Local Sierra Club Celebrates 10 Years with Guest Speaker

Reprinted with the permission of Kansas State Collegian, 9/5/06


About 35 people gathered at the Manhattan Public Library Thursday night to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the Flint Hills Sierra Club with a guest speaker, music and refreshments.

Anne Zimmerman, a local singer, sang both serious and funny songs that emphasized her passion for environmental issues. Guests enjoyed a selection of cookies, cakes and punch.

Charles M. Benjamin, attorney and lobbyist for the Kansas chapter of the Sierra Club, took the floor and began his PowerPoint presentation, “Global Warming and the Kansas Connection.”

Benjamin has been the attorney and lobbyist for the Kansas chapter of the Sierra Club for 10 years. He said Kansas’ Sierra Club chapter has a special structure.

“There’s not another one like it,” Benjamin said. “Most chapters have a paid staff. We tried that, and it didn’t work. Kansas is a tough state, dominated by agriculture. The Kansas chapter tried it a different way. Volunteers decide what I work on.”

High on his list of concerns is a plan by Sunflower Electric to build a 2,100-megawatt, coal-fired power plant in Holcomb, Kan., in addition to the existing plant. This would be the largest coal-fired power plant west of the Mississippi River. These plants heat coal with boiling water.

The Holcomb plant would get that water from the High Plains Ogallala Aquifer, Benjamin said. The Ogallala aquifer can only handle its current demands and the demands of the new power plant for 60-70 years once the plant starts operating. Then it will go dry, he said.

“It gets worse,” Benjamin said. “The plant will use coal from Wyoming – Dick Cheney coal or Halliburton coal – which is full of mercury. The mercury goes up in the air through the smoke stacks and comes down in rain. Western Kansas doesn’t get much rain, so current weather patterns predict that it will come down in northeastern Kansas. It will come down right here.”

If that happens, Benjamin said it will pollute the rivers and poison the fish. Fish poisoned with mercury are extremely dangerous for pregnant women to eat.

Later, Benjamin also highlighted the wonders of wind-powered electricity and its potential use in Kansas.

During his time with the Sierra Club, Benjamin said he has seen members achieve many goals.

“Because of lawsuits filed by the Sierra Club, the Clean Water Act is now being fully implemented,” Benjamin said.

He also credits the club with helping to stop the growth of commercial hog farms in western Kansas.

“Now we are focused on global warming,” Benjamin said. “It affects every state and nation in the world. It is our number-one priority.” Locally, Benjamin said he is focused on stopping the wave of coal-fired plants attempting to find a home in Kansas.

Flint Hills chapter chair Scott Smith said he agrees with Benjamin when it comes to stopping the coal-fired plants.

“These plants are trying to get in here before the state passes laws that require a certain percentage of their energy to come from renewable resources,” Smith said.

Smith said he is excited about the prospects for wind-powered electricity.

“It has the potential to be much less expensive,” he said.

In addition to being the chapter chair, Smith also is the treasurer and a professor in the Department of Animal Science at K-State.

Smith said he chose Benjamin to give his presentation for the chapter’s 10th anniversary celebration because he felt the club’s members could benefit from the presentation.

Smith said he is proud of the club’s accomplishments and looks forward to its future successes.

“We have a general meeting coming up. No date has been set yet, and I would like to see trips to the wetlands project north of MilfordLake and the Tallgrass Preserve,” he said.

Larry Erickson, Flint Hills chapter vice chair, conservation chair and environmental education chair, said he enjoys being part of the Sierra Club.

“It’s a club for people who are concerned with being good environmental stewards and for people who enjoy the outdoors,” he said. Erickson pointed to coal-fired plants as his main environmental concern right now.

“The western third of Kansas has a major potential for wind-powered electricity,” he said. “We need to use that resource.”

“If there is one thing you can do, change your light bulbs to ones that save energy, and if you drink beer, don’t store it in an old refrigerator in the garage,” Benjamin said. “Consider buying appliances that are energy efficient and unplug all electronics that aren’t in use.”

Benjamin said he also advocates students talking to their elected officials about the issues that are important to them.

“The people of Kansas are the only ones who can stop these plants from moving in,” Benjamin said.

For more information about the Sierra Club, visit www.kansas.sierraclub.org.

Lobbyist Speaks On Global Warming

By Kristina Monroe

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