Sierra Club Home Page   Environmental Update  
chapter button
Explore, enjoy and protect the planet
Click here to visit the Member Center.         
Take Action
Get Outdoors
Join or Give
Inside Sierra Club
Press Room
Politics & Issues
Sierra Magazine
Sierra Club Books
Apparel and Other Merchandise
Contact Us

Join the Sierra ClubWhy become a member?

Planet Main
Back Issues
Search for an Article
Free Subscription
In This Section
Table of Contents

The Planet

The Planet, July/August 1995, Volume 2, number 5


Message from the Executive Director

Promising Signs for Environmental Rights...

by Carl Pope

Some five months into the War on the Environment -- a period in which the Sierra Club has been tirelessly mobilizing the counter-offensive -- the opposition's juggernaut is beginning to sputter. The Sierra Club, and the environmental movement in general, won two significant battles in May.

First, we persuaded 34 moderate House Republicans to break with their party over the "Dirty Water Bill," which would roll back Clean Water Act protections for wetlands, rivers and lakes. Although not large enough to defeat the bill, this mini-revolt still represents a breakthrough for the forces of reason, and a crack in the armor of the anti-environmental extremists.

Second, we persuaded President Clinton to exercise his veto power for the first time on the so-called rescissions bill, which includes the egregious "logging without laws" provision. More than 22,000 activists, many of them alerted by the Sierra Club, urged the White House to veto the measure. Clinton got the message. Announcing his intention to veto the de-funding package, he declared the provision would "essentially throw out all of our environmental laws and the protections that we have" governing timber sales in national forests.

In other words, it's working. Our efforts are starting to pay off.

That success is especially important to bear in mind right now. Our War on the Environment campaign comprises so many events and individual efforts that it's hard to keep track of our progress. Here, then, is a brief recap of the obstacles we face, the reasoning behind our strategy and our plans to win the long-term struggle over the environment.

Major obstacles

  1. The polluters are in power. While a strong majority of the public supports us, we're still a clear minority in Congress and many state legislatures. The other side has taken the offensive, and we are not yet in a position to take it back.
  2. The public's mood. Voters rejected the record of the last Congress, and remain skeptical toward government. "Change" and "reform" are words that resonate strongly with the American people, who have a sense that almost anything government does is wrong.
  3. Republican unity/Democratic disarray. While moderate Republicans with environmental sympathies hold the balance of power in the 104th Congress, they've been largely silenced thus far by the crack of the party's whips. Meanwhile, too many Democrats listen to the blandishments of the polluters and campaign contributors. Lost are accountability to the public and even members' own consciences.
  4. Volume, volume, volume. On environmental matters and across the policy spectrum, this Congress is pushing on so many fronts that neither the media nor the public can keep up. This breakneck pace has kept opponents of the assault on the environment off-balance, and the public confused and distracted.
  5. Clinton's resolve. The president seems reluctant to use his veto power, and we can't rely on him as our stopper -- though he has recently seemed far feistier and more willing to take on the Gingrich-Dole onslaught.
  6. Imbalance of resources. While they have a small public constituency, it's backed by essentially unlimited financial resources. California agribusiness, for example, reportedly spent hundreds of thousands of dollars organizing farmers for three Endangered Species Act hearings held in the state.
  7. Maintaining morale. We are engaged in a series of strategic retreats. Even as we begin to win, it's hard to keep our spirits up. Playing defense is no fun, even when it starts to work.

Strategic assumptions

  1. Since our opponents are in power, we must change the politics of environmentalism at the community level. That, not prevailing in short-term legislative skirmishes, is our overwhelming priority.
  2. We must deliver our message consistently, focusing our communications on broad themes and values -- places people love and threats they fear -- rather than the fine points of legislation.
  3. We must remember that legislative battles are not isolated events but part of a broad tapestry, and organize around each one with a clear sense of battles to come.
  4. While some legislation will pass, our job is to oppose every effort to weaken America's environmental safety net. In the 104th Congress, this will most often require threats of, or delivery on, filibusters and vetoes.
  5. Their strategic weakness is their extremism. We need to focus our message, our resources and our organizing on their most extreme proposals in order to exploit that weakness.

Turning It Around

In Phase 1 of our campaign, the goal was threefold: (a) sound the alarm, (b) awaken the environmental movement, the media and the American people, and (c) prevent final passage of the Polluter's Bill of Rights.

We succeeded on all three counts. An unfunded-mandates bill was signed into law, but we managed to soften or eliminate some of its more egregious provisions. Issues like takings and risk assessment -- which were not controversial as the year began -- are now widely covered and hotly debated. The Senate rejected efforts to close off environmentalists' access to the federal courts. And most state legislatures said "no" to the key elements of the Polluter's Bill of Rights.

Now, in Phase 2, the goal is to organize around the Environmental Bill of Rights, the centerpiece that enables us to deliver a consistent message over time. Its importance is less that it gathers 1 or 2 million signatures than that it provides a way to have conversations with millions of Americans around a common theme, to focus public anger on Washington and the statehouses, and to defeat the Polluter's Bill of Rights.

Now is also the time to stop the rollback of such laws as the Clean Water and Endangered Species acts, and to block back-door efforts to use the budget process to advance the assault on the environment -- a maneuver being employed to enact "logging without laws" and to open the Arctic Refuge and critical coastal areas to oil-and-gas drilling.

And that's where we are right now. Once we succeed in blocking the War on the Environment, we can move from defending existing protections to putting forward positive ideas.

The final phase is the 1996 elections. We need to take back Congress, regain our strength in the states and prevent the election of an anti-environmental president.

We can't succeed in the elections unless we first carry out our core strategy of changing the politics of environmental issues at the community level. Only by effectively reaching out and organizing in these grim, early days of the War on the Environment can we create a 1996 political climate in which candidates will be held accountable for their environmental stands.

The good news is: We can do that. We are doing it. Keep it up. It's working.

...But New Threats to Arctic, National Forests

Taking its cue from the Contract With America, the 104th Congress continues its sidelong assault on the environment, hoping to divert public attention by striking indirectly through the budget process.

A case in point: In 1991, the Sierra Club led a successful campaign to keep Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge off-limits to oil and gas drilling. Unable to prevail on the merits, the oil industry's friends in Congress hit on a simple solution -- build projected revenues from leasing the Refuge into the balanced-budget resolution, which has now passed both houses of Congress. Opportunities to delete the arctic-drilling provision will arise as the 1996 budget moves toward final approval this summer. For updates call the Sierra Club Legislative Hotline at (202) 675-2394.

The "logging without laws" measure -- which would effectively repeal environmental laws in national forests for the benefit of the timber industry -- was likewise masked as a bean-counter bill. This time, the camouflage was the so-called rescissions bill, which would rescind some $16 billion in previously appropriated funds for the 1995 fiscal year. The bill was passed and sent to President Clinton, who made good on his vow to veto it.

Here's how other elements of the War on the Environment are faring on their march through Washington:

The Polluter's Bill of Rights

Bill: Takings (Bad-Neighbor Bills)
House: Passed
White House: Veto promised
Action needed: Media, community outreach, and pressure on senators to oppose S. 605.

Bill: Risk Assessment (Rolls Back Environmental Laws)
House: Passed
Senate: Committee
White House: Veto promised
Action needed: Media, community outreach, and pressure on senators to oppose S. 343.

Bill: Legal Reforms (Right to Sue)
House: Passes
Senate: Rejected
White House: Veto promised
Action needed: House and Senate bills to go to conference; not an action priority.

Bill: Unfunded Mandates
House: Passed
Senate: Passed
White House: Signed
Action needed: No action needed; final bill fairly moderate.

Gutting Environmental Laws

Bill: Clean Water Act Reauthorization
House: Passed
Senate: No action
White House: Veto promised
Action Needed: Media, community outreach, and pressure on senators to fight the H.R. 961.

Bill: Endangered Species Act Reauthorization
House: Committee
Senate: Committee
White House: --
Action Needed: Media and community outreach on the importance of opposing the Gorton bill in the Senate.

Budget and Appropriations Attacks on the Environment

Bill: "Logging Without Laws" (Budget Rescissions Bill)
House: Passed
Senate: Passed
White House: Vetoed
Action Needed: Thank you calls to Clinton for veto. Calls to Congress to sustain veto.

Bill: Arctic Refuge Oil Drilling (Budget Resolution)
House: Passed
Senate: Passed
White House: --
Action Needed: Media, community outreach, and pressure on Senate and President to protect the Arctic as budget process goes forward.

Bill: Repeal of OCS Offshore Oil Drilling Ban (Appropriations Bill)
House: Committee
Senate: --
White House: --
Action Needed: Media, congressional pressure to extend the 14-year ban.

Save Our Summer

A nationwide coalition of green groups, including the Sierra Club, chose Memorial Day weekend -- the unofficial start of summer -- to officially launch the "Save Our Summer" campaign, a season-long effort to turn up the heat on anti-environmentalists in Congress and state legislatures. Over the next several months, Club activists will be reaching out to summer recreationists to enlist their help in turning back the War on the Environment.

Scheduled events include the release of the Natural Resources Defense Council's annual report on beach closings, "Testing the Waters," and the U.S. Public Interest Research Group's report on industries that violate water laws, "Permit to Pollute," and a series of press conferences on beach cleanup with the Center for Marine Conservation. "We have a right to a safe and healthy summer season," declared Bruce Hamilton, the Club's conservation director, at the campaign kickoff in Washington, D.C. "Don't let them take it away."

Getting the Word Out

by Brian Andreja
Environmental Justice Chair, Rocky Mountain Chapter

Quite often, activists give me suggestions, tips, comments and ideas about how the Sierra Club could improve its press work by simply making better use of our resources "on the ground." And they are right: It is at the grassroots level that we discover best how to give journalists what they need.

A memo I recently received from Brian Andreja is a case in point. Based on his own experience, Brian offers strategies and ideas to quickly and effectively deliver the Sierra Club's message to the public. The following "action guide" excerpted from his memo is an example of the grassroots advice that is helping shape our media strategy at the national level.

Jean Freedberg
Director of Communications

During the last decade, the "wise use" movement, the far right and polluters have perfected the use of think tanks, public policy institutes and professional public relations firms to promote their point of view.

As a mainstream grassroots environmental organization, the Sierra Club doesn't have the luxury of sitting on our rhetorical laurels while corporate America runs over us. But to take on big money we need to be smart, efficient and effective. We do have the tactical advantage of numbers, speed and flexibility (even though we may have to work on those last two). We need to utilize those strengths in the same way our opponents do, to take the lead, get the word out and make our voices heard.

To do so, we must begin to develop and utilize new strategies that deliver our message to a much wider public.

Gaining the Media's Attention

I have learned that the only way to get Sierra Club issues into print or on the air is to do it myself, by the seat of my pants.

With the help of an IBM 386 clone, Windows and a 14.4 fax/modem, I can quickly produce high-quality faxes with graphics that can be broadcast to either a wide-range or narrowly defined group of media organizations.

I don't limit myself to Sierra Club news. I grab everything I can from Internet newsgroups and mailing lists and provide local reporters with news they are unlikely to get anywhere else.

I always include the original source, often Greenpeace, Rachel's Health and Environmental Weekly or various citizens groups. The reporters appreciate that I seem to be interested in helping them do their jobs, as opposed to just promoting the Sierra Club. They especially appreciate getting the information quickly.

Although this doesn't go as far as our opposition, it does help counteract their influence and get our views out to the public much more often than we can by relying on our information alone.

How to Get Our Message Out

  1. Make our own news stories. For years, Greenpeace has been writing its own stories and getting them on the Internet and other alternative sources of information, rather than being at the mercy of publishers and editors. If a local newspaper doesn't cover a Sierra Club event, then we can write our own news and get it to the public through other media outlets and alternative information networks.
  2. Develop an in-house news service. A Sierra Club news service could provide stories for reprint in group and chapter newsletters and distribution to local media. Ready-to-go, pre-packaged reports of a Sierra Club news conference, protest or statement could get more coverage if they were distributed quickly to staff and volunteers who could get them out to a wider audience. In essence, we could become our own combination think tank, PR firm and news publisher.
  3. Use new techniques. Important information often goes to a staff member or volunteer...and sits there. To close the loop, we need a network of techno-enviros who are motivated to download, reformat, add graphics, upload, fax and follow up on environmental news and viewpoints.

Resources for Action

To help activists turn back the War on the Environment, the Sierra Club and other groups have published an array of reports that offer solid research, statistics and analysis on pressing environmental issues. A sampling:

Breach of Faith: How the Contract's Fine Print Undermines America's Environmental Success. Natural Resources Defense Council, February 1995. For a copy, send a check or money order for $7.50 plus $1.45 shipping to: NRDC Publications Department, 40 W. 20th St., New York, NY 10011. California residents add 7.25 percent sales tax.

In the Green: A Guide to Paying for Environmental Programs. Sierra Club, January 1995. For a free copy, call Patricia Glick in the Sierra Club's legislative office at (202) 675-6272.

League of Conservation Voters 100-Day Scorecard. National Environmental Scorecard for the House of Representatives. April 1995. For a copy, call the League of Conservation Voters at (202) 785-8683.

Sierra Club Message Book. Communications guidelines for maximizing our impact in the effort to turn back the War on the Environment. For a copy, call Alita Paine in the Sierra Club's San Francisco office at (415) 923-5597.

Moneyed Waters: Political Contributions and the Attack on the Clean Water Act. Environmental Working Group and U.S. Public Interest Research Group, 1995. For a copy, send a check or money order for $10 to: U.S. PIRG, 218 D St. S.E., Washington, DC 20003.

How to Write a Great Letter to the Editor

by John Andrews
Chair, Thoreau Group, Massachusetts

A letter in a major metropolitan newspaper may be read by tens of thousands of people. Writing letters to the editor is, therefore, a good investment of your energy, even if only a few of your letters are published. What's more, elected officials and reporters pay attention to letters about issues that involve them.

Tips for success:

Be brief. If you go much over 200 words, the editor might have to cut material, and the letter is less likely to be published. Use a key fact when appropriate, but don't overuse facts; a letter can't include everything. Finally, it's better to make one strong point than three weak ones.

Speak to the undecided and confused. Get them off the fence. Remind the non-environmentalists why they benefit from environmental protection. Remind people why weakening environmental protection is bad. Example: Instead of saying, "This would weaken our wetlands protections," say, "This would weaken our ability to protect homeowners from flooding."

Use specific and high-impact language. After your first draft, reread the letter to weed out weak prose. Substitute "polluted lakes and rivers" for "environment." Substitute "cancer and birth defects" for "health problems." Avoid bland emphasis words such as "very," "many" and "extremely." Be wary of the adjectives "all," "never," and "always" -- they require just one counter-example to be discredited.

Express a definite opinion. Make your values and your conclusions known. Be strong-willed but not emotional.

Be truthful and honest. And check your facts. Honesty is the best policy, so don't lower your standards even when you think your adversaries are lying with every breath. Remember, though, that honesty and balance are not the same. You aren't obligated to give equal time to opposing points of view.

Before mailing your letter, have someone else read it and make suggestions. Use your own judgment about whether to take their advice.

The Six Most Effective Ways to Recruit Activists

  1. Know what you're recruiting for. It's much easier for an individual to agree to a task that's clearly spelled out.
  2. Listen to what the potential volunteer wants to do; try to match him or her with an appropriate and rewarding role.
  3. Have someone in charge of recruiting for each job.
  4. Use all available means of contact with potential volunteers:
    • New-member orientations.
    • Announcements at meetings.
    • Networking time during or after membership meetings.
    • Telephone calls to new members.
  5. Remain flexible; be open to designing a job to fit an individual's talents.
  6. Let your own enthusiasm shine through - the excitement of involvement is infectious!

Sample Letter to the Editor

The following sample letter can be used to alert the public to the danger of Sen. Slade Gorton's (R-Wash.) "extinction bill," S. 768, which would gut the landmark 1972 Endangered Species Act.

Congress should reject the bill Sen. Slade Gorton has filed to disable the Endangered Species Act. The interests of people, as well as wildlife and the habitats they live in, would be seriously injured if a bill as extreme as Gorton's S. 768 were to pass.

The Endangered Species Act (ESA) protects a priceless resource for the American people: biological diversity. Over half of the prescription drugs in use today are derived from natural sources such as taxol, which is produced from the Pacific yew and used to fight breast and ovarian cancer. But only 5 percent of the world's plant species have been studied for their medicinal value. The ESA protects our children's stake in discovering what might be the drug that cures other cancers, or even AIDS.

How shortsighted it is that the law that helped save the bald eagle, the gray whale and the alligator is now faced with extinction itself. The bill Sen. Gorton has filed to "reform" the ESA wouldn't fine-tune this law; it would cripple it. Gorton admits that his bill was drafted by lobbyists for the logging, mining and utility interests who want the ESA repealed. That in itself ought to make lawmakers in Washington reject it as no way to conduct the public's business.

The Gorton bill would reverse the entire purpose that has guided the ESA since Richard Nixon signed it into law 22 years ago. Rather than bringing about the recovery of endangered species, this bill would give the secretary of Interior the option of sentencing species to extinction by failing to protect the habitat in which they live.

This sort of extremism doesn't serve the public. The ESA needs strengthening, not gutting. Congress should reject S. 768 and recognize that the Endangered Species Act is a law that protects all of us.

New Shape, Focus for Conservation Activism

by Robbie Cox
Sierra Club President

The Sierra Club's conservation program has evolved in the fire of many battles -- changing, adapting, while always building on the traits that have made the Club, in David Brower's words, "the most effective conservation force on the planet."

In this spirit, the Club's Board of Directors began a review last year of our volunteer governance, aiming "to simplify the Sierra Club while maintaining its democratic character and financial health, enabling us to achieve our conservation purposes better." The results of that review were approved last fall, and nowhere were the changes so far-reaching as in our volunteer conservation structure.

These pages provide a "road map" of the new conservation governance and activist structure that resulted from the Board's review, highlighting the Club's core conservation mission and priority campaigns.

What's happening? What committees exist? Who's in charge?

The former Conservation Coordinating Committee has been expanded and given real resources to guide the Club's campaigns and issue committees. Charged with the planning and coordination of the Sierra Club's overall conservation program, this new Conservation Governance Committee is headed by the Club's Vice President Kathy Fletcher.

Directors instructed the committee to focus the Club's work and assign resources around our core conservation mission to protect wildlands and environmental quality and continue our campaigns on sustainability and protection of the Earth's commons. Following this mandate, the committee moved quickly to create the three strategy teams -- Wild Planet, Environmental Quality and Sustainable Planet -- that are described on these pages.

Each team prioritizes work in its area; creates (and sunsets) committees, task forces and other projects to advance our conservation objectives; and shifts resources among these front-line entities. Each has moved deliberately and carefully in the last six months to create a powerful line-up of core committees and "rapid response" task forces.

What do we hope to achieve with this new structure, and why is it better than what we had before?

Focus: The new structure more clearly focuses us on and assigns resources and authority for the Club's core conservation mission. Nowhere has this been more evident than in coordinating the Club's campaign to stop Congress' "War on the Environment."

Flexibility and Nimbleness: Our effectiveness hinges on our ability to work in nimble ways and to target activists' efforts. Each strategy team has the authority to create rapid response task forces as threats emerge, like the Utah Wilderness Task Force that will help Club activists beat back a bogus "wilderness" bill in that state.

Accountability: Under our old system, multiple committees often believed they each had jurisdiction over the same issue, yet no one had final authority or the resources to act. Under our new structure, the Conservation Governance Committee can assign responsibility and resources to the appropriate strategy team or campaign steering committee.

Empowered Activists: The leadership of this new structure is committed to a greatly expanded, inclusive cadre of leaders and activists. Our challenge now is to expand our communication capacity to link this new pool of activists to our campaigns and to each other.

What happens next?

Using on-line networks such as cc:Mail and the Club's "home page" on the World Wide Web, the Strategy Teams are creating forums that invite Club members to join discussions of conservation issues and become activists in our campaigns. For example, the Sustainable Planet Strategy Team launched a "Green Business/Living" cc:Mail forum.

And, as I write, Volunteer and Activist Services Director Alita Paine is leading an effort to rebuild and expand our aging conservation activist network. The new network will take advantage of technologies such as fax, e-mail and the Internet -- as well as direct mail -- to identify members and activists who are willing to respond to conservation alerts and participate in campaigns.

Our goal is to integrate not only multiple issues but various levels throughout the Club -- chapters and groups, Regional Conservation Committees and the Sierra Student Coalition -- in one user-friendly and highly effective network.

Finally, we must still clarify the authority and role of RCCs and their relationship with our ecoregion task forces.

Reorganizing and improving our conservation activist structure is never easy. But thanks to the vision, hard work, faith and patience of so many Club volunteers and staff, the spirit and the power of our conservation activism is holding strong.

How can I get involved?

To get more involved in our national priority campaigns and issues, please contact the chairs of the entities listed in these pages for more information. We need your ideas and energy too!

Shaping Conservation Policy:A Step-by-Step Approach

Any Club member or entity can propose new conservation policy to the Conservation Governance Committee, which determines if the proposal should be sent on to a relevant strategy team for study and dissemination to issue committees, regional conservation committees, chapters and groups. With the resulting input, the strategy team then prepares a final policy draft for the governance committee. The governance committee decides when a proposal is "ripe" for action by the Board of Directors and arbitrates any disputes over interpretation of policy -- but the Board remains the ultimate policy authority.

Conservation Governance Committee

Kathy Fletcher, Chair
1916 7th Ave. W.
Seattle, WA 98119
(206) 285-1850
Nick Aumen (Fla.)
Phil Berry (Calif.)
Ken Cline (Maine)
Dave Foreman (N.M.)

War on the Environment Campaign Steering Committee

Joni Bosh, Chair
3708 E. Cholla St.
Phoenix, AZ 85028
(602) 494-9240
*Mark Bettinger (N.Y.)
*Bob Bingaman (Washington, D.C.)
*Sheila Holbrook-White (Ala.)
Lowell Krasner (Vt.)
Steve Jones (Wyo.)
*Debbie Sease (Washington, D.C.)

Wild Planet Strategy Team

Marvin Roberson, Chair
RR 1, Box 262 J
Lake Linden, MI 49945
(906) 523-4428
Judy Anderson (Calif.)
Barry Beasley (S.C.)
Todd Herried (Minn.)
Mark Lawler (Wash.)
Laurie MacDonald (Fla.)
Helen Tjader (R.I.)
Edgar Wayburn (Calif.)

"We coordinate the Sierra Club's wildlands activities across all management boundaries. I see our primary task as putting together a long-term strategic vision for wildlands protection with an emphasis on restoration of degraded ecosystems."
Marvin Roberson

Arctic National Wildlife Refuge Task Force

Northern Rockies Wilderness Designation Task Force

Utah Wilderness Protection Task Force

Sufficiency/Override Language For Federal Lands Task Force

NFMN Regulation Revision Comments Task Force

County/Local Attempts to Control Federal Lands Task Force

Biodiversity Committee

Don Waller, Chair (Madison, Wis.)
(608) 258-1593
Randall Clark (Mo.)
Alan Journet (Mo.)
Joanne Lesher (Washington, D.C.)
Maxine McCloskey (Md.)
Meredith Taylor (Wyo.)
Paul Wilson (W. Va.)
Ann Woiwode (Mich.)

Lands Management Committee

Tom McKinney, Chair (West Fork, Ark.)
(501) 839-8571
Jim Catlin (Calif.)
Tim Flynn (Mich.)
Judy Hancock (Fla.)
Melinda Harm (Idaho)
Mark Reilly
Bob Schneider (Calif.)
jonathan stoke (Idaho)
Rose Strickland (Nev.)
Marianne Thaeler (N.M.)
Rene Voss (Ga.)
Ben Zerbey (N.M.)

Marine/Coastal and Water/Watershed Management Committee

Jonathan Ela, Chair (Madison, Wis.)
(608) 238-0187
Colleen O'Sullivan (Fla.)
Teresa Schilling (Calif.)

Wilderness Preservation/Designation Committee

Mike Martin, Chair (Derby, Kan.)
(316) 788-0084.
Harvard Ayers (N.C.)
Jim Catlin (Calif.)
Rick Johnson (Idaho)
Stephanie Jowers (La.)
Vicki Lee (Calif.)
Dick Watkins (S.C.)

Utah Task Force

Protecting Endangered Species/Habitats Campaign Steering Committee

Laurie MacDonald, Chair (St. Petersburg, Fla.)
(813) 821-9585
Ed Engle (N.C.)
Kevin Finney (Calif.)
*Melinda Pierce (Washington, D.C.)
Meredith Taylor (Wyo.)
*Joan Willey (Md.)

Environmental Quality Strategy Team

Ross Vincent, Chair
P.O. Box 4375
Pueblo, CO 81003
(719) 561-3117
Linda Bremer (Fla.)
Doris Cellarius (Wash.)
Michael Gregory (Ariz.)
Totton Heffelfinger (Calif.)
John Moreland (Iowa)
Nancy Parks (Pa.)
Mark Woodall (Ga.)

"Our team's charge is to work on reducing and correcting damage from pollution and other harmful effects of toxic chemicals. To do so, we're linking together longtime leaders and new activists."
Ross Vincent

Air Committee

Nancy Parks, Chair (Aaronsburg, Pa.)
(814) 349-5151
Glen Besa (Md.)
Judith Lamare (Calif.)
Robert Palzer (Ore.)

Aquatic Resources Committee

Vivian Newman, Chair (Marriottsville, Md.)
(410) 442-5639
Carol Bason (Wash.)
Margaret Gilleo (Mo.)
Shirley Taylor (Fla.)

Coast/Ocean Task Force

Bob Slaughter, Chair (Wilmington, N.C.)
(910) 395-2183

Rivers/Floodplains Task Force

Margaret Gilleo, Chair (St. Louis, Mo.)
(314) 991-1305

Community Health Committee

Doris Cellarius, Chair (Olympia, Wash.)
(206) 943-6875
Jennie Alvernaz (Ga.)
Les Reid (Calif.)
Mary Ross (Ill.)
Terry Shistar (Kan.)
Rachel Zamore (R.I.)

Contaminated Communities Task Force

Pesticides Task Force

Right-to-Know Task Force

Risk Assessment Task Force

Waste Committee

Debbie Neustadt, Chair (Des Moines, Iowa)
(515) 265-2018
Dwight Adams (Fla.)
Jeanne Davies (Calif.)
Jerry Speir (La.)
Bill Sheehan (Ga.)
Jay Sorenson (N.M.)

Audit Privilege Task Force

Mark Woodall, Chair (Woodland, Ga.)
(706) 846-2281

Interstate Waste Transport/Flow Control Task Force

Bill Sheehan, Chair (Winterville, Ga.)
(912) 387-6019

Federal Facilities Task Force

Jay Sorenson, Chair (Albuquerque, N.M.)
(505) 884-4314

Waste Reduction/Recycling Task Force

Roger Diedrich, Chair (Fairfax, Va.)
(703) 352-2410

Nuclear Waste Task Force

Superfund Task Force

Wetlands and Clean Water Campaign Steering Committee

Robin Mann, Chair (Bryn Mawr, Pa.)
(215) 527-4598
Mark Derichsweiler (Okla.)
Robert Hastings (La.)
*Kathryn Hohmann (Washington, D.C.)
*Brett Hulsey (Wisc.)
Jim Mays (N.Y.)
*Jackie McCort (Calif.)
Liz Merry (Calif.)

"Our team oversees the Sierra Club's national and international activities on issues related to sustainable human life on the planet. We want to create a process that allows for more involvement at the grassroots level."
-- John Lamb

Who in the Sierra Club

The 1995 Leader List, the most comprehensive listing of Sierra Club leaders at the national, regional, chapter and group levels, is now available.

For more information: Call Eric Wilson at (415) 923-5576.

State of States: "Bass and Backhoes"

by Ken Midkiff
Program Director, Ozark Chapter

The clear streams of the Ozark Plateau are a canoeist's and smallmouth bass angler's dream. Missouri alone boasts more than 10,000 miles of canoeable waters and thousands more miles of smaller streams with diverse aquatic habitat. Neighboring Arkansas offers similar attractions for recreationists.

But where there's a valuable natural resource, sadly, there are those who find ways to exploit and degrade. In these clear-flowing streams, gravel is plentiful. And it's in great demand for roads and aggregrate fill in asphalt and cement.

To sand-and-gravel companies, stream gravel is like money from home: It's readily accessible and requires neither quarries nor crushing. The most valuable gravel, pea-to-marble-size, is found throughout the Ozarks.

Consequently, hundreds of in-stream gravel miners can also be found in Ozark streams, using backhoes and frontloaders to reap their treasure.

The federal Clean Water Act requires sand-and-gravel operators to obtain a permit from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Until recently, the Corps gave out permits --issued under sections 401 to 404, relating to water quality and impacts from in-stream activities -- without much oversight or restriction. But a court case alleging damages from in-stream operations changed that, and the Corps has asked each state to advise it on what restrictions and conditions should be placed on gravel-mining permits.

In Arkansas, landowners, canoe outfitters and sport fishing clubs joined with environmental organizations, including the Club's Arkansas Chapter, to protest the widespread destruction of their streams. A study by the state Game and Fish Commission on the impacts of gravel mining on aquatic habitat -- particularly that of game fish species -- concluded that conditions were so intolerable that gravel operations should cease on all the major streams of northwest Arkansas.

The result: A ban on in-stream gravel mining in 24 Arkansas streams passed the legislature and was just signed into law by the governor. In-stream operations can continue in other streams, but it is certain that sand-and-gravel companies will try to mine in a way that does not place those streams in the "degraded" category.

Missouri took a different route, chiefly because its operations -- which have caused extensive damage to streams and water quality -- are more diffuse than in Arkansas. While siltation and sedimentation have been activists' primary concerns here, adverse impacts include bank erosion, stream-bed instability and destruction of the riparian zone.

Rather than prohibitions, the Ozark Chapter sought both legislative and regulatory restrictions. The chapter drafted and obtained a sponsor for a bill placing restrictions on in-stream gravel mining. It also participated in a committee pulled together by the resource agencies to recommend conditions to be placed on 401-404 permits issued by the Corps. The goals were the same for both legislation and regulation:

  • No excavations within the stream flow or below the waterline.
  • A "buffer" of 25 feet between the area of excavation and the normal water channel, and between the area of excavation and the vegetated bank.
  • No excavations during the spawning season (March 1 to June 15).
  • Smooth out the area of excavation when the operation is complete.
  • Leave the riparian zone intact.
  • Access the gravel bar from the adjacent bank, not by crossing the stream.
  • No dumping of trash or petroleum products in the stream.
  • Other minor or technical restrictions to lessen impacts.

Thanks to the legislation, which made violation of the rules a misdemeanor, the gravel operators chose to support the regulations. Also, hoping to avoid the "Arkansas solution," they opted for restrictions rather than prohibitions. For now, in-stream gravel mining will continue in Missouri, but environmental groups will be watching closely to determine if other steps are needed. And the gravel companies know they are being monitored.

Other states in the Midwest, the South and even the arid West are having the same problems. Where there are streams flowing through rocky hillsides, there are gravel bars. Where there's gravel, there are people eager to mine it, thereby sacrificing recreation and habitat on the altar of roads and construction projects.

What environmentalists must decide is whether, in order to save the bass, the backhoes should be merely regulated or banned outright.

For copies of the Missouri regulations, write: Ozark Chapter, Sierra Club, P.O. Box 364, Jefferson City, MO 65102.

Easterbrook's Blind Eye

Review by Michael McCloskey
Sierra Club Chairman

When the 25th Earth Day was celebrated this spring, much of the media welcomed a note of optimism being sounded by journalist Gregg Easterbrook. In promoting his new book A Moment on the Earth, he attacked what he called "fashionable defeatism," claiming that environmentalists all too often are unwilling to admit we are winning the struggle.

To some extent, Easterbrook labors to prove the obvious in his book: When we work hard to solve problems, we often make progress. However, his theory stretches thin when he papers over problems that persist in order to look only at the positive side of the ledger. While he fashions himself an "ecorealist," in his 700-plus page tome he comes across more a Pollyanna than a realist.

For instance, in his first chapter he asserts that "most of the acreage of the Earth remains wild or semi-wild." But the evidence points to the contrary. My world wilderness inventory found that only 11 percent of the biologically active portion of the world's land remains wild. Most has been converted to agriculture, pastures, managed forests and urban areas.

He asserts that "the portion of the Earth taken over by humanity is fantastically exaggerated in the popular imagination," observing that only 2 percent of U.S. land has been built upon. In truth, less than 5 percent of our land and less than l percent of our rivers remain wild. The rest is under human dominion.

Similarly, Easterbrook implies that human activity has had hardly any impact on sea life that is not being fished. But marine habitat is under real pressures from land-based sources of pollution, changes we have made in the food chain and increases in ultraviolet light due to the thinning ozone layer.

He suggests that only one-half of 1 percent of America's woodland has been damaged through alteration. By alteration, he seems to mean deforestation. Yet quite the opposite is true. Less than one-half of 1 percent of America's "virgin" woodland remains, and even that is not all protected. Easterbrook takes satisfaction in figures showing that growth in our forests has exceeded cutting for some time. But he fails to acknowledge that this is not true on land owned by timber companies, where cutting exceeds growth.

In a popular New Yorker article, Easterbrook again fails the "eco-reality test," claiming that virtually all of the environmental indicators in this country have been positive since l970. While we are happy that many of them have been - often because of what our movement has insisted upon - some have not been positive at all.

Over the past 25 years, our ancient forests have shrunk; wetlands have continued to be lost; and populations of many ducks and neo-tropical migrating birds have sagged. Most salmon stocks on the Pacific Coast have become endangered, and the New England fishery has collapsed.

While substantial progress has been made in reducing air pollution, some 60 million Americans still live in areas that don't meet federal air quality standards. Production of herbicides and fertilizers is up, along with all of the environmental problems that accompany their use. Progress has been made in cleaning up our waterways, but 40 percent of them still aren't fishable and swimmable.

In fact, pollution trends are up in some places; shellfish beds have been closed in New England and along the Gulf Coast due to contamination. Phosphorus levels in some of the Great Lakes have been rising. In a recent five-year period, there were more than 100 disease outbreaks ascribed to contaminated drinking water in this country.

Periodically Easterbrook admits he may have overstated his case. He says he is not arguing that past development has been wise or that much remains pristine; he is merely arguing against "instant doomsday" thinking. Yet then he claims that "most of the natural world has not been affected by human tampering." This assertion is simply wrong; most habitat has been altered by our species, and as a consequence many other species are extinct.

However, even Easterbrook's determination to 'look on the sunny side' has finally been checked by the reality of what the 104th Congress is doing to U.S. environmental safeguards. Recently he appeared with Sierra Club leaders on a C-SPAN broadcast, arguing that we should not throw away all the environmental programs that have brought us progress.

Perhaps he is truly becoming an eco-realist at last - maybe even an alarmist. What kind of a note will he sound in his next book?

A Moment on the Earth, Gregg Easterbrook, Viking, 1995, 745 pp. $27.95.

Club Beat

  • Seeing Is Believing
  • Get Thee to a Mall!
  • Death of a River
  • North Platte Victory
  • Sail Chesapeake Bay

Seeing Is Believing

As The Planet went to press, the Utah congressional delegation had just unveiled a "wilderness" bill for the state that would open millions of acres of Utah wildlands to development.

Though Utah Gov. Mike Leavitt has lived in Utah all his life, he admits that he has little familiarity with its wild areas. To remedy that, the governor recently took to the air to get a first-hand glimpse of the boundaries of several Utah wilderness proposals.

"The purpose of the trip was to let him see for himself exactly what's at stake," said Sierra Club activist Jim Catlin, who accompanied the governor as a representative of the Utah Wilderness Coalition. Also along for the ride in the two military-owned Blackhawk helicopters were Bureau of Land Management representatives and staff of Utah's congressional representatives.

At stake are the wind-and-water sculpted rocks, canyons, mesas and mountains of southern Utah. Members of the Utah Wilderness Coalition spent years exploring and photographing these lands to come up with their own proposal to grant 5.7 million acres protection as federal wilderness.

The group flew over the boundaries of the Coalition's proposal, the BLM's 1.9 million-acre proposal and Utah counties' less than 1 million-acre proposal.

Soaring low over vast tracts of wildlands, they used headphones and microphones to discuss Utah counties' use of an antiquated "right of way" statute, RS 2477, to conjure roads where none exist in order to justify development. They also discussed the counties' claims -- which are strongly disputed by the Utah Wilderness Coalition -- that development has rendered many areas unacceptable for wilderness designation. As if to prove the Coalition's charge that those claims are bogus, said Catlin, the following scenes took place aboard the helicopters:

"Flying over Price River in the Desolation Canyon wilderness study area, the county commissioner pointed at what he said was an example of an RS 2477 right of way. The governor, looking out the window, could see no sign of a road, just the river winding its way through the canyon," recalled Catlin. "Finally he said, 'I can't see anything.' After several minutes of looking, the county commissioner admitted he couldn't see a right-of-way either."

In another moment of truth, the helicopters flew over a wilderness area called Behind the Rocks that straddles Grand and San Juan counties. Grand County, where the town of Moab is located, supports designating Behind the Rocks as wilderness, but San Juan County does not.

"When we came to the border between the counties, the governor asked the San Juan County Commissioner why he opposed wilderness there," Catlin said.

"The commissioner said the area was heavily impacted by roads, active oil and gas operation and a housing subdivision. The governor said he couldn't see any of this and asked where the development areas were. We flew and flew and flew. Finally the commissioner pointed to an area outside the boundaries of the wilderness proposal and said, 'There!'

"We made some headway on key issues," Catlin noted, "but the Utah delegation's rush to pass its own 'wilderness bill' may cut off discussion before any real progress is made. As a result, some of the most spectacular lands in the country are likely to be designated for industrial use."

Get Thee to a Mall!

A report from Boone, N.C., activist Harvard Ayers:

Here in Boone, we've been collecting signatures on the Environmental Bill of Rights petition in a number of ways. At Appalachian State University we passed them around classes and had contact tables on campus; we gathered signatures at Sierra Club meetings and at an Earth Day rock concert; and we had a contact table at the Boone Mall.

We got by far the best results at the Boone Mall. We averaged about 20 signatures per hour at the ASU table; we got 100 per hour at the mall. And the diversity of people who signed it was incredible: all ages, socioeconomic classes and races.

We learned quickly that you have to engage the people passing by. They will not come to your table on their own. And don't rule out anyone based on their appearance. I'd say we succeeded with half or better of the folks that walked by the booth. We had four to five petitions being signed simultaneously -- success breeds success.

The key is to engage people by asking, "Would you like to sign a petition to keep Congress from weakening environmental laws?" Simple and to the point. If they are unsure and hesitate, you probably have them. Next, tell them that the Sierra Club is working for a million signatures nationally and that we have to protect the Clean Air and Clean Water acts. This really works!

The first day at the mall we got 600 signatures. The second day we got another 400-500 names. Adding the weekend's tally to the previous four weeks' efforts, we collected a total of 2,000 signatures.

We learned that the broad spectrum of classes are concerned about the War on the Environment. We also learned that many people were surprised to hear that anything is wrong -- they were not aware of the threats to our environmental safeguards in Congress. And finally, as little as we may like what they do to the countryside, malls are great sources of potential signatures.

Death of a River

Sierra Club Foundation Trustee Peter Mennen wrote the following account after he witnessed dioxin's devastating legacy along the Pigeon River in Tennessee's Smokey Mountains:

Driving east on our way to the Sierra Club meeting with Bruce Babbitt, Carol Browner and our legislators this spring, we were on I-40 climbing up through the Great Smokeys. We were almost out of Tennessee when we looked down and saw a beautiful river in a gorge to our right.

We found a turnoff and worked our way down into the canyon. We came upon a little town slowly fading back to the soil, and just beyond it was a riverbank where we noticed a handsome bronze plaque. Assuming it to be a historical marker or a tribute to the beauty of the place, we walked over to read the inscription with real anticipation. As we spoke the words aloud, we were literally knocked back in shock and horror.

"In memory of those who have lost their memory of a river which was once living but is now dead, we, students against pollution...hereby dedicate this memorial October 27, 1990," read the inscription. Hidden away in this almost inaccessible place was one of the ugly secrets so many people in corporate America hope to keep buried. I am sure we are among the very few who have shown the curiosity and determination to find their way to this tragic spot. Yet it should be thrust before the eyes of all those who fail to understand how important it is that powerful laws be on the books and enforced to protect us from this kind of sorrow.

As we walked along the bank, we came upon a series of signs nailed to trees warning of dioxin contamination.

No wonder the town is dying. From what we could tell, it used to be a popular put-in place for rafting companies that took paddlers on what was once a fabulous trip down the gorge. But it didn't look like anyone was rafting around there much any more.

North Platte Victory

When members of the North Platte Group embarked on a canoe trip on the river that is their namesake, they launched a two-year legal battle that recently resulted in a significant victory for the Sierra Club.

Canoeing on the North Platte River past a defunct Texaco refinery in Evansville, Wyo., Club members noticed petroleum bubbling to the surface. Tainted groundwater from the heavily contaminated refinery was flowing unchecked into the river.

The Sierra Club filed a citizen suit under the Clean Water Act, claiming that Texaco was violating the statute by discharging pollutants into the river without a permit. The lawsuit ended successfully earlier this year when Texaco signed a consent decree requiring the company to stop the discharges and pay for the Club's attorneys' fees and litigation expenses.

"If other polluters take heed, the North Platte will again be safe for drinking, fishing and swimming," says Tom Davis, chair of the North Platte Group. "This victory would not have been possible without the citizen suit provision of the Clean Water Act. We need to protect the law in its current form from the powerful interests working in Washington to destroy it."

Sail Chesapeake Bay

There's still space on a national activist outing to explore Chesapeake Bay. Starting in historic Annapolis, the trip, from Sept. 10-15, features a full day's sail on one of the few remaining "skipjack" oyster boats; three fascinating days on Port Isobel Island, Va.; and varied land explorations on Maryland's eastern shore.

The ecological balance of the nation's once-rich "seafood basket" is threatened by the pollution, sedimentation and habitat loss that have accompanied the area's tremendous population expansion.

Trip number: 95-104; price: $575. For more information call the Sierra Club Outing Department at (415) 923-5604.

Is there an accomplishment, a grassroots victory or a tidbit of local Club news you want to put up in lights? Shout it from the rooftops, put it in your chapter newsletter -- and send it to The Planet! The ClubBeat section is dedicated to your stories, triumphs, lessons learned, issue updates and grassroots tips. Send items to The Planet, 730 Polk St., San Francisco, CA 94109, or via e-mail at <>.

On the Horizon

July 8 Outing Administration Committee. San Francisco, Calif. Contact: Susan Heitman (310) 836-9329
July 22-24 Organizational Effectiveness Committee. Indianapolis, Ind. Contact: Ed Paynter (317) 259-4417
July 28-30 Finance Committee. San Francisco, Calif. Contact: Jim Dodson (805) 942-3662
Aug. 2-6 National Inner City Outings (ICO) Annual Conference. Peninsula, Ohio. Contact: Debra Asher (415) 923-5628
Sept. 14-17 Meetings of Board of Directors, Council of Club Leaders, Governance Committees. Sierra Club Annual Meeting, banquet. San Francisco, Calif. Contact: Gene Coan (415) 923-5681
Oct. 13-15 Mini-circus. New Orleans, La. Regional workshops/training and conservation meetings. For more information, call Susan Patton (606) 356-8582
Oct. 20-22 Southwest Regional Conservation meeting and mini-circus. Salt Lake City, Utah. Regional workshops/ training and conservation meetings. Contact: (SWRCC meeting) Sierra Club Southwest Office, (602) 254-9330; (Mini-circus) Susan Patton (606) 356-8582


  • Northern Wilds Threatened
  • Coastline Under Attack

Northern Wilds Threatened

In Minnesota's remote northeast, a premier wilderness area and a national park may be among the first national treasures stripped of their protected status by the 104th Congress. Jill Walker of the Club's North Star Chapter said both Voyageurs National Park and the Boundary Waters Canoe Area (BWCA) Wilderness face their greatest threat in decades in legislation that "betrays the public trust and could be a test case for congressional dismantling of the national park system."

The first bill in this regressive equation is Rep. Joel Hefley's (R-Colo.) H.R. 260. It calls for shifting National Park Service lands to "direct management by states, local governments other agencies … or the private sector." Proponents like Minnesota state Sens. Bob Lessard and Doug Johnson maintain that despite any biological significance, ecological importance and scenic beauty, Voyageurs is not worthy of national park status because its remote location limits visitorship.

But Walker said the park contributes significantly to the regional economy. "For a relatively small annual investment of $2.3 million from the federal government," she noted, "Voyageurs injects over $20 million into the local economy each year."

Furthermore, Rep. James Oberstar's (D-Minn.) H.R. 1310 would open the entire park to motorized use and forbid the Park Service from pursuing any wilderness recommendations or from enforcing the Endangered Species Act. With nearly a third of its area open to snowmobiling, Voyageurs is already one of the nation's most intensively motorized parks.

"Such increases are insupportable," said Ginny Yingling, Public Lands Committee chair for the North Star Chapter. "Minnesota has over 15,000 miles of snowmobile trails, over 100 of them in Voyageurs. Adding trails may attract visitors initially, but overuse and economic exploitation will more likely result in driving people away."

A national park since 1975, Voyageurs incorporates a continental transition zone between old-growth boreal and northern hardwood forests, making it a key research area in monitoring climate change. Voyageurs also has the highest density of timber wolves of any national park and is home to bald eagles, moose and other wildlife.

Immediately east of Voyageurs, the BWCA Wilderness includes 1.1 million acres of national forest, much of it old-growth, and is the only large lakeland wilderness in the country. Oberstar has indicated that he plans to introduce a separate bill increasing motorized use of this unique wilderness area.

"If H.R. 260 were to become law," said Walker, "Voyageurs and other remote national parks, such as those in Alaska and Isle Royale in Michigan, would be subject to attack and possible elimination. Furthermore, H.R. 1310 would do away with important protections in Voyageurs by forbidding any wilderness designations and increasing motorized access to highly disruptive and damaging levels."

To take action: Call or write your representative, President Clinton, and Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt immediately and urge them to oppose efforts to weaken or downgrade protections for the BWCA Wilderness and Voyageurs National Park. Also write a letter to the editor of your local newspaper with the same message.

For more information: Contact Jill Walker at (612) 722-2391.

Coastline Under Attack From Oil Industry

A 14-year moratorium on offshore drilling may soon become history if the latest round of congressional maneuvering on the House Appropriations Committee annual natural resources spending bill escapes public attention, say Sierra Club activists. "The ban will not be renewed this year unless we act now," emphasized Mark Massara, director of the Club's Pacific Coast Ecoregion coastal program.

The long-standing bipartisan moratorium forbids the use of funds by the Minerals Management Service to administer lease sales for oil and gas drilling on North America's Outer Continental Shelf (OCS). In some cases -- in Bristol Bay, Alaska and off North Carolina -- the lease sales have already occurred, which means that drilling can begin as soon as the moratorium is lifted. In other cases, the moratorium has prevented the agency from preparing for the lease sale process.

Coastal and marine activists say the government's "rig around America" lease plan would constitute a noose of oil platforms encircling the continent, affecting the entire Pacific and Atlantic coasts, Alaskan waters and the eastern Gulf of Mexico.

"Up to 1 million pounds of poisonous mud laced with asbestos, formaldehyde, mercury, arsenic and lead are required to drill just one well, and each offshore platform could have 24 wells," said Sierra Club Coastal Conservation Committee member Flo Ann Norvelle. "These oil leases are to be sold at bargain basement prices to profit the few at the expense of the many -- it's the biggest sell-off scandal since Teapot Dome."

At press time, oil industry allies crafting the bill in the House had flatly refused to include language to extend the ban. In the unlikely event of a Senate attempt to reinstate the moratorium, it could be traded away during the joint conference when other contentious issues will be up for negotiation. Should this be the case, all congressional protections contained in the moratorium will expire in October.

Activists concur that the window of opportunity to preserve our ocean sanctuary is now. "Offshore oil development presents extreme dangers to oceans and coastal resources and unacceptable risks to multibillion-dollar coastal tourism economies," said Mendocino Group volunteer Judith Vidaver. "And taxpayers no longer want to subsidize such destruction for the benefit of oil companies. If we don't get a moratorium, we'll soon be cleaning oil off birds and beaches."

Massara said the National OCS Coalition has no Washington, D.C., lobbying staff for the first time since the moratorium was established, putting the entire burden for maintaining the ban on the public, local officials and grassroots coastal advocates such as surfers and fishers.

To take action: Alert the media and urge your congressional representatives to retain the OCS protections contained in the 1995 Appropriations bill.

For more information: Contact the Sierra Club's Coastal Conservation Committee office at (707) 964-1530 or call the following Sierra Club contacts.

California: Mark Massara (415) 665-7008
Pacific Northwest: Vivian Newman (410) 442-5639
Atlantic Coast: Bob Slaughter (910) 395-2183
Eastern Gulf of Mexico: Shirley Taylor (904) 385-7862

Up to Top