Wonder why NYC Pizza is so good? Pure Water, Catskills Pure.


Catskill Mountains, Jeremy Cherson

Catskill Mountains, Jeremy Cherson

New York City Water and the Catskills Agricultural Program

A report by The Bard Center for Environmental Policy Masters Candidates: Andrew Bonanno,  Jeremy Cherson, Violeta Borilova Mezeklieva,  Judson Peck


New York City residents receive more than 1 billion gallons of unfiltered drinking water per day from the reservoirs in the Catskill-Delaware and Croton Watersheds, located within 125 miles from NYC. This is, in part, possible because of the Whole Farm Program created by the Watershed Agricultural Council (WAC). The voluntary  program helps farmers reduce water pollution in the Catskill-Delaware and Croton Watersheds through monetary and technical support. As reported by the WAC 2013 Annual Report, $2.9 million was granted to 128 farms to implement 274 best management activities. Furthermore, this program has assured that the water supplied to NYC follows regulations defined by the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA).

The following sections present:

  • How the WAC developed and a description of how the voluntary program works
  • Case study of Whole Farm Program in Delaware County, NY
  • Pure Catskills label and how to get involved


Background on the Whole Farm Program

In the early 1990’s, NYC faced the building of an estimated $6 billion water treatment facility with a yearly operating cost of $300 million. In 1989 the EPA released the Surface Water Treatment Rule (SWTR) under the SDWA. The rule required NYC, with 19 reservoirs in the Catskill-Delaware and the Croton Watersheds, to control its deteriorating water quality or construct a treatment facility. After attempting heavy handed regulations of the Catskills watershed to control for point and nonpoint source pollution, the city signed an agreement with Catskills communities to implement an ecosystem wide watershed management program. Point source pollution, as defined by Section 502(14) of the Clean Water Act, is a pipe, ditch, channel, tunnel, well, …which pollutants are or may be discharged. A nonpoint source is any source of pollution not defined under the point source. An example of nonpoint source pollution is rainfall or snowmelt transporting natural or human caused pollutants and depositing them into water resources.

To ensure water quality improvements are met, the Watershed Agricultural Council created a volunteer program for farmers called the Whole Farm Program to develop Whole Farm Plans. WAC works in collaboration with experts from the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service, Cornell Cooperative Extension, NYC Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), and the Delaware County Soil and Water Conservation District. Through Whole Farm Planning, farmers receive technical and managerial support to develop farming practices that are less polluting to downstream water users. Farmers receive this technical and managerial support through a system of payments provided by a cooperative program offered by NYC DEP and the USDA. In technical terms these payments are referred to as payments for ecosystem services (PES).


How Whole Farm Planning Works

Catskills Cows, Jeremy Cherson

Catskills Cows,  Jeremy Cherson

Considering that the watershed of the  NYC Water Supply is comprised primarily of dairy farmers, the main concern for water pollution is the extensive use of fertilizers and the management of animal manure. Poor managerial practices allow for these fertilizers and manure to runoff into nearby waterbodies, degrading overall water quality. Aquatic plants and algae grow faster when there is an abundance of nitrogen or phosphorous. As a consequence, algae covers the surface preventing sunlight from reaching deeper plants, causing death. Bacteria decompose dead algae and in the process use up oxygen in the water. The resulting lack of oxygen (known as hypoxia) kills aquatic life and degrades water quality.


To improve water quality the WAC pays for expert consultants to develop a Whole Farm Plan tailored to the individual needs of each farmer. The Whole Farm Plan reduces common pollutants on the farm including pathogens and phosphorus from manure, fertilizers and pesticides, erosion, diesel fuels and other toxic farm materials. The steps taken to reduce these common pollutants are known as Best Management Practices (BMPs) and include:

  • Manure storage lagoon reduces the amount of manure spread during the winter. This is important, because manure applied on snow or frozen ground is not absorbed into the soil and instead runs off during snowmelt and spring rains.
  • Nutrient management plan adjusts the time and reduces the amount of manure applied to fields that already have high amounts of phosphorous in the soil and to areas prone to runoff.
  • Rotational grazing system moves cows around among different pastures to reduce overgrazing and subsequent soil erosion.
  • Livestock fencing keeps cows out of streams and marsh areas to prevent erosion and manure runoff into streams.
  • Grassy filter area to intercept barnyard runoff from flowing directly into streams. Plants take up nutrients, such as phosphorous, as they grow and roots hold soil together reducing erosion.
  • Storage for fuel and other toxic materials to keep away from streams and animals.

 Cannonsville Watershed Study

A study by NY DEC and Cornell University assessed the effectiveness of these best management practices (BMPs) in reducing water contamination by monitoring water quality before and after BMP implementation on a farm. The 400-acre dairy farm is located in Delaware County, NY and lies within the Cannonsville Watershed in the Catskill Mountains. The study also used a nearby non-farm site for comparison of water quality without agriculture or cows. Water quality was assessed based on the amount of phosphorus in streams because phosphorus is a key determinant of water quality and it is an indicator for potential bacteria since it primarily originates from manure. Water quality was continuously monitored for 2 years before and 4 years after the BMPs mentioned above were implemented on the farm.

The results show that phosphorus concentrations in the stream on the farm were 3-10 times higher than the stream on the non-

Results, Judson Peck

The bars show the percent reduction in phosphorous with the maximum reduction occurring during the summer, reducing phosphorous by over 50%.

farm site, which emphasizes the importance of farm management in protecting water quality. Overall,BMPs reduced the amount of phosphorous that ran off the farm and into the stream by 43%. Furthermore, the study found that the winter season accounts for 42% of annual phosphorous runoff (see figure), which emphasizes the importance of manure management.This study provides evidence for the significant positive impact that BMPs have in reducing phosphorous contamination and maintaining water quality of NYC water supply.

BMPs have not only proven to improve water quality, but also help farmers gain access to new markets and resources that contribute to the health and economic vitality of the farm. In addition, WAC provides farmers with a forum for education and knowledge sharing. This network allows for farmer-to-farmer collaboration and offers an ‘attractive’ market for consumers knowing that the products originate from farms that are protecting water quality. As a result, farmers and residents of NYC benefit from producing and consuming environmentally responsible products while ensuring the preservation of a clean water resource.


Pure Catskills and NYC Water Quality

The Catskill-Delaware Watershed supplies New York City with 90% of its daily 1.3 billion gallons of water.  As the largest unfiltered water supply in the United States, the Catskill-Delaware Watershed delivers quality water to NYC residents at half the price of a filtered system.

A major threat to the quality of NYC water quality is agricultural activities in the Catskills, particularly manure accumulation and subsequent runoff.  However, high quality drinking water is maintained largely through the adoption of best management practices by farmers, such as those described in the case above.  Positive contributions toward NYC’s water quality are an economic possibility for farmers because of the payments for ecosystem services made by the city.  It is important to remember that since these payments are less than the costs of installing and maintaining a water filtration system, this arrangement actually saves money for city residents.

Payments for ecosystem services and the adoption of best management practices not only provide income for farmers and savings for NYC residents, but also produce high quality drinking water.  The New York City 2013 Drinking Water Quality and Supply Report indicates that NYC “drinking water met all health-based and other drinking water standards in 2013.” Although NYC drinking water has recently contained a number of contaminants related to its delivery infrastructure (e.g. from old pipes and


fixtures), no significant agricultural contaminants have been detected.  This is a testament to best management practices adopted by the more than 500 Catskill farmers who participate in the Watershed Agricultural Council’s Whole Farms Program.

Farmers who participate in the Whole Farms Program can use the “Pure Catskills” label on their products, indicating to consumers that they are supporting agricultural practices that keep NYC drinking water clean.  Although farmers do not technically have to be members of the Whole Farm Program to use the “Pure Catskills” label, farmers must be from the Catskills region and the vast majority of Catskills farmers participate in the program.  Additionally, the Watershed Agricultural Council monitors those using the “Pure Catskills” label to ensure quality standards are met. With this in mind, one way that those concerned with clean drinking water in New York City can contribute to high quality water is by purchasing items that carry the “Catskills Pure” label.  In this way, individuals and communities in New York can vote with their dollars to save money on their water bills and for safe drinking water.

Supreme Court Upholds Obama’s EPA on Coal


Plant SchererThe Supreme Court in Environmental Protection Agency v. EME Homer City Generation has affirmed 6-2, the Environmental Protection Agency’s authority to regulate pollution from coal-fired power plants in 27 states. Specifically, the court affirmed the EPA’s construction of the Cross-State Air Pollution Rule (Transport Rule) rule derived from the Clean Air Act‘s (CAA) Good Neighbor Provision.

The rules address the reality that air pollution emitted in one state will often travel across political boundaries. New York is a primary example of a state receiving pollution, specifically NOx and SOx from mid-western coal burning states. The result is acid rain, leading to tree mortality, soil erosion and water quality impacts in the Adirondacks and Catskills mountains. Such pollutants are regulated under the cornerstone provision of the CAA known as the National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS). The NAAQS are a list of the most harmful air pollutants and set “safe” limits.

After designation of the NAAQS, states retain authority to design individual plans to achieve the federal standards. These are known as the State Implementation Plans (SIPS) and are ultimately subject to EPA verification and approval. After extensive review, if the EPA deems the statewide plan inadequate then the federal government will implement a Federal Implementation Plan (FIP). However, states have multiple opportunities to correct their SIP. Each SIP must control for pollution that may cause a neighboring state to violate their allocation of air pollutants codified within the national standards (NAAQS). This provision is at the center of the case brought by mid-western states, utilities and industry associations.

Good Neighbor Provision

The good neighbor provision requires states to control in their SIPs any pollution that may cause another state to violate their air quality allocations (NAAQS). The Supreme Court ruled that under the precedent of Chevron v. NRDC (giving broad deference to agency interpretation of statutes) that the EPA is justified in requiring upwind states to clean up their air pollution sources. No statutory language prescribes how to assign proportional responsibility amongst offending states. Nonetheless, the court grants the EPA deference to design a flexible mechanism based on the cost of compliance (installing pollution control technology or burning less).

Transport rule

The Cross State Air Pollution Rule, is the EPA’s living embodiment of the CAA’s Good Neighbor Provision. The EPA drafted the Transport rule after a previous attempt (struck down by the DC Circuit) to define the scope of the provision.  The rule requires that if an upwind state causes a downwind state to violate federally mandated standards, then upwind states must tighten pollution controls if costs are reasonable. The threshold for contribution is at 1%, meaning for each additional marginal unit of pollution, the EPA’s determination of a reasonable cost for control climbs higher. Ultimately, the court found that the EPA conducted a proper and reasonable construction of the Transport rule, thereby rejecting the plaintiff’s claim of overreach.

EPA LogoImpacts

The ultimate impacts of the decision on future Obama Administration strategies remains unclear. However, it appears as if a majority of SCOTUS finds the EPA to be well within its regulatory mandate for the Clean Air Act. The next test will determine how and if the EPA has the regulatory muscle to implement carbon dioxide regulations to curb climate change. If the current decision and the precedent set in Massachusetts v. EPA offer any clues, I suspect the court will continue to uphold further EPA action. The Obama Administration may successfully implement a nationwide climate policy. A goal that until now, has seemed uncertain and elusive.



Georgians Join Thousands in Washington to Demand Action on Climate Change

Reposted from the GA Sierran Spring 2013 Newsletter 

Photo by Jason Krantz

The clock is winding down on what could be America’s finest hour. The opportunity to bring atmospheric carbon down to 350 parts per million – the level scientists say is a safe level for our climate—is rapidly fading. Bold and visionary leadership is the prescription for the climate crisis. Sadly, our prescription has not been filled. A new grassroots movement has risen to demand America’s leadership as the conscience of the world. On February 17th I joined nearly 50,000 citizens in Washington, DC to deliver a resounding message. President Obama, the time for talk has passed!

Mr. President, when you came to Atlanta many of my friends greeted you with a simple message, “reject the Keystone XL Pipeline live up to the bold nature of your statements.” Follow through with your rhetoric on climate change policy. Perhaps 50 people in Atlanta weren’t enough, how about 50,000? Next time I can guarantee double or greater. Our numbers will continue to grow and our demands will not yield. Below are just a handful of commitments we expect you, Mr. President, to champion.

Actionable solutions exist to prevent the worst effects of climate change. I went to Washington in February to demand action on our most pressing issue. Over 150 supporters from Georgia joined me for the momentous occasion. More than anything, this rally served to galvanize the ranks; connect climate activists from around the country to forge friendship and unity.

The Keystone XL pipeline carrying the dirtiest fuel known to man is only one piece of the problem. Years of delay on developing our cities’ public transit infrastructure and high-speed rail will leave our cities and nation unprepared to compete on the global stage. This is why I traveled over 20 hours in a 48-hour period.

Everyone showed up to this rally with a heavy sense of purpose. I befriended a woman who simply wanted her grandchildren to have the same opportunities as she did. Another, was passionate about how the world’s farmers and farmlands will be affected by an increased droughts and heat waves. I rode with students from Valdosta State University who are pushing for change on their own campus. All the faces I met and stories I heard left me inspired and motivated.

Photo by Jason Krantz

Photo by Jason Krantz

During the rally our Native American brothers and sisters from Alberta, Canada and the United States spoke of the need for unity amongst nations. Their plea brought me to tears! They implored us to embrace one another in this struggle for the right of mother earth— the right of all her creations to exist in harmony. You see, in their tradition every blade of grass has a spirit, every rock, every animal. They are all sacred.

We heard from Bill McKibben of 350.org who stressed the importance of engaging our communities on climate change and building on a genuine grassroots movement. Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune talked of his little girl and of the world he hopes she can grow up in. A world where our water is clean, our air healthy and our global climate is stable once more. Brune spoke of many ideals and values even the most conservative republican can aspire to.

The rally swept through downtown DC, ultimately taking us us to the gates of the White House. We arrived right on the doorstep of President Obama, making clear our intention to hold him accountable. Now, our job is not done now that the rally is over. In fact, the real work has just begun. Upon returning home I have committed to giving this fight all I got. This moment has activated me. I am committed to educating a new generation of environmental leaders. Youth don’t have to wait to be “adults” to create positive change. Adults, you don’t have to look back and wonder why you didn’t stand up and fight while you could.

Step forward and join me on this path. Ask us how you can help, where you fit in. Although the struggle may seem insurmountable, you must have faith that the truth, facts, and caring folks like you and me can change the world.
Make no mistake, this is the fight of a lifetime and we will not back down. This is the message I heard from my fellow Georgians. If Obama approves the northern leg of the Keystone XL pipeline, a possibility that is becoming more likely by the day. It will prove a decision that will tar the legacy of his administration. Our movement will respond with greater urgency, numbers and a louder voice.

At Forward on Climate

At Forward on Climate

We know that super storms like Sandy, heat waves, droughts and wildfires will become more common as CO2 increases in our atmosphere. Our voice in Washington that cold February day was unified and determined. Regulate greenhouse gasses as the dangerous pollutants they are. Humanity can no longer face inaction at the expense our future. The world needs the leadership of the United States and President Obama. We need it now.

Let’s lead the world in the manufacture of clean energy technology and installation. Let’s retrofit and build the most energy efficient infrastructure on the planet. Let’s support healthy communities that bike, walk and grow food with their neighbors again. This is the future we want to see in America. That is the vision of America that drove 50,000 of us to descend on Washington D.C. just a few weeks ago. Great leaders do not aspire for what is possible, the inspire others to achieve what is commonly deemed as impossible.  We can do this – let’s move forward on climate today!


Sir, It is clear we need more funds! America’s Great Outdoors Listening Session

Republished from WildernessU Georgia from the summer of 2010

Upriver ChattahoocheeI recognized my love for the Chattahoochee river (the hooch) hundreds of miles away from its banks, on the shores of the Chesapeake Bay. As I attended the listening session for the America’s Great Outdoors initiative in Annapolis, Maryland I was asked an interesting question during a breakout session. I was the youngest person in the room, surrounded by accomplished conservationists along with the Undersecretary of the USDA for the Obama administration. I felt completely out of my league.

A kindly looking man from the Maryland Department of Natural Resources asked, “where did you learn to become so passionate about conservation and environmental issues? And how do we get young people to care about these issues?”

The question caught me off guard and placed me on the spot. I scratched my head searching for an answer until finally I replied, “Well, my father is a photographer and as a child I traveled to many parks with him and my family. I suppose it happened through early contact, not to mention my childhood summers in the hills of north Georgia. Additionally, while in high school I frequented the Chattahoochee National Recreation Area just minutes from my home in Atlanta, Georgia. I used the quiet of the river as a place to seek solace, concentrate on homework or just to escape madness of teenage hormones.”

I continued, “perhaps it is time our education system incorporated experiential learning into the curriculum. America’s children play more video games, watch more TV, and spend more time on the computer than ever before. Children these days have limited contact with the natural world. The less time children spend outside, the harder it will be for people like us to convince society in the future that all these national parks and public lands are worthy public goods.”

The man turned to the undersecretary and said, “Sir, it is clear that more funds need to be directed towards buying land that is closer to major metropolitan centers. These  close-to-home recreation areas are where families come to teFlyfisher and ducks on the Chattahoocheeach their children to love the outdoors, clearly we need more.”

The Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area (NRA) offers Atlantans 48 miles of close-to-home recreation.. If you haven’t had a chance to visit the NRA I suggest you head on out! Activities include: boating, hiking, fishing, bird watching, rock climbing (Island Ford Unit), and much more.

Although made up of many sites, the Medlock Bridge Unit is a treasure that I hold dear to my heart. It is the place where I first learned to embrace all the gifts that nature and a river can give. And for that I am grateful.

Four Days in the Dolly Sods Wilderness and How Oil Money Protected It

Originally posted July 13th, 2010 for The Wilderness Society

Dolly Sods LandscapeRain was pouring down around my green volvo as a couple of my friends and I traveled up an endless forest road to the Dolly Sods Wilderness in West Virginia’s Monongahela National Forest. Behind us, an unmarked white vehicle followed us for what seemed endless miles. Nervousness abounded because the weather was quickly deteriorating. Visibility became so poor that I stopped the car and carefully approached the white truck behind us. Behind the wheel was a kind lady who reassured us that the Sods was four miles ahead to the left. However, she warned us to be careful because there was a tornado warning for the area — it looked like we came to the right place.

The wind was howling, rain was pouring, and thunder seemed to speak from behind a veil of a fog. This was wilderness, land too wild to be developed, which provides clean water, fresh air, wildlife habitat, and an unmatched experience for recreation.

Dolly SodsFinally, the sun made a grand entrance; illuminating an expanse of meadows, rolling hills, over sized clouds, and mystical spires of light. Hiking in the Sods transports you to Alaska or Canada a mere three hours from Washington D.C. Every new vista is more breathtaking and awe-inspiring than the last. One minute you are immersed in windswept blueberry fields, only to find yourself in a boreal forest the next. The only thing you can count on in the Sods is constant change of weather and scenery.

Now, picture yourself climbing up to a ridgeline. As you climb higher, the valleys below appear more outstanding, until two smoke stacks from a nearby coal-fired power plant intrudes on the beauty. Regrettably, adjacent property often threatens our spectacular public lands. The existence of Dolly Sods is owed in part to a hidden gem called the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF).

The LWCF enables federal and state governments to expand public lands through the purchase of in holdings and adjacent private property. Nearly every county in America has benefited from the fund. The LWCF operates like a trust fund, revenue from offshore leasing of federal oil reserves are deposited into the funds for public use. Tragically, the LWCF has been woefully underfunded, reducing its ability to benefit the public.

Across America there are lands deserving protection from the pressures threatening them. We have an opportunity to restore the LWCF to its full potential with the passage of The Land and Water Conservation Authorization and Funding Act, a bill in the U.S. Senate (S. 2747). This bill will ensure that LWCF can’t be raided in the future, and will give communities all across America access to more quality outdoor recreation, wildlife habitat, clean water and clean air.Jeremy Cherson Photograph

LWCF funds were used to purchase Dolly Sods south because of its rugged valleys surrounded by steep slopes clothed in rich hardwood stands of birch, poplar, and oak. As I stood knee deep in Red Creek, the beauty was stunning until I realized something. The only way out was up. Suddenly, thunder roared through the valley. Conditions can become hazardous instantly in the mountainous backcountry of appalachia.

Dolly Sods GangWith only seven miles to go, the rain came. Our water was running low. Through a lack of foresight we ate our lunch for breakfast, leaving us hungry on the most difficult section of trail. Finally, we arrived back at the parking lot, exhilarated and exhausted. We were lucky enough to have explored over 25 miles of the Sods. Not everyone gets such an experience, and not every place gets adequate protection. The fight for full and dedicated funding has been a grueling uphill battle with no end in sight until now. The peak is near; all we need is the courage, will and foresight to fulfill the true potential of the Land and Water Conservation Fund.

Born again: Caving in Northwest Georgia

Born again: Caving in Northwest Georgia

Originally Posted Novemeber 30th, 2011 on http://wildernessugeorgia.com/tag/bats/

Unbeknownst to many, Georgia is a world-class caving destination. Georgia is part of a greater cave system known as TAG (Tennessee –Alabama- Georgia). During the summer of 2011 I organized a trip with the leaders of a caving grotto while studying White-Nose Syndrome. They agreed to teach me about cave geology, biota and management strategies while exploring a cave in the region.

46441_1380697793884_5059845_nOur adventure began with a short hike through a pastoral field giving way to a southern forest. Eventually, our leader led our caving group to a small opening that appears at first glance as just a pile of rocks. As we descended, the temperature dropped and the darkness became pervasive. It is important to remember that caving is a dangerous activity. One should never go caving without an experienced caver, plenty of backup lights, batteries, water and food in case of emergency.

Furthermore, caving is not for the claustrophobic. Imagine crawling on your hands and knees through icy waters with only an inch or two between your helmet and the cave ceiling. Next envision squeezing through crevices so tiny that you have to exhale to fit through. However, the thrill of exploring a frontier where few have gone before is exhilarating and well worth the squeeze.

Inside the cave there was an array of life from fish to white crickets. Two bats hung predictably from the cave ceiling cuddling for warmth. Meanwhile263722_1380698033890_413660_n a orange speckled salamander hugged the wall, perhaps a species found only in this cave. Many cave species are endemic only to certain cave systems. For this reason protection of cave ecosystems is important. The best way to protect cave ecosystems are to maintain water quality above ground as it flows into caves through the natural hydrological cycle.

In the southeast there are many ways to explore the region’s abundant geological resources. You can join a local caving club called a “grotto44654_1380698273896_1101924_n” where you can explore with experienced cavers. Remember, never go caving without an experienced caver! The consequence can be dehydration, starvation, and potentially deadly if you get lost or trapped underground. Caving sounds enticing right?

Regardless of the consequences, the benefits and experiences gained from caving are unmatched. I encourage readers to contact their local grotto and explore the unique geology of the TAG cave region. Below I’ve provided a link to the National Speleological Society to help you find a local caving group. Now be safe, have fun, and explore!



Green Tea, Georgia Style: A new brew of bipartisanship

Green Tea, Georgia Style: A new brew of bipartisanship

A New Brew of Bipartisanship

It’s election season 2012 and Colleen Kiernan, chapter director of the Georgia Sierra Club, is battling a bill that would limit the right to protest in the Peach State.  A broad coalition of liberals and conservatives have come together to challenge the bill, but the bill’s sponsor is attempting to peel off Tea Party opposition by making it apply only to labor unions.  Kiernan takes particular note when Debbie Dooley, co-founder of the Atlanta Tea Party Patriots, responds, “This is a bad bill, and it needs to die!”  Impressed by Dooley’s passion, Kiernan picks up the phone and arranges a meeting that will set in motion one of the most unlikely political alliances in modern America.

Green Tea Coalition


Over lunch, Debbie and Colleen realized there was a window of opportunity to bring their respective constituencies together and challenge the “status quo of the good ol’ boys” in Georgia politics. There were two open seats on the Georgia Public Service Commission, the body which regulates the state’s largest utility: Georgia Power.  Georgia Power has a legal monopoly on energy in the state and actively opposes alternative energy development, particularly solar.  This is where the values of the Tea Party and Sierra Club converged.

The Sierra Club supports solar power as a renewable, zero-emissions energy option. From the Tea Party perspective, backing solar is a way to decentralize energy production and force large utilities to compete in the free market.  Thus, the Green Tea Coalition was formed, a surprising partnership that generated attention from national media outlets such as Fox NewsMSNBC, and the New York Times.

green tea kienan-dooley

Last summer, the Commission voted four to one to double the amount of solar generated electricity that Georgia Power is required to supply to the grid.  At 525 megawatts, this is enough power to supply about 168,000 Georgian households with electricity.

Such victories have not gone unopposed by some conservatives, including Karl Rove and the Koch brother funded group Americans for Prosperity (AFP).  AFP asserts that it is wrong to force solar on utility companies because it is more expensive than coal or natural gas.  Dooley, however, advises people to follow the money.  “The Koch brothers are heavily invested in fossil fuels and want to protect their interests,” asserts Dooley, adding, “it’s hypocritical for some conservatives to point the finger at [solar subsidies] while ignoring the subsidies received by fossil fuel and nuclear.”  If given a fair fight in the free market, Dooley believes solar will outcompete fossil fuels.

For the Sierra Club, while some of their traditional supporters are uncomfortable with such close collaboration with right-wing groups, Kiernan points out that the Tea Party is very decentralized and shouldn’t be viewed as a monolithic entity.  This can be highlighted by the emerging division between the big-corporate wing of the Republican Party and the values of some local, grassroots conservatives.

To Dooley, messaging is key. Given the right message on energy, conservatives and environmentalists can find common ground to achieve shared goals. Consider this argument from Dooley, “Who do you think should pay to clean up for the damage caused by coal fired power plants, do you believe you the taxpayer should pay for it? Or should it come from a clean up fund that these major corporations that profit from coal should be the ones that pay for it? That would get the same thing [goal of environmentalists] accomplished much faster. No conservative would say they think the taxpayer should pay for that!”

For her part, Kiernan envisions the partnership evolving on a case-by-case basis. For example, a statewide voter referendum to raise the sales tax by a penny to fund transportation projects threatened to increase Georgia’s reliance on automobile use. Kiernan reached out to Dooley to challenge the referendum. Together, the Green Tea Coalition defeated what the Sierra Club viewed as a road building tax and the Tea Party saw as an unnecessary tax increase. Working in a conservative state poses challenges for the Sierra Club, says Kiernan, and framing the issues through the lens of conservative values such as property rights is crucial to success in a red state.

The unlikely partnership highlights the potential for a new bipartisanship in the United States. Driven by grassroots activists concerned with the collusion of big government and big business, conservatives and progressives in Georgia are finding new spaces to challenge the status quo. Dooley and Kiernan agree that any chance they have to disrupt the good ol’ boys and business-as-usual is likely to foster a partnership between their seemingly divergent groups.


Andrew Bonanno Bard CEP MS'15

Jeremy Cherson Bard CEP MS'15

Getting Back to Nature

Getting Back to Nature  10/25/2012

Jeremy Cherson, AmeriCorps Service Learning Coordinator
Sequoia Riverlands Trust

Visalia, California


Springville, California Trout in the Classroom

Modern society has created a deep schism between people and the land. When the uniqueness of a community dissipates due to unchecked development, we may lose the very identity of our community. During my life as a young man I have witnessed the distressing shift towards disengagement from the land. From Atlanta to Beijing to Visalia I have seen so much lost. For instance, modern transportation allows us to travel over vast landscapes in single days without laying a foot on the ground. Even more concerning, people live in their communities without stepping foot in a park or nature preserve.

Here I will give a couple anecdotes on how this impacts America’s children. Once, on a field trip at my land trust’s nature preserve, a group of children derided me as “gross” for picking a flower and smelling it. During a class presentation my colleague asked 1st graders to name the six basic parts of a plant. Not one child could name a single part of a plant. How did this happen, where have we gone astray and what are we going to do about it?

Sequoia Riverlands Trust education program

Visalia, California environmental education program

What I do know, is that this rediscovery of place, individual and community begins with children. A child deprived of nature and a nurturing community is a child who will be disconnected from place and community. Only through building a foundational connection with their landscape will communities grow stronger and more resilient to challenges. Love of place is crucial. This is why land trusts can play such a pivotal role in our communities.

The land trust I am serving with, Sequoia Riverlands Trust, has embraced this commitment to connecting people with the land. With the addition of two AmeriCorps members we have been able to offer more public programs than ever before. This year we have done extraordinary things including natuPicturere walks, night hikes, outdoor yoga, restoration projects, gardening programs and trail work days. We take great pride in being physically and spiritually “grounded.” We take even more pride in connecting people to the previously unknown uniqueness of their home.

Once a community realizes how extraordinary their home really is, the real work can begin. Community development begins with the recognition of your home as the center of your universe. This realignment of our personal universe naturally expands outward into the sphere of our community. We begin to help our neighbors with their gardens, donate time at the local homeless shelter, give blood and offer other worthy acts of kindness.

Look for the strengths and positive attributes of your community and communicate them to your neighbors. Build trust, understanding and the hope of a better world. If you are wondering how to start, just look for your local community organization! We can always use more help!