Sierra Watch, July, 2016 Issue

In This Issue

Justice in the Transition to Our Renewable Energy Future
  Report from Apr 18 Program
by Bill Brainerd


There were three speakers at the Sierra Club/CCP Coalition for a Sustainable Future program Monday night April 18 at the Community College of Philadelphia. The topic was Justice in the Transition to Our Renewable Energy Future.

Sue Edwards, Diversity chair for the PA Sierra Club, said the National Sierra Club has adopted a Diversity, Equity and Inclusion MultiYear Plan welcoming people of any race, class, ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender identity, mental and physical disability, religion and age. At present the Club is overwhelmingly white and middle class. We need to be a welcoming place for a broad variety of people, and in our partnerships with diverse organizations we can only "work at the speed of trust."

Anthony Giancatarino of the Center for Social Inclusion, based in NYC, played a game with the audience to expose its orientation toward America and Western Europe. People of color matter less to us, an orientation CSI works to change. The speaker pointed out renewable energy, which we all praise, can be misused. Slave ships were driven by wind. The source of slaveowners' wealth, cotton, grew using solar energy, and slaves were forced to chop it using manual labor, another form of renewable energy. This time CSI hopes to unite renewables and justice.

In America people of color suffer pervasive discrimination. 60% of them feel housing, food or energy insecurity. They pay too much for rent, have no neighborhood store in which to buy wholesome food, or depend on LIHEAP to heat their homes in winter. They don't own their homes and lack capital to invest in wind, solar or geothermal energy. 95% of solar homes are owned by whites. But black South Carolina farmers held onto their land by polling resources and installing jointly-owned windmills, an example of the creative, entrepreneurial attitude that's needed. In NW Philadelphia the Shalom Center and Weaver's Way will share a solar facility.

A just transition to a renewable energy economy would eliminate the present correlation between insecurity and race. It offers well-paying jobs in the new green economy to all races and job opportunities equally to all unemployed workers, protects pensions, keeps renewable energy affordable, and operates with transparency and accountability.

Good government programs promoting a just transition were the President's Economic Stimulus program and his present Solar for All program created by executive order,,EPA's Clean Power Plan, the agriculture program Grounded in Philly, and The Philadelphia Center for Affordable Community Housing.

Terry Williams, President of the Eastwick Friends and Neighbors Coalition, read aloud the Passport to Human Rights, which obligates us to defend others' rights as well as our own. The EFNC, over four years, persuaded the City to buy back for $5 M development rights on 135 acres of open space in Eastwick from korman Developers, which wanted to build 1,000 dwelling units and 1,000+ parking stalls.

"I thought it was over" said Williams, but thenthe City the gave the Airport a four-year option to develop the land. Eastwick has many environmental problems: The community is built on dredgings from the Schuylkill River. It's near two Superfund sites, the Airport, an oil refinery, oil storage tanks, and two polluted Creeks, Cobbs and Darby. Construction waste has been dumped at night on its streets. There is a cancer enclave.

EFNC defeated Korman because the former had many leaders. It went door to door. Community meetings were announced by fliers left on doorsteps. Up to 250 people attended these meetings. EFNC joined with Friends of the Heinz Wildlife Refuge, just to the west, to enlist a hydrologist, lawyer Amy Laura Kahn of the Public Interest Law Center of Philadelphia, and news media. A community newspaper covered the story. The Eastwick Residents' and Stakeholders' Assessment Survey reported to all concerned what people wanted. Political leaders took notice when EFNC told them it wouldn't vote for them if they ignored community concerns. Mayor Kenney has promised the Airport won't be allowed to bully EFNC.

Williams made two other points. Public schools are not teaching green technology, although it offers students lifetime employment. Four of of the schools Williams' grandchildren attend don't have science teachers. Also everyone must be concerned about global warming.

In the Q and A Williams said city planners need to pay more attention to the human cost of urban renewal.

World Asthma Day Action Report
  Report from May 3 Event
by Tom Schuster - Sr Campaign Representative


Hello Fellow Coal Warriors!

We had a big day in Philly, using World Asthma Day to call for a transition to clean energy and hold the largest NOx polluter in Pennsylvania accountable - Brunner Island Coal Burning Power Plant. Despite the rainy weather, a diverse crowd of about 80 clean air activists turned out for a rally with Moms Clean Air Force and PennEnvironment at historic City Hall, and then marched to EPA Region 3 to call on the agency to close a loophole that would let the Brunner Island off the hook for controlling its smog-causing pollution. We were also very happy to host our own celebrity speaker at the rally, Mary Anne Hitt, Director of the Sierra Club Beyond Coal Campaign, who stuck around for a screening of Years Of Living Dangerously for about 30 people that evening. Thanks Mary Anne!

Read Mary Anne's article about this event in the Huffington Post.

Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance
  Report on June 6-9 Programs
by Bill Brainerd


The Eastern Grassroots Organizer for the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance (SUWA) spoke to the Sierra Club in Philadelphia, Media, West Chester and Northampton. Travis Hammill traveled from the District of Columbia to ask our support for saving wilderness lands in southeastern Utah. Although Utah already has Bryce Canyon, Zion, Canyonlands, Arches and Capitol Reef National Parks, there are still millions of acres of land throughout the state worthy of protection from mining, oil drilling, fracking, and other industries. SUWA has proposed that 9.2 million acres of the 23 million acres being managed by the BLM would be protected as Wilderness.

For an area to be considered worthy of wilderness designation, a parcel must be at least 5,000 acres in size and have no roads or manmade structures, opportunity for unconfined (off-trail) recreation, and educational, scientific, or cultural value. Wilderness is the highest level of land protection, keeping important places pristine and “untrammeled”, as stated in The Wilderness Act of 1964.

Since 1989 SUWA's plans for Utah have been elucidated in America's Red Rock Wilderness Act, which would designate the 9.2 acres of BLM managed land as new wilderness. This Congress, the sponsors of the bill are Rep. Alan Lowenthal (D-CA-47) in the House with about 110 cosponsors and Sen. Richard Durbin (D-IL) in the Senate with 20 cosponsors. The bill is a “Grand Vision” of wilderness lands and, in the current political climate, will have difficulties passing, but because these lands are the subject of legislation and debate, they are less likely to be opened for development.

Chief threats to Utah wilderness are

  1. “Ghost Roads” – The Utah state legislature is trying to use a 150+ year old statute called RS 2477 (which was repealed in 1976) to claim rights to 36,000 linear miles of unused Jeep Trails, cattle trails, and stream beds as “state highways”, and if so claimed, would end wilderness protection throughout the state.
  2. Off-Road Vehicles - Fragile soils and shallow-rooted plants typical of the American west may take decades to recover from ORV damage. Plus, many areas throughout the state of Utah have a plethora of Native American artifacts and dwellings that are easily damaged by heavy 4x4 vehicles and dirt bikes, and these treasures do not recover from such damage.
  3. Extractive industries - Mining and drilling chemical solutions are stored in casually-lined open pits and can leak or overflow in a rain fall. Drilling equipment can sometimes be abandoned.without cleanup. Vast areas may be defiled with dozens of un-reclaimed drill-sites.

Republican Rep. Rob Bishop of Utah chairs the House Natural Resources Committee and generally opposes additional protection for federal lands in Utah. His own bill would designate 3 M acres of new red rock wilderness but deprive 2 M other red rock acres of protection they now enjoy as wilderness study areas. SUWA, along with the Sierra Club, Natural Resources Defense Council, Utah Dine Bikeyah, and the Bears Ears Inter-Tribal Coalition rejects Bishop's bill for the giveaways of public land, the poor environmental standards stated in the draft, and a provision that prevents the President from establishing any new nation monuments in Utah under the Antiquities Act.

A coalition of Native American nations in the region--Navaho, Hopi, Zuni, Pueblo, Ute--is asking President Obama under the Antiquities Act to create a national monument at Bears Ears near the Arizona line. Protection as a national monument is an important first step toward further protections, as many national parks start as monuments. The advantage of a monument is that it doesn’t require passage through Congress, but areas can be protected quickly by the President.

Travis asked us to urge our Congressional representatives to cosponsor America's Red Rock Wilderness Bill. Those unable to attend an event can visit to sign the petition to protect Utah’s wild spaces for generations and view SUWA’s short film. SUWA is also active on Facebook ( and Instagram (@ProtectWildUtah). For those interested in joining the wilderness movement, please contact Travis at or call him at 202-266-0472.

Cathedral in the Desert
  by Mike Hoppus


I have been mesmerized by the red rock wilderness of Utah since I first hiked it in 1987. After moving to Pennsylvania, my trips to this splendid desert country have been limited by the 2500 mile distance as well as the lure of more watered landscapes of the East. In Spring of 2005, however, my son Alex informed me that the subject of the famous poster scene, called “Cathedral in the Desert”, was accessible after more than 40 years submerged under the waters of Lake Powell. This large desert reservoir on the Colorado River was at record low level (155 feet low) due to sustained drought in the Rockies. An incredible sandstone alcove, the “Cathedral”, carved by wind and a waterfall along Clear Creek in what was once part of Glen Canyon, could be reached once again by boat. At least that was the theory according to our old maps and a prediction of lake levels.

As some of you may know, David Brower, while he was the first executive director of the Sierra Club, negotiated the protection of Dinosaur National Monument from being flooded by a dam on the Green River in Utah, by agreeing not to protest a dam on the Colorado River through Glen Canyon. He and other Sierra Club members soon found out what a mistake this was. In their efforts to save Glen Canyon, David Brower organized a photographic survey down the canyon. A Sierra Club book called, “The Place No One Knew”, documented this trip. On the cover was a photo of The Grand Cathedral, a surrealist huge sandstone alcove. It had hanging gardens, and a steam running through which was supplied by a high water fall from the cliffs above.

My 15 year old son, Sam, and I, met Alex at his house in Salt Lake City, UT. Packed for a four day-60 mile canoe trip, the three of us launched from Hall’s Crossing, on Lake Powell in southern Utah, some 30 miles east of our destination. I was awed once again by the striking beauty of the immense red rock landscape, only this time it was combined with views of the large lake lacking a shore. The high vertical cliffs plunge straight down into the water providing only rare sand bars on which to beach a small boat.

We saw only a few other motor boats during the two days of paddling to the “Cathedral”. The alcove was larger and more remote than I expected. Water poured once again over the exposed cliff face and the sandstone shapes and patterns pictured in the 1964 photo that my son carried with him were recognizable. About 30 feet of deposited sand on the alcove floor and long missing hanging gardens were the major changes from the old photo. Slim molds replaced ferns.We spent the night. Canoe and tent were dwarfed by the huge sandstone globe with the muted orange light and eerie acoustics. Voices and the splashing water were strangely amplified against a background of silence.

While preparing to leave this rare treasure, we heard the echo of motors in the narrow side canyon. Soon, two large house boats joined us at the Cathedral beach. Much to our surprise and pleasure, these arrivals included the children and grandchildren of the late environmentalist and Sierra Club President, David Brower, as well as the photographer, friends and sister that accompanied David in the 60's on a photo trip documenting the canyon features about to be lost, supposedly forever by dam water. They were there to retake the famous photograph that was made into a poster 40 years ago that hangs on many a wilderness lover’s wall, including my son’s. I was secretly pleased when they applauded our canoe and seemed guilty about the house boats. They described how beautiful it was to walk up the creek into the vegetated alcove which was bigger then and had near perfect parabolic acoustics that created wondrous combinations of sounds from water, birds, people and wind.

The trip back included side trips to fossil mammoth caves and hundred year old cowboy camps, the canoe blowing away in a wind storm, being swamped in high seas, seeing boxcar sized rocks slip into the abyss from rotten shores, seeing once again exposed ancient Native American art and a more recent piece of rock art that looked just like Homer Simpson and a well known female rock star. Sam caught a big fish. The “Cathedral in the Desert” is gone from view again. The memory lingers and the photographs remind us of one great trip.

Water now covers the Cathedral…but draught may cause it to be uncovered soon.

Lobby Day in Harrisburg
  Report from June 14 Meetings
by Charlie Isaacs, Volunteer Organizer


Across Pennsylvania, over 200 of our members came out to attend more than 60 meetings with state officials, and that doesn't even count impromptu meetings and drop-by's. With your hard work, we sent a clear message to Harrisburg that we're not going away, that we cannot be ignored, and that we're watching every vote that comes to the floor.

It's hard to count the number of victories we achieved in our meetings. What's clear is that we are making progress. So we need to seize on our momentum and keep up the good work. Contact your state legislators; voice your concerns again and again; and schedule follow-up meetings to continue discussing the future of clean energy in Pennsylvania. If you do schedule meetings, remind the person you meet with about the role you played on the June 14th Lobby Day in Harrisburg (and that you mean business!!). If you have anything to report from your experience, any comments or insights, please let us know.

Again, thank you so much for your contribution in this movement. Remember to stay the course. And never, ever give up.

Clean Energy March in Philadelphia
 July 24 - Before Start of Dem National Convention
by Jim Wylie


Make a statement in support of a clean energy future. A future without a dependence on fossil fuel energy and polluting practices like fracking, deep water drilling, mountaintop removal coal mining, dangerous transportation of toxic and explosive liquids and gases. A bright and just future where nobody has to choose between having steady employment and living in a community that is not threatened by constant high levels of toxins in the water and air.

March with us on Sunday, July 24, starting at noon at Philadelphia City Hall. Clean Energy Advocates are coming from as far as California to make a statement in the March for a Clean Energy Revolution.

     We Want Clean Energy NOW!

Look for more details about the Sierra Club contingent at

And if you'd like to volunteer to help with the march, sign up HERE. If you'd like to help with the SC contingent planning, contact

2016 Stargazer Award
  Congratulations Charlie Isaacs
by Jim Wylie


Congratulations to Charlie Isaacs, recipient of the 2016 Stargazer's Award from the Southeastern PA Group, given annually to PA Chapter volunteers that have made a significant contribution to Sierra Club actions or outings.

Last year Charlie joined the Beyond Coal team of volunteers and has shown a combination of scientific analysis, journalistic investigation and public and political outreach that has set a very high bar for a volunteer activist. Charlie has helped to organize bus trips to DC and Harrisburg, listening sessions for the clean power plan, rallies and events for world Asthma day and the fight for 15, joined several local lobby visits, organized college intern projects, helped with events at the Phila Vet center, designed flyers and has led social media outreach. And several more initiatives. All in the last year.

SPG congratulates Charlie Isaacs on receiving the PA Chapter Star Gazer Award. He surely has earned it

Delaware County’s Open Space Loss is a Serious Health Issue
  by Ken Hemphill


Every year, at least two million acres of open space are permanently lost to development in the United States, and the Philadelphia region is not immune to what’s happening nationally. All that will be left in twenty or so years will be the parks and land we had the foresight to protect. Fortunately, over the last two decades, all Philadelphia suburban counties in Pennsylvania and New Jersey except one have begun to seriously address this crisis by asking voters to approve borrowing to protect as much of their county’s remaining open places as possible.

The Philadelphia suburban counties of Montgomery, Chester, Bucks, Camden, Gloucester, Mercer, Salem, and Burlington Counties have all had open space funding referenda approved by voters and these counties together have conserved several hundred thousand acres. Even Philadelphia voters approved a bond. Delaware County stands alone in the entire region for not having had a successful open space funding referendum. A question was put to voters in April of 1996 on the primary election ballot but did not pass. Given the county’s critical open space deficit, the time has come for another try at this.

Since 1996, Delaware County has traded many thousands of acres of open land for increased traffic congestion, pollution, and the blight of overdevelopment. Unless immediate action is taken to save the few hundred remaining acres of unprotected open space, nothing will be left to save. This is not just a quality of life problem or a question of aesthetics. This is primarily a health issue. Forests clean our air because trees absorb gaseous pollution and act as nets for particulates. Delaware County’s wholesale loss of forested open space in the last twenty years has so increased pollution and reduced the county’s capacity to absorb it that the county’s air quality is now almost the worst in the entire country.

The American Lung Association (ALA) surveyed air quality in every U.S. county (3,143 in total) and charted the results in a 2015 report. Delaware County came in 17th from the bottom (3,126th place) for “PM 2.5,” a measure of microscopic particulate pollution. PM 2.5 pollution is particularly dangerous because microscopic pollution slips past the body’s coughing defense mechanism and is inhaled deep into the lungs where it lodges permanently, leading to all manner of respiratory maladies.

This is terrible news for anyone with children/grandchildren in the county since the developing lungs of children are especially vulnerable to pollution. And this is more of problem than previously imagined. A 2016 American Thoracic Society study found that the pollution threshold for juvenile lung impairment is even lower than scientists once believed. The more cars, houses, and shopping centers we shoehorn into our small county, the worse we’re making the air for our children and the more harm we are causing them.

Pollution is also a major cause of cancer, and Delaware County certainly has its fair share of both. Of 67 Pennsylvania counties, Delco has the sixth highest cancer rates. It’s estimated that as many as 10% of all new lung cancers are the result of polluted air, so cutting down the county’s remaining forests and adding more vehicles and other pollution emission sources will translate directly to lower air quality and more lung cancer cases.

But cancer is just one of the lung maladies disproportionately afflicting residents. 13,000 children and 42,000 adults suffer from asthma in Delaware County. Another 30,000 have COPD. 85,000 residents of Delaware County – 15% of the population – have a respiratory condition that impacts their daily lives, and this reckoning doesn’t include lung cancer numbers. This is a crisis, a very expensive crisis. How many millions of dollars are spent each year in Delaware County treating respiratory ailments? How much do county businesses lose each year because of the reduced productivity of sick employees? The last thing we should do is exacerbate the problem.

While there isn’t much time left to keep things from getting worse, there is a very simple solution that could come in the form of a ballot question asking voters to approve an open space bond, a type of loan that every other Philadelphia area county has approved. If Delco were to float a bond, we could save most of our remaining open space, refurbish existing parks and playing fields, create new pocket parks in mature neighborhoods, and plant tens of thousands of street trees in all 49 municipalities of the county. The positive effect on county residents’ health would be enormous.

Delaware County residents have signaled twice over the last decade that they would support such an open space bond. In 2012, the Delaware County Planning Department conducted a survey which revealed that 80% of county residents found value in open space. Moreover, the 2015 Open Space and Recreation Plan commissioned by county government found overwhelming support in Delco for the public financing of open space protection:

    “On May 17, 2005, a question was placed on the statewide ballot asking if Pennsylvania should borrow money to renew the Pennsylvania Growing Greener Program (commonly referred to as Growing Greener II). The ballot question passed, with Delaware County having the highest percentage of "yes" votes among all counties in the Commonwealth (79%). From this show of public support, it is apparent that the citizens of Delaware County value open space, outdoor recreation, and the natural environment as a highly important part of their quality of life.”

So how much money are we talking about and how much would it cost taxpayers each year? According to the Center for Conservation Finance, a $100 million bond would cost the average household just $36 per year. For one third of a typical cable bill, Delaware County residents could protect their remaining open space, green streets all over the county, and climb the ALA’s air quality ladder...for just $36 each year, hardly an onerous financial burden for any homeowner and preferable to paying for additional health care costs or seeing home values decline from overdevelopment.

For the same reason that people pay to maintain their homes, each household’s share of this is an investment in our common home, not a tax. It’s an investment in our children’s health and the future of Delaware County. This is not about saving land in any particular township, either, nor is it just a Delaware County problem. If you live over the border in Philadelphia, in Chester or Montgomery Counties, or New Jersey, what happens in Delaware County should concern you. This is about protecting the health of all of the region’s residents since pollution knows no boundaries.

We’re faced all the time with seemingly insoluble problems, but saving Delaware County’s remaining open space with a voter-approved bond seems like an easy one. We'll get what we pay for, too, so we can either pay a small amount each year for just ten years and permanently reap the many benefits of open space, or we'll pay a great deal more – forever – for the additional pollution and increased traffic congestion if we fail to act. And how hypocritical would it be for us to ask other countries to protect their forests when we ourselves won’t summon the courage to do the same here at home? If a poor country like Brazil can protect tens of thousands of square miles of rain forest for the good of the planet, then certainly a comparatively wealthy place like Delaware County can protect a few hundred acres. Shame on us if we can’t.

Please contact Delaware County Council and ask them to put an open space bond question on this November’s ballot.

SEPTA proposes gas-fired power plant
  by Karen Melton


SEPTA is considering a proposal to build a natural gas electric generation plant in the Nicetown section of Philadelphia -- near the Wayne Junction Regional Rail station just south of Germantown.

The plant would produce 8.6 megawatts -- a portion of the power consumed by regional rail lines north of the Temple University stop. SEPTA authorized funding for a private company, Noresco LLC, to design the plant last October, but local community groups say they are only just hearing about it.

The next phase will be for SEPTA to decide whether to move forward with construction, and that decision is expected in the next few months.

Air pollution from the plant will affect all surrounding neighborhoods. The immediate area, including three schools, is already impacted by major pollution sources including Roosevelt Boulevard and the Midvale Bus Depot which serves 300 diesel buses. 31% of children in a zip code adjacent to the proposed plant have been diagnosed with asthma.

Pollution from natural gas combustion is not as well studied as from coal, but it is known to produce NOx, a precursor to ground-level ozone (or smog) as well as large quantities of ultrafine particulates, which are considered to be a significant health risk, although there is currently no established standard.

The World Health Organization has stated that “Small particulate pollution have health impacts even at very low concentrations – indeed no threshold has been identified below which no damage to health is observed.”

350 Philly and other groups are advocating for SEPTA to seek a path to renewable energy rather than build more long term fossil fuel infrastructure. A number of Sierra Club members are joining in that effort. To learn more or get involved go to

Philadelphia to Get Its First Zero Emission Buses
  by Dennis Winters


SEPTA has ordered its first 25 zero emission (battery electric) buses. The buses will be used on the old east-west “trackless trolley” routes 29 and 79 in south Philadelphia. These buses represent the next technology upgrade for this kind of vehicle, following the previous advancement from purely diesel buses to hybrid-diesel buses more than a decade ago.

Sierra Club members in southeastern Pennsylvania lobbied SEPTA to make this step and supported the additional funding for their purchase with regional planners. Unfortunately, SEPTA has also chosen to order hundreds of new diesel burning hybrids over the next five years as well. Given the 12-15 year lifetime of the average bus, this means that the majority of buses SEPTA will be operating in 2030 and later will still be burning fossil fuels and contributing to what may be by then even more serious climate disruption.

Zero emission buses are improving people’s lives in cities throughout the US. There are a number of companies manufacturing zero emission buses that operate on batteries (no overhead wires). The batteries can be usually be charged up in minutes and, depending on the model, can go between 30 and 258 miles between charges. They are a clean and quiet way to get around, today, in noisy cities like Worcester, MA; Chicago, IL; Los Angeles, CA; and other locations where they are committed or already in operation. Most models are 40 feet in length, like about 90% of buses in SEPTA’s fleet.

Zero emission buses are better for our health with no tailpipe emissions. Diesel, CNG, and hybrid electric buses are a significant source of pollutants. Diesel exhaust contains more than forty toxic air contaminants that in some cases can cause and/or worsen diseases such as asthma and cancer. Air pollution disproportionately impacts poor neighborhoods and communities of color in cities nationwide, including in the Philadelphia area. Philadelphia remains in non-attainment for several Clean Air Act criteria pollutants.

Zero emission buses are better for our environment. About 40% of US greenhouse gas emissions, which are hastening climate change, are from oil consumption. As diesel buses age, they become increasingly less efficient. Zero emission buses will each reduce carbon emissions by upwards of 270,000 pounds per year compared to diesel and CNG buses. These improvements factor in the emissions from the electricity used to power the buses. As we shift to cleaner sources of electricity, as we are primed to do in Pennsylvania, electric buses become even cleaner over time.

Zero emission buses reduce oil dependence. They rely on the local electric grid for their electricity and keep the energy-related profits and jobs rooted here in the US.

Zero emission buses reduce fueling and maintenance costs. They can be hundreds of thousands of dollars a year less expensive to fuel each than diesel and CNG buses. And because they have fewer moving parts, electric buses are cheaper and easier to maintain. While upfront costs are higher, there are creative financing and grant programs available that –coupled with lower fueling and maintenance—make electric buses a smart financial investment. As the market for electric buses grows, the cost will decrease due to economies of scale.

Volunteer Profile - Bill Brainerd
  by Prasad Ramnath


For this issue of the newsletter we profile William (Bill) Brainerd. Today Bill is known for a number of things including monthly hikes in Delaware County and running the lecture series at Community College of Philadelphia. Very likely, you have received a green postcard from Bill inviting you to one of these events.

Bill joined the Sierrra Club in the 1960s when he was an Art History and English Composition teacher in Hawaii. Ironically, he was rejected the first time because new members could only be admitted upon the recommendation of an existing member. Subsequently he had the honor of chauffeuring David Brower when he came to speak in Honolulu. On the very first Earth Day in April 22, 1970, Bill had the head of the Hawaii Sierra Club speak to one of his classes. It sounded radical then, when she questioned the wisdom of building hotels in Hawaii’s vanishing open space. Conventional wisdom then was that development provided jobs and tax revenue but we know today, that it often results in increased taxes, not the opposite.

Upon moving to the Philadelphia region in 1986, Bill started attending the SPG groups monthly meetings at Graduate Hospital in 1991. He soon joined the Sierra Club trail crew at Ridley Creek State park to battle invasives.

Today, as political co-chair for SPG, he helps interview candidates and decide with other members of the political committee whether to recommend endorsement. The full SPG group and the PA Chapter must approve endorsements before a candidate can be endorsed. If the candidate is an incumbent, then a superior voting record on environmental issues is a requirement for endorsement. If she/he is a challenger, then sound knowledge and commitment to the environment is a must. Bill along with others on political committee, make a monumental effort to endorse candidates in every race including primaries, for US Congress, PA Senate and House of Representatives in the SPG area. This year we will be endorsing 30 candidates for the 2016 fall election.

Bill also runs the aforementioned lecture series at Community College of Philadelphia. For six nights a year, speakers present on a wide variety of environmental subjects like Saving Utah Wilderness, the 2015 Paris Climate Conference, Philadelphia’s Bike Share program etc. Last November, Bill was able to get Michael Mann, the famous Penn State climatologist and inventor of the hockey stick graph to present.

Bill runs hiking events in Delaware County every other Sunday. He also serves as secretary of the PA Chapter, in which role he takes minutes at chapter meetings.

Bill lives an amazingly spartan lifestyle with an almost zero carbon footprint. If you see him at a meeting, he usually got there by train or by bicycle.

Book Review - The Hour of Land
  by Matt Zencey, retired journalist living in West Chester


Terry Tempest Williams is one of our finest living nature writers, and her latest book, The Hour of Land: A Personal Topography of America’s National Parks, shows why.

Her literary talent and passion for preserving wild places is on full display in this collection of essays about her experiences in ten national parks and historic sites.

Timed to help mark this year’s 100th anniversary of the National Park Service, her essays cover a range of styles and themes, all written with grace and eloquence, full of love for the natural world we humans so thoroughly abuse.

From Montana’s Glacier National Park, where she has visited some 20 times, she writes of the terror she felt as a raging wildfire roared toward the wilderness lodge where she and many other visitors huddled, awaiting the worst. Wildfires like that one, she notes, are made worse by, and add to, the global warming that has already claimed 125 of the 150 glaciers that gave the park its name.

At Maine’s Acadia National Park, a land “that’s a marriage between wind and sea,” she savors “the taste of salt from the splash of tides,” in a place “where civilization and wilderness meet.” (She also gives us a long look, going back centuries, into her family roots, as she probes possible connections to Mainers living near Acadia. I skimmed through that part.)

In her essay focused on Utah’s Canyonlands National park, we find a series of impassioned letters she wrote to protect this scenic and special landscape from the predations of the fossil fuel industry.

“There is no contentment here,” she writes, “only the truth and terror of more disturbances to come.” Yet she finds some solace, too: “This landscape is what keeps me sane in a world that would have me believe I am mad.”

She goes to Gulf Islands National Seashore, after the barrier islands were ravaged by the catastrophic 2010 blowout at BP’s Deepwater Horizon oil rig.

While BP was telling the world the situation was under control -- the well capped, the surface oil “dispersed” safely into the sea, the beaches reopened -- she took a private truth-squad flight over the area and found it all to be a bald-faced lie.

The spilled oil, she writes, “appears like miles of stretch marks on the pregnant belly of the sea.” The fumes filled the plane’s cabin.

Her visit to Gates of the Arctic National Park produced a meditation, a kind of prose poem, in which she’s trying to make sense of a horrible family crisis involving one of her brothers, though we get only mysterious hints as to the details.

“I was small,” she writes from that vast, empty swath of Alaska. “I found relief.”

In a more conventional travelogue, she takes a horseback tour of Gettysburg National Military Park, led by a southern sympathizer guide. For a counterpoint to that skewed account, she later visits with a survivor of the Rwandan genocide.

Tempest Williams comes from a Utah family that embodies the tensions between conservation and development of our wildlands. Her 80-plus year old father is a Mormon family patriarch whose prosperous business laid pipelines across the intermountain West for decades. Yet starting from an early age, he has managed to explore almost every trail in Grand Teton National Park.

On a visit to North Dakota’s Theodore Roosevelt National Park, her father declares that he’s “proud of the scars I’ve left in the West” and impatient with his daughter’s fascination with prairie dogs, which he views as vermin. But he’s also appalled by the rapacious pace of exploitation in the Bakken oil shale fields right outside park boundaries.

When four generations of the Tempest family gathered in the Tetons to mark her father’s 80th birthday, they saw a grizzly bear on the same day his great-grandson took his first steps.

“Death will come,” her father says, “but heaven is here.”

In these essays, we pick up interesting slices of national park history. John D. Rockefeller Jr., for example, secretly bought up land in Jackson Hole in the 1920s to add to Grand Teton National Park, but it took a 20 year struggle to get Congress to accept the donation, due to knee-jerk western resistance.

Tempest Williams reminds us that some of our parks were born in sin. Much of Montana’s Glacier National Park, she notes, is land that was taken from the Blackfeet Indians. (Closer to home for us easterners, we should remember that poor white mountain people were evicted from what became Shenandoah and Great Smoky Mountains National Parks.)

Our national parks, Tempest Williams writes, “can be schizophrenic.” They are “full of contradictions and complexities.” In part, that’s because there’s “mission rivalry” between the park service’s mandate to both protect them and promote their use.

Commercialization is a threat made obvious in Medora, N.D., gateway to Theodore Roosevelt National Park. Knowing what awaits in town -- all the T.R. paraphernalia and other tourist schlock -- she writes, “Our national parks make fetishes of their founders and risk turning history in to kitsch.”

Yet she reminds us our parks do hold for us “stories of who we have been and who we might become.” They reflect “our dreams, our generosities, our cruelties and crimes.”

One thing Tempest Williams does not explore in the book is the National Park Service’s difficulty in properly caring for the human-built parts of the heritage entrusted to it. The financial straitjacket imposed for so long by penny-pinching federal budget writers has let deterioration proceed at a depressing pace. The agency estimates that restoring our parks and historic places to their proper condition would cost upwards of $12 billion dollars.

The Hour of Land includes some stunning black and white photos, including a rain squall in a wild and untouched Brooks Range valley, bathed in ethereal light. It’s enough to make you believe a divine hand is at work.

Not all Tempest Williams’ essays are paeans to heart-stirring wide-open spaces. She visited Alcatraz Island when huge parts of the San Francisco-area landmark were given over to a wide-ranging avante-garde art installation by Chinese dissident artist Ai Weiwei. His work required visitors to confront the injustices endured across the world by political prisoners, some famous, some obscure.

It left Tempest Williams, who is a deeply engaged activist as well as a brilliant writer, reflecting on her “own path of resistance.” Perhaps judging harshly, she looks at what she has done and decides, “It is not enough.”

She is doing her part with writings like those in this book.

And we can do ours, if we heed the call she issues to us:

    “This is what we can promise the future: a legacy of care. That we will be good stewards and not take too much or give back too little, that we will recognize wild nature for what it is, in all its magnificent and complex history – an unfathomable wealth that should be consciously saved, not ruthlessly spent.”