By Jenny Coyle
A mountain range in Arizona was rescued from pumice mining. An airport expansion in Hawaii that would have developed agricultural land and introduced invasive species was halted. Noxious animal factories can't currently get permits to set up shop in poor, rural Mississippi. General Electric was ordered by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to clean up pollutants it dumped in New York's Hudson River.
Those are some of the victories celebrated in 2000 by conservation organizers and volunteers in EPEC, the Sierra Club's Environmental Public Education Campaign, now in its sixth year.
What is EPEC? Think of it as a crash course in planet preservation - a yearlong organizing, outreach and visibility effort to preserve and protect threatened natural resources in nearly two dozen communities across America. It's designed to bring local environmental issues into the spotlight, and to organize and educate the neighbors about immediate threats to their neighborhoods.
Each site is generally connected to one of the Sierra Club's four national priorities: the Wildlands, End Commercial Logging on Federal Lands, Challenge to Sprawl and Clean Water campaigns.
Activities might include holding rallies, dressing up in costume to hound decision-makers, marching in a parade, conducting workshops, publishing materials, collecting signatures on a petition - just name it, and EPEC organizers have done it.
"The goals and strategies vary from site to site, but the bottom line in each place is to create demand for a certain action by educating and organizing at the grassroots level," said Bob Bingaman, the Club's national field director.
Among the successful efforts in 2000 was the campaign to fight expansion of a pumice mine in Arizona's San Francisco Peaks, which Bingaman said is a model for other campaigns. Pumice is used to give stonewashed jeans their worn-in look, and EPEC organizer Andy Bessler and the Grand Canyon Chapter launched the project as a traditional wildlands fight because the operation was tearing up a mountainside and polluting waterways. Bessler eventually folded in environmental justice issues because the Peaks are sacred to 13 Native American tribes. He found Navajo, Hopi and other Native Americans who were passionate about shutting down the mine.
In August, Secretary of the Interior Bruce Babbitt struck a deal with Tufflite, Inc., to stop digging pumice from the open-pit mine in six months, and to cease hauling already extracted material in 10 years.
Bingaman spelled out nine factors that contributed to the Peaks victory.
First, it made effective use of the Sierra Club's planning matrix. Bingaman is known for his saying, "If it ain't written down, it ain't a plan." The Peaks plan was written down and followed.
The campaign had clear, quantifiable goals. Its short-term goal was to stop a proposed expansion of the mine. Done. Its mid-term goal was to shut down the mine. Done. Its long-term goal, restoration, is ahead.
It involved a genuine partnership within the Club - between the Flagstaff Group, the Grand Canyon Chapter, EPEC, the media and field staff, Sierra magazine, The Planet and the Sierra Club Action Daily, an e-mail action-alert system.
The campaign wove together three approaches. It was a classic wildlands battle because a mine threatened the Peaks. It was an environmental justice struggle because the Peaks are sacred to Native Americans. And it was a corporate accountability fight: the Club targeted Tufflite, the operators of the mine.
Bessler and the Sierra Club approached the campaign in a culturally sensitive manner. Bessler went to where the tribes were, once backpacking his slide show eight miles to show it. He also helped a tribe member harvest corn, so he, in turn, could help Bessler with the campaign.
The campaign had a clear, concise message: Save the Peaks, Stop the Mine.
It had a clear and limited set of targets. The first was Babbitt - it helped that he was from Arizona.
Tactics were creative. Petitions were collected on stonewashed jeans and presented to Babbitt. Radio ads were run in Hopi and Navajo.
Finally, the campaign used the media especially effectively. Bucky Preston and four other Hopi runners ran a relay from the Peaks to a concert that was held to raise money and awareness for the campaign. The presentation of the signed stonewashed jeans also got good coverage. The campaign was able to generate significant media in both Arizona and nationwide, including The New York Times.
Most campaigns don't lend themselves to gathering signatures on a pair of pants, but EPEC organizers are full of creative strategies. Coming next year: shrink-wrapped T-shirts in the shape of a hog. Where?
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