Sierra Club: The Planet--July/August 1996
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The Planet
United, State Activists Storm the Capitals

by Paula Carrell
State Program Coordinator

At the state level, the Club's efforts to combat the War on the Environment mirrored the broad, congressionally focused campaign. Just as the 1994 elections swept polluters' allies into Washington, so did they shift control over many state capitols to development-minded legislators. Like the Club's national campaign, state-level activists started the year by saying "no" to the new anti-environmental agenda -- and ended it with a hopeful eye on the 1996 elections.

1995 brought plenty to say "no" to in most statehouses: radical "takings" measures; pollution secrecy (audit privilege) bills; budget proposals aimed at wiping out environmental enforcement; attempts to weaken or repeal water-quality and toxic cleanup standards; attacks on endangered species protections; and raids on state habitat-protection funds.

For the most part, state legislators seemed to get the message. While damaging bills did pass in several states, they were more often rejected, sidelined or amended -- and, in the case of a takings bill approved by the Washington Legislature, directly overturned by the voters. In every state, that message was being carried by Sierra Club members who turned up in hearing rooms, met with lawmakers, lobbied neighbors and newspaper editors, held rallies and staged news conferences. By year's end, elected officials had learned that a vote against the environment could jeopardize their incumbencies.

State activists will no doubt continue having to play defense in 1996. But they plan to go on the offense as well. As the elections near, the Sierra Club will be rallying support for a positive, proactive environmental agenda:

  • Stemming the flow of millions of gallons of hog and poultry waste that spills from factory farms into streams and rivers in the South and Midwest, killing fish, ruining recreation and polluting drinking water supplies.
  • Environmental justice legislation proposed by neighborhood, religious and green groups to stop the disproportionate siting of dumps and other hazardous facilities in poor and minority communities throughout the country.
  • Finding creative new sources of funding to acquire and protect state park and wildlife habitat lands.
  • Launching major campaigns in several states to protect watersheds, river corridors and the drinking water they supply.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, state activists everywhere will be working to elect and re-elect state legislators who are committed to preserving and strengthening environmental protections and to ensuring a safe and healthy environment for our children.

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