By some estimates, corporate polluters recently coughed up more than
$20 million for an extraordinary, six-month marketing campaign. The megabucks
blitz was designed to sell not a product but an idea-namely, that U.S. industry
can't afford to spew less filth into America's air. The pitch worked, at
first. For months, White House economic advisers wrung their hands on behalf
of carmakers and smokestack industries, while Al Gore held his tongue over
the fate of the nation's asthma sufferers, including some 5 million kids.
By late June, President Clinton seemed poised to ignore the findings of
thousands of scientific studies and the desire of his top clean-air cop,
Environmental Protection Agency chief Carol Browner, to get tough on pollution.
But the polluters' airwaves war proved no match for the on-the-ground
efforts of the Sierra Club and its allies. Gore found his voice, and Clinton
located his backbone; in July, the more stringent rules Browner had unveiled
last November formally became law. The changes mean that the EPA, the agency
charged with enforcing the 1970 Clean Air Act, can finally crack down on
companies that release dangerously high levels of smog and soot into the
nation's neighborhoods. The emissions reductions are expected to prevent
as many as 15,000 deaths each year, and to provide badly needed relief to
millions of victims of asthma, emphysema, and other respiratory ailments.
"This victory represents what's best about the Sierra Club,"
exulted Bruce Hamilton, the Club's conservation director, following Clinton's
endorsement of the new standards. "We set our sights high, never lost
faith, worked our hearts out, and ultimately prevailed against tremendous
Why didn't the corporate pitch play in Peoria-or anywhere else beyond
the climate-controlled boardrooms of the industrial elite? How did nonprofits
like the Sierra Club fend off the deep pockets and political muscle of the
National Association of Manufacturers?
"We made it personal," explains Kathryn Hohmann, who directs
the Club's environmental quality program in Washington, D.C. In Peoria,
Bangor, Salt Lake City, Seattle, and points between, Club activists brought
home the human costs of air pollution by telling their neighbors about others
in their communities whose lives are affected by air pollution: children
trapped inside on hot summer days, elderly unable to breathe without an
oxygen tank, people down the block who have lost loved ones to respiratory
illness. But they also made clear that everyone pays for excessive levels
of smog and soot in the form of lost productivity and long-term and emergency
The Club took that personal message everywhere. As soon as Browner announced
the proposed new regulations in November, Club leaders joined forces with
other organizations-notably the American Lung Association-in a high-profile
show of support. When the EPA scheduled public hearings around the country,
Club activists mobilized scientists, kids, mothers, and others to speak
While Club President Adam Werbach and Executive Director Carl Pope tackled
the national media, hundreds of grassroots activists penned letters to the
editors of their daily newspapers, and others staged rallies and other public
events. Staff and volunteers collaborated on a series of radio and television
ads that ran in strategic media markets. Political committee chairs leaned
on their members of Congress to sign letters to Clinton. In April, clean
air was the focus of the Club's Earth Day celebrations in cities throughout
the country; in May, staffer Victoria Simarano organized a demonstration
in front of the White House by mothers of asthmatic children. And when it
looked as though Gore's influence would be pivotal, Hohmann launched the
"Where's Al?" tour, in which Club members hounded the vice president
to get on the team.
He did, and so did the president. "Lives will be saved, and a legacy
of cleaner air will be left to our children and future generations,"
says Pope. Polluters are still fuming. But thanks in large part to the Sierra
Club, millions of kids-and millions more adults with respiratory problems-can
It Takes Money
Are Americans willing to pay to protect the environment? Judging by the
success of the recently completed
Sierra Club Centennial Campaign, the answer is yes. Organized eight years
ago around the theme of the Club's 100th birthday in 1992, the Campaign
celebrated a century of environmental victories and raised $101 million-$10
million over its target-to help the Club prepare for the next hundred years.
A joint effort of the Sierra Club and The Sierra Club Foundation, the
Campaign was piloted by a core network of volunteers and staff. But longtime
Club member Harry Dalton, who cochaired the Campaign with Allan Brown, says
the project might never have gotten off the ground without Brown's leadership.
"Allan invested his own funds to get this thing going, and he's been
with it the entire way."
Brown, a Palo Alto, California, developer who opposes urban sprawl and
a Club member since 1963, and Dalton, a retired converted products manufacturer
from Rock Hill, South Carolina, know that it takes money to keep a national
grassroots organization up and running.
They also know that when high-profile
executives talk, congressmen listen. By involving movers and shakers from
communities across the country in the Club's conservation efforts through
the Foundation's National Advisory Council, they made the most of these
political facts of life. The NAC turns donors such as Juan Metzger, cofounder
and former CEO of Dannon Yogurt, into skilled environmental lobbyists who travel
to Washington each year to meet privately with congressional and administrative
leaders to advocate Club positions on key conservation issues before Congress.
"Through the Campaign, donors became activists. People saw not only
that their money could make a difference but that because of their position
their very presence could advance the Club's agenda," says Steve Stevick,
executive director of The Sierra Club Foundation. The Campaign reaffirmed
what the Club's grassroots activists have always known: conservation takes
commitment, action, and cash. - Liza Gross
Congress phased out the manufacture, processing, and distribution of
polychlorinated biphenyls back in the 1970s, and new evidence links the
chemical coolant and lubricant to birth defects and sexual abnormalities.
So when the EPA gave incinerator companies the green light to import and
burn PCBs from other countries last year, Club volunteers were aghast. The
Club sued to halt the measure, and an appeals court judge struck down the
EPA's bad call in July.
STUMPING FOR FORESTS
The U. S. Forest Service racked up a $500 million debt selling timber
in 1996. But, as a new Sierra Club report reveals, that's not unusual-the
public has been getting bilked for decades. Released on the centennial of
the federal statute allowing commercial logging on national forests, Stewardship
or Stumps? highlights 12 management debacles-from Idaho's Panhandle, where
clearcuts and industrial-waste dumping result in toxic floods, to Alabama's
Bankhead, where hardwood takes a backseat to strip mines. According to the
report, by the year 2000 recreation in the national forests will generate
31 times more income and create 38 times more jobs than logging. At the
Club's urging, thousands of people have written President Clinton urging
stronger forest protection. For a copy of Stewardship or Stumps? call (415)
Alaska Rainforest: BACKCOUNTRY BOONDOGGLE
Twenty years ago the Alaska Chapter, with other concerned groups and
citizens, thwarted a widely ridiculed proposal to construct a domed city
and golf course on the south side of Denali National Park and Preserve.
Now Club activists find themselves in an unlikely alliance with hunters,
trappers, and miners to fight another south-side tourist development. Their
Coalition for Responsible South Denali Development is opposing a plan approved
by the National Park Service and the state to build a visitors' center and
access road 43 miles into pristine backcountry. The coalition argues that
a tourist center along the highway from Fairbanks to Anchorage would afford
essentially the same views of Denali's splendor as the authorized Petersville
project-without the $70 million price tag or disruption to wildlands and
local communities that 250,000 seasonal tourists would bring. Though state
funding has been blocked, the coalition needs help to stop federal financing
of the project. Write to Bruce Babbitt, Department of the Interior, 1849
C St. N.W., Washington DC 20240, and ask him to keep gridlock out of the
world's only subarctic rainforest.
Great Lakes: GOOD, CLEAN AIR FUN
As a childhood asthma sufferer, Representative Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio)
knows firsthand the value of clean air. At a ceremony honoring the freshman
congressman for supporting the EPA's proposed new standards to reduce soot
and smog levels, Ohio Sierrans also celebrated some of clean air's best
uses. With kites aloft, bubbles adrift, and Frisbees gliding overhead, nearly
100 activists and their children gathered to present Kucinich with a huge
homemade card of thanks and, in a symbolic poke at polluters who claimed
that tougher standards meant an end to the backyard barbecue, hot grub fresh
from the grill. A pink cake in the shape of healthy lungs capped the festivities.
Rocky Mountains: SQUALL OF THE WILD
After preparing a dud of an environmental impact statement for a euphemistically
termed "enhanced training range" in the Owyhee Canyonlands, the
U. S. Air Force is taking its fourth stab since 1989 at grabbing land in
southwest Idaho. Now, it's proposing a 12,000-acre dummy bombing range -half
its previous request-but as Edwina Allen of the Middle Snake Group points
out, "the main problem is the constant, ear-splitting noise."
Recreationists, as well as shrinking populations of California bighorn sheep
and sage grouse will find the canyonland quiet shattered by the deafening
booms of supersonic flights. The group's public-awareness campaign, including
hard-hitting radio ads, TV appearances, and door-to-door campaigning, has
prompted many hunters and anglers to join the activists. "If the Air
Force doesn't let this go, we'll start lobbying the Clinton administration,"
says Allen. "We'll keep it up until the Air Force loses-again."
Pacific Coast: FRIEND OF FISH
"When I was a boy," recalls native San Franciscan Jim Royce,
"it was possible to catch a striped bass off Muni Pier." Nowadays,
in the unlikely event that a bass appeared on his line, he'd regard it with
suspicion-and throw it back into the bay. "Dredging stirs up polluted
sand and waste," says this Bay Chapter volunteer, "and local fisheries
have been affected by the contamination." To tally the environmental
cost of making way for freighters, Royce, with Congressman Ron Dellums (D-Calif.),
is tracking down funds for the Port of Oakland's long overdue study of the
bay's ecology. It's a tough job, made even harder by the degenerative-disc
disease Royce has endured for over 20 years. But he insists on keeping up
the pace. "Without service, my life would be less enjoyable. Volunteering
gives as much to me as I do to it."