Sierra Club
 

Release date: October 8, 2013 (Editor: Rick Nunno)

Member Meeting

On August 19, the Chapter held one of its periodic Member Meetings, to reach out to communities and inform and encourage people to volunteer with the Club.  At the beginning of the meeting, held at the Petworth Library, each person in the room took a turn to say what their favorite outdoor space in the city is.  Notably, with over 40 attendees, almost everyone named a different place.  The obvious inference is that there are many beautiful, special parks and open spaces in DC.  And part of the reason we have them is due to ongoing efforts by our chapter volunteers, who tirelessly fight for their preservation and improvement.  Chapter leaders and committee chairs then talked about their projects, and several new volunteers were recruited to get involved.

 

Hike from Fort Totten to Fort Reno



On Sunday, August 25, Sankar Sitaraman co-led an urban hike highlighting three Civil War Forts of Northwest Washington.  We started at the Fort Totten metro station in Northeast DC and hiked about 8.5 miles to Fort Reno in Northwest DC, visiting the sites of Fort Slocum, Fort Stevens and Fort deRussy along the way. Daphne Evans, volunteer with the DC Chapter, explained some of the events that occurred when these sites were built and how DC prepared for the civil war.  The hike went along mostly quiet streets and trails with about 800 feet of total elevation change.  The hike was co-sponsored by Sierra Club Potomac Regional Outings. For information about their events see Sierra Club Outings website and Sierra Club outings meetup page.  To receive email messages on future-scheduled hikes, you can also sign up for the Nature lovers meet-up group at http://www.meetup.com/nature-lovers/.  

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New Intern
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The DC Chapter would like to welcome our new intern, Kat Watts. Kat graduated in May 2013 from the University of Pennsylvania with 

a B.A. in International Studies and a B.S. in Economics.  Kat's interest in the environmental movement was sparked when she came to the east coast for college and noticed that people on this side of the country seemed to care less than back home in California. Since then she has tried to help disseminate the environmental mentality through on-campus work and now with the DC Chapter of the Sierra Club. Kat started working with the DC Chapter in August, focusing largely on goals to help the Chapter's Zero Waste committee, along with other Chapter initiatives and operations.

 

 

 

 

Member Profile: Brock Evans
(by Rick Nunno)

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To help DC Chapter members get a better sense of who our volunteers are, we will be writing articles on selected members of the Chapter in this and future issues of the Capital Sierran.  We hope that it will help current volunteers to get to know each other better, and hopefully inspire others to get involved.

Our first member profile is on Brock Evans, long-time Sierra Club activist.  Brock not only serves on the Board of the DC Chapter, but is also President of the Endangered Species Coalition, which he has led since 1997. The ESC represents over 400 scientific societies, environmental and sportsmen's associations, religious groups and others, all dedicated to protecting imperiled wildlife and our major statute which defends them:  the Endangered Species Act. In this position, Brock spends much of his time working with the Board of the organization and fundraising. 

But let's back up a bit and trace a few more of Brock's notable achievements.  Having graduated (cum laude) from Princeton University, and then serving in the U.S. Marine Corps, Brock completed his law degree at the University of Michigan.  Being somewhat disillusioned with corporate law firms, Brock began his career as an environmentalist in 1963, when he took a job (offered to him by the legendary David Brower) to lead the Sierra Club's Northwest region initiatives.  Little did he know when he took the job, that he would be responsible for not only the four Northwest states ---Washington, Oregon, Idaho and Montana -- but also  Northern California and Wyoming, plus all of western Canada up through Alaska.

In 1973, he became director of the Sierra Club's Washington, DC office, which was mostly focused on lobbying the federal government and Congress on environmental issues.  He accepted that position because "it seemed like hopeless odds then, which inspired me to come and try to beat them." His first campaign assignment from the Club was to stop the Alaskan oil pipeline.  He reminisces that back then as well as now, "we win often on the issues because the groups with the political power and the money don't have the more important ingredient that we have:  passion."  His main focus in this position was on forest, wilderness, and energy policies, especially as they affected public lands.  He still maintains contacts with members of the Washington State Chapter of the Sierra Club and works with them on many issues.

Back in the 1970s, the DC Chapter didn't yet exist, but was part of the Potomac Chapter, which included Maryland and Virginia.  Brock explained that there has always been a close collaboration between the Sierra Club's national staff and the Potomac (and later the DC) Chapter. That's no surprise, given that so many national campaigns are conducted here in DC. 

From 1982 to 1996, Brock served as Vice President for National Issues for the National Audubon Society.  During this time, he also did scholarly work at the Environmental Law Institute in Washington, as a Fellow at Harvard's Institute of Politics, and he taught in Israel as a visiting professor at the Arava Institute for Environmental Studies.  He has done extensive public speaking and writing, and has received numerous awards for his work, including "Environmentalist of the Year" (Washington State Environmental Council), Lifetime Achievement Awards from the National Rivers Network, the League of Conservation Voters, and the Natural Resources Council of America, the Outstanding Conservation Leadership Award of the Wilburforce Foundation, and the John Muir Award, the Sierra Club's highest honor. 

Brock ran for U.S. Congress in 1984, for a seat representing the north Seattle district.  Maria Cantwell (now U.S. Senator) was his campaign manager.  Although his bid was unsuccessful, he garnered 45% of the votes, and he learned a great deal about national politics. 

Brock lives in northwest DC with his wife, Linda Garcia, a Professor, and Director of a Master's Program at Georgetown University (Communications, Culture, and Technology), and is father of three sons.  He has written a book, to be published soon, called Fight and Win:  Brock Evan's Strategies for the New Ecowarrior.  Check it out on the Publisher's website,  http://www.barclaybryanpress.com/.

Interviewer Questions:

How has the Sierra Club changed since you first joined?

Brock:  It has become bigger and more bureaucratized, and there is a lot more money (from NYC Mayor Bloomberg and others).  Consequently, volunteers don't have as much internal influence as they once did.  There seems to be more of a tendency by some staff to cut deals and not listen as much to what the grass-roots want.

Is there a particular event or experience that comes to mind from your Sierra Club work that makes you smile?

Brock: I remember back in the 1980s, when I first coined the term "ancient forest" and it caught on throughout the movement to preserve wilderness. It was a vivid evocative term with a strong political force, and it showed how the power of language and communication can change everything. The Sierra Club became a major part of the "Ancient Forest Alliance," which finally gained much better protection of millions of acres of those big trees across the West.

What environmental activist, from past or present, inspires you the most?

Brock:  More than the better-known folks I have worked with, I remember the most a man I encountered in the 1960s named Ray Kresek. He was a fireman in the city of Spokane, Washington, and he was instrumental in establishing a wilderness area in his favorite hunting and hiking area – a threatened ancient forest, north of the city.  Ray showed us all that through perseverance and dedication, anyone can have a significant impact on the world. 

What advice do you have for other current volunteers and activists?

I have learned that there are two kinds of "political" power in our society, when we want set out to protect the environment. One is Money, yes; but we must always remember that money is not the most important factor in a successful environmental effort. The other power – I argue it is a greater power – is Votes. And it is WE who have the votes, reflected in our passion to protect our earth. It is always the greater power, which is why we win so much of the time, even without the money displayed by the other side. 

What advice would you give to new people looking to get involved with the Sierra Club?

Please come to our meetings and volunteer to work on an issue you really care deeply about! The Club is very good about giving responsibilities and support to new people and new causes. Then move forward, following the three basic principles of successful grassroots actions: don't be intimidated by the powers that be; get your facts straight; and never quit!

What is your motto in life?

Endless pressure, endlessly applied!

 

McMillan Park Update (by Hugh Youngblood and other contributors)

First Town Hall Meeting

Friends of McMillan Park (FOM) held a Town Hall meeting on Saturday, September 14 in the sanctuary of St. Martin's Church in Bloomingdale. On a beautiful early fall afternoon, the meeting drew over 100 attendees. A wide variety of speakers described the Gray Administration's plan to destroy historic McMillan Park, discussed potential alternative solutions, and recommended ways for the community to join the fight.  After formal presentations, everyone moved downstairs to the Pioneer Room for refreshments donated by local businesses—and for more conversation. 

Over the course of the afternoon, FOM collected dozens of signatures on its petition to the city government to reject Mayor Gray's plan, bringing the total number of signatories opposing the plan to almost 4,800. The organization also did a brisk trade in sales of t-shirts, buttons, and stickers, netting hundreds of dollars to devote to the battle for the Park's preservation.

Hugh Youngblood, Acting Executive Director of Friends of McMillan Park, laid out FOM's mission: to preserve, restore, and adaptively reuse historic McMillan Park for the benefit of the public.  John Salatti, a former Bloomingdale Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner, introduced an oral history project in which the team has been documenting the stories of long-time residents who remember McMillan open as a public park. He played a clip from Ben Franklin, a 79 year-old Bloomingdale resident who reminisced about playing at the McMillan as a child and sleeping there when the weather was warm. "All this was in the '40s and '50s. You could walk or play in there. When my children came along this was all fenced in," said Mr. Franklin.  His description highlights the importance of the Park as an early integrated public space in the District.

Tony Norman, Founder and Chairman of McMillan Park Committee (the precursor to FOM), reviewed the history of the site, beginning with its origin as a slow sand filtration plant designed to purify Washington's drinking water, and as a public park included in the "Emerald Necklace" of Olmsted parks designed to ring the city.  Because of the Park's origins and its landmark status on the National Register of Historic Places, said Norman, the park is more than just part of the history of Ward 5; it's part of the history of all of Washington, and therefore of the nation.  Norman also spoke in detail about one alternative plan to transform the site designed by a team led by Miriam Gusevich of GM2 Studio. Norman emphasized ways that the alternative plan works with McMillan Park's existing architecture and ecology, featuring an "urban beach" alongside the banks of a daylighted underground creek.

Gwen Southerland, a former Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner for the McMillan site, detailed ideas that members of the community have suggested that the park serve during the 30-plus years that the land has remained unused.  Citing examples of possible uses—from a Washington, DC history museum to formal gardens and a state-of-the-art recreation center—Southerland asked the audience, "What will most improve the quality of your life: items from this list or the offices and townhomes that form the bulk of the Mayor's plan?"

Anna Simon, a Research and Instruction Librarian at Georgetown University, discussed how historical research on McMillan Park has provided insight into the site's cultural and civic importance to Washington, DC. For instance, Simon's research revealed that Eleanor Roosevelt planted a tree in the park in 1933. Simon also emphasized the continuity of the park over time, noting that Bloomingdale used to be filled with young families with children, and now that families are increasingly moving back, the area needs amenities to support them. "For those of us just joining the fight, it's harder to understand the long struggle that's been waged by the neighborhood against the city to keep the park open to people. The same issues we're dealing with today we were dealing with 30 years ago." 

Kirby Vining, Treasurer of FOM, presented an overview of the Gray Administration's current plan for McMillan Park, which was developed by Vision McMillan Partners.  He noted that the DC Historic Preservation Review Board described one of the plan's structures, a large black box, as "a mausoleum."  Vining noted that the overall reaction to the lackluster official plan was very negative.

Philip Blair of Brookland, a longtime advocate for preserving McMillan Park, spoke about seven core issues concerning any development proposals for the landmark, including the problems that the Mayor's plan raises for storm water management, air quality, and traffic in the neighborhood. He also highlighted potential legal concerns with the current plan, as well as questions related to the lack of transparency in the process of public decision-making. He urged fellow activists to be conversant in all seven issues and to make themselves experts on at least one.

Jean-Christophe Deverines, a Bloomingdale resident and anti-trust economic analyst, walked attendees through a slide presentation that demonstrated how many other cities around the globe have handled adaptive reuse of existing parks and public works facilities. Ranging from the Parc de Bercy in Paris to the Basilica Cistern in Istanbul to the Seattle Gas Works Park, Deverines' presentation pointed out the potential for McMillan Park to become a truly world-class destination.

Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner Mark Mueller of Bloomingdale reviewed the results of a door-to-door community survey that he and others undertook in 2012 to formally assess public opinion regarding the park's future for the first time ever. Showing a host of slides with breakdown of the survey results, Mueller remarked on how consistent responses were: 85% of survey respondents want McMillan's surface to remain at least 50% park. Mueller's view is that such consistent results should carry a clear message to District politicians regarding what their constituents actually prefer.

The slide show accompanying all presentations is available on the FOM website, or at http://goo.gl/I8y5JS.

The town hall meeting concluded by adjourning to the church's basement for pizza, pasta, cookies, and beer, all generously supplied by local businesses and artisans, and for discussion of what to do next.  A few neighbors suggested holding quarterly town hall meetings to keep everyone abreast of political developments; several neighbors with legal experience signed up for the FOM legal team. During the discussion, residents raised serious concerns about the way that the proposed development would affect the neighborhood and objected to the plan's failure to preserve the unique qualities of the historic site.  Specifically, they objected to the following:

  • the lack of any coherent and comprehensive plan from the District or its development partners regarding transportation issues
  • the absence of consideration of other pressures on the neighborhood, including development of the Veterans Administration Hospital and the Armed Forces Retirement Home
  • the lack of ideas for creative reuse of the underground sand filtration cells and above-ground structures in the city's plan
  • the problem of storm water management in an already flood-prone area
  • the loss of unique historic vistas of Washington's iconic buildings that the plan would entail
  • the inconsistencies in and incoherence of the various parts of the Mayor's plan, which throws elements together without seeming to consider their relationship
  • the lack of affordable and senior housing in the plan
  • the loss of a unique park designed by the Olmsted firm. 

In addition to Father Michael Kelley of St. Martin's church, who has so generously opened the church's doors to both this and to many other community meetings, Friends of McMillan Park extends many thanks the following generous local businesses for providing food and drink:

Passage of Community Renewables Energy Act (CREA)

On October 1, the DC Council voted unanimously to pass CREA, the historic legislation which establishes a new program to help District families, schools and businesses to go solar for the first time.  The program will be available to all DC energy customers, and will allow them to sign up for up to 100% local renewable energy for their home or business. Advocates applauded the Council members for giving DC residents more ways to help deliver local jobs and reduce energy costs.

Many DC energy consumers can now go solar.  Electric utility Pepco (Washington, DC, U.S.) worked with solar advocates to develop the program. Donna M. Cooper, President of Pepco Region, commented: "Not only are we committed to delivering safe and reliable electricity, we are also committed to collaborating with the District of Columbia government and other stakeholders to become a model of innovative environmental policies and practices, including the expansion of renewable energy to District of Columbia residents."

Despite tremendous growth in solar adoption nationwide, many DC energy consumers, including the 60% of renters, are unable to invest in their own on-site solar energy systems.  Shared renewables arrangements overcome that barrier by allowing energy customers to subscribe to an off-site renewable energy project and get utility bill credit for their portion of the energy produced. See http://www.solarserver.com/solar-magazine/solar-news/current/2013/kw40/washington-dc-council-approves-clean-energy-act-to-help-go-solar.html for further information.

Other Events:



On Tuesday, September 10, the Chapter hosted a screening of the movie, "Bidder 70," a documentary about climate activist Tim DeChristopher, whose act of civil disobedience derailed a federal oil and gas lease auction.  He was convicted and served time in prison for this act and he has invigorated thousands of climate activists in the process.   Maybe it will have inspired some DC Chapter members as well. 

Kayaking with Anacostia Riverkeeper

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Brenna and Maya managing a two-person kayak

On Friday, September 13, Anacostia Riverkeeper biologist Trey Sherard led Sierrans and Riverkeepers on a beautiful, relaxing sunset kayak tour. Surprisingly, the river didn't look as dirty or scary as people have described it years ago, so cleanup efforts must be having a positive effect.  Showing us a combined sewer overflow, Trey pointed out that despite the many plastic bottles littering the water, plastic bags have disappeared thanks to DC's plastic bag tax we've had these past several years. We paddled down to the newly renovated and expanded 11thStreet bridge and saw the new osprey perches that had been installed;  back at the South Capitol Street bridge, we saw the ospreys themselves, flying around their nests with high, echoing calls. Just before everyone headed out, a beaver swam by with a branch in its mouth! A good time was had by all, and we look forward to partnering with Anacostia Riverkeeper again in the future.

Local University Makes the Sierra Club's Top 10 "Cool Schools" list

American University was ranked number 9 in the Sierra Club's annual evaluation of U.S. colleges and universities for their level of environmental sustainability. These include energy usage, financial investments, food consumption, transportation, waste, and many other factors.

Aiming to be carbon neutral by 2020, AU is off to a strong start, with 30 buildings on track for LEED Silver certification, a 27-kilowatt solar array, D.C.'s biggest solar hot-water system, and a contraption called the Vegawatt, which turns old cooking oil into electricity. The university's plan is to divert 100% of its waste, and it's already two-thirds of the way there, thanks to a new campus-wide composting program, tray-less dining (which reduced food waste by a third), quarterly e-waste drives, and such enthusiastic student participation that AU won last year's national RecycleMania competition. Students also get excited about the annual Campus Beautification Day (shown above), a springtime tradition that brings the AU community together to make the campus greener.

American U. achieved a score of 759 out of a possible 1000.  Nearby University of Maryland College Park was ranked number 13 and George Washington University was ranked at 23.  A total of 162 institutions were ranked, while the rest of the nation's schools didn't make the list.  For a complete list and the accompanying story, see http://www.sierraclub.org/sierra/201309/coolschools/do-green-schools-matter.aspx

Committee Activity

The Transportation Committee met on September 4, and chairman Ryan Crowley attended the DC Zoning Commission hearing on September 9, where the DC Office of Planning's zoning plan was reviewed. Committee Chair Ryan Crowley testified at the hearing in support of eliminating parking requirements in buildings throughout the city, especially near metro stations.  This change would encourage greater use of public transportation rather than cars in the city.  

The Energy Committee met on August 28 and on September 25 to discuss its ongoing campaigns to foster renewable energy policies. The Committee has taken on the initiative to deliver the message to the DC Public Service Commission (PSC) and to Pepco to build the new smart grid to advance efficiency, reliability, and renewable energy, to act locally in order to protect the climate globally.  

Pepco is back asking for another rate increase - $44.1M. This will raise the average residential charge for electricity distribution by about 20%. Pepco files for a rate increase every year or two. Since 2008 we've seen $72 million in new increases. But that is not the worst of it. In 2009, the reliability ranking of Pepco's distribution system fell into the bottom quartile when measured against other US cities. We're paying for an electrical distribution system that ranks poorly by 20th century standards. While other utilities are breaking new ground with renewable energy and conservation and efficiency, Pepco is content to just try to improve their reliability. That is important, but not nearly enough.

DC Chapter of Sierra Club, and the GRID2.0 Working Group formally intervened in the $44.1M rate case before the DC Public Service Commission (PSC). We've established a precedent arguing that the PSC should consider the actions of Pepco in light of the requirement that PSC decisions preserve environmental quality. Our lawyers and volunteers have filed testimony and waded through mountains of legalese to assert that Pepco must be held accountable for its investments not only for the benefit of rate-payers (you and me) but to help combat global warming. We say that every dollar spent has an opportunity cost, and if its not helping promote efficiency and renewable power, then its not helping, and shouldn't be allowed for compensation in the rate case.

To learn more details of initiative, or to become involved, contact Committee Chair Larry Martin at lmartindc@gmai.com.

The Zero-waste Committee met on September 5. For the next scheduled meetings of these committees as well as the Political committee, see www.dc.sierraclub.org/calendar

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 washingtondc.chapter@sierraclub.org or call 202-548-4581.  

Transportation Committee Meeting: Wednesday, October 9, 7:00 - 8:30 p.m. at the Sierra Club Office, 50 F St NW, Eighth Floor.

Trail work in Rock Creek Park, Saturday, October 12, 8:20 a.m. - 12:00 p.m., Nature Center in Rock Creek Park, pending the re-opening of the federal government by Congress.  Join DC Sierra Club as it partners with the Potomac Appalachian Trail Club to maintain and improve hiking trails in Rock Creek Park. We will be working on the Valley Trail.  Meet first at the Nature Center in Rock Creek Park in DC at 8:20 a.m. We will gather tools and carpool to the work site. No experience required. All volunteers welcome. Rain or shine.  Please dress for the weather and for a few hours of outdoor work. Bring work gloves and your own water.  Please RSVP to our facebook event or email  washingtondc.chapter@sierraclub.org 

Tree Planting: Armed Forces Retirement Home, Saturday, November 16, 9 a.m. to 12 p.m.,  Armed Forces Retirement Home, 199 Rock Creek Church Road Northwest Washington, D.C., DC 20011.  See www.dc.sierraclub.org for details.  

  

 Looking for a hike or other outdoor adventure? 

 Click here to learn more about regional Sierra Club offerings.

 

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