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Michael Brune Headshot

A Bit of Summer in December

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On a cold, rainy California morning -- the shortest, darkest day of the year -- a ray of summer sunshine showed up in my mailbox all the way from New Jersey. It's been that kind of year.

A few months ago, I wrote about how my daughter Olivia wasn't able to take "The Test" during our family's annual trip home to the New Jersey shoreline. My folks live near the water, and the rule has always been that until you prove you can swim across the lagoon and back, you can't play outside without wearing a life preserver.

But because Barnegat Bay was infested with stinging sea nettles last summer, Olivia never got a chance to prove herself. The sea nettles were there because of nitrogen pollution from storm-water runoff -- a serious problem that might turn around now that the state legislature has approved four bills aimed at saving Barnegat Bay. I got the news on the first day of winter.

The New Jersey Chapter of the Sierra Club and other local environmental groups worked hard for years to achieve that victory. It's good for the bay, good for the local economy (Barnegat Bay provides more than $3.3 billion in economic benefits annually to New Jersey), and good for kids who just want to pass a swimming test.

In 2010 we saw both a huge environmental disaster in the Gulf of Mexico and a dismal failure by our elected leaders in Washington, D.C., on climate and energy legislation. But the better story of 2010, the one I much prefer telling, is the true tale of ordinary citizens demanding that toxic coal-ash waste be regulated in Texas, impassioned activists putting the brakes on reckless natural-gas drilling practices in New York, and strong grassroots organizers helping the nation move away from dirty energy sources and toward a clean-energy economy that's already creating good jobs in California. This week's victory in New Jersey is part of that story.

The Sierra Club has always used both a bottom-up and a top-down approach. We'll never stop holding our nation's leaders accountable. But we have no intention of waiting around for them to act, either.

It's winter now, but summer's coming -- and we'll be ready.

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