It was the worst of times. It was the worst of times.
Or so it seems lately in our country. Covid-19. Police brutality. The recession. And, in case anyone has forgotten, the climate keeps changing faster and faster. The temperature reached nearly 101 degrees Fahrenheit in Siberia last week, inside the Arctic Circle. That just flat out scares me.
And, like most of you, CCAN has been very busy on many fronts this spring and summer. In April, thanks to a Zoom comedy show, we raised nearly $3,000 for the Capital Area Food Bank. In June, we joined the Movement for Black Lives to fight against runaway police budgets and abuse against Black and Brown communities. And all the while we’ve maintained the fight against climate change in the Chesapeake region and nationwide while protecting our staff through work-at-home practices and safe protesting in the streets.
But here’s the thing: The only long-term solution to all of these problems is to elect competent leaders at the polls. And, you may have heard, there’s an election coming up in November – the most important in our lives. Which is why our sister organization, CCAN Action Fund, has launched a campaign to fight voter suppression everywhere and get everyone to vote. Won’t you join us by signing the “Fight to Vote” pledge?
Meanwhile, again, we’ve been busy on the climate front. In Virginia, we worked with an incredible coalition to help pass the Clean Economy Act, a bill that sets the state on a pathway toward 100% clean electricity while mandating the shutdown of all the states dirty fossil fuel power plants.
In Maryland, we’ve joined wind and solar advocates in asking the Public Service Commission to speed up development of offshore wind farms, land-based wind, and utility-scale solar projects. We were pleased when the PSC voted in June to approve the long-delayed Dan’s Mountain wind farm in Western Maryland. Now the commission must do more, especially for solar power.
Finally, in DC, we cheered on the filing of a historic lawsuit. On June 23rd, the Attorney General of the District of Columbia Karl Racine filed a consumer protection suit against ExxonMobil and several other oil giants. The suit demands the oil companies financially compensate DC residents for the harmful climate change impacts already underway. The flooding and heatwaves we’re seeing now were effectively created by decades of tobacco-like denial of the science on the part of the polluters. Similar cases have been filed nationwide. The tide is turning. We’ll keep you posted.
And before I go, I want to give a shout out to a new book by former CCAN employee and climate legend Ted Glick. His book “Burglar for Peace” chronicles his dramatic efforts during the Vietnam War to destroy selective service draft records, including his own draft card, and the subsequent trials and time in prison he spent for this righteous activism. It’s an amazing read with lessons for modern-day activists fighting against the violence of climate change and for the peace of clean power. Check it out.
I used to be a globe-hopping environmental activist. I went to climate change conferences in Montreal and Copenhagen. I travelled regionally, too, to Richmond and Annapolis, to harangue legislators. The travel made me part of the pollution problem, of course. But I bought “carbon offsets” to compensate, saving Amazon rainforests.
Now, like you, I’m quarantined. On the 50th anniversary of Earth Month, I occupy a roughly 10-square-block universe around my house. Yet I’ve discovered four new activities that give me the power to act locally – and I mean inside my house and neighborhood – while keeping global climate change at the center of my activist life.
So cue the drum roll. Here’s a summary of four cool activities I’m taking this Earth Month, followed by more details below. 1) I’m saving hundreds of local trees with my bare hands; 2) I’m writing hundreds of letters to out-of-state swing voters; 3) I’m riding a bike to protest Big Oil companies; and 4) – perhaps most important – I’m laughing a lot. I seek out laughter more than ever. My comedian friend Robert Mac reminds me that jokes can go viral too and that laughter is contagious. So we’re organizing the first-ever zoom comedy show to celebrate Earth Month and support a local food bank. Buy tickets here.
Now, in more depth, here are the four things that keep me sane and busy – and that might help you too:
EARTH MONTH ACTION #1: Saving hundreds of trees in my neighborhood – Every day I keep at least one tree, and sometimes as many as ten, from falling to the ground, decomposing, and making global warming worse.
It began with the biggest tree in my neighborhood, about 10 blocks from my house. That tree is at least 150 years old, a tulip poplar. I first noticed it from atop a high-rise office building where I live in Takoma Park, MD. The tree hovered in the distance, twice as tall as the rest of the urban canopy in my neighborhood, which overlaps Maryland and Washington, DC. It’s a magical tree, a giant at least 90 feet tall.
I set off one recent morning to see the tree up close. I take more walks in this world of social distancing. When I arrived at the corner of 6th and Butternut Streets, NW, I was both amazed and horrified. The tree’s trunk – 14 feet in circumference – was supporting a vast network of titanic branches shading much of the block.
But then I noticed the tragedy. The tree was being strangled to death. Half of its massive, godlike body was covered in, and choking from, English Ivy.
Multiple studies show that rising CO2 levels worldwide act as a “super fertilizer” to noxious weeds and vines like English Ivy and wisteria. But it took a viral pandemic to get me walking more and seeing the mass death these vines are bringing to my own neighborhood – and yours.
A few days later, my son Sasha and I needed only about 20 minutes to save the 150-year-old tree. With the permission of the homeowner (friendly but ivy “blind”) we used garden clippers and a simple pruning saw to remove a thick matt of ivy vines at the base of the tree, thus dooming the climbing vines above us. Twenty minutes to save a tree that’s been growing for one and a half centuries!!
Now I’m obsessed with saving trees from ivy. I hand out this educational flier at every house I see on my morning walks where trees are being choked. I estimate there are at least one thousand – one THOUSAND – trees dying from noxious weeds within ten blocks for my house, each of which can be rescued within a few minutes. My goal, this Earth Month, is to personally save 100 of them and to recruit my neighbors to save the rest.
That’s a total of 1000 tons of carbon dioxide sequestered over the lifetime of those trees, by the way – a ton per tree. My 100 trees alone offset my personal carbon footprint for about 10 years! I know we need to plant trees by the billions worldwide to help fight climate change. But we’ve got to save what we already have too. Won’t you join me during your own pandemic morning walks? Learn more here and here.
EARTH MONTH ACTION #2: Writing letters to potential voters in swing-state Pennsylvania – So this one’s a no-brainer. A nonprofit called Vote Forward allows you to personally write voters in several key states and encourage them to vote. Vote Forward targets folks in Democrat-leaning districts who historically have not voted. The process is super simple. You sign up. They send you as many letters as you want to write, with the voter’s name and address already displayed. You hand write your encouraging letter. Then you sit on the letters until October and mail them in. I’m in the process of writing 100 letters now to residents of Pennsylvania. Will you join me? You can also pick other target swing states like North Carolina and Texas.
EARTH MONTH ACTION #3: Riding a bike to draw attention to oily banks and dirty companies – Okay, for this one I’ve got to leave my neighborhood to get political. On April 30th, my friends at #ShutdownDC are planning a safe and creative bicycle action as part of their “Earth Day to May Day” series of activities. We’ll be keeping our distance, riding in pairs or solo, as we swing by the offices of some of the world’s worst climate criminals in Washington, DC. Sign up for more information on the bike ride here. If you just want to take in the activities by zoom, sign up here.
EARTH MONTH ACTION #4: Laughing and laughing. The first-ever CCAN comedy show to raise money for a local food bank — Now, more than ever, we need the medicine of laughter as we save Mother Earth. Every day, I find myself going out of my way to try to find humor in the world and share it with others. That’s why the Chesapeake Climate Action Network is so excited to sponsor DC-area comic Robert Mac and his hilarious show “Comedy Night for Earth Day.” It’s a one-hour Zoom comedy special that will premiere on Thursday, April 30th, 8 pm. Tickets are just $10. Proceeds go to the Capital Area Food Bank.
Robert Mac has a skill for bringing humor even to the topic of climate change, with laugh-out-loud results. Did you know, for example, that by switching to the metric system we can reduce future global warming in the U.S. from 7 degrees to 2 degrees? Overnight! Mac has been a grand prize winner of Comedy Central’s Laugh Riots and has been featured at the prestigious Just for Laughs festival in Montreal — among other honors. He is one of the best “environmental comics” in the nation. You can check out some of his “50 Ways” tips here. For every $10 ticket sale we donate, the Capital Area Food Bank will be able to feed 25 people in this time of need. So RSVP now and tell all your friends. CCAN is proud to host this first-ever online comic show devoted to climate humor and virus justice.
EARTH MONTH WRAP UP: So there you have it. Four ways to keep you busy fighting climate change super close to home during a global pandemic. And here’s a PS: On April 24th at noon ET, CCAN is also hosting a cool hour-long program of music, yoga, and activism via zoom as part of the Earth Day Live event streaming worldwide. Sign up for our program here. Learn more about Earth Day Live here.
In the meantime, stay safe, stay sane, stay active, and laugh whenever you can.
Cross-posted from CCAN Action Fund with permission and recompense.
House and Senate Pass “Virginia Clean Economy Act” on Tuesday, Feb 11
By Mike Tidwell
When it comes to clean energy policy, environmental activists nationwide commonly think of the Chesapeake Climate Action Network as true “climate hawks.” We sue polluters. We picket against companies like Dominion Energy. And when the time is right, our lobbying arm CCAN Action Fund, pushes HARD for transformative clean energy laws. Our collective actions over the past 18 years have led Bill McKibben of 350.org to call CCAN “the best regional grassroots climate group in the world.”
So when I tell you we strongly support the Virginia Clean Economy Act, it’s for one reason: It’s a strong and transformative bill. This legislation, which passed in both the House of Delegates and the Senate on Tuesday, February 11th, will now cross over to be heard in the opposite chamber. The goal is to get it to the Governor’s desk as soon as possible, where he says he wants to sign it.
CUTTING TO THE CHASE: This bill shuts down Dominion’s coal-fired power plants in a HURRY. It brings a tidal wave of wind and solar power to Virginia. And it protects low-income ratepayers with ironclad provisions.
Both House and Senate versions of the VCEA would effectively shut down ALL of Dominion’s coal plants by 2030. All of Virginia’s utility-owned gas plants – all of them – would shut down by 2045, but probably much sooner under this legislation. At the same time, the House and Senate bills will midwife the largest offshore wind farms in the nation and turbo charge the spread of both distributed rooftop solar power and properly sited solar farms. Both bills invest half a BILLION dollars in energy efficiency gains for low-income households over the next decade. And they cap the electric bills of low-income families at a guaranteed sustainable level, a game-changing move. Finally, despite the understandable suspicion (given history) that Dominion would only agree to a bill that gouges ratepayers, these bills contain bill-lowering competition for solar and wind projects that will keep prices down. The House bill, meanwhile, has even stronger mandates for energy efficiency gains to protect consumers.
WHO SUPPORTS THE BILL?
Before digging into the bill in greater depth, keep in mind that the Virginia Clean Economy Act is supported by the biggest clean energy coalition ever assembled not just in Virginia but perhaps in the nation. I say this from experience working across the mid-Atlantic and in much of the rest of the country. It is a sign of the times and a sign of the extraordinary work done in Virginia that virtually every major environmental group in the state, all the wind and solar companies operating in the state, and yes the main electricity polluters – Dominion and Appalachian Power Company – support either the Senate version of the bill or the House version. (Both bills make strong progress and will have a hearing in the opposite chamber soon). The supporters are too many to name here but they include Sierra Club, Virginia Interfaith Power and Light, CCAN Action Fund, Southern Environmental Law Center, Sigora Solar, Orsted wind, and many progressively run corporations in the state like the Mars candy company and Akamai Technologies. This type of coalition is unprecedented in a southern coal state, for sure, but virtually unheard of anywhere in the country. Again, for critics who suspect Dominion is just gaming the system with another anti-consumer bad energy bill, you would have to believe that all of the groups – including mine – have been deceived after weeks of negotiations and careful bill writing. The truth: these groups support the bill because the net positive effect is tremendous for Virginia.
250 people came to Richmond to lobby for the VCEA in January.
A DEEPER DIVE INTO WHAT THE VCEA DOES:
Creates New Ratepayer Protections to Keep Bills Low
The Virginia Clean Economy Act would provide half a billion dollars in home weatherization funds for low-income households. It requires half of the funds from the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative to help low-income residents invest in efficiency to keep bills low. The other half will go towards flooding assistance, with about $250 million earmarked for low-income communities.
The VCEA also creates Virginia’s first binding energy efficiency savings targets. Now, Dominion Energy will have to prove that their customers are using 5% less energy over a 2019 baseline by 2025. The savings target for ApCo is 2% of current load by 2025.
It also includes additional provisions to keep bills low for clean energy projects. On offshore wind, the bill requires Dominion to hold a competitive bidding process to find the company that will build the turbines for the best price. There’s also a cost ceiling to keep the cost of electricity low.
On solar, the bill will allow for up to 35% of the solar required in this bill to be owned by third party companies (i.e., not Dominion). This will allow for more competitive pricing on electricity from solar power. It also would utilize the “Percentage of Income Payment Plan” (PIPP) to cap energy bills for low-income ratepayers at a guaranteed affordable level.
Creates a Renewable Portfolio Standard
A Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS) is a state law that requires utilities to deliver a specified amount of renewable energy such as wind and solar to their customers. The VCEA requires 100% clean electricity by 2045 for Dominion Energy and 2050 for Appalachian Power Company (ApCo), with a benchmark of 30% renewable by 2030. Renewable energy is defined as electricity from wind, solar, falling water, and other in-state resources. For Dominion, 75% of all renewable energy must come from the Commonwealth in 2025 and beyond.
This bill creates the only mandatory RPS with a target of 100% clean energy in the South and one of the stronger versions of the law of any state in the country, putting the state within shouting distance of leading states like Maryland.
Expands Wind and Solar Energy
The VCEA would launch the largest offshore wind farms in America while turbo-charging the state’s solar industry. It establishes offshore wind as a substantial portion of the RPS as offshore wind comes online, and deploys 5,200MW by 2034, making Virginia a leader in offshore wind. It also includes labor provisions to require the use of local labor.
For distributed solar, it establishes rooftop solar as a portion of the RPS up to 1% annually beginning in 2021. It increases the cap on power purchase agreements to 500MW in Dominion territory and 40MW in ApCo service territories. It expands net metering by increasing the net metering cap to 6%, including 1% specifically set aside for low-to-moderate income communities, and allows larger projects to net meter. It also requires utilities to develop more than 16,000MW of renewable energy by 2035, equivalent to enough electricity for 3 million homes.
Key to the success of offshore wind and solar power is energy storage. The VCEA sets targets for energy storage of 3,100MW by 2035, including 2,700MW for Dominion and 400MW for ApCo. It also requires 10% of energy storage projects to be deployed directly “behind the meter” for power backups at hospitals, government facilities, and more.
Ends Fossil Fuel Emissions
The Virginia Clean Economy Act would shut down virtually all of Dominion’s coal-fired power plants by 2030, all biomass facilities by December 31, 2028 and the rest of the state’s fossil fuel power plants by 2045. This makes us the only state in the South with a mandate to shut down all fossil fuels.
While this House Bill does not create an outright moratorium on new fossil fuel development, it serves as a de facto moratorium on carbon-intensive electricity in Virginia by mandating a carbon-free grid by 2045 with exceptional interim goals by 2030. It also requires the Secretaries of Natural Resources and Commerce & Trade to report recommendations on how to achieve 100% carbon free electricity and fossil-fuel retirements. It bars the State Corporation Commission (SCC) from issuing new permits for power plants powered by fossil fuels until that study is received by the General Assembly.
Finally, it deters any utility spending on projects that do not help lower energy usage. Dominion will have to prove that they are meeting energy efficiency targets to lower overall energy usage before they are allowed to construct any new power plants powered by fossil fuels.
Advance Environmental Justice
Justice is incorporated into every aspect of the VCEA.
The ratepayer protection provisions were laid out above. Further, the bill requires the Virginia Department of Mines, Minerals and Energy and the Environmental Justice council to prepare a report to ensure VCEA doesn’t disproportionately burden minority and historically-disadvantaged communities. It includes language to ensure reliability is protected. And it sets the policy of the Commonwealth to consider low-income areas & historically disadvantaged communities when considering new renewable projects, energy programs, and job training. Finally, it requires utilities to consult with the Clean Energy Advisory Board on how best to inform low-income customers about their solar options.
This bill is not the end for the climate fight. We will have to come back for transportation, agriculture, and more, until every sector of the economy is in line with the science. But the facts speak for themselves: This bill will hold Dominion dramatically accountable on rates and fossil fuels emissions. This is the best first step on climate a state has ever taken.
The year 2019 began with the world in shock. Scientists said we had barely 10 years to cut carbon emissions in half if we wanted to avoid a full-on climate catastrophe. Then, just 12 months later, the year ended with Swedish schoolgirl and climate activist – Greta Thunberg – being named Time Magazine’s “person of the year.”
A lot happened in between. And the Chesapeake Climate Action Network is proud to have played our role, both regionally and nationally, in the climate movement with several major victories. As the year comes to an end, won’t you make a gift to keep us going? Honestly, we’re tired but inspired and soon-to-be-recharged to fight for more wins in the new year.
It’s clear that climate has now become a global issue. In 2019, the Sunrise Movement really took off, calling for a Green New Deal. Then climate activists in the UK shut down roads and airports to protest inaction there, declaring themselves the “Extinction Rebellion.” Their movement quickly spread to America. And throughout this year, Thunberg led students worldwide in “Fridays For Future” strikes, culminating in upwards of 8 million strikers across the world on September 20.
Our movement is BIG now. A full 76 percent of the US public believes climate change is a major problem, according to a recent Washington Post poll.
Now, what do we do about it? Well, in 2019, CCAN joined the mayor of Washington, DC in passing a 100% clean energy bill that will power Congress and the White House with wind and solar power by 2032. We passed the sweeping “Clean Energy Jobs Act” in Maryland. And we continued to work successfully to stop two major fracked-gas pipelines in Virginia.
Not to mention, we worked with U.S. Representatives Jamie Raskin (D-MD) and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) in grilling former ExxonMobil scientists in a hearing focused on the company’s 30-year effort to deny climate change and harm the public.
What’s next for us in 2020? A lot. Stay tuned for new campaigns for radical carbon reduction policies regionally and nationally. Plus more work to hold Exxon accountable.
For all I know, the old yellow mailbox was there on the porch on July 20th, 1969. The Takoma Park homeowners must have gotten letters from relatives and friends afterwards, everyone explaining where they were when astronauts first walked on the moon in black-and-white TV glory.
When I moved into the house in 1991, the aged, free-standing mailbox was still there, at the top of the porch stairs. For nearly two decades it remained. Then, about ten years ago, something odd happened. Bigger and bigger storms – including the 2011 Derecho — kept blowing the unattached mailbox (and lawn chairs) right off the porch. I put a stone in the back of the mailbox but the winds got stronger still. Last year I finally gave up and screwed in a new mailbox directly into the porch wall.
As extreme weather stories go, I’m lucky. I don’t have the surprise cascades of water flooding my basement or trees pancaking whole rooms like many Washingtonians. But here’s the truth: We all have climate stories now.
And so this week, as we mark the 50th anniversary of the first moonwalk, many people are thinking much more about the planet Earth than the faraway moon. So much has changed here at home since those first “Earthrise” photos appeared from Apollo. The massive, white polar ice caps, seen in the late 1960s through wispy clouds on an otherwise blue planet, have substantially disappeared. “It’s like looking at your ‘60s high school yearbook photo compared to who you are now,” says author and activist Bill McKibben. “That old Earth is long gone.”
What a leap of sci-fi imagination it would have taken for those 1969 Americans, so full of optimism and technological hope, to see us now: Washingtonians in July 2019 scrambling to the roofs of their cars to avoid drowning after six inches of rain fell in some places in one hour. The same city experiencing a heat index approaching 115 degrees by the end of July. Shopkeepers, meanwhile, in Annapolis and Norfolk and worldwide, boarding up waterside shops because those same blue oceans – so serene from space – are now massively swelling and crashing into continents. And across the DC area, beginning about ten years ago, varieties of the heat-loving Palmetto tree are now able to grow year round.
The same scientific method that got us to the moon has, for the past 50 years, been telling us the planet will warm and unravel if we keep using fossil fuels. Yet here we are today, still with no inspired national strategy – no 10-year moonshot plan — to solve the problem in the few years scientists say we have left to try.
Core blame, of course, rests with the oil companies like ExxonMobil who have funded climate-denying politicians and think thanks to confuse and lie to the public. But one day soon, to the sound of investigative gavels pounding on Capitol Hill, those same companies will wish they were the tobacco industry based on the staggering health implications and legal liabilities of their deception.
More immediately and locally, I worry about the media coverage of this crisis. Climate-enhanced Lyme disease is skyrocketing (I’ve suffered for ten years). Local vinyards are shutting down due to devastating early blooms. And, god, the flash flood warnings – beeping and flashing — blow up our phones almost daily. And yet the coverage in the Washington Post and elsewhere – while growing – is patently insufficient in volume and in connect-the-dots context. Yes, Post cartoonist Tom Toles’ keeps it real with his near-weekly focus on the irony and urgency of climate disruption. But shouldn’t every reporter and nearly every columnist be covering the issue with Tolesian frequency and urgency? Baltimore Sun columnist Dan Rodricks, a lifelong fisherman who has seen his favorite rivers and bays physically changed by global warming, recently pledged that one-third of all his columns will henceforth relate to climate change in some way. “What story is bigger than this?” Rodricks asks.
Finally and sadly on this moon walk anniversary, here’s a message for Washington Post owner Jeff Bezos: stop investing in space travel. Bezos’ quixotic company Blue Origin won’t be colonizing space anytime soon if that fragile, original experiment with organized life shuts down on the only blue planet we know. Better to put those billions of dollars into expanded Post coverage of the climate crisis and into direct financial investments in a moon-shot plan to electrify the Earthly economy with wind and solar power within the decade.
Finally, finally: If I could write a hopeful letter to the 2069 inhabitants of my home – both the Takoma Park ones and the planetary occupants – what would I say? Here’s what: “Happy 100th anniversary of the moon walk. Thank god we learned the right lesson – in time.”
Mike Tidwell is director of the Chesapeake Climate Action Network
Dear Friends, Did you know that one in five Americans now live in a city or a state that is legally committed to reaching 100% clean energy in the next few years? Let that sink in for a moment. There’s been a total sea change of support for climate action across the country. And much of that action is taking place right here in Maryland, Virginia, and Washington DC. Thanks to CCAN supporters like you, we helped pass two transformative clean energy policies just within less than six months. Now, as the new CCAN fiscal year kicks off, I hope you’ll consider making a donation so we can keep fighting for policies that match the urgency of the climate crisis. Most recently, on April 8th, the Maryland Clean Energy Jobs Act became law. This policy will convert half of the state’s electrical grid to renewable power by 2030 and create a pathway to 100% clean power soon after that. This happened just four months after elected leaders in the District of Columbia passed a local bill mandating 100% renewable electricity by 2032. Both states are now aligning themselves with the goals set by the world’s top climate scientists to reduce carbon emissions. And CCAN is now building the momentum to pass a strong carbon cap in Virginia, and setting the stage for a groundbreaking clean electricity policy in that state too. At the federal level this year, we worked with US Senator Chris Van Hollen of Maryland and Congressman Don Beyer of Virginia to re-introduce the Healthy Climate and Family Security Act. We are also working with Representatives Jamie Raskin (MD) and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (NY) to increasingly draw attention to the role of oil companies in historically denying climate change science. Through all of this, one thing remains clear. As long as President Donald Trump blocks climate action at the federal level, states will continue to have to take the lead, and we are proud to be a part of this exciting movement of state climate action. The situation, meanwhile, could not be more urgent. Here are some more big numbers for you:
415 ppm: In mid-May, atmospheric carbon dioxide levels reached 415 parts per million, a level never seen in human history.
1 million species: A recent United Nations report stated that 1 million species globally are at risk of extinction, many within the next couple of decades.
11 years: We have 11 years left to cut global greenhouse gas emissions in half.
While we are reading these gloomy headlines, it is important to also acknowledge the positives. New polling shows that Americans are waking up to the climate crisis, with climate change moving higher on their radar for the 2020 election — and candidates are taking notice. Some have already released their climate change strategies, a stark difference from 2016. No matter what, know that CCAN will continue to push for change and to take back the driver’s seat from utility and oil companies. All of our work would not be possible without your support, so thank you for all that you do for CCAN, our region, and our planet. Sincerely, Mike Tidwell
To fully understand the unbearable insanity of Dominion Energy’s plan to build the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, you’ve got to come here to Bath County, Virginia to see it. I arrived June 29th with half a dozen other activists to launch a colorful, determined and transparent camp of protest designed to last all summer long with hundreds of people like you. When I got here, I promptly set up my tent among 300- and 400-year old sugar maples, basswoods and hickory trees. Bill and Lynn Limpert, staunch foes of Dominion’s $6 billion pipeline for fracked gas, own one of the most pristine stands of old-growth forests in all of Virginia. Some of the trees are as old as 500 years old. The jaw-dropping hardwood growth covers most of a 3000-foot-long Appalachian ridge that the Limperts appropriately call “Miracle Ridge.” For perspective, there are no old-growth forests like this anywhere in Shenandoah National Park, a crown jewel of the US National Park System. Let that sink in. The Limperts’ 120 acres in Bath County, now in the direct pathway of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, is as pristine and wondrous as any forest in the state. Dominion wants to cut it all down and blow up all of Miracle Ridge — the whole ridge — for the pipeline. I’ve been lucky in my life. I’ve seen the great Sequoias of California, the Baobabs of Africa, the towering tea trees of Western Australia. But there’s a special magic to the Limperts’ ancient forest. Backpack in tow, I first visited “Ona,” a 300-year-old sugar maple who would be one of the first trees Dominion cuts down. Ona, an old Lithuanian name, has a staggering 15-foot circumference. You stand at her base and look up and see a seemingly infinite expanse of massive, gentle branches cradling entire ecosystems of birds and epiphyte plants and harboring the soft sound of leaves stirring from gentle summer winds. In Ona’s presence, you look up, you look down. Your feet stop moving. You sigh. You want to cry…with a joy you cannot name. You feel the past and the future all at the same time. And you feel utterly present in the miracle reach of this tree almost too big NOT to be a dream. Ona is just a 10-minute walk from the Limperts’ mountain home. I hope you’ll come see her and this land sometime this summer. The Limperts — Bill 71, Lynn 63 — are inviting concerned people like you and me from across Virginia and the region to come pitch a tent on their soft grass around their home at 3,200 feet of elevation, with a view of vast mountain ranges to the north. It’s a very comfortable place to visit. There’s a wide porch with tables for outdoor cooking. There’s a Jiffy John on the edge of the meadow. You bask in the view, make new friends, drink coffee. You can drive your car right to the home and camp comfortably no matter what your age and how many kids you have. Or you can walk along a marked trail and camp right in the pipeline right of way, among the giant trees of Miracle Ridge. That’s what I did, with my new friend Jerrod who found the camp online and drove over from Richmond. As the last light of day left the sky, I sat in a camp chair on the ridge and watched all the trees come alive around me, in magical dark silhouettes. They seem even bigger at night, with a soft riot of June fireflies all around them under a full moon and a blanket of stars. How could an energy company — or any company at all — believe that it is right to destroy this ridge and these trees to transport violently drilled fracked gas that will further warm our planet? Bill Limpert, the friendly, soft-spoken, guitar-playing steward of this land is inviting anyone who cares to come see the forest in person, to spend time as his guest and be part of the biggest environmental fight now going on in Virginia. As Bill says, “A picture is worth a thousand words, but a visit is worth a thousand pictures.” Please come and join us any time between now and early September.Come for a day hike or come for several days of glorious, convenient, and meaningful camping. Get your picture taken with Ona and share it on social media. Come be part of the back porch letter-writing campaign. Help us invite Governor Northam and members of the State Water Control Board to personally see what their actions or inactions could allow to happen.
I’ll leave you with more words from Bill Limpert. A reporter asked him why he was forming this summer protest camp on his property. “Lynn and I want to save these glorious trees, of course,” he said. “We want to save the ridge and protect the water of our state. But more than anything, we want to use this camp and this pipeline to protest and stop the calamity of climate change. Lynn and I are not youngsters. We’re retired and getting up there in years. But it is our full intention to outlive the fossil fuel industry.” Let that one sink in too. Don’t you want to be part of this peaceful, principled, spirited fight we’re putting up? Come join “No Pipeline Summer: Camp to Save the Limperts’ Land.” I’ll see you there.
It’s a cliché for nonprofit leaders to say to supporters: “We have NEVER needed you more than right now!” But in the case of the Chesapeake Climate Action Network and YOU, it’s really true: We have never, ever, ever needed you more than right now.
That’s because the extreme weather of climate change is all around us. The little town of Ellicott City, Maryland just got wiped out by the second “1000-year” flood in less than two years. The chances of that happening are one in a million. Large parts of DC, meanwhile, have flooded in recent days due to record rains, and Virginia’s coastline continues to get pounded by the march of higher and higher seas.
Meanwhile, the dirty energy industry is growing more extreme too. Companies like Dominion Energy and TransCanada continue to promote radical fossil fuel development in our region. Dominion is planning to decapitate entire mountain ridgelines in Virginia for construction of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline for fracked gas. And TransCanada, with the unconscionable assistance of Governor Larry Hogan, is planning to plow a fracked-gas pipeline across Maryland and under the Potomac River. Besides the climate harm from burning fracked gas, the TransCanada pipeline could harm the drinking water of all 680,000 residents of the District of Columbia.
But that’s where you come in. Our goal at CCAN is to always give you an “on ramp” in the fight against dirty energy companies. And we tell you how to fight for alternatives, like clean wind and solar power. In DC, you can help pass a historic “carbon fee.” In Maryland, you can help double wind and solar power in Maryland. And in Virginia, you can push the Commonwealth to cap carbon pollution from power plants while investing in energy efficiency and climate-friendly farming techniques.
Is the weather strange where you live? Have you grown tired of pipeline companies who want to take your land or trample through your region? Are you impatient with politicians who aren’t feeling the urgency of climate change enough to really fight hard for clean energy?
Then, as I said at the start, we have never needed you more. Please do what you can to help the movement. Ask your friends to sign up for our email list. Attend an upcoming event. Make a donation. And make a difference.
Photo at the top via Flickr user Stacker with a Creative Commons license.
The biggest regional land-clearing project since the federal highway program of the 1960s is now underway in Virginia and West Virginia. Fracked-gas companies Dominion Energy and EQT have been chain-sawing wide swaths of forests to make room for the Mountain Valley and Atlantic Coast pipelines (MVP and ACP). In the process, the companies are destroying ecosystems, ruining human livelihoods, and shocking the public’s conscience. And they’re just getting started. Here’s the plot twist: Communities are fighting back…and winning! Young people have bravely tied themselves to treetops to stop the MVP chainsaws in parts of Virginia and West Virginia. (You gotta, gotta, gotta watch this video). And a sympathetic local judge has made a surprise ruling in their favor, as you’ll see below. And just yesterday, a 61-year-old mother of three took to a tree on Virginia’s Poor Mountain to protest the pipeline for “as long as it takes.” Then last week, in a stunning move, a key federal regulator told Dominion Energy to put away the ACP chainsaws completely until at least late summer. Why? The de-facto message from the feds: No corporation can ignore restrictions meant to protect vulnerable migratory birds just to satisfy nervous company executives and shareholders who see the rising protests and an ACP construction schedule that is falling further and further behind! But it’s not all good news. Despite Governor Ralph Northam’s promise to hold these pipelines to the “highest environmental standards,” the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality late last week approved final and flawed environmental plans for construction of the 303-mile-long Mountain Valley Pipeline. About the same time, in one of the most heartbreaking moments yet, the MVP companies ripped down a wide stretch of forest trees on the property of George Jones. George is a wheelchair-bound Korean War veteran whose Giles County land has been in his family for ten generations. This Facebook post will make you cry. Meanwhile, of the 600-mile path for the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, Dominion has already clear-cut about 200 miles of land the width of a six-lane highway across parts of West Virginia and Virginia. And the company doesn’t even HAVE its final approval from Virginia regulators. Talk about arrogant! But then, on March 28, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission refused Dominion’s behind-schedule plea to keep cutting trees during the critical migratory season for such birds as the red-tailed hawk and cerulean warbler. Defending the birds as well as endangered bat habitat, FERC said there can be no more tree cutting until late August at the soonest, giving protesters more time to make their public case against this reckless pipeline. That’s why we are asking all Virginians to sign up to be part of a “watchful army” of citizen monitors tracking every single move the pipeline companies make on the ground. What is the “watchful army”? The largest and best organized program we’ve ever heard of that is dedicated to supporting citizen efforts to monitor pipeline construction and operations on the ground and from the air. The brainchild of legendary Virginia activist Rick Webb, anyone concerned about harm from the ACP can sign up to be part of the Compliance Surveillance Initiative. Along the MVP route, groups have launched Mountain Valley Watch to monitor every step that EQT takes. The efforts will involve hundreds of volunteer observers across Virginia and West Virginia monitoring construction and reporting any violations. Citizen pilots are already flying planes above clear-cutting activities with high-resolution cameras. Activists on the ground are launching all manner of drones to get even closer with photos and video. The result? Photographs of apparent construction, erosion, and tree-cutting violations have already been submitted to the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality for investigation. And notices of violations have already been issued against Dominion, with fines likely to follow. It’s always been unclear just how Dominion and EQT can remove the tops of entire mountain ranges for their pipelines (yes, that’s their plan) and stay within state and federal regulations for environmental protection. With legions of people like you watching their every move, the answer may be this: they can’t. Don’t forget to watch this video of the “tree sitters” on Peters Mountain in West Virginia, protesting the MVP tree cuts. When the pipeline companies tried to get Monroe County Circuit Court judge Robert Irons to remove the protestors, the judge said this: “There is no showing that there is a national shortage of gas, an emergency requiring immediate need of delivery of gas…or some other factor causing irreparable harm.” In fact, the judge continued, the public’s interest is more closely aligned with the tree-sitters. The protestors “generally represent the interest of the public and the environment, such as the interest in protecting the waters underlying Peters Mountain, its flora and fauna, its view shed, the Appalachian Trail and similar interests that will or may be destroyed, if this request for a preliminary injunction is granted.” Let those words sink in for a moment. It’s the beautiful sound of the TRUTH, spoken from someone whose sworn responsibility is to judge right from wrong. The protestors absolutely DO represent the public interest – against climate change, against greed, against harm to innocent farmers and landowners, against damage to drinking water. Which is why MORE tree-sitting protests are being planned even as we speak, all along the MVP and ACP routes. Again, read this story and watch this interview with 61-year-old “Red” perched in a tree on Poor Mountain. Here’s the bottom line: You can’t build a pipeline if you can’t cut the trees. And even if you can cut the trees, what comes next is unprecedented in American history: trained citizen observers with clipboards, phones, planes, and even drones will watch every step the companies take. The question remains: Can any company actually construct radical pipelines – 42 inches thick – over steep mountain ridges and under delicate mountain streams while actually following the law? Or will dedicated citizens like you and me – committed to justice and environmental sanity – stop the companies in their tracks? Now, the movement needs YOU. There are two things you can do:
No one would have guessed it in November, but 2017 has turned out to be the best year on record for the Chesapeake Climate Action Network. After 15 years of hard work – partnering with local activists like you in Maryland, Virginia, and DC – our efforts are paying off with stunning wins this year. And Donald Trump is actually helping. For years, many people thought it would take a huge natural disaster of epic proportion to wake Americans up to the dangers of climate change. It turns out that the massive political disaster of Donald Trump is having a similar effect. As writer Bill McKibben recently observed, no president in US history has unified more Americans to fight FOR clean energy and AGAINST climate change than President Trump. Withdrawing from the Paris climate accord was tragic. Dismantling much of the EPA’s work is horrifying. But when it comes to Maryland, Virginia and DC – and many other enlightened states nationwide – the climate movement is now accelerating at warp speed. Seriously. Want proof? VIRGINIA: Democratic Governor Terry McAuliffe – a foot-dragger on climate issues for three years – announced in May that he will finally impose a hard cap on carbon emissions from power plants by the end of this year. It’s a huge victory, and CCAN led the fight for three years demanding that McAuliffe impose such a carbon cap per his legal authority. But then Donald Trump came along and, according to McAuliffe himself, it sealed the Governor’s decision to finally do the right thing. We set the table, darkness gathered at the national level, then a southern coal state moved toward an historic solution. Thank you Governor McAuliffe…and P.S., you’ve got to stop supporting oil drilling and fracked-gas pipelines in Virginia too! MARYLAND: Republican Governor Larry Hogan stunned the entire nation in March by supporting an outright legislative ban on fracking in the state. For seven years, activists pushed for a bill to prevent violent fracking for gas. We rallied. We marched. We went to jail. Then a fracking ban finally became law in 2017 with bipartisan support. Why? The hard work and vision of citizens like you set the table. Plus, Hogan’s own polling showed that Marylanders’ support for a fracking ban INCREASED with every day that Republican Donald Trump talked about drilling everywhere and burning everything. We were ready. Trump provided a spark that was dangerous to the planet AND Governor Hogan’s political future, and the tides of change moved faster than anyone expected. Everything came together. And not just on a fracking ban. Maryland legislators in 2017 significantly expanded support for wind and solar power, and adopted a nation-leading energy efficiency law for electricity. Then, in a coup de gras, the state’s Public Service Commission in May approved development of two major offshore wind farms off the Maryland coast. What a year! Since January, we’ve had more energy victories in Maryland than during the previous five years combined! DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA:
We’ve seen staggering advances at the local level in DC over the past 12 months. Last July, before Trump’s election, the DC Council passed a 50% clean electricity standard for the city, making DC a national leader in clean power. Since then, CCAN has been leading a snowballing campaign to pass a “carbon fee-and-rebate” bill for the city. The initiative, now supported by dozens of faith, business, justice, and environmental groups, would force polluting companies in DC to pay for every ton of carbon dioxide they emit and then rebate the lion’s share of the revenue back to all DC residents in a way the INCREASES the net income of low- and moderate-income residents.The policy would also expand the city’s economy, create jobs, and reduce carbon emissions by 23%. Again, in the first year of the Trump Administration, momentum behind this “Climate and Community Reinvestment Act” for the District has mushroomed. What better way to “resist” in DC, after all, than to send carbon-priced electricity and gas to the White House whether they want it or not? Stay tuned. MOVING FORWARD: Revolutionary change is underway all across our region on clean energy. Six months ago, stunned by Trump’s election, none of us at CCAN could have predicted the progress we’ve seen in Maryland, Virginia and DC. At the national and international levels, what’s happening on climate is truly depressing. But in America, achievements at the state level are, in the long run, more resilient victories. No single president or Congress can come along in the future and undo clean energy laws in all 50 states. Trump is forcing us to build a deeper, more resilient, and more grassroots movement – and to do it with lightning quickness. But we cannot rest on our recent laurels. We now have to push even harder to fulfill our responsibilities to the world, to make up for the losses on climate at the national level, and to provide leadership – right here in Virginia, Maryland, and DC – to the world. In 2018, we need to DOUBLE the mandate for wind and solar power in Maryland. This year, we need to block Gov. McAuliffe’s massive fracked-gas pipelines in Virginia. And right now, we need to show the world that America’s capital city can tax carbon pollution, reduce income inequality, and create jobs all at the same time. Sound good? Are you fired up? Then stay involved and stay busy. The planet needs you more than ever. On we go, Mike Tidwell
Photo at the top from Flickr user Becker1999 with a Creative Commons license.