For anti-environmentalists in the last Congress, public opinion turned
out to be a sleeping giant. An aroused populace, polluters' allies
found, can cut short a political career faster than you can say "Dirty
By hiding their hostility to safe water, clean air and wild places,
many enemies of the environment managed to save their skins and return
as members of the 105th Congress. So the Sierra Club's conservation
strategy starts with a simple premise: Keep the giant awake.
"To make progress during the next two years," explained Bruce Hamilton,
the Club's conservation director, "we need to keep our issues in the
public spotlight, and continue to hold decision-makers accountable."
Using the successful campaign against the War on the Environment as a
model, Club leaders are launching the 1997 Public Education Campaign
with an eye to defining environmental issues on the Club's and its
allies' terms, and then, with broad citizen support, "taking delivery"
on specific items on the conservationist agenda.
National priorities such as clean air, clean water, forest reform,
protecting endangered species, fighting sprawl, stabilizing population
and promoting environmentally responsible trade will take center stage
during the next year. The Club will also be fighting regional and local
battles. No matter what the issue, though, the first step will be
As outlined by Club leaders, the 1997 campaign is essentially
message-driven. Focusing on 40 strategic media markets, Club volunteers
and staff -- in concert with activists in like-minded organizations --
will hammer home broad environmental themes that resonate not just with
environmentalists, but with other sympathetic members of the community.
Constant repetition of simple, easily understood stories via news
coverage, letters to the editor, advertising and high-visibility events
will aim -- in a phrase borrowed from last year's War on the Environment
campaign -- at "changing the politics" at the national, state and local
"Every letter to the editor that gets into print," said Hamilton, "is
worth 100 private letters to a politician."
Activists learned the power of coordinating the Club's national agenda
with varying state and local ones in the trial-by-fire of the 104th
Congress. A culmination of those efforts came during Earth Week of
1996, when staff and volunteers hit the sidewalks in 100 communities,
distributing doorhangers to their neighbors. The doorhangers included
postcards with both a national message -- "Protect America's
Environment: For Our Families, For Our Future" -- and a local call to
action, customized according to the issues facing each particular
This year, a similar effort will be made to galvanize citizens'
interest in protecting our children's heritage. In many areas, Earth
Week events will be focused on the battle for clean air. Some chapters
and groups, however, may choose to also highlight such issues as toxics
or clean water. But whatever the issue, expect to find Club activists
armed with both educational materials and action items including tens
of thousands of postcards addressed to President Clinton urging him to
protect our children's health by adopting tough new air pollution
Clean air is expected to be the biggest battle of this congressional
year, as polluters gear up to torpedo the tough new rules for smog and
soot proposed by the Environmental Protection Agency last December.
Before the gavel came down to begin the 105th Congress, Sierra Club
activists were getting citizens to urge the EPA and President Clinton
to resist industry pressure to weaken the standards. Those efforts,
which later included mobilization around EPA field hearings, will
continue through September, when final action is expected on the
While the clean air campaign goes forward, the Club will also be
launching other national campaigns as well as addressing issues of
local and regional interest. Rather than try to kill anti-environmental
bills in committee -- an unlikely prospect in this Congress -- Club
activists will use committee votes to publicize these issues and to
hold elected officials accountable. Come summer, many will be passing
out leaflets on wetlands at local fishing derbies, staging press
conferences to highlight the effects of smoggy days on asthmatic kids,
or drawing attention to water pollution at local beaches.
Few federal bills on the environment now seem likely to make it to
floor votes until the 1998 congressional session. If the 105th Congress
does move on the environment, say Club leaders, it will probably do so
via riders and budget items in agency spending bills, expected to come
up in September. Potential surprises in appropriations bills could
include EPA enforcement cuts, special deals for timber, mining and oil
companies, and provisions for developing Utah's wilderness.
On the proactive side, the Sierra Club and its allies are hoping to cut
wasteful anti-environmental spending for subsidized logging roads,
environmentally destructive water projects, taxpayer giveaways to
mining companies and the energy industry, and similar examples of
"corporate welfare." We also hope to boost funding for public land
acquisition and environmental protection programs.
But by keeping the environment in the public eye, Hamilton and other
Club leaders hope not only to block the polluters' agenda, but also to
advance our own -- if not through legislation, than through popular
administrative initiatives that Congress won't dare oppose.
"If we play our cards right in '97," Hamilton said, "we can think about
taking delivery in '98 on a whole range of issues: reform of the Forest
Service, preserving wetlands, improved clean air standards, expanded
Right to Know programs, maybe even another new national monument to
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