Tuesday, May 22, 2018

For 10th Time, Floridians Join Hands Across the Sand to Say NO to Oil Rigs!

Floridians reached across the partisan divide for the 9th consecutive year Saturday to join Hands Across the Sand at their favorite local beach to say no to offshore oil drilling and yes to clean energy. While torrential rain forced the cancellation of some Hands events, the sun shone on Clearwater Beach, one of America’s most popular beaches. 

L-R: Pinellas County Commissioner Pat Gerard of Largo, Clearwater Mayor
George Cretekos, Congressman Charlie Crist, U.S. Senator Bill Nelson. 
U.S. Senator Bill Nelson, considered by many to be America’s #1 champion of clean, thriving beach economies, joined Clearwater Mayor George Cretekos and other prominent local elected officials: County Commissioners Pat Gerard and Janet Long, St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman, and U.S. Representative Charlie Crist. Crist, who now represents Clearwater, St. Pete and the Pinellas beaches in Congress, has been a long time participant, dating back to his time as Florida’s Republican Governor. 

Mayor Cretekos observed that two out of five jobs in Pinellas County come from beach tourism, a number found all along Florida’s shores.

Sierra Club and Environment Florida held a press conference before the Hands event, hosted by Jana Offner Wiggins of Sea Shepherd, with assistance from the Suncoast Rise Above Plastics Coalition, Suncoast Sierra Club, the Suncoast Surfrider Foundation, the Center for Biological Diversity, Organize Tampa and Tampa Bay Waterkeeper.
Environment Florida State Director Jennifer Rubiello hosts Hands
Across the Sand press conference at Clearwater Beach. 

Hands Across the Sand started in February 2010 when state legislators considered opening Florida’s territorial waters to offshore drilling, which prompted a Panhandle restaurant owner to dream up this simple, yet powerful way for people to make a statement: Say NO to offshore drilling and dirty fuels; Say YES to clean energy for all. It grew to a worldwide event during the Deepwater Horizon gulf oil disaster that spring, and has continued as a way for people to express their support for clean beaches, clean technology and healthy oceans. 

Floridians in both parties now agree that new drilling would be a foolish risk to take with our state’s #1 industry – the folks who come from all over the world to visit our pristine beaches.

The gathering and show of support by hundreds of Floridians, thousands across the state, could not have been more timely. Two news reports since Saturday's event show how the current debate on new drilling in Florida's eastern gulf could easily go either way. 

On one hand: “Emboldened by a Defense Department report that expressed worries about unfettered offshore drilling in the eastern Gulf of Mexico, Florida’s House delegation is preparing to throw its weight around to win a multiyear extension of a moratorium off its coasts”, ” [Roll Call, 5/21/18]. 
The late Congressman C.W. Bill Young spoke at the 
very 1st Hands Across the Sand event back in 
Feb. 2010 at St. Pete Beach. For years Young 
kept Florida's Republican congressional delegation 
in line, opposing drilling. Clearwater Mayor 
Cretekos was Rep. Young's long time district director.

While at the same time, however, "House Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.) and Natural Resources Chairman Rob Bishop (R-Utah) are leading talks with a group of lawmakers to find a path to opening the eastern Gulf of Mexico to oil and gas drilling. The departments of Defense and the Interior briefed a group of lawmakers from the five Gulf Coast states — including Florida — on the issue last week, according to Scalise’s office. ‘Both departments agreed that with appropriate restrictions and proper coordination by the two departments, there are some areas in the federal waters of the eastern Gulf that could support both military and energy activities,’ a Scalise spokesperson said.” [E&E News,5/22/18].  

Senator Nelson has long pointed out how the eastern gulf, free of oil rigs that could be damaged and in turn damage the gulf, is of vital importance for military preparedness as the nation's only available site for practice bombing maneuvers. The eastern gulf is the only U.S. shoreline that is protected from drilling by federal law - the Gulf of Mexico Energy Security Act (GOMESA) of 2006. It appears we could either lose this protection, if drilling advocates get their way, or extend it past its current expiration date of 2022. Florida's congressional delegation, led by Senator Nelson, is fighting right now for the latter. 
Even if there's never any drilling, seismic testing threatens the lives
of an estimated 187,000 whales and dolphins in the southern Atlantic
Ocean, thousands more in the Gulf of Mexico. 

As St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman said Saturday, "The threat doesn't ever seem to go away. It's like a vampire that keeps coming back." 

With a massive electrification of Florida’s cars and buses now possible with the state’s $166 million from the VW diesel scandal settlement, we’ll soon need less oil, not more. It’s time for Big Oil to finally go away and let kids play on our beaches. 

Phil Compton 
Senior Organizing Representative
Sierra Club's FL Healthy Air & 
Ready for 100 Campaigns
1990 Central Ave., St. Petersburg, FL 33712
(o) 727-824-8813, ext. 303      (c) 813-841-3601 

Sierra Club, allies and residents speak out against proposed Dania Beach fracked gas power plant

Sierra Club members showed up in force at the Old Davie Schoolhouse on Tuesday, May 15, to protest Florida Power & Light’s plans to rebuild and expand a fracked gas plant in Dania Beach.

Wearing green, close to 50 Sierra Club members joined by New Florida Majority, Dania Beach residents, the Mayor of Tamarac, the Democratic Environmental Caucus of Broward County and members of the Miami Climate Alliance made their voices heard during the public portion of the site certification hearing.

Dania Beach residents called out FPL for its plans to elevate the new plant by 10.5 feet. FPL cites “sea level rise” in its application even though the plant’s methane emissions are exacerbating climate change for surrounding communities.

Sierra Club members and residents of Dania Beach demanded to know why FPL had not considered clean, renewable energy instead of building another fracked gas plant.

Tamarac Mayor Harry Dressler spoke about the ways in which local governments and therefore taxpayers are shouldering the climate change costs of FPL's addiction to fossil fuels.

The final step in the approval process will be a vote of the Power Plant Siting Board which is made up of the Governor and Cabinet members.  The vote is expected to happen sometime in late August of 2018.

Sierra Club members and others concerned about FPL’s plans to build another fracked gas plant that will lead to more climate change impacts should call the Governor’s office at (850) 488-7146 or email him at:  rick.scott@eog.myflorida.com and demand that he vote NO on approval for the Dania Beach fracked gas plant!

-- Susannah Randolph, Senior Campaign Representative, Florida, Sierra Club Beyond Coal Campaign

Inspiring Connections Outdoors in Action

Inspiring Connections Outdoors in Action
By Gonzalo Valdes

Earlier this month, Tampa Bay Group Sierra Club shared their love for enjoying, exploring and protecting the outdoors with the next generation of future protectors of the environment. Sierra Club’s Inspiring Connections Outdoors (ICO) program hosted a fun weekend of camping in Lake Wales, FL for 45 first-time campers from Tampa Bay's Academy Prep.

“Plants in action are lit.” While learning how to identify the local flora, the fourth and fifth-grade campers got a closer look at what makes Florida wetlands so special. The students marveled at the Mimosa Pudica leaves reacting to human touch. They received some pointers from our experts on tracking animals in the area. Some even got to enjoy their first taste of blackberries as ripe pickings could be found across the campgrounds. As one fifth-grader put it, "Plants in action are lit." “The ICO Camping Trip provided my students with the ability to experience something most had never experienced before - outdoor camping. The classes that the volunteers taught and the activities they led really allowed my students to stretch outside their comfort zone and build a sense of belonging and oneness with their natural home.“ -- Kathleen Riley, Teacher at Academy Prep, former Sierra Club volunteer and intern

Participants learned about wilderness safety from local ICO Captain Rocky Milburn. Sierra members shared their knowledge of the outdoors by teaching this new crop of outdoor enthusiasts how to kayak, canoe, rock-climb and rappel. Nature hikes, plenty of games and even a talent show where the students got to show off their talents were just some of the many activities enjoyed by the great kids from Academy Prep. And of course, what campout would be complete without a campfire and s’mores.

Hands-on experience camping out overnight reinforced lessons on how to stay safe in the outdoors. By the end of the trip, our once “green” campers had a new appreciation for our connection to the environment and all the fun to be experienced in nature.

The core concept of the ICO program is to show our children another aspect of the world we all share. ICO runs 20-25 trips a year which are fully staffed and organized by dedicated volunteers, including volunteer “certified leaders” who are also certified in basic First Aid and CPR. 

Sunday, May 13, 2018

Solutions To Pollution On Display During Florida’s Smoggy Week

Which do you want first, the good news or the bad news?

Our kids with asthma need this. 
Who pays for it? VW's $$ could. School bus manufacturer 
Bluebird of GA showed their new electric bus to FL school 
officials at Friday's event in Lakeland. Bluebird joins 
Canadian manufacturer E-Lion in making these emission-
free buses available. FL's VW settlement funds could buy 
these to help our kids with asthma breathe easier. 
OK, here’s the good news: this past week, officials from Florida’s transit agencies and school boards learned about buses without tailpipes – clean, quiet zero emission buses that cost less to own that any other type, buses that will eliminate a major source of carbon emissions and smog.

The bad news? We needed those buses yesterday – literally. As the state celebrated May as "Clean Air Month", in the past week Floridians from Jacksonville to Sarasota suffered from harmful levels of smog – O3, or ground level ozone – that has made it really tough to breathe for folks with asthma and COPD and, on some days, for all of us.

Smog - An Unseen Health Threat

Unlike particulate pollution that we get from forest fires and really dirty diesel trucks, you can't see, taste or smell smog. Like a sunburn you don’t feel until you get home from the beach, smog burns the inside of your lungs. People with pulmonary issues suffer at lower levels than the rest of us. Kids with asthma have to interrupt their games on a playground to whip out inhalers as smog reaches just 60 parts per billion - 17% lower than EPA's current standard of 70 ppb.

Floridians this week in places like Jacksonville (115), Sarasota (133), Lakeland (115), and Tampa (166) all got the inside
of their lungs fried by ozone, making folks wonder why they were having trouble breathing. Sound like anyone you know?
Where does smog come from? FPL, Duke and the other utilities burning coal and “natural” (we call it fracked) gas, to be sure. But more than those guys, it’s you and me, driving our cars. Unless you drive an EV, that is.
Florida sunshine converts NOx and VOC into ozone. Sunny
spring days in weeks without rain results in harmful
levels that has won Hillsborough County an "F", year
after smoggy year, from the American Lung Association

AAA sees a strong future for electric vehicles, citing a new survey that shows that 1 in 5 Americans want one. Fifty million Americans, or 20%, will likely go electric with their next vehicle purchase, up from 15 percent last year.

Thanks to Florida's $166 million from Volkswagen, the solution to this pollution could be here soon, in large numbers statewide that make it possible for everyone to go electric and replace many of our dirty diesel buses. We could also have many more EV charging stations, thanks to VW and Sierra Club’s settlement agreement with Duke Energy that results in the utility spending $9 million on EV charging stations for places like multi-unit homes and interstate exits – places we need to be able to charge if more of us are going to drive cars without tailpipes. We especially need rapid charging stations at every exit on our highways for the new generations of EVs that go ~ 250 miles on a charge, so we'll all be able to take them across the state or on longer trips outside of Florida.

With VW potentially contributing $25 million for EV charging stations in Florida, not to mention installing their own network nationwide, we could very soon reach the tipping point to the switch to EVs that so many now desire.

Automated vehicles use "lidor"
sensors on bumpers that see by
emitting photons, creating a virtual
reality vision for on an board computer.
Another reason EVs are on their way: automated vehicles (AVs) are in the last stages of development, as we saw at a demonstration in Tampa on Wednesday. These cars can all be electric and will make roads safer. Furthermore, they’ll eliminate the need for many of the asphalt surface parking lots that make Florida hotter as they also prevent natural stormwater percolation into the aquifer. And when they do park when out of service to recharge, AVs will take up 50% less room, as they can park close together without needing to allow passengers to exit.

Even UPS is starting to make the switch. On the transit front, Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority, PSTA, will take delivery of its 1st two zero emission electric buses this month, and they just ordered 2 more to serve low income neighborhoods in S. St. Pete, to help improve air quality there. The Broward County Commission is expected to order its first 15 electric buses at its 9 am meeting Tuesday morning, May 22 

Proterra is expected to soon add more
electric buses to the 4 that have
served Tallahassee for years, along 
with a new order from Broward Co. 
All the electric buses now being made in America were on display at the American Public Transit Association's convention in Tampa, where they were parked across the street from where the Tampa Bay Lightning are now contending in the Stanley Cup Playoffs (we thought that was fitting). Go Bolts! Go Electric! 

A Big Thanks To YOU: Our THANKS to all who took 
the FDEP survey on how best to use our $166 million
from the VW diesel scandal settlement to reduce smog
emissions from transportation.

Special thanks to Sierra volunteers in every Group in our Florida Chapter, all over the state, who asked thousands to have their say, from Earth Day to yesterday. We expect FDEP to release the results later this month, and for EVs to come out far ahead. 
We’ll share the results soon.
PSTA will soon have 2 BYD
electric buses serving St. Pete's
Downtown Looper. Next year, 2 more! 

Thanks again for helping Florida take a major step forward to clean up our smoggy skies, as we fight the climate change that threatens our future. Other states are, the rest of the world is 
why not us? 

Phil Compton, Senior Organizing Representative
Sierra Club's FL Healthy Air & Ready for 100 Campaigns
1990 Central Ave., St. Petersburg, FL 33712
(o) 727-824-8813, ext. 303      (c) 813-841-3601 

Thursday, May 10, 2018

“Busting Myths About Energy and Conservation” - Alachua Co. NAACP & Suwannee St. Johns Sierra Club Host Community Energy Forum

The Alachua County NAACP Environmental and Climate Justice Committee hosted a Community Energy Forum entitled “Busting Myths About Energy and Conservation” at the Thelma Boltin Center, March 17, 2018, 11:00 am-2:00 pm.

The Forum was an effort to involve members of the east Gainesville community, predominantly African-American, in participating in reducing our energy, water, and utility bills, and in discussions of steps that can be taken by individuals, the community, and our government to reduce utility bills and to conserve water and energy. The intent was to conduct community mapping of Gainesville's frontline African-American community to inform the work of the Gainesville Ready for 100% Clean Energy for All Campaign in achieving a lasting commitment from the City of Gainesville to plan how the community will become free of all fossil fuel consumption in the years to come.

Organizing efforts: A core group of about 8 people - representatives from NAACP Environmental and Climate Justice, Suwannee St. Johns Sierra Club, Women's March, Community Weatherization Coalition, and Citizens’ Climate Lobby, and some individuals - worked together to create this event over a four month period: securing a venue, creating an event format, booking speakers, creating and distributing publicity materials, and getting donations. The day of the event required about 15 volunteers including setup, check-in/registration, keeping the event running on time, food prep and serve, and clean up.

Publicity: Event was publicized on social media and websites of participating organizations; local newspaper distributed in east Gainesville (The Guardian), and on local NAACP radio show; flyers were distributed to community organizations and public locations; Rechiert House students (after school program for at-risk young men) took flyers in individual houses in targeted neighborhoods, invitations including a letter from Gainesville Mayor Poe were mailed to east Gainesville neighborhood leaders and churches.

Expenses: NAACP, Gainesville Regional Utilities (GRU), City of Gainesville, Sierra Club, and local businesses and individuals provided in-kind and/or monetary contributions totaling approximately $2,400 for venue rent, printing of publicity materials, food, door prizes, and videographer.

FormatThe Forum featured interactive and informational tables from 11am-12pm. Groups participating in this part included the Gainesville Bee Club, Suwannee St. Johns Sierra Club, Community Weatherization Coalition, GRU, Citizens’ Climate lobby, Central Florida Community Action Agency, We Are Neutral, Alachua County School Board, UF College of Journalism and Communications (Energy Burden Study), Zero Waste, and Hands on Gainesville. 

The keynote speaker for the forum was Ms. Jacqui Patterson, NAACP Environmental and Climate Justice Program National Director.  In her talk, Ms. Patterson shared experiences from other communities who are mobilizing to save energy, protect communities from toxic waste and climate change, and engage with efforts to promote renewable energy and reduce wastes and toxins.  Other speakers included Dr. Anthony Greene and Dr. Wendell Porter of the University of Florida.  

For the final part of the event, participants were served lunch while they engaged in small group discussions about steps that can be taken by individuals, our community, and our government to conserve water and energy, save money on utility  bills, and develop policies to support these goals. Each table had at least one facilitator who kept the conversations focused, took notes on participants’ ideas. At the end, one person from each table shared ideas with the entire room. Gainesville Mayor Lauren Poe wrapped up the event. The event was covered in the local press
Gainesville Mayor Lauren Poe

Attendance: We had planned for 120, including tablers and speakers.  Our final count was 75 with 28 of those being people of color, so both the attendance and diversity was less than anticipated. However, Jacqui Patterson, who speaks all over the country at these types of events, was pleased with both. She mentioned that quite often she is the only person of color in the room at speaking engagements, so she was happy with the turnout.

Attendee Followup: We asked attendees for their names and contact information and will be following up with a Thank you letter reminding them to follow up on their energy conservation commitments, invite them to future NAACP ECJ committee meetings and events, and ask for contact information for additional community leaders they think might be interested in hearing from us.

What we could have done better: Publicity earlier with more personal and more frequent outreach to community leaders. Food donations need to start at least three months in advance. Plan on at least 5 people dedicated to food preparation and serving. Interactive tabling time of one hour was too long and some people left before speakers started.

Benefits of event: While community awareness and education was the main benefit, a huge bonus was the positive relationship built between members of the planning committee. We started as individuals representing our various groups, but bonded as a team committed to working together on future events and toward a shared goal of clean equitable energy.  We each brought resources - skills, community contacts, and tangibles - which others lacked and realized how much more we can accomplish together as a united front.  

Future Plans:
-          April 28th TreeFest Tabling
-          Video editing, upload to Youtube, link to social media
-          Fall 2018 Educational event on food & energy use
-          Creating an educational “comic book” on energy
-          Outreach - taking our message to the people instead of having them come to us, starting with churches

Final ThoughtsA few comments from participants:

From a young woman who was a pulled in as a facilitator at the last moment:  “I was more than happy to help out yesterday and was thrilled to see what a great turnout there was from such a diverse group of community members.  I would say that it was a major success and it seems as though people really stepped outside their normal framework of thinking to explore new ways that they might be able to be more efficient in their energy use.  I was really impressed by the small table discussions and the reporting out that went on at the end of the event.  I was also so happy to see the last few women who stood up to present... they were hesitant to get up there and talk to everyone at first, but once they got started sharing their group's message, they seemed to be empowered.  That was great!”

From an attendee: "I learned so much, I am glad I came Everything was perfect."

Another: “I thought the lunch and small groups were so very smooth. Whoever thought up the lunch part is a genius.”

One more: “YAY!!!!!! I look forward to seeing the video.”

Roberta GastmeyerSuwannee St. Johns Sierra Club, and Chair, Gainesville Ready for 100 Coalition
with Phil Compton, Sierra Club FL Ready for 100 staff