Sierra Club

Release date: August 2, 2013 (Editor: Rick Nunno)

New Communications Committee Spreads the Word (By Tristan Fowler and Rick Nunno)

Our Sierra Club Chapter has begun a new, exciting committee to complement the work of our other committees and help promote environmental discussion throughout the District. After many interested volunteers expressed interest in becoming active in this committee, several members, both veteran leadership and fresh faces, are joining up to lead a new Communications Committee.  The Committee is developing a coherent communications strategy that will include the management of our website, the production of our newsletter, the delivery of targeted emails to members, and the management of our social media accounts. The goal is to communicate to our members and the DC community all the work that the Chapter is doing, along with informing the DC community about local and important environmental issues.

New Committee Chair

Tristan Fowler.JPG

Leading the efforts of the new committee is the newly elected Communication Committee Chairperson Tristan Fowler. Graduating with a journalism degree from Ithaca College, where he worked on the editorial board of the school's award-winning student newspaper, The Ithacan, Fowler has expanded his professional experience by blogging about environmental issues and national and community service. He is excited to join the leadership team with the DC Sierra Club and use his expertise in organization, media and messaging to lead a diverse group of writers and communicators, to win environmental campaigns, and to open the minds of our readership to all the environmental stories happening in the District. The Sierra Club possesses a variety of messaging tools, and through organization and teamwork, the new communications committee will engage its members and the District readership.

New Website

A central part of our communications overhaul will be a newly designed website, which is being led by our veteran webmaster, Brad Green.  The new website will have a more open format with the content management system, Drupal, provided by Sierra Club National. It will be the go-to resource for all our current and future members and donors who want to understand our issues, our candidates and our campaigns, will have a number of advantages over the current system, such as: 

  • being easier for more people to update content on the site,
  • allowing users to comment on postings to the site,
  • being easier to find information,
  • providing access to a national calendar of events, so users can find out what is happening at national and at other chapters,
  • having a blog (or blog-like) feature that allows approved users to post (which they can currently do) and others to comment on posts, and
  • having the ability to store archived material.

With the website as the central repository of all of our communications efforts, we can ensure that our communications are synthesized, up to date, and consistent across platforms (newsletter, social media, targeted emails) and with the Sierra Club's overall goals and mission. 

Continuing and Strengthening Ongoing Efforts

You are already familiar with some of our traditional formats for communications, as you are currently reading our newsletter. In the future, we plan to publish this newsletter six times a year, about every two months. Our veteran editor Rick Nunno will continue to lead the effort to produce this high-quality, information-packed newsletter. 

We will also increase our use of both social media and more engagement with journalists and news media. We have several new faces to the Sierra Club (Logan Hollers, Joey Firman, and Matt Gravatt), who are jumping into the world of Twitter and Facebook with gusto and enthusiasm.

We will continue to coordinate closely with National Sierra Club staff to utilize the materials that they prepare on various national campaigns, and to help us developing our local campaigns.  National staff provides periodic training sessions on various media activities, such as outreach, messaging, developing creative and written materials, social media, and pitching to TV and radio.  We'll also work on learning how to use other online tools available from national, such as Vocus (a database of local media contacts), Clubhouse (a repository of various information for Sierra Club members), and Convio (a system for email outreach to members).

Brenna Muller will continue to serve in the critical role of Outreach Coordinator for the Chapter, which includes engaging Chapter members and volunteers, tracking membership levels, and coordinating Chapter programs, meetings and other events.

Many new ideas are following around the table at our Communications Committee, and it's an exciting time to get involved. If you would like to join or be a part of this new committee, we are looking for writers, editors, graphic designers, web gurus, social media enthusiasts, and anyone with a mind for media. If you have a neat idea or a special expertise that you would like to try out, please contact Brenna Muller, our Chapter Outreach Coordinator at 202-548-4581 or


Energy Committee Educates the Public with Smart Grid Forum (by Rick Nunno and Amy Weinfurter)

Smart Grid

Under the leadership of Larry Martin, the Energy Committee hosted a well-attended forum on June 26 to discuss the benefits and challenges of DC's transition to the smart grid, the new system for electricity delivery being developed by power companies around the country.  The first speaker was Eric Lightner, from the U.S. Department of Energy's Office of Electricity Delivery and Energy Reliability. Eric described the current infrastructure for electricity delivery in the United States, and explained how utility companies are upgrading their transmission and distribution systems to accommodate inputs from renewable energy sources such as wind and solar photovoltaic cells.  The smart grid enables a two-way electricity flow by utilizing digital smart meters that measure how much electricity is generated by solar panels at residential and business locations.  Over 40 million U.S. customers now have smart meters installed, providing two-way communications between customers and utility companies. Along with measuring the amount of electricity generated by solar panels installed on homeowners' roofs, smart meters keep track of the reductions to subscriber's electricity bill and provide real-time customer outage information to help utility companies restore electricity more quickly and prevent cascading power outages.  Eric also described several other related programs, such as the Green Button initiative, which provides customers with a method of securely downloading easy-to-understand energy usage information from their electricity supplier.

The next speaker was Dan Delurey, Executive Director of the Association for Demand Response and Smart Grid.  Dan explained that wind typically blows at night while the energy it produces is used during the day, increasing the need for energy storage.  Using demand response techniques, the smart grid will help alleviate some of the peak demand by helping customers use electricity during times when its price is lower (such as programming washing machines and dishwashers to go on at night when prices decline).  Consumers can save money and utility companies avoid having to build larger capacity delivery systems that are only needed during peak demand times. 

Then Laurence Daniels, Litigation Director at the DC Office of People's Counsel, discussed what the smart grid is likely to mean for DC consumers.  Laurence tied the discussion to the experience of the DC rate payer, focusing on the new system's potential to help low-income customers track and manage their electricity bills.   Potential benefits include reducing the time needed to restore electricity after power outages, and that all consumers (including low income) will benefit from improved pricing models offered by the smart grid.  An important role of the OPC will be to educate consumers on the benefits of the smart grid, while taking precautions regarding the issues of data privacy, health, and reliability. 

The final speaker was Bill Gausman, with Pepco's Asset Management and Planning office, who addressed how Pepco is implementing the smart grid for DC and nearby regions.  He noted that the rate payer's benefits and satisfaction drive grid modernization, and provided additional details about the ways the company reviewed the costs and benefits of implementing a new system. One example of an improvement is a procedure to locate a damaged power line and allow the network to be re-routed to minimize the number of customers that go out of service.  Another is that smart meters can send a signal when they go out of service and when they go back into service, allowing Pepco to avoid going to those houses that have already been restored. Also, new consumer devices called home area network monitoring systems can help customers conserve up to 15% of their energy use. 

The speakers took questions from the audience ranging from simple to highly complex.  Everyone agreed that facilitating an informed public is the best course of action to promote energy efficiency and reliability and to maximize the benefits of the smart grid for all.  The full video of the event is available at ClimateNexus's Web site, at:, and highlights are featured at: Please let us know if you have any follow-on questions.


McMillan Park Update (submitted by Hugh Youngblood; article written by Beth Johnston and photos by Jenn Verrier)

One of the many underground vaulted cells in McMillan Park
McMillan Park 8.jpg

Efforts to save historic McMillan Park in Washington, DC, designed by Frederick Law Olmsted, Jr., continue.  The DC government owns the 25-acre decommissioned underground water purification facility and its accompanying parkland but seeks to privatize and destroy the Park to make way for commercial development.  As part of this privatization effort, the Park was the subject of a land-surplussing hearing in June, required by law to gather community opinion before the City Council can vote to declare the Park "surplus public real estate" and offer it for sale to the private sector.  Of the more than 40 members of the community who testified at the hearing, all but three spoke against the proposed privatization, with many arguing that McMillan Park is a valuable community asset that should be reopened as a public park rather than sold. As of late July, Mayor Gray has yet to submit his formal report on the surplus hearing, and he has yet to submit a resolution to the Council to formally propose the surplus designation.

Recent photo of McMillan Park
McMillan Park

Friends of McMillan Park, a community organization dedicated to preservation and adaptive reuse of the historic Park and to facilitating an open and transparent process for deciding its future, anticipates four major government meetings in September.  First, the DC Historic Preservation Review Board will hold a hearing to review whether the Gray Administration's development plan respects McMillan Park's historic character.  Additionally, the DC Council will hold two important committee meetings and one critical vote pertaining to McMillan Park as follows:

  1. Committee on Government Operations, McMillan Park Surplus Hearing
  2. Committee on Economic Development, McMillan Park Disposition Hearing
  3. City Council Vote on McMillan Park Surplus Resolution and Land Disposition Agreement

In September, Friends of McMillan Park will hold a Town Hall meeting and tour of the Park to engage community members in fighting the Mayor's development plan.  All are cordially invited to attend the Town Hall meeting on Saturday, 14 September at 3:30pm in the basement of St. Martin's Church, corner of T St. and North Capitol St. NW. For more information, please visit


Conservation Update (by Jim Dougherty, DC Chapter Conservation Chair)

A Reprieve for Poplar Point?

Last week the Mayor teamed with the DC United soccer team to announce the planned construction of a new stadium in SW DC.  While there appear to be wrinkles requiring ironing, it feels like this proposal has a lot of momentum.  The City was able to create Nationals Park, only scant blocks away, despite substantial resistance to the funding arrangements. (Note that most of the talk about a velodrome, planned for virtually the same venue only a year ago, has now disappeared). 

The environmental perspective: this is good news for Poplar Point, a large and wonderful tract of Anacostia Park land located directly across the River from Nats Park. For the past seven years or so Poplar Point has been in the cross-hairs of DC United – and the Administration, particularly that of Mayor Fenty.  It now appears that the Point can be upgraded from its current, neglected, condition into prime national park land – consistent with the vision set out in the 2002 Anacostia Waterfront Framework Initiative. The Framework did not envision sporting arenas or other commercial development near the River. 

What does this mean for RFK Stadium, the United's current home field?  With the Reds***s secure in Landover, the Nats in SE, and the United in SW, why should there be any kind of (unused) structure on prime park land next to the River?  Answer: the site should be restored to public recreational/ecological/permeable conditions and uses.  The chief threat comes from the Reds***s' Dan Snyder and two City Council members (unnamed here but both are white men) who have dreams of bringing the football team back to DC (meaning Anacostia National Park, of course).  Zillionaire Jack Kent Cooke wasn't able to do this in 1995, thanks in significant part to Sierra Club opposition.  Stay tuned.


Campaigning Against Coal - Capitol Power Plant Update

Our six-month campaign to pressure Mayor Gray to pressure the Architect of the Capitol to stop burning coal at the Capitol Power Plant fell short in June.  Too bad that the Mayor did not reach for the brass ring. Hats off to us for taking on the most powerful foe imaginable.  THANKS to the hundreds of SC members – and thousands of non-members – who engaged in the campaign. But we have just begun to fight. (Actually we started the larger effort circa 2004).

On June 5, the DC Department of the Environment (DDOE) issued the permit sought by the Architect of the Capitol to expand the Capitol Power plant to build a cogeneration facility allow the plant to generate electricity from natural gas.  The permit does not prevent the Architect of the Capitol from burning coal at the facility.

On June 6, the Mayor sent legislation (#20-326) to the City Council that he claims would "ban coal burning in the City" beginning 18 months after the commercial operation date of the cogeneration project. That bill, however, includes a provision to allow the plant to burn more than 16,000 tons of coal per day. Thanks but no thanks Vince – we'll meet up with you at the legislative hearing.

The next phase: DC Council consideration of Councilmember Wells' bill (#20-119) to ban coal-burning in the City.


Get your piece of the sun! (by Irv Sheffy)

That's the slogan of the DC Sierra Club's campaign, in conjunction with DC Solar United neighborhoods (DC SUN). DC SUN is a local umbrella/advocacy organization that grew out of the efforts of the Mount Pleasant Solar Coop to encourage the use of the coop model amongst neighborhoods throughout the District to go solar. Members of DC SUN, the Energy Committee of the DC Chapter and others met two years ago at the DC Sustainable Energy Utility to learn about community solar. There are many definitions and models of community solar, but in brief, it's a community based solar energy generating facility, or CREF, that allows individuals to subscribe and benefit from the energy it produces. Up to now, solar installations in the District have been basically limited to fairly affluent homeowners who can afford to have solar panels placed on their property. Such installations are directly tied into their home's system and the energy generated by their panels offsets their use of electricity. With community solar, a wide array of people can subscribe to a CREF that could be located on their property, on top of another building (a school, faith organization, factory, warehouse, etc), over a parking lot (e.g., FedEx Field) or on an underutilized parcel of land (i.e. a brownfield). Like with the single homeowner, the energy produced by the CREF would offset the power used, but in this case by many people.

Currently, District laws do not allow this type of arrangement, which led to our ad hoc coalition proposing a bill to the District Council in the spring of 2012. The bill, the Community Renewable Energy Act (CREA) will create "virtual" net metering (VNM).  VNM is basically an accounting system, which will allow multiple people to subscribe to a CREF. They in turn will get credit for the energy it generates, lowering their monthly bills through the use of clean, renewable solar.  CREA's eventual passage will allow renters, low income residents, non-profit organizations, schools, faith organizations, small businesses and homeowners whose home are not well situated for solar to benefit.

After being introduced by Councilmembers Cheh and Alexander, a hearing in the Committee on Public Services and Consumer Affairs was held in June 2012.  That was followed by the convening of a stakeholders (i.e. PEPCO, the PSC, Washington Gas, DDOE, DC SEU, Council staff, DC SUN and the Sierra Club) working group to refine procedural and legal details. We had fairly good cooperation amongst the group and all outstanding matters were resolved to everybody's satisfaction by the end of the year. In 2013 the committees were reorganized by the Council President and the bill was reintroduced in a new committee with new Councilmembers. The markup of the bill by the Committee on Government Operations (where the committee can approve it or send it back for revision) was delayed for several months, but finally by occurred in June of 2013 where it passed. Then the bill went before entire District Council on July 10th at its last Legislative Meeting prior to their summer recess for its first reading. The bill received a unanimous 'yes' vote from all thirteen members of the Council and will now move to its second reading in September. If the bill receives at least 7 of the possible 13 yes votes at this reading, it will become law.

We credit the 237 Sierra Club volunteers who responded to a call to action, contacting their Councilmember, At-Large Councilmembers and the Chair to support the bill. Many of those people came to the legislative session to show their support.  We as a group can definitely make a difference and we did. As noted, thing are not complete and we will call upon all to notify their Councilmembers again as they meet for that last stage. Thanks to all and we look forward to your continued support to bring clean energy alternatives to all DC residents.

Remember to come out to the regular Chapter Energy Committee meetings to find out about other initiatives we are working on and get involved. The Committee meets the last Thursday of each month, normally at the Sierra Club's offices at 50 F Street, NW from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. For more information on CREA and other initiatives, contact Larry Martin, Chair of the Energy Committee at For more information on the DC Environmental Justice and Community Partnerships program, contact Irv Sheffey at or 202-575-1469.

Other Events:

Invasive ivy proliferates and smothers trees unless it is cut back
invasive ivy.jpg

Rock Creek Park Volunteering: On two separate occasions (June 22 and July 13), DC Chapter members assisted the National Park Service and the Rock Creek Conservancy in their efforts to save Park trees from the chokehold of English ivy. English ivy is an invasive vine that grows up tree trunks and weakens and kills the tree.  

Volunteers cut the ivy from the tree trunks using hand tools. Training was provided on how to identify and cut the ivy.



DC Sierrans help keep our water clean and safe! (By Brenna Muller)

Thank you to many DC Sierrans who made calls, spread the word, and  turned out to a summer hearing on July 9 at the EPA for a rare opportunity to help protect our nations streams and rivers. 

Coal plants across the country are allowed to dump toxic heavy metals like arsenic and lead into our waterways, polluting our drinking water, fishing areas, and local rivers and streams.

After thirty years, the EPA has proposed new limits to the amount of waste coal plants can dump into our water and they're held a public hearing in D.C. to find out how the public feels about the new limits

Currently, only four out of five coal plants have any limits to the amount of toxic waste they can dump in our water, and half the nation's streams and rivers are in poor health.  


Committee Activity

The Transportation Committee sent letters on June 12 to DDOT and the National Park Service urging them to collaborate to complete the Metropolitan Branch Trail and maintenance of the Rock Creek Park Trail.

On July 1, Transportation Committee member Brad Green testified before the DC Council's Committee on Transportation and environment advocating support for the streetcar project as a way to promote a greener city, to create jobs, and to make transit options available to more areas. The Energy Committee met on July 24 to discuss its next plans after co-chairperson Nicole Sitaraman stepped down in June.  For the next scheduled meetings of these committees as well as the Zero-waste and Political committees, see


Other Upcoming Events/Activities

Following is a selection of upcoming chapter events. For complete listings and details, visit our calendar. To RSVP or for more information, email or call 202-548-4581.  

Transportation Committee Meeting: Tuesday, Aug. 6, 7:00 p.m. at the Sierra Club Office, 50 F St NW, Eighth Floor.

Inner City Outings Happy Hour: Wednesday, Aug. 7, 8:00 p.m. at Solly's U St Tavern, 1942 11th St NW.

DC Chapter Member Meeting: Monday, Aug. 19, 7:00 p.m. at Petworth Library, 4200 Kansas Ave NW.

Hike from Fort Totten to Fort Reno (Civil War Forts of Northwest Washington): Sunday, Aug 25, 9:30 a.m., Starting at Fort Totten metro station west parking lot (behind E2 bus stop). RSVP to Sankar Sitaraman, at

Energy Committee Meeting: Wednesday, Aug. 28, 6:30 p.m. at the Sierra Club Office, 50 F St NW, Eighth Floor. 

Film Screening of "Bidder 70": Tuesday, Sept. 10, 7:00 p.m. at the Sierra Club Office, 50 F St NW, Eighth Floor.



Looking for a hike or other outdoor adventure? 

 Click here to learn more about regional Sierra Club offerings.


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