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The Planet

EDITORIAL: Letter from the Executive Director

Darkness Before Dawn

November's election results, clearly, are a major disappointment to all of us. The Sierra Club and all of you made a truly heroic effort to elect our candidates, and to see so many of them swept away by a public tide of hostility to the Congress and our political institutions in general is frustrating, sad and depressing.

It is vital that all of us help the Sierra Club and the general public draw the right conclusions from these results. We need to communicate forcefully the fact that the Sierra Club is ready and able to advance its programs in the new political climate of the 104th Congress, just as we snatched the California Desert Protection Act from the killing floor that was the 103rd Congress.

What really happened in the elections? The public was angry at congressional gridlock, and they took their anger out on the Democrats. Gridlock will continue in the new Congress. It is important that public anger be focused at those members of the House and Senate who obstruct environmental objectives, which continue to be wildly popular with the American people.

The Sierra Club will hold the administration and the new Congress accountable if they fail to deliver on key environmental programs.

The media decided that crime and immigration were the issues of the hour, and steadfastly declined to report other issues. As a result, many candidates who could have been helped by their environmental records could not get their message out. But where environmental issues became central in a campaign, our candidates prevailed. Sens. Frank Lautenberg, John Chafee and Jim Jeffords are examples of candidates whose environmental records helped them to victory.

Sen. Feinstein's victory in California was also strong evidence that the public rewards environmental performance. The California desert bill, along with the ban on assault weapons, were the twin pillars of Feinstein's re-election theme: "Promises made -- promises kept."

Our message still resonates with the American people, and we need to remind Washington of this fact.

While the next Congress has fewer members inclined to vote for environmental programs than the last, it is far easier to stop legislation in Congress than to pass it. Certainly it will be difficult to pass good environmental bills; it will be even harder for the other side to pass bad ones. And most of our current environmental laws are quite strong. We can proceed with effective implementation of the existing Clean Water Act, the Endangered Species Act, the Safe Drinking Water Act and the Clean Air Act. We would like to improve these laws, but that may have to wait.

The Sierra Club is ready to spend the next two years revitalizing public awareness of the fragility of our web of environmental protection programs. We need to make clear to the American people which members of the new Congress are trying to force us back into the environmental dark ages while we lay the groundwork for renewing our legislative offensives after the 1996 elections. We will also create a drumbeat of public pressure on the Clinton administration to take much better advantage of the environmental laws already on the books than it has done to date.

The Sierra Club is uniquely well-positioned to launch a grassroots organizing strategy that can both move our environmental agenda within the administration and build the foundation for the Congress that starts in 1997.

Just as our period of greatest organizational strength immediately followed the Reagan victory of 1980, we have a tremendous opportunity after this election to rally the American people around our issues. In 1981, however, our opponents controlled both the Senate and the Executive Branch. Today, we have a much more sympathetic administration, and we need to take advantage of this.

What's more, in 1981 the election results came as a shock, and it took us four or five months to regroup and get ready. This time we anticipated that the next Congress was going to be worse, and have been planning for it accordingly. We're ready for the 104th Congress. We will hit them hard; we'll remind them that they were elected by the American people, and the American people want to leave their grandchildren a healthy planet.

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