

Save the date: Chapter holiday party December 11th!

10848542_10152360170042723_4212626975572024328_oFriday, December 11, 6 to 9 pm (time tentative), 2530 San Pablo Avenue (near Dwight) in Berkeley.

Come one and all to the Chapter holiday party! This year we will be holding an open house together with most of the other organizations in our building, including the Ecology Center, Golden Gate Audubon, Americans for Nonsmokers Rights, the Berkeley League of Women Voters, Project SEED, and the Yoga Room.

For questions, or to volunteer to help–with getting the word out, making signs, decorating the office, setting up, cleaning up, and taking shifts at the greeting table–contact Joanne Drabek at 510-530-5216 or joanne1892@gmail.com.

Community and environmental groups challenge proposed Oakland coal-export terminal—California law requires environmental review of coal impacts

A coal-export terminal.

A coal-export terminal on the Oakland waterfront would have major health and safety impacts on the local community and would mean massive emissions of climate-destabilizing greenhouse gases.

Today, Earthjustice, on behalf of Communities for a Better Environment, Asian Pacific Environmental Network, the Sierra Club, and San Francisco Baykeeper, filed a California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) action in Alameda County Superior Court to challenge the proposal to export Utah coal out of Oakland’s proposed bulk terminal at the former Oakland Army Base.  The project, known as the Oakland Bulk and Oversized Terminal, is being built by a group of developers led by Prologis CCIG Oakland Global LLC. Contrary to the fundamental requirements of CEQA, the environmental review for the project failed to include any discussion or analysis of the impacts of transporting, handling, or exporting coal from Oakland on surrounding neighborhoods or the environment. This is particularly problematic given the project’s disproportionate impact on Oakland’s most vulnerable communities of color.

After years of assurances that coal would not be transported through the bulk terminal, in April 2015, community members learned that the developers had secretly cut a funding deal with four Utah counties that would bring coal into Oakland. In exchange for $53 million in project funding, the developers promised the Utah counties shipping rights to at least 49% of the bulk terminal’s 9-10-million-ton annual shipping capacity. Utah officials have stated that they intend to use this capacity to export coal to overseas markets. This development followed a number of public statements by CCIG’s President and CEO, Phil Tagami, that the company had “no interest or involvement in the pursuit of coal-related operations at the former Oakland Army Base.”

“We have been working for many years to combat the environmental harms that our neighborhoods were subjected to through neglectful and discriminatory policies that disproportionately affected our community,” said West Oakland resident Karin Mac Donald. “Our vision for the future is a safe and healthy environment and dirty coal is certainly not part of that. Phil Tagami needs to follow the law, stick to his promises, and listen to the community that would be impacted by coal shipments.”

The Oakland City Council held a hearing on September 21st, 2015, to gather evidence on the health and safety issues associated with the proposed coal export facility. At the end of the six-hour hearing, the Council adopted a resolution to review the information and consider potential action before December 8th, 2015.

“Shipping coal through the bulk terminal would be devastating to the health of the West Oakland community and many other communities along the rail line,” said Irene Gutierrez, attorney at Earthjustice. “The California Environmental Quality Act was meant to protect the public from being kept in the dark about what this new coal project means for their health, safety and environment.  We seek to hold the City to its duties to inform and protect the public.”

“The proposal to ship coal out of Oakland would not only impact our air quality, but our water as well,” George Torgun, Managing Attorney at San Francisco Baykeeper. “Coal dust released by open train cars will pollute our Bay, and the process of suppressing coal dust is itself highly water-intensive. As we head into our fourth straight year of drought conditions here in California, we can’t afford to be wasting water on spraying down tons of dirty coal to minimize dangerous coal dust. For the sake of our water and the health of our communities, we must keep coal out of Oakland.”

“Tons of coal dust every week all year round is a dangerous threat to the lungs and well-being of Oakland residents who are already disproportionately impacted by air pollution,” said Michael Kaufman, a member of Communities for a Better Environment. “After working for decades to improve the air we won’t stand for this assault.”

“We support bringing jobs to Oakland through the Army Base Redevelopment project and the proposed bulk terminal, but not at the expense of the health of West Oakland communities and our global climate,” said Jess Dervin-Ackerman, Conservation Manager with the Sierra Club’s Bay Chapter. “We will continue to work closely with the Oakland City Council and Mayor Schaaf to encourage the project’s backers to move forward with the plan as originally proposed, without dirty coal exports. This case will ensure that the environmental impacts of this project are fully considered.”

“Coal has no place in the vision for a vibrant and thriving local economy that we all have for Oakland, especially for our most vulnerable residents,” said Miya Yoshitani, Executive Director of the Asian Pacific Environmental Network. “We fully support the Army Base Redevelopment project and believe it is an opportunity to create jobs and stabilize our neighborhoods, and last century dirty coal exports keep us from realizing that important goal.”

Communities for a Better Environment, Asian Pacific Environmental Network, Sierra Club, and San Francisco Baykeeper are represented by Irene Gutierrez and Stacey Geis at Earthjustice, and the Sierra Club is represented by Jessica Yarnall Loarie.

Help stop SF’s dirty landfill plan!

Photo courtesy Colin Delaney on Flickr Creative Commons.

Photo courtesy Colin Delaney on Flickr Creative Commons.

On Tuesday, September 29th, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors will consider a proposal to send the City’s garbage to a new landfill owned by Recology, the company that already has exclusive rights to waste collection. This is a big problem, because using a Recology landfill creates a profit motive to dump more trash and conflicts with San Francisco’s recycling goals.

Right now San Francsico’s trash is trucked to a landfill in eastern Alameda County. The proposed new landfill is located further away in Solano County, which would mean longer truck trips (400,000 more truck-miles per year!) and an associated increase in air pollution and carbon emissions.

The plan also would skirt an open space mitigation fee that has protected thousands of acres of parkland and important wildlife habitat in the East Bay.

Recology and some City Hall officials are trying to push the new landfill deal through without requiring a full Environmental Impact Report (EIR) that analyses potential alternatives that might have better environmental outcomes.


We all want San Francisco to be a model for the sustainable communities of the future. Where our trash ends up is a big part of that goal. Here’s what you can do:

  1. Send a message to the Board of Supervisors demanding that they require an EIR on the dirty landfill deal! Tell them that the new landfill would mean more carbon pollution, less money for open space protection, and a disincentive to achieving the city’s zero waste goals!
  2. Show up Tuesday, September 29th, and tell the Board of Supervisors that we need an EIR on the dirty landfill plan!

WHAT: SF Board of Supervisors meeting
WHEN: Item at 3 pm; show up at 2:45 pm to submit your speaker card
WHERE: Legislative Chamber, Room 250, City Hall, 1 Dr. Carlton B. Goodlett Place, San Francisco, CA 94102-4689

Read more about this issue in “New destination for S.F.’s trash would mean more carbon emissions, less open space for Alameda County.”

You and your city can protect forests, water, and climate

Photo courtesy Sam Beebe on Flickr Creative Commons.

Photo courtesy Sam Beebe on Flickr Creative Commons.

So far San Francisco, Berkeley, Davis, Daly City, Monte Sereno, and Menlo Park have passed resolutions banning clearcutting. Saratoga and Sunnyvale have taken other supportive actions.

Why are a growing number of cities, where no clearcutting occurs, speaking out against the practice? “Given how critical water is to all Californians and how important healthy forest ecosystems are to California’s water production, we need to do what we can to protect water at its source,” stated Menlo Park City Councilmember Ray Mueller who initiated his city’s action.

What happens in the forests is important to California cities. Three-quarters of our water is captured, filtered, and stored in forested watersheds. In addition, US forests absorbed over 10 percent of US carbon dioxide emissions in 2004, according to EPA statistics. So even though the clearcutting takes place in the Sierra Nevada Mountains and the North Coast, it impacts all Californians by degrading watersheds and reducing the amount of carbon dioxide that is sequestered in our forests.

Clearcutting is an ecologically destructive form of logging in which nearly all native vegetation is removed, soils are deep-ripped, and herbicides are applied across the landscape. It harms water quality, wildlife habitat, and exacerbates climate change. It replaces diverse forests with monoculture tree farms that can have a higher risk of catching fire.

Timber can be harvested using a less destructive method known as selective logging, which involves the removal of some trees while leaving the forest intact. Selective logging is the method used in San Mateo, Santa Clara, Santa Cruz, and Marin Counties.

Logging operations on private lands are determined by the governor and the state legislature. So the timber industry spends large amounts of money each year lobbying our legislators to maintain clearcut logging operations and weaken forestry regulations.

The Sierra Club and our coalition partners don’t have the money to hire legions of lobbyists, but we can educate the legislators and the public about the damage that clearcutting does to the environment. Passing resolutions to ban clearcutting in California cities provides us an opportunity to speak out and be heard.

Eight cities have supported the campaign so far. The more cities that pass our resolution, the more strength we will be able to demonstrate to legislators and the governor. We would like to get 20 cities pass a resolution calling for a ban on clearcutting by the end of the year.


Here are the steps to passing a resolution in your city.

  1. We supply the sample resolution.
  2. Attend a city council meeting or two to get a sense of how things work in your city.
  3. Make an appointment to talk to the city council member who is most likely to be supportive. Ask him/her to sponsor the resolution and ask what is the best way to proceed. Processes vary from city to city.
  4. Meet with other city council members as needed.
  5. If needed, get community groups to send letters to city council members in support of the resolution.
  6. Get the resolution on the city council calendar.
  7. On the night of the meeting, get 5-20 people to attend, depending on your estimate of how easy it will be to pass the resolution.
  8. Make sure your city council sends a copy of the resolution to their state legislators.

Should you decide to pass a resolution in your city, let us know. We can provide a sample press release and coach you through the process.

There are other ways to educate the public and let our legislators know we want an end to clearcutting such as gathering signatures on our petition to Governor Brown, writing letters to the editor about the importance of forests to climate and water, hosting a house party to show a forest video, asking organizations you belong to to support a ban on clearcutting California forests.

Contact Karen Maki at karenmaki@lomaprieta.sierraclub.org to find out more and get started!

—Karen Maki is the volunteer lead of the Sierra Club’s Stop Clearcutting California campaign.

Draft refinery emissions rules fail to cap pollutants, GHGs

Sierra Club and allies call on Air District to suspend new refinery projects until caps are in place

The Phillips 66 refinery in Rodeo. Photo courtesy Thomas Hawk on Flickr Creative Commons.

The Phillips 66 refinery in Rodeo. Photo courtesy Thomas Hawk on Flickr Creative Commons.

The Bay Area Air Quality Management District released long-awaited draft refinery emission regulations on September 11th. To our chagrin, the draft rules completely fail to live up to the Air District Board’s promises (see “Air District moves to reduce refinery emissions 20% by 2020“) and would in fact lead to increases in refinery pollution. In its draft rules the Air District has eliminated the notion of facility-wide emission caps, instead relying on “source-by-source” regulations (a boiler here, a catalytic cracker there) with no regard to the overall picture of what’s spewing into nearby communities and the atmosphere. The new rules propose to allow the maximum refinery-wide potential to emit. On top of all this, greenhouse gases are completely exempted.

Bay Area refineries make billions in profits at the expense of the environment and public health. Putting an end to unchecked refinery pollution is the goal of a grassroots campaign made up of Sierra Club members, labor organizations, healthcare professionals, environmental justice organizations such as Communities for a Better Environment, and front-line community members who have been lobbying the Air District for years to implement robust emissions regulations for the region’s five refineries.

To communities already overburdened by pollution, it’s terrifying to learn that, under the draft rules, the refineries would essentially be allowed to continue to emit as much as they want, so long as they pay the Air District for the permit. What we are asking for is simple: certainty in our air quality. We demand facility-wide numeric caps on toxic particulate soot emissions and climate-warming greenhouse gas emissions. Emissions should be capped at current levels and brought down over time. We want to know that the air we are breathing right now, as bad as it is, isn’t going to get worse.

Without facility-wide numeric caps, refineries will be able to bring in dirtier and more dangerous grades of “extreme” crude oil such as tar sands with no penalties, just profit. We call on the Air District to suspend all permitting for new refinery projects until numeric emissions caps are in place.

The oil industry has fought hard to fend off facility-wide numeric caps. Big Oil lobbyists have argued in favor of their vested right to pollute, and Air District staffers continue to parrot the oil industry’s bogus talking points; they claim numeric caps are not legal — a contention that is completely false, given that other industries, including power plants, are already subject to caps on emissions including greenhouse gases. As to feasibility, keeping emissions to the same level for now instead of further increasing them doesn’t require refiners to do anything different from what they are doing now.


It’s time to ramp up the pressure on the Air District. Add your name to our petition to the Air District asking them to:

  • Suspend all permitting for new refinery projects until numeric emissions caps are in place; and
  • Implement enforceable, facility-wide numeric caps on refinery pollution, including greenhouse gases, at today’s levels.

Sign the petition today!

—Ratha Lai

4,334 miles later, Zeke reaches the Pacific!

Photo courtesy https://instagram.com/zekegerwein.

Photo courtesy https://instagram.com/zekegerwein.

Berkeley teen Zeke Gerwein is back home (and back in school) after biking 4,334 miles over 73 days this summer. Zeke’s ride took him from the waters of the Atlantic in Delaware across the entire continental United States to the Pacific Ocean.

In his blog, Zeke describes the experience of dipping his front bike tire in the Pacific at Rodeo Beach in Marin County: “…I pushed my bike across the sand and pebbles toward the ocean. I had forgotten to take off my socks and shoes, which were soon drenched, but I didn’t care. My front wheel had touched the surf of the Pacific. I had crossed the country!!”

We highly recommend reading Zeke’s blog. You’ll find hilarious anecdotes, beautiful descriptions, and the profound reflections of an environmentally enlightened young man discovering America.

To date, Zeke’s ride has raised $4,260 from 70 individual donors for the Sierra Club SF Bay Chapter’s conservation efforts — only $74 short of a one-to-one dollar-to-mile match! Make a gift in Zeke’s honor and help him reach that hard-earned milestone!

Oct. and Nov. Green Fridays: The pope’s climate encyclical and California wolves

Green Friday meets on the second Friday of the month in the Bay Chapter office, 2530 San Pablo Ave, Berkeley. Doors open at 7pm; program from 7:30 to 9:30 pm including questions and discussion. Refreshments are served. $3 donation requested. Our programs present speakers and topics discussing the most important environmental issues of our time. All are welcome; Sierra Club members as well as non-members.

Oct 9 — “Deep ecology and the Pope’s environmental encyclical”

18893775246_a3d2fafb7b_oPope Francis’s encyclical on climate change states: “For human beings to contaminate the earth’s waters, its land, its air, and its life — these are sins. To commit a crime against the natural world is a sin against ourselves and a sin against God.” What are the implications of this historic papal encyclical?

The speaker will be Paul Rockwell, formerly assistant professor of philosophy at Midwestern University. Rockwell is an angler, a food activist, and a columnist for the Bay Area News Group. His Montclarion column, “Gone Tubin,” reflects Henry David Thoreau’s teaching, “Some men go fishing when it is not fish they are after.”

Nov 13 — “Wolves in California: the long journey home“

K Kiss(1)

Photo courtesy California Wolf Center.

The California Wolf Center’s director of California wolf recovery, Karin Vardaman, will share what could be one of our state’s most inspiring conservation stories: the return of the gray wolf after being absent for decades following extirpation by humans. Discover the fascinating story behind this dynamic predator and what the return of this iconic species means to the Golden State.

Karin has over 30 years of experience working in environmental conservation, education, and research. She began her career as the director of animal care and operations at Pacific Marine Mammal Center in Laguna Beach and later spent 24 years with the Ocean Institute in Southern California. Karin has also been involved with Mexican gray wolf recovery efforts in the Southwest.

Delta Group — Thu, Oct 22: “Delta Diablo, safeguarding the environment”

7:15 pm, Antioch Library, 501 West 18th Street, Antioch

Delta Diablo’s General Manager Gary Darling.

Delta Diablo’s General Manager Gary Darling.

The Mount Diablo Group’s October speaker is Angela Lowrey of Delta Diablo. Delta Diablo provides wastewater recycling and pollution-prevention services to nearly 200,000 residents in East Contra Costa County. The facility operates one of California’s largest industrial recycled-water plants — thus bringing the wastewater back into the community as an environmental and economic resource. Delta Diablo also operates a household hazardous waste collection facility, a monthly street sweeping program, and a public education program.

Angela has worked for 25 years in marketing communications, media relations, and community engagement. She previously worked for the Australian Trade Commission in Washington D.C. handling their only offshore public affairs office.

Before the program, we’ll socialize, munch goodies, and briefly discuss current environmental issues and upcoming activities and events.

Delta Group program meetings are usually held in February, May, and October unless otherwise noted. To receive a newsletter listing Delta Group programs, outings, and activities, write a $5 check to “Sierra Club, Delta Group” and mail it to:

Janess Hanson
431 Levee Rd.
Bay Point, CA  94565.  

For information about Delta Group activities, call Janess Hanson at (925)458-0860. For information about Delta area environmental concerns, call Tim Donahue at (925)754-8801.

Correcting the record on our vegetation management strategy for the East Bay hills

This antique postcard shows that the East Bay hills were primarily grasslands with areas of riparian vegetation along streams before the spread of eucalyptus.

This antique postcard shows that the East Bay hills were primarily grasslands with areas of riparian vegetation along streams before the spread of eucalyptus.

As we slog through our fourth year of drought and once again watch wildfires devastate communities all across California and the West, we must acknowledge that the hotter, drier conditions we face due to climate disruption are not going away. With that in mind, it’s more important than ever to prioritize fire prevention in our vegetation management strategies for the Bay Area’s East Bay hills.

Ever since the Great Fire of 1991 ravaged the East Bay hills at a cost of 25 lives and 3.9 billion in present-day dollars, the Sierra Club has worked with fire experts, public officials, and environmental groups like the Golden Gate Audubon Society, the California Native Plant Society, and the Claremont Canyon Conservancy to develop an ecologically- and fiscally-sustainable model for fire management that not only reduces the risk of fires, but also promotes diverse and healthy ecosystems.

The preferred strategy for vegetation management in the East Bay hills entails removing the most highly flammable, ember-generating trees like eucalyptus in phases — only in select areas considered most at risk for fire along the urban-wild interface. Once the flammable non-native trees are removed, less flammable native species can reclaim those areas and provide for a rebound of biodiversity. This model of fire prevention can summarized as the the “Three R’s”:

  1. REMOVE the most flammable non-native trees in select areas most at risk for fire;
  2. RESTORE those areas with more naturally fire-resistant native trees and plants; and
  3. RE-ESTABLISH greater biodiversity of flora and fauna, including endangered species like the Alameda whipsnake.

Clearing up misconceptions

There is a lot of misinformation floating around about this preferred model for the care and management of vegetation in the East Bay hills. Here are the facts about a few of these misunderstandings:

The Sierra Club’s approach does NOT call for clearcutting. Under “Remove, Restore, Re-establish” thousands of acres of eucalyptus and other non-natives will remain in the East Bay hills. Our proposal only covers areas near homes and businesses where a fire would be most costly to lives and property. In fact, removing monoculture eucalyptus groves and providing for the return of native ecosystems will create a much richer landscape than the alternative — thinning — which requires regularly scraping away the forest floor to remove flammable debris.

Our preferred approach does NOT focus on eucalyptus merely because they are non-natives. Rather, it is because they pose a far higher fire risk than native landscapes. Eucalyptus shed ten to fifty times more debris per acre than grasslands, native live oak groves, or bay forests — and that debris, in the form of branches, leaves, and long strips of bark, ends up draped in piles that are a near-optimal mixture of oxygen and fuel for fire. Eucalyptus trees ignite easily and have a tendency to dramatically explode when on fire. Also, eucalyptus embers stay lit longer than embers from other vegetation; coming off trees that can grow above 120 feet tall, those embers can stay lit as the wind carries them for miles.

Any herbicide use to prevent the regrowth of eucalyptus once they’ve been cut down (they quickly sprout suckers otherwise) would be hand applied in minimal amounts under strict controls. Any herbicide application must undergo a full environmental review to prevent impacts on humans, wildlife, and habitat. There are also methods other than herbicide that can be used to prevent regrowth, and the Sierra Club encourages the agencies that manage the land where fire mitigation occurs to explore these alternatives to find the most sustainable, responsible option.

For a deeper look at the science behind the strategy we call “Remove, Restore, and Re-establish” please see our Frequently Asked Questions.

Mount Diablo Group — Wed, Nov 18: “Exploring Cuba”

7 pm, Ygnacio Valley Library, 2661 Oak Grove Road, Walnut Creek

Photo by Judy Adler.

Photo by Judy Adler.

After more than half a century, the American flag again flies over the US Embassy in Havana. What better time to explore the natural history of Cuba?

Join us at our next meeting for an armchair tour led by naturalist Judy Adler. Judy visited Cuba last December on a licensed, botanically oriented excursion. She will share slides and insights from this unique and timely experience.

Judy’s focus will be on the landscape and ecology of the largest Caribbean island, a mere 90 miles off the coast of Florida. She will also include some consideration of what the future might hold for this land and its people.

Judy Adler is a naturalist and environmental educator, offering ecology-based field trips for schoolchildren in Mount Diablo State Park as well as classes on nature-based gardening for adults. Her demonstration garden has been featured in several garden magazines and books. She also manages a half-acre biologically diverse, no-water garden on Walnut Creek School District land.

Judy’s lists of accomplishments include terms as president and executive director of the Mount Diablo Interpretive Association. She also founded and managed LifeGarden, a nonprofit organization dedicated to sustainable land use.

This free program is open to all and no reservations are necessary. If you have questions, contact Ken Lavin at ken_lavin@hotmail.com or (925)852-8778.