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UPDATE | Grassroots resolution calling for a full debate within the Sierra Club on energy-related legislation within the United States Senate

SPONSORS OF RESOLUTION CALLING FOR DEMOCRATIC DEBATE WITHIN SIERRA CLUB re: SENATE CLIMATE / ENERGY LEGISLATION RESPOND TO DAVE SCOTT AND OFFER MODIFIED TEXT (LIST OF SIGNATORIES INCLUDED)

To Dave Scott and all who have received his critique of the grassroots resolution calling for a full debate within the Sierra Club on energy-related legislation within the Senate,

The sponsors of this resolution request an opportunity to respond to Scott’s critique. As his statement has been circulated to a substantial number of chapter leaders – a fact which was not made known to us and only belatedly learned through third parties – we request that in fairness this response be sent to the same list so that these leaders can hear both sides of this tremendously important issue. We start with a general overall response, and then move to a more specific paragraph by paragraph reply directly inserted (and highlighted in red) within the text of his statement.

Gary Houser (of the Ohio chapter) and Robert Jereski (of the New York chapter).

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OVERALL RESPONSE –
The great challenge facing the environmental movement is that we are fighting an intractable foe. It is simply not possible to negotiate with the alarming amounts of methane gas now venting into the atmosphere from the shallow seabeds of the Siberian coast, nor the other dynamic processes which are now carrying the planet toward irreversible tipping points. Political deal making simply will not work in an environment where nature’s laws of physics are now calling all the shots.

As the nation’s largest membership environmental organization, it is of paramount importance that the Sierra Club throw all of its weight behind what science is saying is necessary to avoid catastrophe rather than become entrapped in the Beltway culture of compromise and political horse-trading. The Club must embrace a higher vision and mobilize its membership to fight for what the planet truly needs rather than allow corporate interests to dictate what is “politically possible”.

Our approach for examining what science-based advocacy would require is just one of many ways the club could move towards a greater democratization of its decision-making process. The web-forum has failed because it is a one-way street in which no response is provided to allow concerned members (some with much expertise in the relevant subject matter) to know whether their views have been considered, except once they read, for example, that the leadership considers K-L a ‘strong foundation’, signaling clearly that member concerns have not had an impact. Certainly our Club, with all of its resources and its legacy of grassroots engagement, could find other (even better-suited) approaches in the future. Members deserve feedback and to be heard. We also deserve to have an impact on the policies that shape our Club’s climate policy.
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SPECIFIC REPLIES TO DAVE SCOTT EMBEDDED IN RED

To: Sierra Club leaders and activists
From: Dave Scott, Vice President for Conservation
Date: June 26, 2010
Re: “Sierra Club Resolution Will Ensure That Leadership Guarantees Grassroots Participation and Environmental Protection”

This memo is written in response to a resolution circulated by Robert Jereski (below).
Let’s start with what we clearly agree on. Kerry-Lieberman is a deeply flawed bill that the Club would not support in its present form. It is also almost certainly a moot point, in that few observers expect that proposal to ever see the Senate floor. Unfortunately, it’s not clear what if anything will get to the Senate floor — possibly a problematic utility-only cap, or energy-only legislation that we may also have problems with. The Club is pressing for a clean energy package (or Renewable Energy Standard), reduced oil consumption, and the deepest emission cuts we can get from this Congress, and we will keep doing that.

REPLY: Your point regarding the shifting nature of climate/energy legislation is accurate and legitimate, and we acknowledge that. That is why we have modified the resolution so that it is not specifically focused on the Kerry-Lieberman proposal but rather any of the various forms of legislation that may emerge from the Senate. This shifting nature does not diminish the intrinsic value of what we are requesting – an open and democratic debate within the Sierra Club on the fundamental questions and urgent concerns related to climate legislation. Such a focused debate would provide an opportunity for scientific findings on how close we are to tipping points to be measured against all forms of legislation being considered and assess their adequacy in terms of preventing these daunting “points of no return”.

Your resolution mentions the science — Hansen’s warnings about tipping points. We’re well aware of them, of the urgency of getting steep cuts now, and of the stakes of this struggle. The cold fact is that there are nowhere near 60 Senate votes to pass a climate bill that goes far enough in terms of reductions. Environmental groups face an incredibly difficult legislative situation for many reasons: corporate lobbying, the recession, ignorance and well-funded lie campaigns about the need to cut emissions, and the inability to get any support at all from a scorched-earth GOP whose leaders dismiss the science altogether. Over the long term, we have the task of changing the politics of climate. We must also make the most of the opportunities we have outside of comprehensive climate legislation: suing and stopping coal plants, supporting EPA as it moves aggressively to regulate coal, cutting dependence on oil, and achieving what we can with state-level climate work. We must fight for reductions wherever we can get them.

REPLY: All of Scott’s points here are well taken in theory. However, the glaring omission is that the Sierra Club never did carve out a principled position in defense of the scientific requirements for prevention of crossing runaway tipping points. Starting with Waxman-Markey and continuing through Kerry-Lieberman, the Club has instead tragically been pulled into the “inside the Beltway” mentality of political horse-trading and has allowed USCAP – a coalition of corporate interests and all too willing to compromise “environmental” groups such as EDF – to define the parameters of what is “acceptable”.

Instead of setting the standard where it needed to be to prevent planetary catastrophe and then fighting to hold that ground, the Club allowed itself from the very beginning to be drawn into a series of disastrous compromises. Much ground has already been lost, but we feel compelled by conscience to request that the Club not continue this same pattern with Senate legislation. Dr. James Hansen, who, as a leading voice of conscience within the scientific community, has strongly opposed the way that meaningful climate legislation has been sabotaged by far too much yielding to corporate interest by powerful environmental organizations like ours.

That said, we have not yet abandoned hope of getting some kind of federal climate legislation this year that starts us on a path towards significant cuts, either through a renewable energy standard, caps or some other mechanisms. That means engaging in the gritty, difficult process of trying to get 60 Senate votes for something that moves us forward in the short time we have left this session.

REPLY: Other environmental groups (such as Friends of the Earth, International Rivers, and Friends Committee on National Legislation) have documented how full utilization of highly questionable offsets would allow polluters to avoid actual emission reductions for up to 20 years. It is subject to debate whether the institutionalization of such a system (along with the various manipulations possible through a carbon trading system) would actually constitute “progress” or instead lock in a future that would be catastrophic for the planet. ll we are asking for is a chance for an honest and straightforward debate on this and other key issues to occur within the Club.

The Sierra Club has repeatedly complained about the flaws in Kerry Lieberman, and by engaging in the DC lobbying process, we have successfully pressed for some improvements in proposed legislation (such as retaining some crucial EPA authority over coal plants, authority that is not in the House bill). Our leadership teams, which have volunteer representation, have been aware of strategic decisions to join other Green Group members or Labor allies on press releases in an effort to help push legislation forward. Club messaging has recently taken a somewhat harder tone, but you should not read any coalition press releases as if they were the only things the Club is doing or saying to get good legislation. They aren’t.

REPLY:  Statements describing Kerry-Lieberman as a “strong foundation” that only needs to be “finished” were not only released to media, but also sent out in mass emails to the grassroots membership. We fail to see how such positive characterizations of K-L lend themselves to creating an engaged grassroots membership that is willing to fight for the level of protection the planet truly needs at this time of transcendent crisis.

In response to your request regarding press releases, it is not practical for a national organization to have member votes before press releases or staff media appearances, and I don’t believe it would be wise to try — events simply happen too fast. The board has ultimate authority to set direction, the Executive Director — who reports to the elected board — directs staff, and we have a volunteer-staff FICC campaign team that makes week-to-week decisions. That is our board-approved process. That said, the Board’s Constituent Engagement Task Force has emphasized the desirability of doing more online member polls and surveys, and that’s something that I agree we should strongly consider.

REPLY: We do appreciate Scott’s mention of support for the general concept of seeking more input from the grassroots when critical decisions need to be made at the national level. Having this process become as inclusive and democratized as possible is something we fully support. We also recognize that daily operations cannot be conducted in such a way and never inferred that they should. Again, we point out the truly transcendent nature of the issue we are dealing with in this case.

However, we take exception to Scott’s mention of a “member vote” on climate legislation, which is an inaccurate representation of our request. All we have requested is an open and honest debate and then an opportunity for the grassroots to participate meaningfully by providing feedback to the leadership based on hearing this debate that would actually be considered and evaluated based on fundamental principles of environmental protection and democratic participation. . Contrary to taking a position of resistance, we would hope that the leadership would see such as a chance to create a more engaged and empowered grassroots membership.”

We have provided opportunities for members to learn about the bill and share their views. FICC has posted the comment board you mention, at  clubhouse.sierraclub.org/CLIMATE-BILL. There have also been regular evening Energy Activist calls. See http://action.sierraclub.org/site/PageServer?pagename=adv_climateleaders

REPLY:  This is not the same as allowing a structured debate that is focused squarely on the assumptions that national Sierra policy appears to already be operating on (as proposed below). Let’s not pretend the message board is a venue for meaningful participation. Those who attempt to question these basic assumptions through leaving short “sound bites” on a “comment board” are simply being marginalized. Considered comments, posted there by seasoned and engaged members of our Club, have been ignored and disregarded. These were not ‘sound bites’ but thoughtful input reflecting the views of many others.  The magnitude of the issues calls for a full and open debate. This would be a healthy process for Sierra and should not be feared. Why not allow the truth to bear witness to itself?
We share your concerns about the flaws in Kerry Lieberman, including the nuclear loan guarantees. We wont’ support a bill that doesn’t help avert a climate catastrophe. I ask that you do take advantage of the opportunities we have created for input — your thoughts are welcome as the club struggles with these difficult decisions.

REPLY:    If the Sierra Club truly wishes to “avert a climate catastophe”, then we ask that it allow the kind of full and open debate which can lead to the policy with the best chance of achieving this goal.

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Sierra Club members call for Leadership:

Do not put special financial interests above

the sustainability of nature’s planetary life-support systems.

July 2nd, 2010

Greetings Sierra Club members:

Please add your name and club affiliation to those already signed-on to this Resolution below.

Thank you.

Gary Houser – Ohio State Chapter, Sierra Club member

Robert Jereski – Atlantic Chapter (New York State) Sierra Club member

BACKGROUND:

We are alarmed by the current Sierra Club stance on US energy-climate legislative initiatives under consideration in Congress. Although a Clubhouse web site has been accepting comment about the topic, there has been no organized “pro and con” debate within the Club and it has seemed at least to many members within the Club that the Club’s leadership has been discounting or ignoring grassroots views and proposals. The proposed Resolution, if passed, seeks to place a moratorium on the Sierra Club’s stance until there is a full and democratic opportunity for robust discussion and debate at the grassroots level. The Resolution has been independently circulated to some Club members and chapters by Sierrans Gary Houser (Ohio Chapter) and Robert Jereski (New York Chapter).

STATEMENT:

1. The issue of climate disruption from carbon emissions is of such transcendent importance and irreversible tipping points are so close that the Sierra Club’s stance on Federal energy legislation deserves full and democratic discussion and debate within the Club involving grassroots Sierrans;

2.  This Resolution is meant to express concern that tipping point dangers will not accommodate political deal-making and governments should not put special financial interests above young people and the sustainability of nature’s planetary life-support systems on which we all depend. It aims at persuading the Club’s leadership not to compromise Club principles to gain a piece of legislation so flawed that it may worsen, not lessen, carbon emissions – and create future barriers to real reductions;

3.  The Resolution’s thrust is consistent with the views of NASA’s Dr. James Hansen, renowned climate scientist and the honored recipient of Sierra Club’s John Muir Award in 2008, that the climate situation is far more serious than most of the public understands and that half-measures won’t suffice;

4.  The Resolution will help stop problematic statements by some Club officers that the proposed Kerry-Lieberman climate bill (or any other legislation which is inadequate to addressing climate change) is a “strong foundation” and simply needs to be “finished”. Many within the grassroots disagree, and see climate legislation under consideration as dangerously riddled with emission reduction delays and giveaways to industry requiring serious amendments;

5.  The Resolution supplements earlier, unsuccessful attempts to present these concerns to the Club’s leadership.

RESOLUTION:

We call upon the members of the national Board of Directors, the members of the Federal and International Climate Committee (FICC), the Executive Director Michael Brune and the national staff to affirm and implement a policy that the Sierra Club will only support climate legislation which conforms to Club principles and policies. We also call upon the national leadership of Sierra Club to institute an immediate moratorium on official statements to the media and Congress in regard to US energy-climate bills until such time as the full membership has been allowed an opportunity to have a democratic discussion and debate about the baselines necessary for adequately addressing climate in keeping with our Club’s environmental mission.

This moratorium should be followed by these pro-active steps to facilitate an opportunity for full discussion and debate:

1) A one hour national Sierra conference call or webcast be organized for the purpose of facilitating a pro and con debate on the following questions as they relate to US energy-climate bills:

A) Do the emission reduction targets of the relevant bills adequately comply with the IPCC’s stated reductions of 25-40% below 1990 levels by 2020 to prevent irreversible climate change and added reductions required based on review of new empirical evidence and the inadequacy of the models used in the 2007 IPCC report which were based on 2005 science?

B) Can the structures employed by this legislation – including carbon trading and offsets – be depended upon to bring about the required deep cuts in emission levels?

C) Should the Sierra Club support legislation with serious deficiencies, such as corporate give-aways, gutting of EPA authority, subsidies to nuclear power, limits on state programs, and so forth, under the argument that a faulty bill is better than nothing?

2) An email be sent to the full national membership of the Sierra Club offering the opportunity for pro and con arguments on these same questions;

3) The pro and con arguments submitted be made public to members and analyzed by the FICC and Board of Directors, which report on how the input will be integrated into the official stance of the Sierra Club on US energy-climate legislation.

Current signatories:

* Jean Gramlich, Michigan Chapter Chair, Member Southeast Michigan Group ExCom

* Donald L. Gibbon, PhD, Co-founder of the NE Ohio Group and Ohio Chapter Conservation Chair almost forty years ago, also NC Chapter ExCom and present Allegheny Group Environmental Education Chair (and life member), Allegheny Group, PA Chapter

* Edward A. Mainland, Co-Chair, Energy-Climate Committee, CNRCC Sierra Club California; SF Bay Chapter member; Senior Conservation Fellow, Sierra Club.

* Ken Smokoska, member & past chair (2003-2008) Energy/Climate Change Committee of CNRCC, Sierra Club of California

* Rick Estes, member, Executive Committee, San Gorgonio Chapter, California Sierra Club

* Art Unger, member of Kern Kaweah Chapter Executive Committee, California Sierra Club

* Shannon Wilson, Executive Committee Member of the Many Rivers Group and former Chair of MRG, Oregon State Chapter Sierra Club

* Moisha K. Blechman, member, ExCom, Atlantic Chapter, Global Warming Chair, Communications Chair

* Joan Taylor, Chair of the California/Nevada Desert Energy Committee, Sierra Club of California, among other titles and member and Club activist for many decades

* Frank Morris, Executive Committee, Atlantic Chapter Sierra Club, Executive Committee, Long Island Sierra Club

* John Wolverton, Dirty Fuels, Outings and Newsletter Committees, Montana Chapter of the Sierra Club

* Karin Ascot, Political Chair, Austin Group, Lone Star Chapter

* Jessica Helm, Conservation Chair for the Atlantic Chapter

* David Wolf, Member Southeast Michigan Group Executive Committee

* Dan Miner, Chair, Sierra Club New York City Group,  Atlantic Chapter.

* Marily Woodhouse, Excom member of Shasta Group (CA) and the Mother Lode Chapter anti-clearcutting organizer.

* Mike Hudak, Leader, Grazing Team, currently the largest of the Club’s 159 issue teams. (See http://connect.sierraclub.org/Team/Grazing_Team)

* Cynthia Westerman, Susquehanna Group, Wetlands Chair, Atlantic Chapter.

* Arthur R. Boone, Member, Northern Alameda Group, Member and Secretary, Zero Waste Committee, SF Bay Chapter;

Chair, Conservation Committee, SF Bay Chapter; Co-Chair, Zero Waste Committee, California/Nevada Regional Conservation Committee

* Samuel Golding, Sierra Club California Energy-Climate Committee, Bay Area Chapter member, California Sierra Club

* Charles Wesner, Chair, Oklahoma Chapter Sierra Club

* Larry Martin, Washington DC Chapter Energy Committee Chair, DC Sierra Club Chapter

* Angel A. Sosa, Ex Com member Puerto Rico Chapter

* Keith C. Johnson, Political Chair for Upper Columbia River Group of Cascade Chapter, Washington State Sierra Club Chapter

* John Wilkinson, Wilderness Chair, Loma Prieta Chapter, California Sierra Club Chapter

* Michael Melampy, Conservation Committee Co-Chair, Northeast Ohio Group, Ohio Sierra Club Chapter

* Veronica Jacobi, member, Sierra Club Sonoma Group: Excom, Climate & Energy Chair, Conservation, Santa Rosa Councilmember

* Roger Cole, Energy Chair, Loo Wit Group, Cascade Chapter, Washington Sierra Club Chapter

* Jim Redmond, Conservation Chair, Northwest Iowa Group  Iowa Sierra Club Chapter

* Candice Rue, member, ExCom and Conversation Committee-Northeast Florida Sierra Club, Florida Sierra Club Chapter

* Shawn Kilmurray, Chairman, Executive Committee, Long Island Sierra Club; Delegate, Executive Committee, Atlantic Chapter Sierra Club

* Rachel Treichler, Atlantic Chapter Gas Drilling Task Force, New York State Sierra Club Chapter

* Larry Martin, Washington DC Chapter Energy Committee Chair, DC Sierra Club Chapter

* Linda Fedele, Rochester Regional Group, Membership Chair, member of ExCom & Global Warming & Energy Committee

* BC Macdonald, ExCom, Mendocino Group, Redwood Chapter, CA SC

* Buffalo Bruce, Conservation Chair, Platte Valley Group, NE Chapter

* Ed Steinman, Executive Committee, Huron Valley Group, Michigan Chapter

* Ann I. Aurelio, Vice Chair, Sierra Club, Long Island Group, Executive Committee member and Membership Chair, Atlantic Chapter

* George Klein, Chair, Sierra Club Lower Hudson Group, on behalf of the Group Ex-com, Atlantic Chapter

* Jodi Zimmerman, Membership Chair, Eagle View Group

* Doug Cowherd, Chair, Executive Committee, Huron Valley Group, Michigan Chapter

* Jane Fasullo, Outreach/Tabling/Outings Chair & Volunteer Coordinator, Sierra Club L.I. group, Atlantic Chapter (NYS)

* Margie Campaigne, Rochester Regional Group, ExCom member, Global Warming/Energy Committee member, Vegetarian/Biodiversity, former member Great Lakes Committee

* Sheila Calderon, Fund Raising and ICO Chair, Sierra Club Loxahatchee Group, Florida Sierra Club

* Julio Magalhães, Global Warming Program Coordinator, Loma Prieta Chapter, Sierra Club

* Al Weinrub, Energy activist member, San Francisco Bay Chapter, Sierra Club of California

* Anne Marie Garti, member, SC Atlantic Chapter (NYS)

* Mickey Moritz, Climate Change Activist for Tahquitz Group, San Gorgonio chapter (California)

* Linda A. DeStefano, active on the local and state level with the Atlantic Chapter (NYS)

* Terry Frewin, member, Los Padres Chapter, California Sierra Club

* Mike Mullen, SC Life Member, Alabama Chapter, Alabama, Alabama Sierra Club Chapter

* Donna Tisdale, San Diego Chapter, California Sierra Club

* David G. Gray, Jr, San Francisco Bay Chapter, California Sierra Club

* John Fay, Montgomery County Group, Maryland Sierra Chapter

* Claudia Kirkpatrick. member, Allegheny Group, Pennsylvania Chapter, Pennsylvania Sierra Club Chapter

* Stephanie Low, member Atlantic Chapter, Gas Drilling Task Force, Watershed Committee

* Lee Blackburn, Nuclear Team member, Ohio Sierra Chapter

* Carl Arnold, member, Gas Drilling Task Force, Atlantic Chapter (NYS)

* Karen Chun, member,  Maui Group, Hawai’i Chapter, Hawai’i Sierra Club

* Lorry Swain, Nuclear Team member, Ohio Sierra Chapter

* Chip Ashley, Tehipite Chapter, Sierra Club of California

* Allen Joseph member, former Executive Committee member of the Big Bend Chapter, Florida Chapter

* William Saunders, Outings Chair, CenAR Group, Arkansas Chapter Sierra Club

* Barbara Curtis, Broward County Florida Sierra Club

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