On a drizzly November day in Washington, D.C., the Sierra Club and allied green groups
delivered 85 mail sacks to selected denizens of the Capitol, including an
uncharacteristically reticent House Speaker Newt Gingrich. The bags (green, naturally)
contained copies of the Environmental Bill of Rights petition signed by more than a million
A day later, in what Representative Sherwood Boehlert (R-N.Y.) called "one of the key
votes of this Congress," the House That Newt Built severed from its budget proposal 17
riders aimed at muzzling the Environmental Protection Agency.
Coincidence? Perhaps. Plainly, though, the past year of grassroots environmentalism is
having an impact on Congress, state legislatures, and voters. In Washington state, the
legislature approved a "takings" initiative that would have forced taxpayers to compensate
property owners whenever government action limited the use of their land.
Environmentalists quickly mobilized to place the measure on the ballot, and their efforts
were amply rewarded. By a three-to-two margin Washington voters rejected the notion
that taxpayers should have to pay polluters not to pollute—a key component of the
Contract With America.
Nor were the Contract's supporters faring better in other parts of the country. In Virginia,
citizens answered Governor George Allen's pleas for a Republican-led "anti-regulatory"
statehouse with the political equivalent of a Bronx cheer. In Kentucky, Democrat Paul
Patton was elected governor in what many viewed as a proxy race between President
Clinton and the GOP leadership. And in Maine, two special elections went to Democrats,
ending Republicans' brief dominance of the state legislature and possibly presaging a shift
back to pre-Newt values.
Just as significant were signs that the party of Teddy Roosevelt, if not actually emerging
from its protracted bout of anti-environmental fever, was at least recognizing the political
risks of being tagged as the party of James Watt. Republicans like Boehlert, it should be
noted, have never forgotten their conservationist roots, or the fact that the vast majority of
Americans want to protect our air, water, wilderness, and wildlife. But they have been a
distinct minority in the new congressional majority. Most Republican legislators seemed to
regard trashing the environment as a free pass to re-election. But the more voters learned
about the leadership's plans, the less they liked them. And GOP leaders have been feeling
In October, the House Republican Conference suggested that GOP representatives "build
credibility" on the environment by engaging in high-profile (if highly deceptive) photo
opportunities, from planting trees to picking up highway trash. (See "Instant
Environmentalists" in "Priorities," January/February.) The memo advised ersatz enviros to
act quickly before "green extremists" labeled their stunts "craven, election-year
Three weeks later, Gingrich himself was apologizing for his party's year-long efforts to
dismantle environmental protections. "We mishandled the environment all spring and
summer," admitted the Speaker. "Some places they moved a little faster than they
Well, yes. Mistakes were made. Newt's minions moved too fast in trying to cripple the
Clean Water Act, neuter the Endangered Species Act, hamstring the EPA, sell off national
parks, and drill the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. And how did they come, albeit
belatedly, to see the error of their ways?
The million-plus signatures on the Environmental Bill of Rights certainly helped. That
initiative, part of a broader campaign to bring the polluters' agenda to the attention of the
media and the public, contributed to a remarkable change in the political landscape. The
environment has become increasingly prominent in the debate over the nation's future. And
thanks to the tireless efforts of Sierra Club members, incumbents are finding that fronting
for polluters can be hazardous to their careers.
Voters, most of whom call themselves environmentalists, are getting mad. What worries
Gingrich and the rest of the Republican leadership—as well as genuinely pro-environment
legislators like Boehlert—is that they'll soon want to get even. On election day, they'll get
B. J. Bergman is associate editor of Sierra.
Where All Candidates Are Green
Do you want to help shape the Sierra Club's future? Then don't just sit there. Vote.
Yes, it's that time again, when you and 560,000 other concerned environmentalists get to
exercise your most basic right as a Club member: the right to participate in continent-wide
leadership elections. "The Sierra Club is the only national environmental organization that
is run with full democracy at all levels," says Sandy Tepfer, the Club's chief inspector of
elections. "But democracy doesn't work if electorates are not informed, or fail to
As happens every spring, the terms of 5 of the 15 members of the Board of Directors are
about to expire. Candidates for these open seats are either selected by the nominating
committee or must petition to appear on the ballot. The Board of Directors is the Club's
primary governing body, responsible not just for conservation policy but also for the
organization's legal affairs and finances—including management of a $40 million annual
budget. In addition to choosing new directors, members will be asked whether the Club
should seek to ban all commercial logging on federal lands.
Brief biographies of the candidates as well as ballot-question arguments pro and con will
be included with your ballot, which you'll be receiving early in March. Further information
on the candidates will be available in group and chapter newsletters and at the Club's
World Wide Web site, http://www.sierraclub.org. (You can also find us on the Internet via
gopher or FTP.) Your completed ballot must be received by noon on Saturday, April 20.
Results will be reported in the September/October 1996 issue of Sierra.
"I urge every member to be an informed and participating voter," says Tepfer. "The future
of the Sierra Club is in your hands."
More than 55,000 Sierra Club members now use a Sierra Club MasterCard issued by the
MBNA America Bank. With every purchase made by the card, a contribution goes to
support the Club's programs. The funds raised—more than $1 million since 1993—
provide an important new source of support for our conservation work.
The card has no annual fee. For more information, contact MBNA directly at 1-800-847-
7378 and mention priority code IQGM.
"Here's an example of art paying back to the land and people we love," says composer
John Duffy of his Symphony No. 1: Utah. Commissioned by the Sierra Club's
Utah Chapter, the critically acclaimed work is making both a spiritual and a material
contribution to the cause of the Southwest's redrock wilderness.
Since its 1989 world premiere at New York's Lincoln Center, Symphony No. 1
has been performed frequently throughout the country. The Utah Symphony plans to
feature the piece in 36 concerts this year to help celebrate the state's centennial;
concertgoers will also get a glimpse of the region's stunning visual beauty—now
threatened by legislation moving through Congress—via a slide show projected behind the
For those who can't make it to Utah, the Sierra Club—sponsored symphony is available on
a Koss compact disc of Duffy compositions titled Freedom Works, performed by
the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra. Half of Duffy's income from performances and disc
sales of Symphony No. 1 goes to the Utah Chapter.
Volunteer Spotlight: The Politics of Persistence
by Amy Wilson
There were few bright spots for environmentalists in the 1994 elections, but in Rhode
Island all three candidates the Sierra Club endorsed for federal office won. Republican
environmental champion Senator John Chafee was elected to his fourth term. Our
longtime ally Jack Reed, a Democrat, earned a third term in the House. Newcomer Patrick
Kennedy—a Democrat who had shown strong environmental leadership as a state
representative—became the latest of the Kennedy clan to join the U.S. Congress.
Behind the scenes in each of these races was Liz Kelley, the Sierra Club's Rhode Island
political chair. Months before the election she was researching the candidates'
backgrounds, writing press releases, talking to reporters, and drumming up support in the
Sierra Club and beyond. "A political chair doesn't have to be a policy wonk," she says,
"but it's essential to know what's worth fighting for."
In the Chafee race, some activists argued against an endorsement, on the grounds that
Chafee had opposed them on some issues. "I believed in his commitment and his record,"
Kelley says. "I spent hours talking to the dissenters to get at the core of their concerns.
Then I went to the senator's staff to get answers. In the end I was able to persuade people
that even if we were not in one-hundred-percent agreement with the senator, we did see
eye-to-eye on a majority of issues." A few months later, Chafee, newly appointed head of
the Senate Environment Committee, was boldly defying other GOP leaders' attempts to
roll back the nation's environmental laws.
Kelley's interest in politics dates from her youth in the Boston area—"American revolution
country," she calls it—where she tagged along with her father to town meetings and
stuffed envelopes at local candidates' campaign headquarters. "My father taught me the
importance of community involvement," Kelley says. "And he was right—volunteering is
exhilarating. It gives you a feeling of connection with your neighbors, helps give you
control over your community's destiny, and introduces you to like-minded, energetic
Today Kelley works full-time for a financial planning company in Warwick, the second-
largest city in Rhode Island. She volunteers for Amnesty International and tutors exchange
students in English at Brown University. Despite the breadth of her commitments, Kelley
retains a reputation for scrupulous attention to details.
"What makes Liz so valuable is that she doesn't let anything fall through the cracks," says
colleague Helen Tjader, Rhode Island Chapter chair. "You have to move fast when you're
doing electoral work, yet she follows up on every detail." Since the 1994 elections, Kelley
has made it a priority to "keep communication flowing" between Club activists and their
congressional delegates. She's also preparing for the Sierra Club's 1996 endorsements. "I
triple-check everything when I'm working with a candidate," Kelley says. "An
endorsement is a major decision. It's important for me to be informed and for the
candidate to see the Sierra Club as a top-notch organization."
Amy Wilson is senior editor of the Sierra Club's activist newsletter,
In 65 chapters and hundreds of local
groups spanning 21 ecoregions and two nations,
Sierra Club members are hard at work for a
by Tracy Baxter
Pacific Coast: Halting the War on the Environment
Pigs in slop couldn't have worn smiles broader than those of the timber and real-estate
interests in Washington state after the shakeup of the November 1994 elections. They
celebrated their victories by helping pass an anti-environment "takings" bill that would
have paid property owners not to poison the public. Acting fast, the Cascade Chapter and
its allies rounded up a quarter million signatures to place a referendum on the November
1995 ballot. And though the opposition poured money into a counter-campaign, people
power triumphed: the worst takings law in the nation was routed by a three-to-two
American Southeast: Making Connections in a Watery Realm
As Gulf Coast wetlands are drained and diverted to make way for development, migratory
waterfowl are increasingly taking refuge in rice fields. Unfortunately, most farmers drain
their fields after their second annual harvest in October or November, further shrinking the
freshwater habitat available to traveling geese, ducks, and cranes. But in adopting the
Houston Chapter's plan to keep 65 acres inundated through the winter, Raun's Lowell
Farms is providing an excellent roosting and feeding haven until March, when the last
birds normally return northward. In return, the chapter is encouraging local markets to sell
the farm's brand of organically grown jasmine rice.
Pacific Northwest: Defending the Ancient Forests
The British Columbia Chapter and other environmental groups are celebrating a solid gain
in their fight for sustainable forestry: the B.C. government has agreed to dramatically
reduce the rate of the cut in Clayoquot Sound. By keeping the pressure up,
environmentalists impelled officials to appoint a 20-member Clayoquot Scientific Panel.
Assigned to reinvent forest management in the Sound, the panel hammered out ecoregion-
specific recommendations that would effectively ban conventional clearcutting. In summer
1995, the B.C. government agreed to implement all of them. But as some centuries-old
Sitka spruce, hemlock, and western red cedar are still being felled for such consumer
disposables as phone books and newspapers, environmentalists have a way to go in
protecting the pristine areas of one of North America's last great rainforests.
Great Lakes: Protecting Our Public Lands
Reflecting Minnesotans' overwhelming support for protecting Voyageurs National Park
and the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness from increased motorized recreational
use, 400 citizens gathered last October on the lawn of the state capitol to cheer the North
Star Chapter's 100-member "paddle parade." As a counter-demonstration of 20
participants and one snowmobile doddered along, Minnesota's Democratic
Representatives Bruce Vento, Martin Sabo, and Bill Luther further ignited the Twin-Cities
crowd with their denunciation of congressional proposals that would shatter the serenity
of the parks with the roar of internal-combustion engines. A field hearing the following
month in Minneapolis drew 1,500 supporters.
Southwest Deserts: Restoring Wildlife
The Grand Canyon Chapter's report on a federal field hearing on wolf reintroduction held
last November in Phoenix was short and sweet: we came, they didn't. In the weeks prior
to the event, the chapter created a pro-lobo buzz by mailing 15,000 postcard alerts and
following them up with four nights of phone calls. Newspapers in Phoenix and Tucson
responded with editorials supporting reintroduction of Canis lupus in Arizona
and New Mexico. After hearing convincing testimony from environmentalists with little
rebuttal (ranchers stayed away in droves), the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service adjourned the
Sierra Nevada: Preserving Wild-and-Scenic Rivers
In a more temperate political climate, a proposal to destroy 48 miles of two free-flowing
mountain rivers with the most expensive dam in U.S. history might quickly die of
embarrassment. But in the unreasonable 104th Congress, Representative John Doolittle's
(R-Calif.) Auburn Dam plan is alive and well. The billion-dollar-plus multipurpose dam,
which is being sold as a flood control project, would be constructed on an earthquake
faultline, a planning decision widely regarded as folly. Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.),
usually an environmental ally, is leaning toward support of the project. The Motherlode
Chapter is asking Club members to write to the senator, suggesting cheaper and safer
alternatives such as fixing the rivers' levees and lowering the Folsom Dam spillways.