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Saturday, March 24, 2012

Chesapeake's Donations To Sierra Club Brings Author's Reaction

Breaking Up with the Sierra Club

March 23, 2012, by Sandra Steingraber

Orion‘s search for a more truthful relationship between humans and the natural world occasionally calls for the expression of outrage. The more we learn about a gas-drilling practice called hydraulic fracturing—or “fracking”—the more we see it as a zenith of violence and disconnect, impulses that seem to be gathering on the horizon like thunder clouds.

Long-time friend and Orion columnist Sandra Steingraber has been particularly vocal about the dangers of fracking. Her columns in recent issues of the magazine have frequently been dedicated to the issue; and last year, after receiving a Heinz Award for her work, Steingraber donated the cash prize to the fight against fracking in her home state of New York.

In February, Time magazine broke the news that the Sierra Club, an old and respected environmental defender, had, for three years, accepted $25 million from Chesapeake Energy, one of the largest gas-drillers in the world. (In 2010, Michael Brune, the Sierra Club’s new executive director, refused further donations from the company.) The story prompted Steingraber to write an open letter to the Club, posted below. We invite you to read the letter, which testifies to the confusion, fear, and outrage that’s pouring out of communities in gasland—but which is also, importantly, a bold call to courage.

No right way is easy. . . .We must risk our lives to save them.
—John Muir, Sierra Club’s founder

Dear Sierra Club,

I’m through with you.

For years we had a great relationship based on mutual admiration. You gave a glowing review of my first book, Living Downstream—a review that appeared in the pages of Sierra magazine and hailed me as “the new Rachel Carson.” Since 1999 that phrase has linked us together in all the press materials that my publicist sends out. Your name appears with mine on the flaps of my book jackets, in the biography that introduces me at the speaker’s podium, and in the press release that announced, last fall, that I was one of the lucky recipients of a $100,000 Heinz Award for my research and writing on the environment.

I was proud to be affiliated with you. I hoped to live up to the moniker you bestowed upon me.

But more than a month has past since your executive director, Michael Brune,admitted in Time magazine that the Sierra Club had, between 2007 and 2010, clandestinely accepted $25 million from the fracking industry, with most of the donations coming from Chesapeake Energy. Corporate Crime Reporter was hot on the trail of the story when it broke in Time.

From the start, Brune’s declaration seemed less an acknowledgement of wrongdoing than an attempt to minister to a looming public relations problem. Would someone truly interested in atonement seek credit for choosing not to take additional millions of gas industry dollars (“Why the Sierra Club Turned Down $26 Million in Contributions from Natural Gas Interests”)?

Here, on top of the Marcellus Shale, along the border between Pennsylvania and New York—where we are surrounded by land leased to the gas industry; where we live in fear that our water will be ruined, our mortgages called in, our teenage children killed in fiery wrecks with 18-wheelers hauling toxic fracking waste on our rural, icy back roads; where we cash out our vacation days to board predawn buses to rallies and public hearings; where we fundraise, donate, testify, phone bank, lobby, submit public comments, sign up for trainings in nonviolent civil disobedience; where our children ask if we will be arrested, if we will have to move, if we will die, and what will happen to the bats, the honeybees, the black bears, the grapevines, the apple orchards, the cows’ milk; where we have learned all about casing failures, blow-outs, gas flares, clear-cuts, legal exemptions, the benzene content of production fluid, the radioactive content of drill cuttings; where people suddenly start sobbing in church and no one needs to ask why—here in the crosshairs of Chesapeake Energy, Michael Brune’s announcement was met with a kind of stunned confusion.

The Sierra Club had taken money, gobs of it, from an industry that we in the grassroots have been in the fight of our lives to oppose. The largest, most venerable environmental organization in the United States secretly aligned with the very company that seeks to occupy our land, turn it inside out, blow it apart, fill it with poison. All for the goal of extracting a powerful heat-trapping gas, methane, that plays a significant role in climate change.

Climate change: identified by The Lancet as the number-one global health problem of the 21st century. Children, according to the World Health Organization, are among its primary victims.

It was as if, on the eve of D-day, the anti-Fascist partisans had discovered that Churchill was actually in cahoots with the Axis forces.

So, I’ve had many weeks now to ponder the whole betrayal and watch for signs of redemption from Sierra Club’s national leadership. Would it be “coming clean” (to quote the title of the executive director’s recent book)?

Freed from the silence that money bought, would it now lend its voice in support of environmental groups in New York State that seek a statewide prohibition on fracking? Would it come to the aid of those in Pennsylvania calling for a halt to the devastation there?

Would it, at the very least, endorse the modest proposal of Physicians, Scientists and Engineers for Healthy Energy, who recommend a national moratorium on fracking until human health impacts are researched?

And would Michael Brune humbly ask forgiveness from antifracking activist Lisa Wright, formerly on the executive committee of the Sierra Club’s Finger Lakes chapter? As recently as last May, in response to a direct query from Wright, who had become suspicious, Brune wrote, “I do want to be clear about one thing: we do not receive any money from Aubrey McClendon, nor his company Chesapeake. For that matter, we do not receive any contributions from the natural gas industry. Hopefully this will alleviate some concerns.”

The answer to all of the above questions: No.

So, Sierra Club, call some other writer your new Rachel Carson. I’ll be erasing your endorsement from my website.

And take back these words, penned by your own fierce and uncorruptible founder, John Muir, that have hung for years by my writing desk:

Climb the mountains and get their good tidings. Nature’s peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees. The wind will blow their own freshness into you, and the storms their energy, while cares will drop off like autumn leaves.

There is no peace in the mountains and hills over the Marcellus Shale. No glad tidings. The forests of Pennsylvania are filled with chainsaws, flares, drill pads, piplines, condensers, generators, and the 24/7 roar of compressor stations. The wind that blows east from the gas fields carries toluene, benzene, and diesel exhaust. Sunshine turns it all into poisonous ozone. Storms send silt into trout streams from denuded hillsides and cause good people to lie awake at night, worried about overflowing impoundment pits full of neurotoxic chemicals and overturned frack trucks full of carcinogens.

Even now, plans are being laid to transport 88.2 million gallons of liquid propane and butane to caverns that lie beneath the idyllic New York lakeshore where my ten-year-old son was born. (“This transaction is yet another example of the successful execution on our plan to build an integrated natural gas storage and transportation hub in the Northeast,” says the company called Inergy.) When you tramp through the fields and forests where I live—40 percent of the land in my county is leased to the gas industry—cares don’t drop off like autumn leaves. They accumulate like convoys of flowback fluid laced with arsenic, radium, and barium with no place, no place to go.

And, yes, they are fracking in Rachel Carson’s beloved Allegheny County, too.

The hard truth: National Sierra Club served as the political cover for the gas industry and for the politicians who take their money and do their bidding. It had a hand in setting in motion the wheels of environmental destruction and human suffering. It was complicit in bringing extreme fossil fuel extraction onshore, into our communities, farmlands, and forests, and in blowing up the bedrock of our nation. And I can’t get over it.

So, here are some parting words from the former new Rachel Carson.

The path to salvation lies in reparations—not in accepting praise for overcoming the urge to commit the same crime twice. So shutter your doors. Cash out your assets. Don a backpack and hike through the gaslands of America. Along the way, bear witness. Apologize. Offer compensation to the people who have no drinkable water and can’t sell their homes. Whose farm ponds bubble with methane. Whose kids have nosebleeds and mysterious rashes. Write big checks to the people who are putting their bodies on the line in the fight to ban fracking, and to the grassroots groups that are organizing them.

Finally, go to Washington and say what the Sierra Club should have said in 2007: Fracking is not a bridge to the future. It is a plank on which we walk blindfolded at the point of a sword. There is no right way to do it. And the pirates are not our friends.


Sandra Steingraber

Sandra Steingraber, PhD, is the author of Living Downstream, published in second edition by Da Capo Press to coincide with the release of the documentary film adaptation.
Steingraber's latest book is Raising Elijah: Protecting Children in an Age of Environmental Crisis


Anonymous said...

So I guess Ms. Steingraber didn't don her backpack and hike through the mountains of Pennsylvania prior to any natural gas exploration and see ponds and rivers bubbling from methane.

She also fails to demonstrate one documented case of fracturing a well contaminating anything.

"Children killed in fiery wrecks with 18-wheelers hauling toxic fracing fluids", icy back roads. I guess nobody was ever involved in an accident prior to natural gas exploration? I know there was never an icy road in the hills of Pa prior to drilling. Maybe she should have done a comparison of how many people have died in natural gas related accidents and the icy back roads of PA.

The honeybees, black bears, the grapevines and apple orchards have all survived the coal industry just fine. In fact, miles of rivers continue to be contaminated from acid mine drainage that runs directly into rivers. Environmentalists (like this author) don't seem to care about this.

Just another example of the radical and uneducated more worried about civil disobedience, which seems to be just another word for worthless protest, than getting to the facts.

By the way Ms. Steingraber, what is your answer to the countries energy independence and job growth?

Anonymous said...

"Fails to demonstrate…." Did she NEED to mention Dimock? Or isn't that a 'fact' to you yet? If it's not, ask any of the residents who live there and had good, clear, drinkable water before the drilling.

"The honeybees, black bears…. …..have all survived the coal industry just fine." No they didn't, they survived DESPITE the coal industry, it's a testament to them, you idiot, not us!

"By the way……what's your answer to the countries energy independence and job growth?" It was the same in the 70s as it is now. Only in the 70s you were one of the redneck retards who laughed at solar and wind and nuclear and continued to drive your truck and SUV, the same as now. You'll die way before it really hits you, so why worry, right?

joated said...

I'm not sure which I've lost more respect for, the Sierra Club for hiding the donations from Cheasapeake it then used to combat coal, or Ms. Steingraber for her "Chicken Little" rant against the gas industry and fracking with zero proof.

Anonymous said...

12:26, funny how like Ms.Steingraber, you don't produce any facts.

Many of the old timers in Dimock will tell you the water prior to drilling was contaminated with methane. The EPA, everyone's final authority to slam the natural gas industry, has now even said the water is not above contaminated thresholds. Also, these residents you want me to ask, are they the same ones that took settlement offers but still continue to complain?

I believe the areas that constantly lead the state in black bear harvests are areas where coal mining was prevalent. I would say they have survived extremely well and will do the same with natural gas extraction.

It is not the same as the 70's. People did not learn anything from 40 years ago and now there is an answer to sending billions of dollars every day over seas.

I was an infant in the 70's and did not drive my SUV or truck.

As usual, people with no argument or answers just react with name calling. By the way, ask Japan how nuclear works and solar can only supply the nation with 15% of its energy needs at best.

Just goes to show you who the redneck retard is.

Anonymous said...

March 25, 2012 8:50:00 AM,I smell a gasgoon!
If you were from PA you would know the burden on taxpayers to re-mediate acid mine drainage continues,costing millions each year.It's not "fine."

We know this is not about energy independence,That cat has been let out of the bag months ago.It will be shipped overseas. Pennsylvania's underground gas storage is currently filled to capacity.

If you are blogging in defense of your job, that job comes at the expense of citizens who have already worked,earned money and invested in their land/homes...many have lost or will lose value due to well pads,compressor stations,condensate tanks,heavy truck traffic.
March 25, 2012 6:02:00 PM:
There are People living here in Potter who are off the grid, 100% solar.
If the solar industry were able to give campaign contributions as large as the gas industry... The Ed Council would be giving "how to build a solar panel" classes now.

Anonymous said...

Well junior, Clearfield and south is where the main coal activity was, and now its NOT good bear country. Potter, McKean and Lycoming. If you're thinking that development is good for the animals here, where did the elk, panthers, buffalo wolves etc go? Do you really think that developing natural areas is good for wild animals? Cause that's an indicator that you have no clue to what these animals need.
By the way, there's a limited amount of gas, maybe a hundred years for us. remember when the oil seemed like it wouldn't run out? Have you and the others like you not learned anything?
And no arguments or answers? LOOK at the post son, my god are you blind?
Arguing with stupid people is frustrating, you insult them for being ignorant and they say "You're calling names!" Well duh!!! If the shoe fits….

Anonymous said...

And I was talking about the people on video here that said their water was NOT contaminated before the drilling started.
Like a real know-it-all, you said that the 'old timers in Dimock will tell you….' How do you know!?!? Because you have all the answers, don't you? What about the chemicals that are showing up in addition to methane? You know, the ones the EPA said BEFORE were harmful, but NOW are saying they aren't? Sounds like the guy paying you is donating some cash to the EPA too, Gas Goon! HAHHAHAH GAS GOON, that's a good one!

Anonymous said...

What about all the damage these big trucks are doing to the roads too. I don't see any cop's doing any traffic stop's on excessive over weight trucks on weight posted roads.Isn't the PSP suppose to enforce this ? They enforce for stop sign and red light violation's but not posted weight limit sign's in Potter county ? Fox Hill Rd in Ulysses would be a goog place to start

Bear Hunter said...

LIBERALISM: Always generating the exact opposite of it's stated intent!!

Sandra says go to Washington, but if I do that, won't I be chastized for polluting the air since I'm not a liberal? We living beings just can't win!!

Anonymous said...

bear hunter 12:14 pm

.....what ????

did you sniff to many fumes or something ????