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  September/October 1997 Features:
Hold Nothing Back
Heat Wave
Pockets of Paradise
Field Guide
Ways & Means
Good Going
Way to Go
Hearth & Home
Lay of the Land
Home Front
Natural Resources
Last Words

Sierra Magazine
Home Front

In 65 chapters and hundreds of local groups spanning 21 ecoregions and two nations, Sierra Club members are hard at work protecting our natural heritage.

By Tracy Baxter

American Southeast: DIRTY BUSINESS

Under a loophole in federal pollution law nearly as big as the Lone Star State itself, cement manufacturers can use hazardous waste to fuel their furnaces without meeting the same emission standards as commercial incinerators. Only too happy to take advantage of the regulatory glitch, Texas Industries in Midlothian has turned a handsome profit by offering discounts to refineries and chemical plants for waste disposal, burning their effluvia under conditions that do not completely destroy the toxins. After doubling its poisonous releases to 60 tons in a single year, TXI vaulted into northern Texas' polluters top-ten. Its process so contaminates the kilns with metals that the Home Depot chain has banned the cement from its stores. The Dallas Chapter is now appealing to the state to revoke the permit for TXI's lucrative and lethal sideline.


It rankles Sam Booher when his opinions are given short shrift. "I wrote to DuPont's chairman of the board back in November 1996, when I first heard about the company's proposal to extract titanium ore at Okefenokee Swamp," says Booher, a member of Republicans for Environmental Protection and of the Georgia Chapter's executive committee. "No response. I wrote again last February, copying my congressman and senators." Still nothing. So Booher and his wife hopped in their car and drove 1,500 miles from Augusta, Georgia, to join a Georgia Chapter protest, and to confront DuPont's board of directors in Wilmington, Delaware.

A DuPont stockholder, Booher addressed the company's board, rapping the shortsightedness of mining a common ore near an uncommonly beautiful and sensitive wilderness. DuPont subsequently pledged to hold off on drilling near the swamp until it could allay concerns about its operation. This summer, the chemical industry colossus invited Booher to a conference to discuss Okefenokee's future. Booher hopes that DuPont will permanently abandon its project, but to hedge his bets he's ready to exercise another stockholder prerogative: putting the issue before DuPont's stockholders for a vote.

"Why would we want to join the ranks of coal-plant polluters of the Grand Canyon, clear-cut loggers around Yellowstone, and other damagers of America's national heirlooms? Our public image and stock value will decline."
-Sam Booher

Pacific Northwest: MUSICAL MESSAGES

Ah, the joys of activism! As they gathered signatures in support of worldwide family planning programs at this summer's all-female rock festival, the Lilith Fair, Sierra Club volunteers were treated to electrifying performances by artists including Sarah McLachlan, Tracy Chapman, and Fiona Apple. The Club was on board at all 38 stops of the sold-out tour, which began in George, Washington.

Great North American Prairie: PLAIN RELIEF

In a new report, the Sierra Club's Midwest Office explains how human activity abetted Mother Nature's recent assault on Grand Forks, North Dakota. The town of 50,000 was nearly washed off the map when the Red River, swollen with heavy rains, snowmelt, and agricultural drainage, burst its banks this spring. To prevent similar catastrophes, the report advises a halt to floodplain sprawl. Nearly three-quarters of the original 12 million acres of wetlands have been developed--95 percent of the permits to destroy wetlands issued in the past eight years. Restoring a mere 6 percent of these wetlands could have curtailed the Red River's flood damage significantly, and would have cost far less than the $1 billion to $2 billion now needed to bail out sodden Grand Forks. To order a copy of Red River Rampage--How Restoring Wetlands and Moving Homes from Flood Plains Can Reduce Future Flood Risk, call (608) 257-4994.


The Angeles Chapter and other environmentalists in Southern California are keeping bulldozers at bay in the unprotected coastal wetlands of Bolsa Chica. In February, after years of appeals from green advocates, the California State Lands Commission purchased nearly 900 acres of wetlands to preserve as open space. Another valentine followed in June when a superior court judge blocked the construction of 3,400 homes on and near the Bolsa Chica Mesa, site of a Shoshone Gabrielino burial ground and a significant raptor habitat. With the creation of a 1,700-acre wildlife refuge as their goal, environmentalists are now working with the U.S. Department of Interior to protect the remaining 350 acres.


Though some toxins in the Great Lakes can be traced to discharge pipes from local chemical, steel, and paper plants, air pollution is a main source. About 90 percent of the PCBs and mercury contamination in Lake Superior are transported by air, says the Environmental Protection Agency. Yet despite its own data--and a 1990 Clean Air Act mandate to develop a Great Waters program--the EPA stalled, prompting the Sierra Club and its allies to sue the agency last year. As a result, the EPA agreed in May to report to Congress on the links between air pollution and water quality and to enact policies by the year 2000 that will protect the Great Lakes and coastal waters from toxic fallout.

Elden Hughes of Whittier, California, is the 1997 recipient of the Sierra Club's highest accolade, the John Muir Award, which celebrates distinguished achievement in national or international conservation causes. His work was pivotal in passing the California Desert Protection Act, which resulted in the establishment of the Mojave National Preserve, and the elevation of the Death Valley and Joshua Tree national monuments to national-park status. Says Hughes, "This award is a true honor. But the real reward is visiting the desert, knowing that my grandchildren and theirs will get the chance to explore its splendor." Hughes joins such luminaries as Ansel Adams, David Brower, Wallace Stegner, and Edgar Wayburn in receiving the tribute.

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