Sierra Club: The Planet--1996
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The Planet

Pensacola Citizens Gain Safer Ground

Four years ago, the Environmental Protection Agency identified 66 Pensacola, Fla. families living within a mile of two dangerous Superfund sites for relocation. Local activists, including Sierra Club environmental justice volunteers, said that wasn't enough -- they demanded that all neighboring residents be moved.

The pressure paid off. On Oct. 3, the EPA announced it would relocate all 358 families to safer ground -- 292 more than it originally identified.

"This is a big win considering no community of color has ever been moved before," said John McCown, Southeast grassroots organizer.

The former Escambia wood treatment facility in Pensacola had saddled its neighboring, largely low-income African-American community with a toxic legacy comprising 250,000 cubic yards of arsenic- and dioxin-contaminated soil. (According to a national inventory, most hazardous waste sites in the United States are located in poor and minority communities.)

Following the EPA's 1992 discovery of the Escambia site, local residents formed Citizens Against Toxic Exposure to counter failed containment efforts causing cancer, respiratory problems and other ailments. The Club's Southeast environmental justice activists contributed to CATE's relocation effort by sponsoring advocacy workshops and media trainings (see June Planet).

While McCown said he is extremely proud of the significant support role played by Club volunteers, he emphasized that full credit for success belongs to CATE. "Working with low income and people of color on environmental justice issues has made us more relevant and accessible to these communities than we have been in the past."

The EPA-ordered relocation will be supervised by the Army Corps of Engineers; once all residents have been moved out of the area, the contaminated soils will be cleaned up and eventually the land will be available for industrial development. CATE President Margaret Williams said the actual relocation date hasn't been confirmed, but that she will be meeting with the regional EPA administrator to discuss the particulars. "We'll be pushing to move in the shortest time possible," she said.

For more information: Contact John McCown in the Southeast office at (205) 933-9111; e-mail: <>

Quiet in the Canyon

There's still time to make your voice heard, before the roar of sightseeing airplanes drowns out the peace and quiet of the Grand Canyon. The Federal Aviation Agency is proposing new rules to control air tours over the canyon that may also serve as a precedent for other national parks (see October Planet).

"The FAA proposal is a pound of prevention but only an ounce of cure," notes Sharon Galbreath, conservation chair for the Grand Canyon Chapter. "The law mandates substantial restoration of the Grand Canyon's natural quiet, but the FAA admits its own failure to do that."

The agency has recommended that the most heavily used tour routes remain virtually unchanged, and their proposed cap on tour numbers is set at excessively high levels. In their own words, even with these changes there will be, "no appreciable change in aircraft noise levels." The FAA's decision for flights over the canyon could greatly influence new rules for Rocky Mountain National Park, which are also under review.

To take action: Contact President Clinton before Dec. 31, 1996. Ask him to support a permanent limit on the number of flights over the Grand Canyon and to reduce them to at least 1987 levels (when Congress mandated protection for natural quiet there). Ask him to also ban overflights above Rocky Mountain National Park and to establish guidelines that preserve the natural quiet and serenity of all our parks.

Dolphin Death Bill Defunct for Now

"We've won this round, but the fight for dolphin-safe tuna is far from over," said Sierra Club marine volunteer Shirley Taylor, regarding the defeat of the International Dolphin Conservation Program Act.

In 1988, the United States banned imported tuna that had been caught by purse seine nets that encircle and kill dolphins and the tuna that school below them. The bill, which was passed by the House and supported by the president, would have weakened the 1988 law by allowing tuna harvesters to put the "dolphin-safe" label on tuna caught in purse nets as long as no dolphin deaths were observed during the catch even though this method of fishing harasses dolphins and leads to dolphin deaths (see March Planet).

Due to filibuster threats by Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), the "dolphin-death" bill died in the Senate this fall. But just weeks after the 104th Congress ended, Pres. Clinton renewed his commitment to reintroduce similar legislation next year.

"Make no mistake, we'll be seeing this issue again in the 105th Congress," said Taylor. "But we feel confident that with the help of activists across the country, we can have a dolphin-safe label that really means no dolphin deaths."

For more information: Contact Larry Williams at (202) 675-6690 or Shirley Taylor via e-mail at <shirley.taylor@>

Club Exploits All Options to Save Ancient Groves

Unhappy with the compromise deal between Pacific Lumber owner Charles Hurwitz and federal negotiators to "protect" the Headwaters Forest in Northern California, the Sierra Club is pursuing every opportunity to save the last unprotected and most vulnerable ancient redwood groves in the world.

"We're broadening the base of public support for Headwaters' preservation and doing everything we can to take the salvage card out of Hurwitz's hand," said Associate Regional Representative Elyssa Rosen of the Calif./Nev./Hawaii office. That includes working to influence an upcoming decision to fill an open seat on the state Board of Forestry, pursuing legal challenges, attempting to secure an endangered listing for the coho salmon and pressing Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt and President Clinton for permanent protection.

A Pacific Lumber holding, Headwaters Forest encompasses 60,000 acres and is home to the threatened coho salmon and endangered marbled murrelet and northern spotted owl, among other species.

In September, closed-door negotiations with Hurwitz and state and federal government representatives ended with a tentative agreement that Pacific Lumber would suspend salvage logging of ancient redwoods in the Headwaters and Elk Head Springs groves while the government raised $380 million for their purchase and agreed to approve a Habitat Conservation Plan to safeguard endangered species. While the pact did appear to constitute a temporary logging reprieve for those groves, environmentalists maintained its terms were more to Hurwitz's benefit and didn't constitute a long-term preservation plan for the 60,000 acre Headwaters Forest (see November Planet).

By early October, conservationists' fears were confirmed when Pacific Lumber began salvage operations in three of four unprotected ancient groves and informed the Department of Forestry that it was not going to stop logging at the onset of winter, as it originally had planned. While negotiators Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and Deputy Interior Secretary John Garamendi criticized Hurwitz in the press for violating the spirit of the agreement, Club activists pressed forward on alternate fronts.

Environmentalists had hoped that listing the coho as endangered would provide protection for Headwaters, but the National Marine Fisheries Service announced in October that it would delay its decision to list the species in Northern California and Oregon until April 1997 due to "substantial scientific disagreement" over its remaining numbers and threats to its survival.

The Sierra Club has joined the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen's Associations in blasting the agency's decision as politically motivated, rather than biologically based. "It's laughable to say there is any disagreement of substance when coho are down to 1 percent of their former population in California," said Rosen. "By allowing timber companies to continue logging at unsustainable rates, the agency is choosing to let this species go extinct."

To take action: Urge Deputy Interior Secretary Garamendi and Sen. Feinstein to do everything they can to ensure the Pacific Lumber Habitat Conservation Plan is scientifically sound and contributes to the recovery of endangered species. Call Deputy Secretary Garamendi at (202) 208-6291 and Sen. Feinstein at (202) 224-3841. Urge President Clinton and Interior Secretary Babbitt to preserve the Headwaters forest by supporting an endangered listing for the coho salmon in Northern California and pursuing a debt-for-nature swap for all 60,000 acres. Call the president at (202) 456-1111 and Sec. Babbitt at (202) 208-7351.

For more information: Contact Kathy Bailey at (707) 895-3716; e-mail: <> or Elyssa Rosen (510) 654-7847; e-mail: <>

New Parks Win Approval, Tongass Gains Reprieve

On one of its last days in session, the 104th Congress passed an omnibus parks bill that contained a number of nationally significant conservation initiatives, including protection for Sterling Forest in New Jersey and New York (see April Planet), Presidio National Park in San Francisco and the Tallgrass Prairie Preserve in Kansas.

The bill passed despite the efforts of Sen. Frank Murkowski (R-Alaska), who tried to add numerous anti-environmental provisions, including a sweetheart corporate deal that would have continued clearcutting in the Tongass National Forest in his home state (see September Planet).

While the parks bill signed by the president has many positive components, and most major anti-environmental provisions were dropped, it is not without flaws. The new law contains provisions that will allow increased development in Florida's fragile coastal areas, the construction of a new reservoir near Utah's Zion National Park with no environmental review, and preferential real estate deals favoring developers in a number of states.

When Murkowski failed to obtain a 15-year logging contract extension for Tongass National Forest timber, Louisiana-Pacific announced that it would close its Ketchikan pulp mill in Alaska next March. Closure of the mill ends Louisiana-Pacific's 50-year monopoly contract for taxpayer-subsidized Tongass timber and will stop the company's massive clearcutting of the world's last healthy temperate rainforest.

"The avalanche of comments that came in from the Club's call for public comment did double duty," said Pam Brodie, associate representative in Alaska. "Not only did it build the case for improved administrative management of the Tongass, but it also sent a message to President Clinton that he needs to stand firm against Murkowski's attempts to exploit Alaska's natural resources."

The future of the Tongass is definitely brighter, but the question of long-term protection remains. The Forest Service is revising the Tongass Land Management Plan, and despite overwhelming public support to reduce logging, there is no guarantee it will take this opportunity to do so.

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