We win once in a while!
A great Sierra Club environmental victory went largely unnoticed a couple of weeks ago. President Obama announced new fuel economy standards (an increase up to 54 miles per gallon) by 2025. As is generally the case, Canada will undoubtedly follow suit soon.
Working on both sides of the border, Sierra Club campaigners played a critical role in forming and executing a North American “clean car” strategy. It was brilliant, really. I'm proud to have been part of it.
It was a simple encirclement of Detroit. The car companies controlled the US Congress and Ottawa, but did they control sate and provincial governments? They certainly didn’t control California – always in the forefront of clean car regulations.
California Senator Fran Pavely -- a former mayor and grade school principle and now Chair of the Senate Natural Resources and Water Committee, and member of committees studying Energy, Transportation, and Environmental Quality -- with help from Sierra Club and others proposed and passed a clean car act: the Pavely Act.
While Shawn Patrick Stencil and I were in Ottawa trying to move the Liberals, NDP and Reform-Alliance-Conservatives to support clean car regulations similar to the Pavely Act, and convince B.C., Quebec and Manitoba to adopt them, my good friend Dan Becker worked tirelessly to encourage the states of New York and New England to do the same. Dan is best known for his quote in a Time Magazine special looking at “The 50 Worst Cars of All Time” where he referred to the 2000 Ford Excursion as the "Ford Valdez". Priceless!
I clearly remember the day Shawn burst into my office during the 2004 election campaign with a hand written fax from Bob Mills (Bob was the newly amalgamated Conservative Party’s environment critic. His party never responded to our questionnaire so he filled it in himself!). Shawn pointed to a line in Bob’s fax stating his party supported energy efficiency. "Does that mean cars?" Shawn asked. "Call him!" I said. He did and the next day we convinced the Globe and Mail to run a story--it turned out that support for energy efficiency (including cars) was the only environmentally positive regulatory action being proposed by the Conservatives.
Back in 1992, I organized a meeting with auto industry big-wigs to talk about climate change and what car makers could do. They rolled out all the recycled arguments about greener materials, safer paints, and pointed to falling emissions in their plant production lines. But we insisted back then, as we still do today, it was their product---not their processes--which were the big problem.
They told us we were crazy. They said the same thing ten years ago when the government brought the automotive industry back to the table.
But now, thanks to the regulations we worked so hard to get on both sides of the border, trying to be as energy efficient as possible – in fact, trying to outdo each other in efficiency – is the new norm. You just have to turn on a TV for a few minutes and you’ll see ads touting the big North American automaker’s ingenuity and greenness.
How far we’ve come!
If anyone ever asks you “What’s Sierra Club ever done?”, just point to any passing Ford, Chevy or Dodge.
P.S. - Did you know you can donate $10 to Sierra Club Canada by texting SIERRA to 45678 on your mobile phone? To donate $20 just do it twice, etc. I promise I’ll make every dollar count!