A Growing (and Winning) Climate Movement

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Sierra Club Blog

A Growing (and Winning) Climate Movement

(Photo: 2014 People's Climate March)

The growing rallying cry of the climate movement, to keep fossil fuels in the ground, is taking hold, and not just in the form of chants and headlines, but in the form of cancelled gas pipelines, rejected LNG terminals, shelved lease sales – all of which would’ve perpetuated the fossil fuel status quo, but which faced mounting and unprecedented public opposition. Emboldened by the successful campaign against the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline and motivated by the growing scientific consensus that we must keep at least 80% of fossil fuel reserves in the ground if we hope to avoid a climate disaster, communities are increasingly pushing back against fossil fuel projects that would not only threaten their backyards, their water, and their health, but threaten our very ability to maintain a livable planet.  

And this movement is winning. People are standing up and saying no to projects that would’ve once been deemed inevitable - such as the fracked gas pipelines across the east - with mounting vigor. We saw thousands of concerned individuals join rallies, offer comments, give testimony, formally intervene in the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) process, and engage in protests to demand that these projects be stopped and that the dirty fuels they would’ve carried stay in the ground. We’re also seeing a growing number of landowners and decision makers oppose corporations’ use of eminent domain to seize private property.  And we’re seeing a mounting disgust with company’s bullying and badgering tactics – tactics they admit they’re more likely to use on low-income communities (such as Range Resources CEO’s statement last month that they avoid “big houses” when placing new fracking wells) and over the objection of communities that have demanded local control (the Colorado Supreme Court’s decision is just one more alarming indication of the lengths to which fossil fuel companies are willing to go to force polluting projects on communities – even in places where those very communities have already said ‘NO’). People are fed up, and they’re pushing back.

And it’s working. Over the past few months, momentum has been building.

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Here are just a few of the polluting projects that have been squashed in the face of mounting public opposition and a burgeoning cry to keep it in the ground:

St. Clair River pipeline proposal – withdrawn 4/28/16. Facing mounting public opposition, Texas-based LPG services dropped its bid to use a pair of 98-year old pipelines beneath the St. Clair River to transport oil. Notable Michigan decision-makers had joined the public outcry against this dangerous proposal, including Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette and Representatives Candice Miller (R-10th) and Debbie Dingell (D-12th).

Constitution fracked gas pipeline - rejected 4/22/16. New York Governor Cuomo rejected a necessary 401 water quality certification permit for this pipeline that would’ve brought fracked gas from Pennsylvania across New York. This is likely a final blow for this pipeline, which faced heightened scrutiny and opposition over the years its application has been before federal and state decision-makers. Horrifically, last month the company used eminent domain in Pennsylvania to go in and cut trees along the right-of-way, including syrup trees on the Hollerans’ property, even though they didn’t have all necessary permits.

Northeast Energy Direct - cancelled 4/20/16. Kinder Morgan announced it was dropping its bid for the $3B gas pipeline that would’ve brought fracked gas from Pennsylvania across the Northeast. This controversial project caught a lot of attention, with thousands of concerned citizens formally intervening against the project in the FERC process, and offering so many comments that the FERC comment cite crashed in December. In response to the overwhelming public opposition, many national and regional decision makers coming out against it, including the Massachusetts Attorney General, who commissioned a report showing the project wasn’t needed.  

Takoma methanol terminal - cancelled 4/19/16. Amidst widespread public criticism of the project, the Chinese company backing this massive methanol terminal in Takoma, WA dropped its proposal for a refinery to turn gas into methanol before shipping it to Asian markets for making consumer products (mostly plastics).

Georgia legislature passes eminent domain moratorium bill – passed 3/23/16. Amidst growing controversy over the Palmetto oil pipeline, opposed by environmentalists and conservative landowners alike, the Georgia statehouse passed a bill that would revoke the right of oil companies to use eminent domain for their pipelines – potentially delaying or blocking the controversial oil pipeline projects through this state.

Atlantic Coast Offshore Drilling – removed from Department of Interior plan 3/15/16.  In March, the Administration released their 5 year plan for offshore drilling, which identifies which areas in federal waters will be open to oil and gas drilling. In a move responsive to the thousands who rallied against offshore drilling along the Atlantic Coast, the Administration entirely removed the Atlantic Ocean from this plan, protecting it from the threat of offshore drilling, at least for now. The incredible activism of Atlantic communities included those who organized resolutions opposed to drilling in over 100 towns along the coast from New Jersey to Florida.  

Oregon LNG terminal – cancelled 3/15/16.  The cancellation of the Oregon LNG proposal came on the heels of FERC’s rejection of the Jordan Cove LNG terminal proposal. The company behind the Oregon project cited low prices and a lack of customers for their product, but opposition to the project had also delayed their ability to secure necessary state permits.

Jordan Cove LNG terminal and associated Pacific Connector Pipeline - rejected 3/12/16. FERC issued its first-ever rejection of an LNG terminal in March when it denied the proposal for the Jordan Cove LNG terminal and linked Pacific Connector Pipeline in Oregon. The denial stated the project was not in the public interest because benefits of the project did not outweigh harms, pointing specifically to potential negative impacts to landowners along the route of the pipeline. Thousands had commented on and rallied against this project, including many landowners along the route, the vast majority of which has refused to sign easement agreements with the company.

Atlantic Coast Pipeline - Forest Service permit denied 1/22/16. This proposal would bring fracked gas across Virginia and North Carolina. Although the Forest Service denied this particular route permit and there is growing public opposition to the project, the company is currently exploring a new route and still actively pursuing the project.  

Federal coal leasing – halted 1/15/16. In January, President Obama announced that he was instituting a moratorium on federal coal leases or expansions of existing leases while the Department of the Interior conducts a programmatic environmental impact statement to assess the impacts of the federal coal leasing program to the climate. Currently about 40% of US coal extraction comes from public lands. This move came after years of public pressure from a diverse coalition of groups opposed to coal leasing on public lands.

Yes, the low price of gas and oil played a role in the cancellation of many of these projects – and these projects may even rear their ugly heads again, particularly as prices rise. But the longer we can delay, the longer we avoid the carbon lock-in that comes with new fossil fuel infrastructure, the more time we allow for clean energy to expand, for our movement of concerned citizens to grow and to successfully educate decision-makers on the reality of the climate crisis, that’s more time we have to educate the decision makers on the fact that we don’t have to choose between a healthy environment and a healthy economy – and that families shouldn’t have to choose between a good paying job and a pipeline that may explode in their neighborhood. Clean energy is adding more jobs than many other sectors of our economy – in fact, the solar industry was adding jobs at a rate 12 times faster than the overall economy last year. We can meet the commitments our countries came together and made in Paris last year, but we can’t do it if we let the fossil fuel companies continue to run the show, if we let agencies continue to rubber stamp polluting projects.  We hope you’ll join us, to object to the gas pipelines, the coal mines, the oil trains, and demand a better way – together, we can keep it in the ground.

Lena Moffitt

Lena Moffitt is the director of the Sierra Club's Dirty Fuels campaign.

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