In 2021, put justice at the center of the fight against oil and gas
As the year draws to a close, I reflect on the growing power of our climate justice movement and our work together, even as we face a fossil fuel industry that is determined to pollute our communities and do so. wreaking havoc on our climate. .
As the largest and most powerful environmental organization in the country, the Sierra Club is most powerful when we partner and follow the lead of frontline communities – the people hardest hit by the climate crisis and pollution from the fossil fuel industry.
We invest in places where the fighting is fierce, where politicians are beholden to fossil fuel interests, and where philanthropists and Big Green groups (including us) have historically neglected, facing obstacles that can seem overwhelming. But over the past year, we’ve redoubled our efforts to focus environmental justice and tackle these difficult struggles against fossil fuels. And in many cases, we have won:
- We started the year with a victory over a campaign we’ve been running for over a decade: One of President Biden’s first acts was to cancel Keystone XL oil sands pipeline, that is said to have transported 830,000 gallons per day of the dirtiest oil on the planet from Alberta to Montana, South Dakota and Nebraska, threatening farmland, critical water resources and wildlife habitat along the way . When the pipeline was proposed in 2008, its construction was considered a certainty. But a national movement of frontline communities, Indigenous leaders and environmentalists have come together to fight the proposed pipeline and eventually stop it dead. The powerful movement that was born to fight Keystone has only grown since then, engaging in fights to protect communities and the climate against other fossil fuel infrastructure projects across the country. Even in the face of heartbreaking losses, like the one we suffered with the Line 3 pipeline in Minnesota, our movement continues to grow and fight for climate justice and a future without fossil fuels.
- Our The growing Gulf Coast team has had big hits against three proposed fractured gas export terminals for Brownsville, Texas. One, Annova LNG, was scrapped by its developer in the face of public opposition and growing legal challenges. These same legal challenges, led by the Sierra Club’s environmental law program, have successfully sent federal regulators to the drawing board on the other two projects – Rio Grande LNG and Texas LNG – because they didn’t had not performed an adequate analysis of the facilities. ‘impacts on climate and environmental justice. We will continue to fight in 2022 so that this setback is not the last for these dangerous projects. Not a single one of the 20 proposed fracking gas export facilities has received a final investment decision to move forward this year. None of these proposals will go unchallenged in the years to come.
- We have also defeated the PennEast pipeline, which allegedly shipped Marcellus fracking shale gas from northeastern Pennsylvania across the Delaware River to New Jersey for export. Despite a victory for supporters of the project in the Supreme Court, community advocates in New Jersey and Pennsylvania were successful in pushing state regulators to deny a key water permit for the project.
- At the federal level, we have seen the Biden administration takes action to tackle methane pollution from oil and gas industry, a crucial step towards protecting communities and the climate against this super pollutant. Responding to calls from advocates and frontline communities, the Environmental Protection Agency proposed new rules reversing the Trump administration’s efforts to give the industry carte blanche to release as much methane as it wanted. They went even further by ensuring that methane protection policies apply to both new projects and existing oil and gas infrastructure.
- In California, we have had huge victories against neighborhood oil drilling. Los Angeles County is home to more than 1,600 oil wells, many of which are located within feet of homes. This fall, the supervisory board voted unanimously to begin the process of banning and phasing out existing drilling, creating a program to ensure wells are properly closed and cleaned, and working towards a just transition to fossil fuel workers and communities. The Newsom administration has also taken important steps to protect communities across the state from the harmful health effects of drilling: it instituted a prominent 3,200-foot buffer zone between new drilling operations and homes. , schools and public parks, as well as a ban on hydraulic fracturing that will come into force in 2024.
- We continued to delay completion of the Mountain Valley Pipeline fracking pipeline, which is now three years behind and billions of dollars over budget. Earlier this month, regulators in Virginia denied a key air permit for the extension of the “Southgate” pipeline in North Carolina, citing concerns about the project’s impacts on environmental justice. The setback cast further doubt on the future of the extension and the MVP mainline, which would subject communities along the route to dangerous levels of pollution.
- We have also seen continued delays for PTT Global Chemical America’s massive petrochemical facility slated to be built in Belmont County, Ohio. It was one of five proposed petrochemical plants in the Ohio Valley that would use the byproducts of fracking gas to make plastic. The project has been delayed indefinitely due to local opposition and the inability to match funding.
- In Oregon, the company behind the Jordan Cove LNG export facility and Pacific Connector pipeline has filed an application with federal regulators to revoke its license for the project, officially. close the book on this massive fracking gas export project. It was the result of years of community organizing and legal challenges in partnership with local groups, tribes and landowners.
The common thread running through all of these victories was the interdependence of climate action and justice. Our struggles to stop these dangerous oil and gas infrastructure projects were aimed at preserving a liveable planet for all of us. They also aimed to protect communities whose health and safety were at stake, many of whom are already overburdened by industrial pollution thanks to decades of housing discrimination and other forms of systemic racism. And in many cases, we have won explicitly based on arguments centered on environmental justice, with courts and regulators recognizing that these projects would disproportionately harm low-income people and communities of color, and dismissing them in favor. these reasons.
When we hold the fossil fuel industry accountable for the environmental racism it perpetuates, we are successful in our struggles to block infrastructure that would harm communities and our climate. That’s because, as my colleague Hop Hopkins said last year, “You can’t have climate change without sacrifice zones, and you can’t have sacrifice zones without throwaway people, and you you can’t have disposable people without racism. Working to dismantle systems of oppression is an essential part of effective advocacy to end the climate crisis.
Over the coming year, we will continue to center justice in our work to block new markets for oil and gas and invest in areas that have for too long been ignored or treated as sacrificed areas. I am excited about the groundwork we are laying in the Gulf Coast region as we continue to strengthen our team to support the industry’s plans for a massive export expansion of fracking oil and gas. . More than anything, I am honored to work alongside amazing and inspiring activists who are relentless in their commitment to create a better world.
Rest, actors of change. I’ll see you in 22!