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The Planet
Who We Are

By Jenny Coyle

Debbie Neustadt - Des Moines, Iowa

Member, Clean Water Campaign Committee

Debbie NeustadtLet's have a show of hands: Who volunteers for the Sierra Club at the local, state, regional and national levels, all at once? If there's just one hand in the air then it must belong to Debbie Neustadt. A member since 1978, she writes a newsletter on state legislation for folks in central Iowa and coordinates the water-quality monitoring program for her group. She's political chair of the Iowa Chapter and treasurer of the Midwest Regional Conservation Committee. And she serves on three national committees - agriculture, genetic engineering and the Clean Water/ CAFO campaign.

Lest one think she has nothing else to do, hear this: She's been a teacher for 20 years, and is currently teaching science to ninth graders. Sometimes the two worlds merge.

"The first time I ever spoke at a press conference at the capital, I dragged my school kids with me," she recalls. "It was about six years ago, and I was talking about pesticides in Iowa's drinking water. There were television cameras, and I was the lead quote on the news that night. The kids really got a kick out of it."

Does all the volunteer work ever weigh her down? "I have lots of energy, and I like how the Club is full of people with a wide range of interests - the outdoors, politics, science, environmental issues, the arts. That keeps it fun for me."

Mark Woodall - Woodland, Ga.

Volunteer lobbyist

Mark WoodallThe state of Georgia had been clearcut and converted to cotton fields when Mark Woodall's family started acquiring thousands of acres of land during the Depression. Woodall's grandfather would use the naturally recurrent hardwoods for the manufacture of wood excelsior - shavings used as packing material before petrochemical foam "peanuts" came along.

The hilly spread is now forested again, hardwoods in the lowlands and planted pine in the upland. Woodall makes the point that keeping the land forested prevents sprawl, and cutting timber on private land takes some pressure off logging public lands.

But "timber baron" alone does not adequately describe the man. Every winter, Woodall works as a volunteer lobbyist for the Sierra Club during the 40-day Georgia legislative session. He's been lobbying since the state proposed a giant hazardous-waste incinerator near his home. He rooms in Atlanta with Sierra Club contract lobbyist Neill Herring, who starts their day with a jolt when he serves up a potent blend of espresso and coffee.

"We've got some good friends and strong enemies in the legislature," says Woodall. "Once citizens try to stop a proposed landfill or incinerator in their district, they seem to understand better the importance of the environmental lobby." And with just four pro-environment lobbyists working the legislature, time is tight, so Woodall keeps it simple."If you can't convey your point to these folks in three sentences, you can just forget it."

Tripp Pittman - Greenville, N.C.

Organizer, North Carolina Clean Water

Tripp PittmanTripp Pittman is reluctant to say God is on the Sierra Club's side, even though he's a Presbyterian minister who works full-time as a clean-water organizer for the North Carolina Chapter. "That point of view is problematic," he said. "I will say that I think God is on the side of those who have been disenfranchised, and those who have been disproportionately impacted by our greedy and wasteful lifestyles."

Pittman's first parish was in a West Virginia community threatened by runoff from coal strip mines. "As a church we wrote to congressmen, met with state legislators and got a grant for a pediatric mobile health clinic," he says. "That's where I got my training in environmental activism."

His current parish consists of 50 members, most of them farmers. He's responsible for Sunday worship, pastoral visitations, Bible study, church fellowship and community outreach. Meanwhile, his work with the Club focuses on animal factories - a personal interest of Pittman's as he comes from eight generations of farmers in North Carolina. He recently organized a large conference for groups working against corporate animal facilities.

"I really look at my work for the Sierra Club as an extension of my ministry," he says. "And my parish is very supportive of my work. I have farmers there to bounce ideas and concerns off of. It keeps me honest."

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