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Ron Henry’s Letter from the Chair
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by Ron Henry | 2011

Hello All, The word “summer” never loses its magic, conjuring up images of retreating to the mountains in Western Maryland, paddling our many creeks and rivers, or lazing on our beaches by the ocean or the Bay. But summer is also the season of record heat, air-quality alerts, and peak demand for electricity. In this issue of Chesapeake, we’re going to try to help you enjoy that summer magic with outings and events that will take you deep into the woods, high in the mountains, or out on—or into—the water. But we’re also going to try to engage you in helping to tame some of summer’s ills.

Ron Henry’s Letter from the Chair

Hello All,

The word “summer” never loses its magic, conjuring up images of retreating to the mountains in Western Maryland, paddling our many creeks and rivers, or lazing on our beaches by the ocean or the Bay. But summer is also the season of record heat, air-quality alerts, and peak demand for electricity. In this issue of Chesapeake, we’re going to try to help you enjoy that summer magic with outings and events that will take you deep into the woods, high in the mountains, or out on—or into—the water. But we’re also going to try to engage you in helping to tame some of summer’s ills.

Longtime members know that we are committed to fighting sprawl and protecting our treasured Bay and its watersheds. In introducing our “Beyond Coal” campaign, we are bringing attention to another issue here in Maryland—the way our electricity is generated—and we are advocating for making that power-generation cleaner. Specifically, we are pushing to have the three dirtiest coal-fired plants in Maryland retired from production.

Coal, a 19th century marvel, is the dirtiest of the fossil fuels, and a prime contributor to the blanket of greenhouse gases that are steadily warming the earth. The particulate matter released from coal-fired plants drives air quality down and health-care costs up. From the time it’s ripped from the earth till the time its toxic residues are collected from power plants, coal harms our health and makes our planet increasingly inhospitable to human and other life.

In a rational world, American citizens and their leaders would be pressing to slow down and then halt the burning of coal. We’d be providing incentives for conservation, reimagining and reinventing  the way we use power, and embracing clean alternatives to fossil fuels. It’s not that we don’t know how dirty the air is. We keep our kids inside on code red days, buy record amounts of asthma medicine, and remind our elders to skip their daily walk when the air is bad. It’s not that we don’t know that 100o days aren’t supposed to happen here in June. It’s not like we citizens are asking for quaint antique power stations.

But we’re up against the power of industry, exerted through lobbying and contributions to political campaigns. We have seen its power turn leaders who understand global warming into global-warming deniers. We’ve seen its power to silence scientists and de-fund federal climate science. The money is huge: According to the Center for Responsive Politics, which tracks election and lobbying spending at the federal level, in 2010—one year!—the electric utilities spent $191.34 million for lobbying and $73.25 million for campaign contributions. Coal-mining interests spent $18.32 million for lobbying, and $7.79 million for campaign contributions. Railroads, which move 70% of America’s coal, and for which coal is their largest single cargo, spent $44.11 million for lobbying, and $7.31 million for campaign contributions.

My dream is that we will be able to communicate effectively to persuade a critical mass of concerned citizens to be activists and advocates for the environment. To do this, we must develop our arguments for the economic value of the natural resources that we treasure. Yes, forests and wetlands nourish our souls, but, more to the economic point, forests are pollution-control centers, and wetlands are water-purification factories. Conservation of nature is not a luxury for economic boom times, but an investment in environmental services that will pay rich dividends now and to future generations.

We are not going to get the world we want for ourselves and our children and grandchildren by waiting for industrial interests to decide we can have it. We’re only going to get it by understanding what we need, being determined to get it, and joining together as committed grassroots participants in the political and regulatory processes at both state and federal levels.

In the Sierra Club’s national Beyond Coal campaign, and in our own Maryland campaign, we are engaged in difficult work, and its difficulty is increased by its importance. Our world faces no greater challenge than global warming, and its effects—ecological, biological, social, economic, and political—are  already being felt.

We must be mindful of our message. At a time of economic constriction, global warming is still an inconvenient truth. We may find that we can make a more compelling argument based on the issue that most engages the public: jobs. We have an opportunity to advocate for creating the jobs of the future that our country wants and needs, and, at the same time, reducing our dependence on foreign oil and domestic fossil fuels extracted at great environmental expense here at home. Taking advantage of this opportunity will require delivering a powerful and inspirational message: We can put people to work developing and delivering the technologies that will replace 19th century combustion with  21st  century renewable energy from the sun, the winds, and the earth itself.

To change the way we use energy, even just here in Maryland, we must intensify our efforts and present a message that will resonate with our fellow citizens. In retiring the oldest, most polluting of our power plants, we can move beyond coal by embracing conservation and clean, renewable energy. Please invest some time learning about what we can do to get Maryland’s power generation out of the 19th century. In addition to the suite of articles in this issue of Chesapeake, you can find more about coal at www.sierraclub.org/coal. Then join the campaign. All of your efforts will be appreciated; all of your efforts are absolutely needed to move Maryland beyond coal

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