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The Planet

Fire Hysteria Clouds Wild Forest Effort | Sierra Club Calls for International Right to Know | Pass on Chilean Sea Bass

Fire Hysteria Clouds Wild Forest Effort
By Tom Valtin

CedarDespite a growing chorus of editorial skepticism from newspapers across the country about the Bush administration's pro-logging "Healthy Forests Initiative," the president and his Senate allies have been burning up the airwaves blaming environmental protection for this summer's forest fires.

In late July, before the fires usurped the headlines, Senator Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) introduced the Roadless Area Conservation Act of 2002, S. 2790, which joined its House counterpart, H.R. 4865.

If successful, the twin bills would codify the Roadless Area Conservation Rule, one of the most sweeping land conservation measures in a generation. The rule would protect 58.5 million acres of national forest land from roadbuilding and other destructive activities. It was developed following years of deliberation and scientific study and more than 600 public meetings across the country.

"[This rule] protects our national forests to the benefit of all who seek to enjoy them," said Senator Cantwell, "not only in this generation, but in generations to come." She called the rule "a balanced policy" that manages roadless areas against catastrophic fire and "preserv[es] these relatively limited acres of public forest lands as a legacy for our children."

To date the Forest Service has received more than 2.2 million comments favoring roadless protection-an outpouring of public response nearly ten times greater than has been generated by any other rule in history. But in spite of such overwhelming support, the Bush administration is ignoring the rule and promoting logging and roadbuilding in these wild forests.

In recent months, under the guise of preventing forest fires, the president and his allies have been attacking basic environmental laws such as the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). Signed into law by Richard Nixon, NEPA requires federal agencies to fully study the impacts of projects like timber sales, and allows citizens to comment on and participate in the management of public lands. President Bush's fire proposal would gut NEPA and promote expedited logging on any section of national forest that the Forest Service claims to be "at risk" of fire.

In August, the Sierra Club and other environmental organizations released a seven-part plan, modeled on research by Forest Service fire scientists, to protect communities from catastrophic fires. The plan, which calls for the establishment of Community Protection Zones, was outlined in a full-page ad in the Portland Oregonian (see page 7).

At press time, Senator Larry Craig (R-Idaho) was pushing a measure that would pass into law the Bush pro-logging plan. Pro-wilderness senators, led by Senator Harry Reid (D-Nev.), are fighting to keep Craig's rider from moving forward. For an update on the Craig rider and more information on the Club's fire management plan, go to

Take Action: Call or write your senators, urging them to support the Roadless Area Conservation Act of 2002, S. 2790.Write: U.S. Senate, Washington, DC 20510, or call the Capitol Switchboard at (202) 224-3121.For updates on the Club's legislative priorities, call the Legislative Hotline at (202) 675-2394.

Sierra Club Calls for International Right to Know
Disclosure Standards Would Help Hold U.S. Companies Accountable Abroad
By Laura Fauth

Since 1997, U.S.-based lead mining company Doe Run has operated a lead smelter in La Oroya, Peru. Pollution from the smelter is so bad that 90 percent of the children in the surrounding community have blood-lead levels that exceed international health standards; 20 percent have blood-lead levels requiring hospitalization. Emissions of sulfer dioxide, cadmium, and arsenic also exceed World Health Organization standards.

In 1998, Chevron, another U.S.-based company, allowed security forces in Nigeria to use the company's helicopters to attack unarmed protesters on one of its oil drilling platforms. A year later, soldiers used a Chevron helicopter and boats to attack two Nigerian communities following a confrontation near a Chevron drilling rig.

Companies like Doe Run and Chevron often get away with such blatant human rights and environmental abuses when they operate abroad because the affected communities lack one of the most basic tools needed to hold the corporations accountable-access to information.

When American companies operate at home, domestic right-to-know laws require that they disclose the environmental and social impacts of their practices. But when the same corporations operate abroad, says Sam Parry, the Sierra Club's international representative, "there's no requirement to disclose any information about human rights or environmental or labor standards or practices."

"NAFTA, the WTO, and the forces of economic globalization have conferred sweeping new rights on multinational corporations," says Parry. "But little is being done to hold corporations accountable to the communities around the world in which they operate."

To address this disparity, the Sierra Club, along with 200 environmental, labor, human rights, and community rights organizations, is calling for "International Right to Know" disclosure standards, which would extend existing domestic disclosure requirements to facilities around the world that are owned, operated by, or contracted by U.S.-based companies. Companies would be required to disclose information on environmental impacts, human rights practices, and labor practices and conditions to local communities and the U.S. government.

International Right to Know would also include disclosure requirements for operating procedures-such as the employment of children or the conduct of security firms-which are regulated in the United States but not covered by domestic right-to-know laws. International Right to Know standards would benefit not only the affected communities, but the American image abroad as well, says Parry. "For the past year, America's presence abroad has increasingly been a military presence," says Parry. "U.S. corporations have the opportunity to present another face-one that demonstrates America's commitment to human rights, the environment, and democratic ideals."

Take Action: Write a letter to the editor expressing your support for International Right to Know standards. Here's a sample letter:

When Enron and Worldcom defrauded investors of hundreds of millions of dollars, the public outrage led to immediate action to improve financial disclosure standards. Yet there are numerous cases of U.S. companies engaging in activities throughout the world that despoil the environment, hurt workers, and abuse human rights.Where are the standards to hold U.S. companies accountable for these activities abroad?

The most important step we can take to stop U.S. companies from employing child labor, dumping toxic waste, hiring brutal security services, and engaging in other harmful activities is to require better disclosure standards so that communities around the world and consumers here in the U.S. are empowered with information.

More than 200 labor, human rights, environmental, and community rights organizations have come together to support the International Right to Know initiative, which calls for disclosure standards for U.S. companies operating abroad. This is the best way we can help ensure that U.S. companies represent our values of accountability and fairness wherever they operate.

Pass on Chilean Sea Bass
By Vivian Newman

The Sierra Club, in partnership with The Antarctica Project and the National Environmental Trust, is urging restaurant chefs and home cooks to stop buying Patagonian toothfish, known commercially as Chilean sea bass, in an effort to save the species from extinction.

"We're taking Chilean sea bass off our plates in order to keep it on the planet," says one chef. Unless demand for the fish declines, estimates suggest that it may be commercially extinct within five years.

There has been a limit on legal fishing of the toothfish since 1991. However, illegal fishing of the species has skyrocketed in recent years. The estimated illegal catch is two to three times the legal limit. Approximately 80 percent of Chilean sea bass sold on the world market is illegally obtained.

The slow reproduction rate of the Patagonian toothfish-they can live up to 80 years and don't reproduce until they are 8 to 10 years old-makes it nearly impossible for it to recover from over-fishing.

When researchers began studying the Patagonian toothfish 20 years ago, the average fish was five feet long and weighed more than 150 pounds. Now it's less than two feet long and less than ten pounds. The fish was virtually unknown until a specimen was caught in the deep waters off Chile in 1982. Appearing on menus as Chilean sea bass, the fish quickly became a sensation in high-end restaurants. The restaurant industry accounts for 70 percent of all Chilean sea bass sales in the United States.

The "Take a Pass on Chilean Sea Bass" campaign will continue until the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources, the international body that regulates the Patagonian toothfish, can put an end to illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing of the species.

Take Action: Pledge to not eat Chilean sea bass until the species is no longer in danger of extinction. Urge your friends and family to do the same. If you find Chilean sea bass on a menu, ask the chef to "take a pass on Chilean sea bass" and to serve sustainably managed fish instead. For more information visit

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