Why I Remain Irritated at the Sierra Club

By lambert strether. A version of this post appeared at Corrente. This post has with new material added that applies in part to fracking.

So here’s the deal, and linky goodness will be lacking today (and a lot of this is what activists have put together in discussion, so links are lacking anyhow. And as the great Peggy Noonan once said: “It would be irresponsible not to speculate!”)

One of Maine’s issues as a state is that we have an extractive economy that’s doesn’t support us as well as it used to, what with producing more with less in pulp and paper, and with the forest product industry tending to move where costs and regulations are lower, and/or closer to the equator, where trees grow faster and bigger. We continue to extract from fisheries and summer people, naturally, but those resources, although renewable with careful management, are seasonal and mostly support the coast. And Nestlé extracts our water at Poland Springs. But the sort of people who play golf together and fly over the state in executive jets seem to see two main “opportunities”: One is our oodles of empty space,* hence landfills and importing of out-of-state trash.** The other is our geographical position between Quebec and New Brunswick. Location, location, location!

Which brings me to the “East-West Corridor.” Here’s a map. The blue strip shows the Corridor’s route, kinda sorta. (The local oligarch shilling the plan, Cianbro construction czar Peter Vigue, has the real map, but he keeps it locked up in his office.)

Now, a word about the business model behind the Corridor. The Corridor is essentially a land deal. Key point: The Corridor would be privately owned. That means that the (unnamed, as yet unknown) owners of the corridor would be able to run whatever they want along the strip:*** Could be a highway, could be power lines, could be pipelines for tar sands.**** The sales pitch is that the Corridor would enable Maine to “compete in the global” economy, which is exactly what a lot of Mainers — and especially the Mainers who moved north into all that empty space and bought farms that have turned out to be right in the Corridor’s footprint — do not want to do. (And why should we?) Note that the right of way discussed is considerably wider than Route 95’s (which runs North-South) so one can only wonder why that is, and what they would do with the extra space.

Now, Vigue et al. are marketing the Corridor as a “highway,” and that’s clever, because people think, just as I thought, “Super! We can drive to Montréal!” So let’s consider the Corridor under that aspect for one moment, assuming that the descriptions used by proponents are not deceptive.

First, the Corridor, being private land, would be fenced along its entire length, and there will be very few exits. If families or friends on either side want to cross going North-South, they’ll have to drive or hike miles out of their way to a crossing. If animals want to cross the Corridor, they’ll have to use wildlife crossings (which is so ridiculous. I can just imagine a bear at one end and a moose at the other. How does that work, exactly?) That means that the Corridor is, in essence, splitting the state into two, like the Berlin Wall, or the DMZs of Korea or Vietnam, or any fence around a sacrifice zone.

Second, the only permanent jobs the Corridor would bring Mainers would be those servicing truck and truckers at those very few exits: 7/11 cashiers, hotel attendants, dealers, and hookers. Not that there’s anything wrong with any of that, but Vigue keeps claiming the Corridor would let “our children” stay in Maine, and it’s just not so. (There’s a reason that multiple studies have been done on this consultant- and lawyer-funding boondoggle, and it’s been shelved, every time.)

Third, there seems to be no business rationale for a highway that benefits Mainers. It’s easy to see how Canadian truckers save time and money with a shorter route across Maine instead of around it, but not so easy to see how that helps Maine, or helps “our children” stay in Maine.

Fourth, it’s also not easy to see which Maine businesses are going to ship their goods out to market using the Corridor. The forest products industry already has its supply chain. Now, it could be that the Corridor will conjure entire new industries into being up in the Unorganized Territories, but if that’s true, Vigue is being notably coy about what those new industries might be. Water? Do we really want to send our water out of state? Mineral mines?***** And from the Eastport end of the Corridor? Eastport can’t compete with New York, Newark, Baltimore, or Charleston, all of whom have spent billions upgrading their facilities and are wired directly into massive intermodal transport networks, none of which are available at Eastport or ever would be.

Finally, it is easy to see that some goods can shipped in to Maine from away. One obvious candidate is Canadian and European trash: The state-owned landfill is right on the Corridor’s route, and is already permitted for international medical waste.

In summary: We’ve got a situation where the best case scenario is a boondoggle that benefits Cianbro and the usual slithering eel bucket of lawyers, legislators, consultants, and fixers (sorry for the redundancy) down in Augusta. The proponents don’t make a clear business case for the Highway, and can’t show it nets out positive for Mainers. And opponents can develop business cases for the Corridor, but if the proponents have those cases in mind, they’re not saying, and it’s not clear that tar sands pipelines, water export, mineral export, or trash import would benefit anybody but a few “global” corporations, and all of them put our land and water at risk (which “the children” would then pay to clean up). And these objections scratch the surface; here’s more.

So the state of play right now is that local activists have made this case against the Corridor very powerfully and effectively on the ground.****** On the critical path is a so-called feasibility study (which studies the financial aspects of the highway only; see under “private equity,” perhaps. The study, since it is funded by the state, might possibly be used to show public benefit, and hence be used by the private owners of the Corridor to justify the use of eminent domain). Well, the Corridor’s legislative sponsor (Doug Thomas) got an earful from constituents and asked the Governor to put the feasibility study on hold. This is a good thing!

* * *

So, into this context steps the regional Sierra Club office, who sponsored a public informational meeting the other day at a rawther expensive venue without managing to contact the local activists for their mailing lists or using their phone tree, so most of us came through word of mouth. And the regional honcho was gracious enough to ask us for our feedback on the PowerPoint presentation they intend to show throughout the state.

And things went wrong from Slide One (though we were courteous enough to wait until Slide Two to point this out). In short form: The Sierra Club parachutes in and frames the issue as “The East-West Highway” not “The East-West Corridor,” thereby undoing all the careful framing that the actual, local activists had used to beat up on Doug Thomas and bring the thing to a halt. Worse, this weekend is The Common Ground Fair, a deeply Maine event way up at the tippie-top of the hippie gradient in Unity, and I picture the activists having a table with some flyers saying “Corridor” and the Sierra Club having a booth with printed brochures saying “Highway,” stomping all over the local message. Way to go. So I’ll be interested to see whether the Sierra Club is able to display adaptability or not. [It seems that the Sierra Club focused on national campaigns like “Moving Planet”. Jym St. Pierre of RESTORE at did adapt, saying “East-West Highway and Utility Corridor,” according to Martha Stewart’s stable manager (!), who did a write-up for the Fair (photo 26).]

Even worse, having framed the issue as “Highway bad” the Sierra Club has an answer: “Rail good.” And as it turns out, there is trackage more or less along the kinda sorta known route of the Corridor, making the business case for the Corridor even more iffy than it already is (unless it’s not really a highway at all, of course, but a real estate deal just waiting for pipelines, power lines, giant conveyor belts, catapults, or whatever).

Clue stick, Sierra Club: I don’t give two sh*ts whether medical waste from Canada or Europe comes into the state by rail or by highway. I don’t give two sh*ts whether the slurry from mountaintop removal for minerals leaves the state in a ten-wheeler or a hopper. And I don’t give two sh*ts whether oil spills into the alder swamps or the Penobscot or the Kennebec or Moosehead Lake because a pipeline broke or because a tank car overturned or a whole train went off the rails. In fact, I don’t even buy the premise that Maine, and especially northern Maine, should “compete in the global economy” at all, a premise both Vigue and the Sierra Club share. The whole neo-liberal paradigm is doubling down on #FAIL, and I don’t see any reason why Maine (“Dirigo”) shouldn’t say “This stops here.” The Sierra Club thinks or at least says that “We’re on the same side.” Well, if we’re on the same side, then don’t stomp on our framing and don’t enable the more efficient extraction of resources from our state!

In fairness, the regional Sierra Club employees were quite happy to have their highly educated and mostly under- or disemployed audience correct their PowerPoint for errors in spelling, grammar, and consistency, which were quite numerous and unbecoming in a professional presentation. In fact, it was clear that they weren’t empowered to do anything else.

* * *

If I had to guess why the Sierra Club behaved as it did, my guess would go something like this: The Sierra Club was driven by its own institutional imperatives rather than the need for Mainers to retain public goods like clean water and a state without a giant corridor-ectomy scar stitched across its middle. The Sierra Club is in the business of running — and seeking funding for — “campaigns” against highways and for rail. So — rather like the classic story of the drunk looking for their lost keys under the streetlamp because that’s where the light is — they gussied up a presentation from an old campaign with some new graphics and bullet points, and parachuted into the local activist community with it, hoping to get some free copy editing and, oh, buy in. Didn’t happen. I’m crying.

Oh, and the best part? One Sierra Club representative or hanger-on mentioned, late in the meeting, that one reason they favored rail was that they (the Sierra Club) didn’t want to be seen as nay-sayers, heaven forfend. Well, pushing an outcome where international medical waste could end up being dumped in Maine’s state-owned landfill so the Sierra Club can burnish its cred in Washington, D.C.… Well, it just makes me feel warm inside, ya know?

* * *

In closing, all anti-extractive/pro-sustainability activists are really fighting the same fight: Fracking, landfills, mountaintop removal, pipelines, water, etc. The resource may vary, but the playbook and the stakes remain the same. Here are some characteristics that seem general to me (and I’m probably reinventing the wheel here, so more experienced activists should feel free to jump in and correct, add links, etc.).

1. The “Jobs” talking point. In a state where people are desperate for work, that’s a big selling point. Our landfill was sold on the basis that it would save “the mill” (don’t ask; the scam was incredibly intricate). That turned out to be a lie. Film at 11! At its most intense, this talking point is straight up “Shock Doctrine” stuff. It has occurred to me that one reason our elites won’t put anything like a Jobs Guarantee on the table is that the “Jobs” talking point would go away, and the locals would be much harder to muscle.

2. The “Children” talking point. Just as with charters, when advocates say “it’s all about the children” it never is.

3. Social capital. One reason the our meeting went so well (for us), and anti-Corridor activism generally has been so effective, is that people who’ve come to know and trust each other in previous campaigns came together quickly and effectively for this one.

4. Civic engagement. The permitting process — and not, for whatever reason, the electoral process — is one terrain on which these campaigns are fought. (Sorry for the metaphor, which is both militaristic and may not even be correct. But it’s the one I have. Civil resistance, as with the Keystone tree-sitters, is a topic for another time.) While we landfill activists haven’t stopped the landfill, we at least — with a very small and unpaid crew — have been able to slow it down, and more to the point, turn the climate of opinion in the State against the landfill, and its proponents (among them the former Democratic governor). The permitting process provides the press with a ready made narrative and a calendar of events. Moreover, the activists generally become subject matter experts in the form of extraction they oppose, and begin to appear in the press as authoritative sources as the narrative proceeds. The permitting process is also rife with lack of transparency, lack of accountability, and even corruption (whether in the form of cognitive regulatory capture, the revolving door, etc.) all of which must be discovered and rooted out. In other words, the civic engagement demanded by the permitting process is terrific for building social capital from “all walks of life.” Necessary. But sufficient? Leading me to….

5. “But what are you for?” Here, if I may say so, I think that “we” tend to fall down. There doesn’t really need to be an alternative to the East-West Highway other than not building it; so the case is easy. Landfills are a little harder, because, after all, the waste has to go somewhere, though the Europeans (and Massachusetts) should deal with their own waste instead of shipping it here. Nevertheless, Maine has a solid waste hierarchy with landfills as a last resort, and so all that’s really necessary is to get the state government to adhere to its own policy, which I didn’t say would be easy. Fracking seems much harder: Our elites (as Ian Welsh pointed out some years ago in a post I have never been able to find; readers?) don’t know how to do anything other than run a political economy based on extracting hydrocarbons, so they are doubling down on Twilight in the Desert with fracking. But it’s not at all clear what a political economy that wasn’t based on hydrocarbons would look like, anti-frackers don’t articulate that vision, and “you can’t fight something with nothing.” “Sustainability” isn’t defined operationally, and people have to pay the bills, and take care of their hostages to fortune, and good for them. So what to do? NOTE: Fracking also has private property and home rule issues to contend with, which I don’t address yet.

In any case, we need to share experience, strength, and hope, and this post is an effort to do that.

NOTE * Empty except for the people who live there. Most people think of all New England states as small, but Maine is big and has a big sky. Up in the “unorganized territories” there are hundreds of square miles without any public roads or facilities of any kind. Off-the-gridders like this.

NOTE ** Interestingly, David Foster Wallace seems to have anticipated the views of our elites in Infinite Jest, with his vision of a New England walled off from the rest of the continent with plexiglass, IIRC, and toxic waste fired over the wall from points south with giant catapults (from the Infinite Jest Live Blog). Technology:

Oh, and we ceded “the concavity” to Canada (to them “the convexity”). Here’s an extract from Wallace’s “fly on the map” transcript of the key decision makers cutting the deal:

TINE places two large maps (also courtesy of Ms. Heath’s crafts class) on Govt.-issue easels. They both look to be of the good old U.S.A.. The first map is your more or less traditional standard issue, with the U.S. looking really big in white and Mexico’s northern fringes a tasteful ladies’-room pink and Canada’s brooding bottom hem a garish, almost menacing red. The second North American map looks neither old nor all that good, traditionally speaking. It has a concavity. It looks sort of like some person or persons have taken a deep wicked canine-intensive bite out of its upper right bit, in which an ascending and then descending line has its near-right-angle at what looks to be the historic and now hideously befouled Ticonderoga NY; and the areas north of that jagged line look to be that pushy shade of Canadian red, now. Some little rubber practical-joke-type flies, the blue-bellied kind that live on filth, are stapled in a raisinesque dispersal over the red Concavity. TINE has a trademark telescoping weatherman’s pointer that he plays with instead of using it to point at much of anything.

SEC. STATE: A kind of ecological gerrymandering?

TINE: The president invites you gentlemen to conceive these two visuals as a sort of before-and-after representation of ‘projected-intra-O.N.A.N. territorial re-allocations,’ or some public term like that. Redemisement’s probably too technical.

SEC. STATE: Still respectfully not quite sure we at State see how inhabited territories can be sold to the public as quote expendable when a decent slice of that public by all reports inhabits that territory, Rod.

GENTLE: Hhhaaahh.

TINE: The president’s pro-actively chosen not to hedge that high-cost tough-choice possibly unpopular lonely-at-the-top fact one bit, guys. We’ve been moving forward full-bore on anticipating various highly involved relocation scenarios. Scenaria? Is it scenarios or scenaria? Marty’s on-task on the scenario front. Care to bring us to speed, Marty?

SEC. TRANSP.: We foresee a whole lot of people moving south really really fast. We foresee cars, light trucks, heavier trucks, buses, Winnebagos — Winnebaga? — commandeered vans and buses, and possibly commandeered Winnebagos or Winnebaga. We foresee 4-wheel-drive vehicles, motorcycles, Jeeps, boats, mopeds, bicycles, canoes and the odd makeshift raft. Snowmobiles and cross-country skiers and roller-skaters on those strange-looking roller-skates with only one line of wheels down each skate. We foresee backpack-type folks speed-walking in walking-shorts and boots and Tyrolean hats and a stick. We foresee some folks just outright running like hell, possibly, Rod. We foresee homemade wagons piled high with worldly goods. We foresee BMW war-surplus motorcycles with sidecars and guys in goggles and leather helmets. We foresee the occasional skateboard. We foresee a strictly temporary breakdown in the thin veneer of civilization over the souls of essentially frightened stampeding animals. We foresee looting, shooting, price-gouging, ethnic tensions, promiscuous sex, births in transit.

SEC. H.E.W.: Rollerblades I think you mean, Marty.

SEC. TRANSP.: All feedback and input welcome, Trent. Someone junior in the office foresaw hang-gliders. I don’t foresee demographically significant hang-gliding, personally, at this juncture. Nor I need to stress do we foresee anything you could call true refugees.

GENTLE: Hhhaaahh hhhuuuhhhhhhh.

TINE: Absolutely not, Mart. No way a downer-association-rife term like refugee is going to be applicable here.

Quite an ear, Foster Wallace had. I guess the shorter version of my problems with the Sierra Club is that I can just see them at this meeting, proposing that catapults made out of wood be used (“sustainable!”) or that the plexiglass wall be painted with colorful murals, possibly by schoolchildren.

NOTE *** I should know, but don’t, the permitting regime that a private corridor would run under. One can only believe that it would be even more lax than the permitting process under which our state-owned/privately operated landfill has been run, a process marked by the reversal of Maine’s solid waste hierarchy, which by statute makes landfills a last resort, not a first, and also marked by the corruption of state and local government in the forms of the revolving door, fees for lawyers and “consultants,” secret contract amendments, meetings run for years with no bylaws, a general lack of transparency and accountability, and a Katahdin-high mountain of bullshit from the operator about their plans and intentions.

Oh, and they sited the thing near the Penobscot, so when the liner fails, as all landfill liners do, the best case scenario is that the quality of our surface water would be sacrificed. I go on like this to show the nature of our local oligarchy. All I can say in defense is of these guys is that Maine is so poor they never engineered a housing bubble.

NOTE **** Some speculate that the East West Corridor would hook up to a proposed Enbridge tar sands pipeline running through Michigan and up through Ontario and Quebec, terminating at Eastport. An alternative would be to use an existing aircraft fuel pipeline running from Quebec south and terminating in Portland, but that pipeline is old, is flow direction would need to be reversed, and not its necessarily suitable for tar sands oil.

NOTE ***** There is one possibility: Mineral mines. It’s not clear to me that the potential gold mine in Aroostook County is on the route, however. Although I suppose it could be! There is, however, a certain beauty to the concept of (just guessing) Irving Canada bootstrapping its private highway with the proceeds from the gold mine it owns.

NOTE ****** Vigue, when he’s not presenting to Chamber of Commerce types, comes off as touchy and paranoid. Was it really necessary to call in the police from all the surrounding towns at a so-called open meeting? And then pre-clear all questions from citizens, instead of having an open mike?

UPDATE In discussing the jobs the Corridor would bring to Maine, I have just realized I forgot the mention the security guards, and apparatus, needed to patrol the fence. My bad.

All the way across Maine! But jobs! Think of the children!

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About Lambert Strether

Readers, I have had a correspondent characterize my views as realistic cynical. Let me briefly explain them. I believe in universal programs that provide concrete material benefits, especially to the working class. Medicare for All is the prime example, but tuition-free college and a Post Office Bank also fall under this heading. So do a Jobs Guarantee and a Debt Jubilee. Clearly, neither liberal Democrats nor conservative Republicans can deliver on such programs, because the two are different flavors of neoliberalism (“Because markets”). I don’t much care about the “ism” that delivers the benefits, although whichever one does have to put common humanity first, as opposed to markets. Could be a second FDR saving capitalism, democratic socialism leashing and collaring it, or communism razing it. I don’t much care, as long as the benefits are delivered. To me, the key issue — and this is why Medicare for All is always first with me — is the tens of thousands of excess “deaths from despair,” as described by the Case-Deaton study, and other recent studies. That enormous body count makes Medicare for All, at the very least, a moral and strategic imperative. And that level of suffering and organic damage makes the concerns of identity politics — even the worthy fight to help the refugees Bush, Obama, and Clinton’s wars created — bright shiny objects by comparison. Hence my frustration with the news flow — currently in my view the swirling intersection of two, separate Shock Doctrine campaigns, one by the Administration, and the other by out-of-power liberals and their allies in the State and in the press — a news flow that constantly forces me to focus on matters that I regard as of secondary importance to the excess deaths. What kind of political economy is it that halts or even reverses the increases in life expectancy that civilized societies have achieved? I am also very hopeful that the continuing destruction of both party establishments will open the space for voices supporting programs similar to those I have listed; let’s call such voices “the left.” Volatility creates opportunity, especially if the Democrat establishment, which puts markets first and opposes all such programs, isn’t allowed to get back into the saddle. Eyes on the prize! I love the tactical level, and secretly love even the horse race, since I’ve been blogging about it daily for fourteen years, but everything I write has this perspective at the back of it.


  1. skippy

    WOW…. Check point Toxic Charlie and instead of land mines you have bio – industrial waste sites. IMO the Canadians ain’t interested attacking or flooding the boarder for Walmart jobs or waste site employ. So is it a case of… you can check out any time you like but, never leave?

    Skippy… debt checks before exiting country? Health and welfare lock down… snicker… I smell rent extraction node profit… Full of Win!

  2. David Lentini

    I gave up on the SC years ago when I lived in California. (I too live in Maine now.) The SC seemed to have become too self-impressed and bloated. I just couldn’t believe all of the junk mail they sent me, asking for more money or trumpeting some cause or other. I just started to think of all the trees and energy they could have saved by being modest!

    1. sgt_doom

      Several years ago I was approached by someone (paid type, not a volunteer) trying to raise donations for the League of Conservations Voters FOR the passage of cap-and-trade legislation (said legislation soundly exposed by real Euro anti-bankster, pro-environment activist groups,along with Greenpeace, GAO, etc., as another shadow banking scheme to give free money to the banks and oil companies).

      Up to that point I confess to ignorance of many of those conservation outfits, thinking them pristine — was I ever a turd-brain for such gullibility!

      The League and Sierra Club have long ago been co-opted by the super-rich property owners, working on behalf of them to garner tax breaks and other gov’t benefits (OPM—Other People’s Money, the usual process) to profit their fallow lands, etc.

      The Nature Conservancy wasn’t co-opted, they began completed corrupted and compromised (although I’m sure many members of all three groups probably believe — however misguided — in the official line.

      Took be completely by surprise — just another part of the bankster party and Transnational Capitalist Class, me thinks?

      (The League of Conservation Voters, that several years ago, would have gone after Dennis Kucinich and Pete Defazio, both true progressives in congress, along with Greenpeace — if that explains it better!)

  3. JEHR

    I wondered how long it would take for a fence to be built between Canada and the US. This could be the first step in what is really a wall that will protect the US from Canadian imperialism.

  4. Norman

    Thanks for the info. Call it gut feeling, but though I receive SC P.R., and I sure get a lot @ my inbox, I’ve resisted joining all these years, and this points up why my resistence is valid. Goodness, I know it doesn’t matter to them whether or not I continue receiving it, but I belive that unless they reverse their stand here, I will relegate them to my spam box, or perhaps just cancil?

  5. SAJ

    That jibes with what the SC did in Atlanta – they decided to join forces with the local Tea Party (!) to fight the transportation. Their thought process (sic) was that making the referendum fail would heighten the contradictions of Atlanta’s dependence on cars, and people would just beg for more public transport. The referendum failed, and now our Republican governor wants to refocus transport policy on….highways.

  6. BenE

    I live in New Brunswick and as far as trucking through that route goes I’m highly skeptical.

    As you mentioned, there are already rails going that route, however canadians have not had access to these for a long time.

    My grand parents once told me when I was young that they used to be able to take that shortcut (at least 50 years ago). At some point the border security for allowing passengers to cross became too much of an inconvenience that passenger trains started going arround the US.

    Not that long after, added security regulations and uncertainty in the time it took to deal with the paperwork of “importing and exporting” trainloads of goods through the US made it not worth the 6 hours of transit time it saved for freight either. No Canada to Canada trains have taking that route for decades.

    It was much easier to cross the border in those days. Nowadays with the heavyhanded TSA, a much stricter policy requirering all Canadians that enter the US to carry a passport and prove that they won’t be doing any business or sell anything (couldn’t have us Canadian steal US jobs), I can’t imagine it would be worth the hassle for truckers. At least with trains the US governement could easily know that they weren’t going to leave the track and go somewhere they weren’t suposed to. It’s not so easy with trucks and cars.

    1. Aquifer

      That fills in a ? i had …

      I was wondering “why the fence”? Or perhaps more correctly, why the barrier? Seems like a lot of trouble to go to just to keep folks from crossing a highway and if this were to be a boon to the region seems to me the ONLY selling point would be to “open up the area for development” (that is ALWAYS considered a top selling point for stuff like this even when most of the locals don’t WANT development …)

      But after your post it occurred to me that with the fence on both sides they could make the argument that for all intents and purposes this corridor IS a “part of Canada” and hence all that paper work would be unnecessary – sort of like those “free trade zones” along the borders of various countries where the rules are suspended for well defined zones ….

      Just a thought …..

      As for what to do – put in pols who will “Just say No” (whoda thunk Nancy Reagan woulda wound up being such a quotable figure for environmental causes – the wife of a guy who had an Int. Sec., Watts, who said(?) – “Seen one tree, seen ’em all”)

  7. timotheus

    “In closing, all anti-extractive/pro-sustainability activists are really fighting the same fight: Fracking, landfills, mountaintop removal, pipelines, water, etc.”

    I would add anti-boondoggle developments of all kinds, including a very current example that comes to mind, the recently opened Barclay Center in downtown Brooklyn, which is enjoying all kinds of mindless hype from the papers, Jay-Z concert, basketball, etc. See “Battle for Brooklyn” (film) if possible or its Web site with loads of background. And P.S. — worst journalistic sin of the week: New York magazine allowed BC developer Steve Rattner to call his main opponent a liar without a single specific fact and without giving the target right of reply. When the big boys put in the fix, everyone lines up and salutes.

  8. Timothy Gawne

    You should not be surprised. The Sierra Club sold out for money a long time ago.

    Once upon a time they were an environmental group. As such, they recognized that the single biggest threat to the environment is excessive population growth. As such they spoke out in favor of population control. But this did not sit well with the lovers of cheap labor, so in exchange for a big cash donation they agreed to censure any references to the effects of population growth (except for the most vapid general concepts – on specifics they were to remain).

    I expect that the executives of the Sierra Club got big raises and nicer offices, the club itself became an accomplice to cheap labor and environmental ruin whose only real activity was selling calendars of goats, and with 100 million new mouths to feed every year and stagnant crop yields per acre, we are not looking at happy times.

    Big money can and does corrupt and co-opt everything. The Sierra Club is old news.

    Thank you for your consideration,

    1. Susan Pizzo

      Took the words ‘right’ out of my mouth. Anyone who has studied the neoliberal game plan since the Powell memo (advocating a total fight back against all things leftist) would not be surprised to find that, in addition to running their own propaganda machine (think tanks, corporate media, etc), the power elite have gotten to the stage where they’re taking over ‘ours’ (the Democratic party would be another case in point). Good for you, Lambert – and all those who are self-organizing rather than trusting and rolling over. Btw – is there a defense fund?

  9. Gareth

    The Sierra Club seems to be in the habit of injecting itself into local environmental struggles, even when no one requests their input, in a sort of “Tame the Natives” function. Rather than saying no to a disastrous project, they always encourage compromise, even when saying no is the only correct response.

    The Sierra Club is what happens when enivronmentalism goes professional and has to rely on the corporate money pump to maintain salaries, staff, advertising and perks.

  10. MontanaMaven

    From a comment on a Hamsher article on FDL about the Sierra Club and BP spill.
    “It’s not just Sierra Club, it’s Wilderness Society, NRDC, Nature Conservancy and others. Where we are seeing their huge hypocrisy is in their rabid support for massive ecosystem slaughter for Chevron, BP, Shell and Goldman Sachs profits. One greenwash is for Big Solar, which directly competes with local rooftop solar. These sellouts are pushing for millions of acres of permanent wilderness destruction for private monopolization of solar power, when it has been proven over and over that it’s cheaper, faster, cleaner and way better for taxpayers, rate-payers, property owners and the environment to site solar within the built environment.

    Monies are funneled through organizations like CEERT from Big Energy to Sierra Club and NRDC so they will help “educate the conservation community” about how great it is to permanently destroy the ecosystems they are pledged to save because it will save the planet. Or not. Turns out that the enormous emissions from manufacturing, construction, transmission and operation of these Big Wind and Big Solar plants will almost certainly result in a net INCREASE in GHGs when compared to the same amount of power derived from rooftop solar and natural gas.

    It is hugely distressing to those of us REALLY trying to save the planet to be shouted down, shoved aside and blatantly lied to by Big Enviros. ”

    There are people here in Montana that know a lot about this and have been fighting “wilderness issues” forever. I’m not one of them, but I’ll try to dig up other info.

    1. Aquifer

      ” …. when compared to the same amount of power derived from rooftop solar and natural gas.”

      Oops – a bit of a slip there – “natural gas”? As in fracking?

      Always seems there is some camel with his nose under the tent when it comes to fighting some renewable resource somewhere … There may be good reason to fight those big arrays, but suggesting that natural gas (though it supposedly is odorless in its natural state) is a “better” alternative always smells a bit rotten to me ….

      1. MontanaMaven

        I didn’t read that last part before posting. Natural gas by fracking is very bad indeed.
        By the way, one of the reasons Jon Tester may be losing (out of many) to Denny Rehberg is his “logging bill”. He lost a lot of his base on that one and lost more with his vote against the Dream Act. He lost mine when he would not support “cramdown” or a limit to usury. Sad.

    2. Nathanael

      Lumping all the groups in together is manifestly unreasonable.

      Nature Conservancy has always had a very specific strategy, and it’s an elitist strategy: buy land, then manage it sustainably.

      They haven’t in any sense sold out; they were always owned outright by the elite! (The smarter, longer-term-thinking part of the elite.)

      NRDC is focused entirely on stopping “resource grabs” (as its name makes clear — the Natural Resources Defense Council). They don’t really give a damn about wilderness, unless it’s providing some sort of value to humans; their fundamental psychology is that of a Peak Oil believe. They have remnained true to their fundamental psychology.

      The Sierra Club, in contract, is sloppy and does things contrary to what it actually intended to. I’m not sure how it became so sloppy and incoherent.

  11. Aquifer

    So Lambert, how do you guys up there like Nestle sucking out your groundwater? Maybe that Corridor is another place they could do that with impunity?

    The possibilities boggle the mind ….

    if it actually goes from border to border, is it subject to NEPA review, and/or, as with the “Canadian” gas pipeline, subject to State Dept approval?

  12. duffolonious

    LNG pipeline to LNG terminal?

    Nothing else would justify the costs (fencing? guards? sorry so ‘spensive).

  13. mcgee

    Many of the large conservation organizations have become shills for corporate interests and their governing boards dominated by millionares/billionares. There are still good that comes from their efforts but it is often compromised by their willingness to accept crumbs and claim a banquet for the environment.

    You’ll notice the same trend with the EPA, BLM, Forest Service and any othe agency tasked with the protection of our environment. Between the accelerating degradation of our home and the financial crisis/response it is a challenge to find a reason for hope. Yves, Lambert, and the frequent comments here are one of the few beacons of light in my forest of despair. For that I am grateful.

  14. curlydan

    Another reason to dislike the Sierra Club is their endorsement of Republican Senators who are so-so on the environment. SC used to endorse these so-so fellows and ladies who would then turn around and give yes votes to Supreme Court (the other SC) justices like Alito and Edwards who are so far right and anti-environment that it completely negated any so-so support these R senators were providing the environment.

    They can’t tell the forest from the trees, but they do recognize the power of the dyed green paper money.

  15. lka

    Thanks for bringing wider attention to this East West Corridor stinkhole.

    While I don’t dislike the Sierra Club and generally consider them a cautious ally, this is standard behavior for them and their environmental positions tend to lack a necessary nuance.

    Take for example their recent endorsement in the senate race. There is absolutely no question that (Democrat) Cynthia Dill is a the strongest candidate on environmental and conservation issues. But despite ostensibly being focused on those same environmental and conservation issues, the Sierra club endorsed (Independent) King instead. This is probably because: 1. He’s more likely to win and it pays to back the winner; 2. It allows them to claim to potential donors they give money in a non-partisan way.

    In effect, they have weakened actual progress towards environmental protection in order to benefit themselves as an organization. It is shameful, and I will never again give them another dollar.

  16. Susan the other

    The fence is the giveaway. This corridor is intended to be used under international trade law protection. For whatever toxic purpose they decide. Once it goes in it will be impossible to fight. Hideous maquiladoras compounding the toxic load.

  17. Stratos

    High profile organizations such as the Sierra Club, World Wildlife Federation, NAACP, Urban League, NOW, MoveOn, Change To Win, La Raza, GLAAD (this is the short list) and most remaining labor unions have all become nothing more than high priced courtesans to political and economic elites. Unlike real grassroots organizations scraping by on bake-sale budgets, these organizations are lavishly funded by corporate foundations to mostly stay quiet on issues of substance and conduct phony campaigns for “street cred”.

    Jane Hamsher describes these organizations as denizens of “the Veal Pen” (http://fdlaction.firedoglake.com/2009/09/06/van-jones-a-moment-of-truth-for-liberal-institutions-in-the-veal-pen/). She further describes how they are willing to throw their erstwhile constituents under the bus for a few fancy cocktail parties at the White House (http://fdlaction.firedoglake.com/2009/06/21/white-house-ratchets-up-the-pressure-on-a-list-gays/).

    Elites love surrounding themselves with these organizations. They look so enchanting at the tables of power: powdered, perfumed, polished, witty and sophisticated. Yet, at the end of the glittering evening they have to perform the same acts as twenty dollar a pop streetwalkers to get paid. At least the streetwalkers are honest about their true occupations.

  18. Acadiana

    Speaking of “it’s all about the kids”… it really IS all about the kids; specifically, not having them. Virtually every environmental issue this planet faces would be reduced dramatically within a couple of generations if folks would simply stop having children. Just. Stop. Reproducing. Folks. It’s really that simple, but it seems that so few are willing to point out this rather obvious fact. It seems to be the last taboo in environmental discussions. I don’t give two sh*ts about the environment or the sustainability of the human race… but by choosing not to have children I have (unintentionally) done many MANY times more for the planet than anyone who attempts to live a so-called carbon-sensitive lifestyle but has chosen to have children (who reproduce, with children who reproduce, etc etc etc). So, forget about alternative energy, recycling, hybrid cars, blah blah blah – that’s all small potatoes, just putting a bandaid on a hemorrhaging wound. It’s all quite simple: Don’t reproduce. I (and many others) have managed; why can’t everyone else?

  19. Matt

    Fenced off? Paranoid much? Calm down a little.

    There are already sufficient highways across the corridor, more or less (ME 9, US 2, and ME 27). And there are already rails across the corridor, more or less (NBSR and MMA). If people wanted to bring more trash into Maine, they wouldn’t need a new freeway or railroad to do it.

    What we have here is just relentless boosterism from the construction industry that likes to build new freeways, even if we don’t need them, combined with the thin playbook of environmental lobby that has never met a train it didn’t like or a freeway it did like.

    1. Lambert Strether Post author

      If one’s model is containerized trash from Europe, I think they do need a corridor. Volume! It’s not the trash already coming up 95 that I’m worried about. Sure, speculation, but in the absence of real information from the proponents (and how exactly would we know what is real, anyhow) we have to build models as best we can.

      1. Matt

        I think if you’re really going to export trash from Europe, it’s going to end up in Africa or Asia. As crappy as our governance can be in the US, I don’t think Maine would be able to compete with the firesale prices and gross environmental negligence other countries could offer. (I used to live in MA, and visited ME for vacation and work quite a bit, and my impression was always that ME was run pretty well.)

        My guess would be that the proponents aren’t giving any real information because they don’t have any. They want to build something just for the sake of building it. They’re being vague because they can’t show any real benefits for the state.

        Some more general thoughts on that corridor…
        freeway: there’s simply no need for a freeway; traffic volumes just don’t justify it. There’s practically no one there to the east of Bangor and even less to the west.
        rail: CN already has a route from Halifax to Montreal that stays in Canada the whole way. Rail would only make sense if you thought that line was maxed out (it’s not) or there was a huge demand in Maine (there’s not). There is already a line along that general corridor, and it’s nowhere near capacity. If you wanted to start bring in a lot of trash, you could use the existing line.
        pipeline: this is one I could see being real, though maybe not on that exact corridor. There are oil terminal facilities in Portland, though I think they’re only used for local demand. Also maybe Searsport; I can’t remember. But some kind of pipeline might actually make sense.

        The construction industry can be pretty good at getting useless roads built. Witness, for example, the pointless Interstate 39 freeway in the Midwest, the 99 freeway in Pennsylvania, and a whole boatload of roads in Appalachia. These roads are always sold with nebulous benefits.

        1. Lambert Strether Post author

          On waste: You could be right on European waste; we are, however, already taking Canadian medical waste, and if there’s one thing we’ve learned, it’s that the scope of the permitting always expands.

          On the pipeline: The Portland line is old, would need to have the direction of its flow reversed, and southern Maine has political clout. So na ha happen. I can definitely see a pipeline along the corridor, though.

          You’re right that it could just be a scam from the very beginning with no business case to support it. But as a project it seems to have more clout than that. It’s very lack of visible reason make whatever the invisible reason is seem all the more powerful, if you see what I mean.

          1. direction

            8 or 10 years ago, there was a targetted push for LNG plants in small poverty sticken port towns (like mine) with corresponding edlivery pipeline, and they failed on both the East and West coasts. Multiuse corridor stinks of pipeline to me. In this case probably Canadian product: tar sand or LNG. Plus anything else you can ship out of the Great Lakes and down the St Lawrence (you could get all of Chicago’s medical waste-yummy!)

      2. Matt

        And to clarify my personal opinion, the fact that this corridor would waste money, not serve any practical purpose, and result in needless destruction of wildnerness is a pretty good reason to oppose it.

      1. RanDomino

        It’s gorgeous. They got a historical renovation award for it. Now they’re trying to turn it into a community center (which mostly means convincing the locals that they can use it).

        Their analysis is what I was referring to. In their poster “The True Cost of Coal” there’s a scene of out-of-town activists literally parachuting in. Even though it’s about mountaintop removal coal mining, everything specific is analogous and everything that’s not specific is the same for any kind of extractive neoliberal project.

        1. Lambert Strether Post author

          Yes. The playbook the extractors use is the same regardless of the resource; landfills, fracking, fracking sand, MTR, mining, etc. However, what the “extracted” can do will vary by the locality (you can’t make polluting surface water an issue in the desert, and you can’t make lack of home rule an issue in a state that still has it). Absent a certain level of generalization, of course….

          Adding… I’m becoming convinced that NIMBY should be the driver, because that seems to be the only way that externalities are calibrated. And if one property owner (another set of issues, but see today’s CC on Keystone) holds up a giant corporation, so what about that? It’s all very well to say “take one for the team,” but what team, exactly?

  20. David

    The big $ from foundations and others coming into the big green groups tends to be targeted to big national campaigns, like anti-coal stuff. Seems a bit odd that the professional sierra clubbers would get involved in a state issue like this one. Also, it would seem to be at odds with the position the cal sierra club chapters would take on an issue like this one. It seems to me the locals would be raising Hell with the state or regional office on this one.

  21. ChrisPacific

    Did a bit of background reading on this one – interesting.

    The fact that a proposal to bisect the state with private land can happen without the details being made public strikes me as a significant concern, even more so than the project itself. Your democracy is in need of some attention – I think that 2010 law that slipped under the radar might be overdue for some public scrutiny.

    The question of whether interior Maine is the intended destination for the road or merely a stop along the way could perhaps be answered by looking at how the approval process for the Canadian end of the road is going. Are the developers pushing just as hard on that front, or does it look like they will be content with a road to nowhere?

  22. Carol Sterritt

    My short and simple view: Sierra Club sucks.

    Of course, if you are trying to get support from them, I suppose you have to come across a bit more diplomatically. But I gave up on Sierra Club quite a while ago, late Nineties actually. (I do understand that for some people, it is nice to do the group activities, like the hikes, but their politics is very twisted and very sold out.)

    For instance, back in the Nineties, they supported MTBE, a once-mandated gas additive. They supported it despite the fact that over 2 million Californians were saying the stuff made them dizzy, and sick and had killed people they knew. I once spent three days of my life trying to talk to one of their four California lawyers about how this was really stabbing us in the back. (MTBE was harmful to people, and destructive of water supplies and aquifers.) The lawyers never agreed to talk to me.

    Now if you deal with the Sierra Club, they will tell you how the SC helped us citizens get rid of it. Yeah, right, just like Santa Claus helps the kids get gifts every Christmas.

  23. different clue

    Perhaps one can save the framing by saying “it’s not just a road, its the whole right-of-way”.

    If the Sierra Club is now a trojan horse filled with the extraction community’s false-flag secret agents, perhaps the Sierra Club should be targeted for as much weakening as possible to degrade its ability to mount sneak attacks-from-within against environmental and counter-extraction resistance organizations.

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