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The Planet

It's Payback Time

Sweeping Congress Clean in '96

As the 104th Congress' crusade to demolish a quarter-century of protections for public lands and public health continues, the threat of a 105th Congress even more virulently anti-environment than the Republican-controlled 104th looms. What's more, the current crop of corporate commandos are jockeying to send one of their own -- whether it's Senate majority leader Bob Dole (R- Kan.), Sen. Phil Gramm (R-Texas) or House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) himself -- to the Oval Office.

For obvious reasons, greening the Congress has never been as important as it is right now. For less obvious reasons, next year's elections may be more interesting than many environmentalists think -- and less predictable than many incumbents hope. Sierra Club activists have spent most of 1995 exposing the agenda of the pollution lobby's friends in Congress. Now, they say, it's time to begin throwing the rascals out.

"The only way we're going to save the environment is by taking back the Congress," said Dan Weiss, the Club's political director. "But in order to win in '96, we have to get started now by endorsing pro-environment candidates and raising money."

The Club's political program has been in existence since 1982. Never before, however, have the stakes been so high. The 1996 elections, said Chuck McGrady, chair of the Sierra Club Political Committee, will be "a crucial battleground in our efforts to defeat the War on the Environment."

In fact, note Club leaders, no matter which issues volunteers have been focused on during the past year, they've effectively been participating in the electoral campaign. By tirelessly shining a spotlight on the once-hidden agenda of the anti-environmentalists -- whether by working the media, turning out citizens for congressional hearings, or gathering more than a million signatures on the Environmental Bill of Rights (see related story, above) -- Club activists have set the stage for a potentially greener Congress.

When the Contract With America concealed its anti-environmental provisions in populist anti-government rhetoric, Sierra Club members hammered the media to reveal the special-interest reality. When members of Congress tried to roll back hard-won environmental laws by attaching riders to complex budget and appropriations bills, Club members blew the whistle. By summer, U.S. representatives and senators were feeling the heat from constituents venting their outrage over votes to gut clean air and water protections, debilitate the Environmental Protection Agency and give away public lands to private industry under the guise of "regulatory reform."

"These people are vulnerable," Joni Bosh, chair of the War on the Environment Campaign Steering Committee, told staff and volunteer leaders at the Club's annual meeting in San Francisco. "And we need to get 'em out of there."

The Sierra Club Political Committee works with Club chapters to research, evaluate and endorse candidates, recruit and train campaign volunteers, and raise and contribute money to worthy challengers and incumbents in both political parties. It's one of the nation's largest public-interest political action committees, raising and contributing nearly half a million dollars in 1993-94 and a projected $1 million in 1995-96. Since its inception, the program has helped more than 25,000 volunteers get involved on behalf of environmentally conscious office-seekers.

In this election cycle's early crunch of primaries, it's especially important that such involvement begin now. As this edition of The Planet goes to press, the Political Committee is holding a national training workshop in Washington, D.C., to prepare Club leaders for next year's elections. Club leaders are also taking advantage of the early opportunity to elect a pro-environment senator presented by Oregon's special election to replace Republican Sen. Bob Packwood.

"All we need are 20 seats in the House, and Don Young (R-Alaska) is out as chair of the Resources Committee," said Weiss. But much more help is needed at the chapter level to reverse the anti-environmental tide that swept into office last November.

"This election isn't just about supporting our friends and punishing our enemies," Weiss said. "It's about ending the War on the Environment. It's about clean air, safe water, unspoiled wilderness and endangered species. Everything the Sierra Club is about, that's what's riding on next November's elections."

To get involved, call the Sierra Club political desk at (415) 977-5520.

To help support the Club's effective electoral efforts, please send a check payable to SCPC to:

Sierra Club Political Desk '96, 
85 Second St., Second Floor,
San Francisco, CA 94105-3441

Contributions are not tax-deductible.

Important: Federal law requires political committees to report the name, mailing address, occupation and employer name for each individual whose contributions aggregate in excess of $200 per calendar year.

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