e - P R A I R I E F L Y E R Jan/Feb/March 2002
newsletter of the Sierra Club Prairie Group
Jan/Feb/March 2002 Prairie Flyer
PRAIRIE GROUP GENERAL Meetings Jan/Feb/Mar
at the Illinois Disciples Foundation
Corner of Springfield and Wright, Champaign
7:30 pm, Wednesday, January 9, 2002
Daniel Lindstrom, Urbana naturalist and nature photographer
Between the Pacific and Caribbean coasts lies Costa Rica, rich in
species of flowers, trees, birds, and animals. It is a land of
vibrant culture, rivers flowing through jungle, rainforests and
cloudforests, mangrove swamps, farms, banana plantations, cattle
ranches, and volcanoes. Come see all these and more at this unique
slide show based on Daniel Lindstrom's recent trip.
7:30 pm, Wednesday, February 13, 2001
Find out how you can get involved in protecting your community and the planet, meet some new people, and have some fun, too! (We’ll even have snacks.)
We have been hearing a great deal in recent weeks about the importance of national
security ? and rightly so since the tragedies of September 11th. The Sierra Club
believes that clean air, safe drinking water, and the protection of wild places
are also absolutely vital to ensuring safe and healthy communities all across the
country. In this time of uncertainty, people all around the nation are looking for
ways to contribute to their community, getting to know their neighbors,
volunteering, and donating much needed funds to worthy causes.
Maybe you are among the many people looking to give some time and energy to make
this community, the country, and, yes, even the world, a better, safer place.
You’re already a member of the Sierra Club, so we know you care about clean air
and water, special places, and healthy ecosystems.
Join us for our General Membership meeting this February 13 (day before Valentines Day), when we will be hosting a “Winter Madness” fair. Find out how you can get involved in protecting your community and the planet, meet some new people, and have some fun, too!
Whether it is hosting a letter-writing party to help influence our decision-makers,
writing articles for this newsletter to help educate our membership regarding important
environmental issues, or just assisting in building a larger community of environmentalists
in the region, we welcome you.
If you aren’t sure what you might like to get involved in, that’s O.K., too. Just
come and visit with us. We will happily share with you the many opportunities the
Sierra Club offers for members to get involved. Read on for a brief description of
some of these opportunities:
People involved with the membership committee keep records of who attends meetings, ensure
availability of membership brochures at meetings and other functions, poll members
about their interests, serve as 'hospitality chair' and greeter at meetings, and provide assistance for efforts to recruit new members and activists. Further details can be elaborated on in a one-on-one conversation.
These activities can be handled by a single (busy) person, or they can be assigned to several different people in a Membership Committee.
The Political Chair provides guidance in evaluating political issues and positions,
planning and conducting the endorsement and support of candidates for public
office, in cooperation with the Illinois Chapter. The Chair should be aware of
environmentally sensitive legislative proposals, and call for letter-writing
campaigns and lobbying when appropriate.
There are also numerous opportunities in conservation committee task
forces on a wide array of issues, such as clean air, clean water,
sprawl, energy, biotechnology, environmental justice, etc. If you have
a favorite issue, please let us know so we can help link you up with
other members who share your interest and are eager to make a
difference for the environment locally, in Illinois and around the
We welcome any volunteers who would like to work on any of these committees!!
7:30 pm, Wednesday, March 13, 2001
Kirstin Replogle, Sierra Club National Environmental Justice Committee, Chair
Corporations, which are not people but are, instead, artificial entities created by our laws, have grown so powerful that they are deforming our culture and making a mockery of our government, exploiting people and the land in the process. How did corporations gain this power? How do they use this power to exploit? And most importantly, what can we do about it? Kirstin will present some historic background on corporate power and offer beginning steps activists can demand to return power to where it belongs - in the hands of the people.
By Richard L. Bishop
The key to understanding the impact of making ethanol from corn is to compare all of the energy inputs to the energy yield. The process inputs are in the form of petroleum products to fuel tractors and trucks, natural gas for fertilizer, and coal for distillation. In addition, the manufacture of machinery and construction materials use an appreciable amount of energy. The balance is somewhat contentious; in 1979, when the Federal tax rebate was passed, there seems to be general agreement that the inputs and the output were about equal; during the next few years there were some substantial improvements in efficiency, but as late as 1994, an official of the Illinois Farmers Union, John Little, proudly contended that the output was 25% more than input. On the other hand, a leading authority on such analysis, Professor David Pimentel of Cornell University, still claims that the balance is negative. In spite of continuing research on improving efficiency, there have been no claims from proponents that dramatic improvements have been made in the past 10 years. Thus, it is generous to assume that at best the energy equivalent of 4 gallons of ethanol is required to produce 5 gallons. It is reasonable to ask then, if the use of corn ethanol can ever be justified economically, since that energy profit of one gallon for 5 produced must pay for a large amount of labor and capital investment.
The subsidies for the process which keep the producers in business are nearly invisible and certainly understated. The major one is the Federal tax rebate for gasohol (10% ethanol) of 5.4 cents per gallon. This goes directly to the retailers, because they collect the full Federal tax from consumers and deduct that amount from what they remit to the IRS. In turn, the producers can charge the retailers more for the gasohol, so indirectly it amounts to a subsidy to the producers. It does not seem that much is passed on to the farmers. If we cast this subsidy in terms of corn input, we find that it is truly extraordinary: $1.35 per bushel. The conversion is based on using two factors, the amount of gasohol it takes to account for a gallon of ethanol (10) and the amount of ethanol yielded by a bushel of corn (2.5). But it does not end there, because many states have their own tax rebates, and there are tax breaks for the construction costs of the producers. For example, in Illinois the state share of sales tax on gasoline is 5%, of which 30% is forgiven for gasohol; that is, 1.5% of the retail price is another subsidy. Of course, this varies with the (very volatile) price. To calculate the subsidy per bushel requires backing out the pre-sales-tax price of gasoline (multiply by .93), multiply by .015, then by the same factors 10 and 2.5 as before: the result is a little more than 1/3 of the pump price. When gas is $1.50 per gallon, these direct subsidies are $1.85 per bushel, which is practically the same as the price of corn!
The use of ethanol has both positive and negative effects on the environment. It has become the preferred oxygenation additive to gasoline because the alternative, MTBE (methyl tertiary-butyl ether), has been found to contaminate groundwater. Both additives are effective in reducing harmful emissions from gasoline, mainly, volatile organic compounds, oxides of nitrogen, and carbon monoxide. While ethanol used in this way gives a valuable improvement in air quality in large cities (e.g., Chicago, Milwaukee), the poor overall energy balance means that there is increased emission of those same compounds and others in the growing and production regions. The use of coal without scrubbers in the distillation is particularly dangerous and an ethanol plant in Peoria has been fined for excessive emissions. Moreover, there are some emissions, of esters, which are not on the list of compounds required to be controlled, but are hazardous and are actually increased when ethanol is added. Also the global warming aspect is not addressed, since the active emission, carbon dioxide, is not toxic and can only be controlled by using less hydrocarbon fuel of all kinds. For hydrocarbon fuel the carbon dioxide production is roughly proportional to the energy output, so the fact that ethanol production requires 80% of its energy yield means that the global warming effect is much larger than for other fuels. (Perhaps it is not 80% higher, since the production and transportation of gasoline and diesel fuel also has an energy input of about 20% of the energy output.)
In summary, the use of ethanol as an additive for reducing harmful emissions may be the lesser of two evils, but we should continue to push for more environmentally friendly means of air quality control, particularly conservation through more efficient vehicles and alternative transportation. The use of ethanol as a primary fuel, such as the 85% ethanol-15% gasoline mixture that many advocates propose, is a bad mistake on all grounds: it should not be considered a renewable fuel, but rather an excessively expensive method of converting coal, natural gas, and diesel fuel into another liquid fuel, which would greatly increase the overall air pollution and accelerate global warming.
Save the Shawnee!
by Lily Mueller-Marcus, a sophomore in LAS who attended the November 14th General Meeting of the Prairie Group
On Wednesday, November 14, I went on a wild goose hunt looking for the Illinois Disciples Building on Wright and Green in order to hear Doug Chien's presentation on the Shawnee National Forest.
Arriving a few minutes late, but not before the commencement of the slide show, I slide in a seat in the front amoungst the members of the Prairie Group of the Sierra Club. The room was boiling hot, and I was frustrated from searching for the building for so long. In other words, I was not expecting to enjoy or even be interested by Doug Chien's talk. Fortunately, I proved myself completely wrong.
Before Doug's talk, I'd heard of the Shawnee Forest, but had no idea that it is located in Southern Illinois. It's name has a ring and romance to it that I would not have associated has being Illinoisian, but grouped it rather with places like the Galapagos, or Cosa Mel. I soon learned that the Shawnee Forest spreads over 277,000 acres as far south as one can go in Illinois. Doug's collection of gorgeous slides caught my attention immediately and held it thoroughly throughout the presentation. Doug began his talk by explaining how the Shawnee Purchase Boundary is far larger than what we own. The Shawnee Forest is highly fragmented because individual land-owners are reluctant to sell their land. It came up in the Q & A section that this area is the "Appalachia" of Illinois. Since Southern Illinois is extremely poverty-striken, people are reluctant to sell their land.
This fragmentation is very unfortunate because since this area of Illinois is unglaciated, it contains five different geological areas, and is incredibly biologically diverse. At the end of the 70s, the US Forest Service designated nine sections of the Shawnee as possibilities for wilderness area designation.
It wasn't until 1990 that the US Congress graced seven of these areas with permanent status as wilderness, saving them from development forever. There are three more proposed areas now. If these three are added, the wildnerness-protected sections will only be about 15 % of the Shawnee Forest.
One major problem, even in the designated areas, is the profusion of off-roading vehicles. Drivers tear through the forests, ripping up precious soil and plants, disturbing the creatures in their home. Unfortunately, the forest service, which is unbelievibly under-staffed with only three rangers for the entire area, is not much help. These rangers have weekends off, and one of them has been sighted off-roading in these areas. There is hope though. In the past three months there has been some movement in legislation.
I am so grateful that I witnessed this presentation. The slides took my breath away. It gave me an increased sensitivity to, and respect and gratitude for Illinoisian natural beauty. I hope to visit the Shawnee this spring and observe the exquisite, exotic landscape with my own eyes. I wish that everyone I know could have seen it, too. I believe that if only more people knew about the Shawnee and its dilemmas, the problem would be quickly solved. So I will do my best to spread the word of the Shawnee, I owe to the earth, to Illinois, and to myself.
Forest Glen Winter Hike
Saturday, January 19, 2002, 10:30am
Meet at the ranger office at Forest Glen County Preserve in Vermilion
County south of Danville, Illinois on Saturday January 19, at 10:30 am.
Be ready with warm clothing and good boots for off trail hiking and some
basic orienteering and route finding. The hike will end before the park
closes at 4:30 PM. Bring a lunch and water. Contact Jack Kuehn:
(217)356-7206, firstname.lastname@example.org for more details and to sign up for the
Meet at Mammoth Cave National Park south of Lexington Kentucky on Thursday evening,
April 25, 2002. Tour Mammoth cave if you like, then hike a loop, spending
Friday and Saturday nights on the trail. Dinner and breakfast provided
Friday morning through Sunday morning. Supply your own lunches, snacks and
equipment. $30 to cover expenses. Contact: Jack Kuehn: (217) 356-7206,
When you purchase these from the Prairie Group, you get a discount off the
retail price AND help raise funds for the local group!
For 2002 the Sierra Club is publishing two calendars: the engagement format
(about 6 by 8 inches, one page per week with a photo on the facing page),
and the wall calendar (one photo per month).
To buy calendars, and to volunteer to help with calendar sales, contact
Trent Shepard <email@example.com>, 217-344-2822.
To receive legislative and local notices/alerts, subscribe to the Prairie
Group listserv by sending a message to:
Include this one-line command in the message body:
SUBSCRIBE IL-PRAIRIE-ALERTS Yourfirstname Yourlastname
(The following events are not sponsored by the Sierra Club Prairie Group,
but are listed as a service to our members.)
Chair*, Newsletter Co-Chair
Vice-Chair, Membership Chair
Secretary*, Publicity Chair
Chapter Delegate, List-Serv Chair
Political Chair, Newsletter
Member at Large
Chapter Delegate, Alternate
* These positions are available in January, 2002. All the Open positions are available now. If interested please contact Jim Beauchamp at firstname.lastname@example.org or 217-344-3307.
Note: The Excom list is valid until December 31, 2001. Check the website at www.illinois.sierraclub.org/
prairie/ after that date for updated listings.