Sierra Club moves beyond coal to target natural gas

The Sierra Club, which for several years has pushed its Beyond Coal Campaign to get the country off coal-fired power generation, is now taking aim at natural gas, the fuel that many power generators are turning to in place of coal.

On May 3, the Sierra Club unveiled a new campaign name – Beyond Natural Gas – for its ongoing efforts to move away from natural gas and towards a cleaner energy future. “Switching from one dirty fossil fuel to another only creates a new set of problems,” said Michael Brune, Executive Director of the Sierra Club. “We need to wean ourselves from all fossil fuels, including natural gas, by 2050, and we need to start that transition from natural gas to clean energy yesterday.”

“Today’s announcement of the Beyond Natural Gas campaign bolsters the Sierra Club’s commitment to getting off dirty, dangerous fossil fuels, including natural gas, as soon as possible,” said Deb Nardone, Director of Sierra Club’s Beyond Natural Gas campaign. “With significant public health concerns and numerous loopholes in air and water safeguards, the natural gas industry continues to focus more on their profits and less on the people. We must push back and do everything we can to rein in an industry run amok.”

While the Sierra Club has been publicly critical of hydraulic fracturing or “fracking” to produce natural gas, a group spokesperson said May 4 this new effort might also include opposition to licensing new natural gas power plants.

The club said the Beyond Natural Gas Campaign is working to close industry-exploited loopholes that endanger public health; put in place more stringent safeguards that protect air and water; keep dangerous oil and natural gas fracking off of public lands; and prevent the export of liquefied natural gas.

Notable is that the Kentucky Power unit of American Electric Power (NYSE: AEP) managed to turn up the fact that the Sierra Club took in $26m worth of contributions from natural gas producer Chesapeake Energy (NYSE: CHK) and associated parties over the 2007-2010 period, but stopped when it got concerned about hydraulic fracturing. The Sierra Club is an intervenor in an ongoing case at the Kentucky Public Service Commission where Kentucky Power is seeking approval to install a dry SO2 scrubber on the 800-MW, coal-fired Unit 2 at the Big Sandy power plant. The Sierra Club contends the unit should be shut and alternative supply- and demand-side options be used to make up for that lack of capacity.

Kentucky Power during the course of the case asked the Sierra Club for a list of its contributors, which the Sierra Club refused to turn over. An April 27 filing by the Sierra Club at the PSC had attached to it an April 26 affidavit from Sierra Club official Bruce Nilles. He oversees several conservation priorities for the Sierra Club, including the Beyond Coal Campaign.

“From 2007 through 2010, Sierra Club received more than $26 million in contributions from entities or individuals associated with Chesapeake Energy, a natural gas company,” Nilles wrote. “This money was used to support Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal Campaign. As time progressed, Sierra Club became increasingly concerned about hydraulic fracturing, or ‘fracking,’ a technique where millions of gallons of water, laced with other ingredients (including, often, toxic chemicals) are pumped into rock to release gas deposits. In 2010, Sierra Club stopped accepting donations from entities or individuals associated with Chesapeake Energy. The Sierra Club does not accept funding from any other natural gas company.”

About Barry Cassell 20414 Articles
Barry Cassell is Chief Analyst for GenerationHub covering coal and emission controls issues, projects and policy. He has covered the coal and power generation industry for more than 24 years, beginning in November 2011 at GenerationHub and prior to that as editor of SNL Energy’s Coal Report. He was formerly with Coal Outlook for 15 years as the publication’s editor and contributing writer, and prior to that he was editor of Coal & Synfuels Technology and associate editor of The Energy Report. He has a bachelor’s degree from Central Michigan University.