Archive for the 'Cascade Region' Category

Gonzaga Students Call for a Coal-Free Spokane

Cross-posted from the Coal Export Action

Across the Northwest, people are waking up to the threat of coal export projects in their communities.  Recently, students from Gonzaga University in Spokane, Washington took action, organizing a march against coal exports a few days before a forum on how coal exports and increased coal train traffic would negatively impact Spokane.

On Sunday, April 15th, Gonzaga students marched from the University campus to a busy street intersection, where their signs reading “Honk for Clean Air” garnered attention from drivers parked at the street intersection.  Says Gonzaga student Adriana Stagnaro, “As we walked we remembered our intentions of supporting the community with an action to raise awareness about issues surrounding coal exports.  We smiled and waved to cars as we made our way into town.”

At the intersection, students talked with passersby waiting at crosswalks, and explained what an increase in coal train traffic would mean for Spokane.  This city sits on at the intersection of two existing rail lines coal trains could use to get from eastern Montana and Wyoming to the West Coast, putting the community at the front lines of the fight against coal exports.  Of course, with every additional coal train to hit the tracks comes an increase in coal dust, diesel emissions, and climate-changing carbon pollution.

A few days after the march, coal-free activists held a forum at Gonzaga University, featuring speakers  Bart Mihailovich of Spokane Riverkeeper, Gonzaga professor Hugh Lefcort, and local farmer Walter Kloefkorn.  According to Stagnaro, the panel “really exposed the complex nature of environmental-human issues surrounding coal exports.”

Like communities throughout the five-state region of Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming, Spokane residents may have a long road ahead of them when it comes to protecting their public commons from the threat of coal exports.  But this community with a history of leadership on social issues is already getting organized, and students at Gonzaga are setting an example.

No doubt this won’t be the last we hear from Spokane residents.  With communities across the Northwest rallying to stop coal exports, King Coal’s CEOs don’t know what they’re up against!

Stop the Coal Trains, Bring Climate Justice to Eugene

This post was submitted to It’s Getting Hot in Here by Emma Newman, of the Climate Justice League at University of Oregon.

As coal plants in the United States continue to close, local organizations around the country appear to have struck a blow to the industry. But in reality, as coal consumption decreases in our country, global demand continues to rise. A result of this shift in demand can be found in recent proposals to ship Powder River Basin coal from Montana and Wyoming through several Northwest ports. One of these proposals would bring coal right through the city of Eugene, to the Port of Coos Bay.

Eugene has been given a unique opportunity to combat coal by rallying against this proposal. Not only are coal mining and combustion dirty; its transportation presents significant health hazards as well. The coal passing right through downtown Eugene, slowing traffic for up to eight minutes would be transported in open bed coal trains.

More than 100 tons of coal dust per train will blow off between Montana and Coos Bay. The dust contains heavy metals such as lead and mercury and causes lung diseases, as well as pollution from the diesel that fuels the trains. Regionally, the health impacts of coal follow the transportation and watershed routes.

This is a major issue we face as a community, region, and nation and it represents a textbook environmental justice problem. Environmental justice (EJ) is a social movement that includes mainly people of marginalized communities and focuses on the environment directly around people in society who carry many environmental burdens in their everyday lives, including living and working conditions. EJ strives to bring communities autonomy through their fight for civil and human rights. The coal trains will be passing directly through the Whiteaker neighborhood, a historically working class part of the city.

Emma Newman, a Co-Director of the Cascade Climate Network, went on an environmental justice tour in West Eugene last week and saw the neighborhoods that would be hardest hit. “One neighborhood,” Emma said, “was literally surrounded by a train yard on one side and train tracks on the other. They are already suffering from a toxic plume in their well water and the last thing that they need is coal dust drifting over their park and onto their vegetable gardens.” Continue reading ‘Stop the Coal Trains, Bring Climate Justice to Eugene’

NW Communities Act to Halt Coal Exports, Call for More Action

Across the Northwest people are taking action to prevent coal export projects from derailing our clean energy future.  This is a movement that began in port towns.  Now it is spreading as, inspired by communities like Longview and Bellingham, towns and cities across the region take action to halt coal exports.

This weekend saw one of the most far-reaching bursts of coal-related activism the region has witnessed, as residents of three states participated in a weekend of action to stop coal exports, and called for further action.  In places like Olympia, Washington; Missoula, Montana; and Eugene and Portland, Oregon, Northwest residents visited elected officials, staged banner-drops from local landmarks, and rallied their communities to reclaim our future from fossil fuel giants.

In Portland on Sunday, members of the Cascade Climate Network and Portland Rising Tide scaled a billboard for a banner drop, while forty people gathered below spelled out “No Coal Exports” and “Export CEOs.”

“Big coal knowingly poisons our land, water and communities for the sake of their bottom line,” said Chelsea Thaw of the
Cascade Climate Network.  “Coal is the biggest contributor to global climate change, and as we teeter on the threshold of climate chaos we must reject all coal infrastructure.”

Two days earlier, Eugene and Olympia took action.  In Olympia, Washington students met with elected officials and urged them to deny coal export terminal permits.  In Oregon, the group No Coal Eugene dropped a banner reading “Stop the Coal Train” from a multi-story parking lot.  Eugene is one of many cities that could soon see dirty, polluting coal trains running through town on their way to new export sites, if coal companies get their way.

On Sunday in Missoula, the student-run Blue Skies Campaign and Occupy Missoula held a March Against Coal Exports after Rocky Mountain Power Shift.  The group stopped by the offices of members of Congress who have sided with the coal industry.  They also visited Wells Fargo, one of the top 20 funders of coal, to hold a die-in and turn ATMs into truth machines.  The march ended with a banner drop above Orange Street, which dips below tracks owned by Montana Rail Link used to transport coal, and with a call for an even larger mass mobilization this summer.

Continue reading ‘NW Communities Act to Halt Coal Exports, Call for More Action’

Youth Confront Fossil Industries in Eugene

Direct action as a tactic for confronting the fossil fuel industries is sweeping the United States – and recently took the form of a creative protest immediately after Power Shift West in Eugene, Oregon.  Right after the official Power Shift conference ended, youth activists embarked on an un-permitted march which visited three outposts of industries and government entities that threaten a stable climate and the livability of our planet.  Held in solidarity with the Tar Sands Action in DC that same day, the march was designed to springboard the type of movement-building solutions needed to truly address the climate crisis.

The first stop along the march route was Safeway – a corporation using oil from the Canadian Tar Sands to fuel its vehicle fleets.  Unlike companies including Whole Foods and Bed Bath & Beyond, Safeway has not taken any significant steps to phase out tar sands oil – even after being pressed to do so by environmental groups like ForestEthics.  Since Safeway doesn’t seem to believe its customers care about the impact of the tar sands, we decided to prove them wrong by “returning” dozens of paper bags from Safeway, complete with a giant receipt of purchase.

Next we paid a visit to Bank of America, the biggest financier of coal in the United States.  In the Pacific Northwest, Bank of America is funding companies that are pushing coal export terminals and other destructive coal industry infrastructure.  Every B of A branch is essentially a climate crime scene; so in recognition of this fact, participants in the march strung caution tape and warning signs between the pillars at the Eugene branch.  A die-in outside the bank, some messages scrolled in chalk, and a bit of creative street theater rounded out the B of A action.

Our last stop was at the Eugene Democrats campaign office headquarters, where march participants pledged dozens of volunteer hours to fight for clean energy over the next year.  Calling on the Obama administration to reject the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline and harness the power youth activists ready to devote their time to a candidate who stands up for the climate, we joined with thousands of people across the country who are ready to see the President take the kind of bold stance that will re-energize his base for the 2012 elections. Continue reading ‘Youth Confront Fossil Industries in Eugene’

Bellingham Students Speak Out for a Clean Energy Future

This guest post was contributed by Eric Jensen, a student activist at Western Washington University

Wednesday night, outside of a heated local candidates debate about a proposed massive coal export terminal just ten miles from Western Washington University, a group of students with the Western Action Coalition decided to have a little fun while calling attention to the issue.

The coal terminal, proposed by SSA Marine and it’s minority owner Goldman Sachs, would ship coal from open pit mines in Wyoming through Bellingham, Washington and out of a port at Cherry Point, eventually reaching East Asian markets. The terminal poses a significant threat to communities near WWU: coal dust and coal runoff from open freight cars are a concern to anyone near the tracks; thriving forest would be stripped from the land at Cherry Point; and 80 acres of uncovered coal could degrade the spawning grounds of an endemic herring population, which forms the bottom of the marine food chain. The impacts are as diverse as the communities that would be affected by them.

An action organized by the Western Action Coalition with Earth First! Whatcom focused attention on some of the impacts, while calling the WWU student community to take action with their ballots this week.  Olivia Edwards, a junior studying environmental science dressed as a Salmon. Unconvinced by SSA’s arguments, she said “there are still a multitude of questions that need to be answered and that deserve to be addressed.”

Demonstrators distributed literature endorsing county council and mayoral candidates that will stick up for a sustainable economy for Bellingham and beyond. They called for electing Pete Kremen, Christina Maginnis, and Alan Black for Whatcom County Council and Dan Pike for Bellingham Mayor – all of whom have been endorsed by Washington Conservation Voters.

Continue reading ‘Bellingham Students Speak Out for a Clean Energy Future’

Help Community Organizers Keep Coal Trains Out of Bellingham

Right now concerned students and community members in Bellingham, Washington are working to stop one of the most deadly new fossil fuel projects in the world: a coal export terminal that would send tens of millions of tons of coal brought in by train to global export markets.  To build their group and strengthen of the movement they seek to create, these passionate activists are raising funds to send a delegation to this month’s Localize This! Action Camp.  But they need our help: with twelve days to go before the fundraising deadline, the group has set a goal of raising $1,200.  If you can pitch in, please visit their fundraising web page here.

Why donate to this effort, when so many worthy causes are out there?  The answer, quite simply, is that the fight against coal exports is one of the most important in the climate movement.  If even one proposed coal export terminal like the one moving forward in Bellingham goes through, it will be a disaster for the climate, facilitating construction of some of the largest coal plants in the world and displacing renewable energy investments in developing countries.

But this tragedy doesn’t have to happen.  Members of communities targeted by coal export proposals are already organizing to stop export terminals from being built and re-claim power over the energy future of their communities.  So far these efforts have been very successful in shifting the debate around coal and turning coal export terminals into a sticky issue for politicians.  Now these activists need our help bringing their movement to the next level.

Though there are now several proposals to build coal export terminals in both Washington and Oregon, the one in Bellingham has progressed further than any other toward applying for permits it needs to move forward.  If we can defeat this project, it will send a positive message all up and down the West Coast.  The work of organizers in Bellingham is thus a critical piece of the worldwide effort to reclaim community power from the coal industry.

I can’t think of a better cause to give money to right now.  If you’re able, please consider donating to help Bellingham activists grow the movement for a cleaner future in Washington.

Introducing: Coal Action Network Northwest

When some people think of solutions to the climate crisis, they picture wind turbines blowing in the breeze or solar panels on a rooftop.  But for me, the best solution is a group of passionate people coming together to directly confront the biggest challenge of our time: re-claiming our political and social power from the fossil fuel industries .  That’s just what happened this past weekend, when a group of student activists from throughout the Northwest got together to start a new chapter in our region’s journey to fossil fuel independence.

Together we formed the Coal Action Network, a grassroots organization aimed at challenging coal projects throughout the greater Northwest – and perhaps beyond.  Though the name Coal Action Network is new, student efforts to shift the Northwest away from coal are not.  Working in partnership with environmental nonprofits, students have already helped put the only existing coal plants in Oregon and Washington on the path to retirement.  When the Boardman Coal Plant and TransAlta Coal Plant are gone from the grid, our region will have eliminated its two biggest sources of carbon pollution, opening up space for clean energy to grow.

These victories never would have happened without countless individuals who took a stand, and were willing to say “No more” to the coal industry.  With two major achievements down already, we are turning to the next big challenge: protecting our rivers and bays from becoming an international coal export zone.  We are already working in solidarity with impacted front line communities who are fighting coal export infrastructure in their back yards.

Today everyone from President Obama to BP is willing to talk about technological energy “solutions.”  But what about the original democratic solution that formed the foundation of every successful social movement in history: a community of principled individuals willing to stand up for justice?  Technology will of course play a vital part in the transition away from fossil fuels, but wind turbines and solar panels will not on their own stop destructive coal infrastructure proposals.   Just as leaders of the Civil Rights Movement and the India liberation movement won by refusing to cooperate with oppression, we must do the same – and we must remember ignoring the problem is tantamount to participating in it.  That’s why I’m so excited to see this new chapter of solidarity with impacted communities beginning in the Northwest.

Continue reading ‘Introducing: Coal Action Network Northwest’

Youth activists demand action on America’s oil addiction

This blog post was cowritten by Monica Christoffels, student activist in Eugene, Oregon and Anastasia Schemkes, Green Transportation Organizer at the Sierra Club Cascade Chapter. 

More than 50 students from around the Pacific Northwest joined hands across the coast of Samish Island, WA in recognition of the second annual Hands Across the Sand international day of action against oil drilling. With the island’s lush forest behind them, they looked out on a serene Puget Sound – their view only to be interrupted by the looming smokestacks of the Anecortes Oil Refinery.

These students stood in solidarity with thousands of Americans across the country in sending a message to our elected officials and fellow citizens: we must do all we can to move America beyond oil.

With toes touching the water and eyes fixed on the ominous smokestacks, the students dug their feet deeper into the sand, becoming more determined to stand against America’s dangerous addiction to oil and for clean energy solutions.

These 50 students were attendees of the Sierra Student Coalition’s Northwest SPROG, one of six summer organizing training programs to be held around the country this summer. They spent a week at a camp on Samish Island, WA learning organizing skills such as messaging and framing, tactics and strategy, campaign planning and articulating a compelling narrative that inspires others to act.

Northwest SPROG attendee Monica Christoffels felt compelled to organize Hands Across the Sand event this year because she wanted to remind people of how much is at stake in the clean energy future.

“I took part in Hands Across the Sand last year, when the BP oil spill galvanized hundreds of thousands of people from literally every corner of the globe, all linking together to protest offshore oil drilling.” Christoffels said.

This year, Hands Across the Sand came at a moment of opportunity to weaken the stranglehold oil has on our economy. This summer, the Obama Administration is working on new efficiency standards for cars – and we need to call on our leaders to increase fuel efficiency as one way to reduce our nation’s dependence on oil.

The White House is set to announce new fuel efficiency standards for 2017-2025 this September. The highest standard under consideration, 62 miles per gallon, would cut the average car’s oil consumption by half – reducing America’s dependence on oil by over 44 billion gallons per year.

“Hands Across the Sand shows me that people all over the world are ready for a clean energy future, and gives me hope that we can achieve that someday.” Christoffels continued.

The youth that attend SPROGs around the country every summer – including those at NW SPROG this year are not only ready for a clean energy future, they are the ones helping create it.

With the tools they learned at SPROG and the same passion that brought them together on the beach, the students at NW SPROG are among those pushing their communities, local leaders and the Obama Administration to make “someday” right now – we can start with 60mpg by 2025.

Tell the Obama Administration you want higher fuel efficiency standards, visit

Citizens Unite on International Day of Action Against the Tar Sands

If so-called world “leaders” won’t lead on climate change, global citizens will.  If governments in the world’s most powerful countries insist on stoking global warming by approving massive new fossil fuel projects, then it’s up to groups of concerned people to hold polluters accountable ourselves.  In the last few months I’ve been encouraged to watch as more and more climate activists have begun using creative direct action to sidestep the government delay tactics that have stalled progress on climate issues for so long, and started peacefully confronting corporate polluters directly.

That’s what happened this past weekend, as activists across the world participated in the second International Day of Action Against the Tar Sands.  As you may know, the Canadian Tar Sands in Alberta are the world’s most destructive industrial project, and one of the fastest-growing sources of carbon emissions on the planet.  While the Canadian government’s oil fever has unleashed tar sands extraction, the US is by far the biggest consumer of tar sands oil, and European banks have pitched in to fund tar sands activity.  Further development of the tar sands will threaten the world’s ability to bring climate change under control – and since governments aren’t acting to stop it, citizens and consumers are stepping in.

On Saturday people in twenty US cities took action to expose the companies driving demand for the tar sands – including fruit producers Dole and Chiquita, which use tar sands oil to fuel their huge trucking fleets.  From New York to Los Angeles and from Seattle to Boston, activists unfurled banners outside of supermarkets and staged creative actions by banana produce stalls calling attention to Dole and Chiquita’s involvement in the tar sands.  This comes after months of work by groups like Forest Ethics that have been trying to get the companies to engage in talks about their tar sands-soiled produce.  Dole and Chiquita haven’t responded, prompting activists to take public pressure to the next level.

In my home state of Oregon, a group of volunteer activists walked into a Safeway in Portland, unfurled a banner by a kiosk full of Chiquita bananas, and acted out a short skit alerting store customers to the problems with the tar sands.  While a store security guard shouted angrily and threatened to call the police, a spokesperson for the group politely explained they were only there to make a point about Chiquita and Safeway’s corporate irresponsibility, and would soon be leaving.  No confrontation with police ended up taking place, and Safeway shoppers looked on with interest as the group filed out of the store.

While US activists were pressuring the companies using oil from the tar sands, organizers in Canada, Europe, and elsewhere took action against governments, banks, and other institutions that are pushing the tar sands forward.  What’s notable about these actions is that while the issue at hand is deadly serious, photos compiled by event organizers show activists who are smiling, cheerful, and ready to remain nonviolent in thought and attitude as well as in action.  The same holds true for many other creative direct actions happening with increased frequency across the US and around the world.

More people than ever before seem ready to use the power of nonviolence to directly confront the institutions standing in the way of sustainability, democracy, and a livable future.  I hope Chiquita, Dole, and other corporate players behind the tar sands are paying attention.

Youth Activists Prepare for Community-Building Journey

It’s called the Self Express: and the catchy name isn’t the only unusual thing about the 38-foot bus which a group of Northwest students and recent graduates are converting into a living space that will transport them across the country this summer.  By the time it’s finished, the former 1989 school bus will be ready to run entirely on used vegetable oil, and will be outfitted with a solar panel installation on the roof.  For the bulk of the summer it will serve as a temporary home for six youth activists determined to show that sustainable living in the twenty-first century is both possible and practical.

The Self Express project is a grassroots effort launched by youth organizers based at Linfield College in McMinnville, Oregon who have a vision for a better future.  Traveling across the US in an essentially carbon-neutral vehicle, they plan to create a real-life example of community-oriented living.  The group intends to connect with local nonprofits and charities in locations they visit across the United States, performing service and volunteer work that gives back to the community.  They will also travel to and participate in key events in the US climate movement happening over the next few months. 

“I’m really interested to see what’s going on in our country,” says Katie Kann, a recent graduate of Linfield College who will be setting out on the Self Express later this month.  “I’m tired of only hearing about the negative stuff in the news, stuff that makes me sad. I want to see the good things that fellow citizens are doing to help people and improve quality of life across our country.”

In this way the Self Express project connects the hands-on solutions work needed to jumpstart a transition to a clean economy with the political organizing and activism that’s essential to building the sustained movement that will get us off fossil fuels for good.  Considering the scale of the challenge we’re facing, it’s neither logical nor useful to argue about whether climate activists should be addressing problems or building solutions.  We urgently need to do both these, things, which is why youth organizers aboard the Self Express will be connecting with community solutions projects while also facilitating communication between grassroots groups fighting fossil fuel infrastructure. Continue reading ‘Youth Activists Prepare for Community-Building Journey’

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