For Team Environment, 1995 was what sports fans call a rebuilding year. The
political arena, some will recall, was effectively owned and
operated by the pollution lobby, the unofficial winner of the previous November's
elections. Grateful (and beholden) congressional leaders were openly hostile to
existing protections for public health and public lands, let alone the
possibility of new ones. After a quarter century of steady gains, all
environmentalists could do was play hard on defense and dream of better days
And rebuild. The Sierra Club, in particular, quickly set about working to
increase its muscle by boosting the efforts of its chapters and groups throughout
the United States. This renewed focus on the grassroots gave rise in 1997 to
EPEC, the Environmental Public Education Campaign, and it's already paying
The EPEC program was designed to allow the Club's thousands of volunteer
activists to tailor a broad message "Protect America's Environment: For Our
Families, For Our Future"to local and regional needs. Whether walking precincts,
staging rallies and media events, or swarming the letters-to-the-editor pages,
volunteers in communities across the country have been talking about issues that
resonate with their neighbors. And corporate campaign donors notwithstanding,
what resonates with the public still strikes a chord with most decision makers.
Some cases in point:
In Oklahoma, volunteers joined family farmers, rural
residents, and fellow environmentalists to highlight the threats posed by mega-hog farms and other
industrial-style livestock operations. The state legislature eventually banned
In Montana, Club activists helped generate enough public outcry
to convince authorities in Lewis and Clark
National Forest to reject new oil-and-gas development on the Rocky Mountain
Front, adjacent to Glacier National Park.
In North Dakota, a half-dozen Club members in the town of Willistonwhich is to
say, all the Club members in townorganized to successfully block construction of
a toxic-waste facility.
In Georgia, Club activists alerted DuPont stockholders, and eventually the
entire country, to the folly of a proposed stripmine adjacent to the Okefenokee
National Wildlife Refuge, causing the chemical giant to shelve the project.
In Louisiana, the Club's public-education efforts forced state regulators to
step up testing for mercury levels in fish, and to expand public-health
protections for citizens who might be exposed to contaminated fish.
Throughout the Northwest, activists have been rallying public opinion behind
the endangered species that symbolizes the region, the salmon, and its equally
imperiled habitat. One measure of the campaign's success: in September the
region's four governors agreed to set up a forum to oversee salmon recovery.
Through efforts like these, repeated in state after state, Club activists linked
their local causes to nationwide policy objectives, from cleaning up our air and
water to preserving public lands and endangered species. By helping their
neighbors see the effects of federal policy, grassroots volunteers were
instrumental in putting the environmental movement back on the offensive.
A few of the highlights:
During the first half of 1997, the Club waged an all-out campaign to inform the
public of the need for a tough new EPA proposal to reduce smog and soot
emissions. In July, despite fervent opposition from polluters, President Clinton
signed the proposed new rules into law.
The EPEC program made forest-road subsidies the focus of its efforts to
mobilize public sentiment against exploitation of public lands. In January
Clinton announced a plan to halt road construction in many (though not all) of
the last remaining roadless areas in the
After helping to beat back congressional assaults on the Clean Water Act in
1995, the Club in 1997 made clean water a centerpiece of its public-education
efforts. The payoff came early this year, when Clinton unveiled his Clean Water
Action Plan to address hog- and chicken-farm pollution, loss of wetlands, logging
and grazing impacts, and other issues raised tirelessly by Club activists.
Expect a repeat performance in 1998, when the EPEC program builds on last year's
victories and pushes for additional funding for environmental initiatives and a
stronger, more effective Endangered Species Act. In the next edition of the
"Bulletin": a look at how EPEC organizers learn the ropes.
Por Nuestras Familias...
Polls show that Latinos are not just deeply concerned about the environment,
they're eager to do something about it.
Which is why the Sierra Club,
one of the nation's oldest and largest environmental groups, has joined forces
with Santa Fe-based Hispanic Radio Network, the nation's oldest and largest
educational Spanish-language radio service, to spread the word about saving the
The airwaves alliance took wing in February and March, when the Club sponsored 40
segments of HRN's Planeta Azul (Blue Planet) a daily three-minute environmental
report syndicated to 150 stations in the United States, Puerto Rico, and Latin
America. The network and the Club plan to continue working together
on ideas for several HRN programs, as well as a widely syndicated newspaper
"Hispanics consider the environment a legacy that is to be passed from one
generation to another," notes Javier Sierra, HRN's managing editor. "The great
thing about this partnership is that your objectives and our objectives are very
To hear Planeta Azul, call Hispanic Radio Network at (505) 984-0080 and ask for
information on stations in your area, or e-mail the network at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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.
Atlantic Coast: BLUE SKIES FOR BLACKWATER
A stone's throw from Blackwater Falls State Park and Monongahela National Forest,
Blackwater Canyon looks like parkland to the kayakers of its river rapids and the
hikers wandering its
12-mile trail. But recreationists found proximity didn't equal protection last
year when the Allegheny Power Company sold a 3,000-acre tract of canyon land to a
logging firm. With the habitat of black bear and the endangered Cheat Mountain
salamander at stake, the West Virginia Chapter tried to nullify the purchase.
While the chapter's legal argumentthat state law prevented the salewas rejected
by the Public Service Commission, the case's notoriety helped spur state
legislators to work on a land swap. "The deal is a beginning, but it would
protect only 700 acres," says Jim Sconyers, conservation chair of the West
Virginia Chapter. "And it wouldn't prevent construction on Lindy Point, the
area's most scenic overlook."
Sconyers believes that the best way to save
Blackwater Canyon would be outright purchase by the U.S. Forest Service or the
West Virginia State Parks Department. "You simply don't find many more places
like this in the East. We can't just throw it away." While the chapter appeals
the commission's decision, Sconyers urges the public to call Senator Jay
Rockefeller at (202) 224-6472 and ask him to help save the entire canyon.
CONNECTING FOR JUSTICE
Though thousands of miles apart, the working-class communities of Sydney,
Nova Scotia, and Fort Valley, Georgia, both know what it's like to get dumped on.
Residents of Sydney dwell next to a tidal estuary containing Canada's worst
environmental blight700,000 tons of toxic sludge, the by-product of a century of
steelmaking. Fort Valleyans live in the shadow of a Superfund site where
pesticides are manufactured.
When activists from the two towns met in Fort Valley
in a visit organized by Sierra Club of Canada they discovered they had something
else in common: fighting spirit. Sharing comfort and counsel, they discussed
strategies on strengthening community involvement and getting governmental
agencies to take action. With new tactics in their tool kit, the Canadian
activists are now preparing for a visit from their southern allies.
Sierra Nevada: SIERRA SCHOLARS
College-bound youth in the Sierra Nevada interested in community service
recently received a helping hand from the Sierra Club. To encourage new ideas on building
strong and sustainable local economies, the Sierra Nevada Ecoregion Task Force
invited high school seniors to submit essays on how to improve the quality of
life in their hometowns. The ten most thoughtful and well-researched essays won
their authors four-year scholarships of $1,000 per year, donated by
an anonymous member. The essay-review committee, made up of church leaders,
educators, and local Club members, is counting on the ten winners to put their
fine words into action after graduation.
Great Northern Forest: ADIRONDACK JEWELS
When heiress Marylou Whitney and her fiancé declared that the hotel and 40
exclusive homes they planned to build in Adirondack Park would make the Sierra
Club proud, the Atlantic Chapter immediately worked on setting them straight. The
publicity alone about a scheduled black-tie protest in front of a Whitney costume
ball helped persuade the couple to drop the development scheme. Later, when
negotiations to sell the majestic 14,700-acre forest to the state faltered, the
chapter used rush-hour radio ads to pressure Whitney and New York Governor George
Pataki to close the deal. At the last minute, Whitney signed on the dotted line
for $17 million, giving the chapter a new goalchampioning the land's
establishment as a proposed Oswegatchie Great Forest and Boreal Heritage Reserve.
Pacific Coast: CITIZEN GAIN
The voter-mandated California Coastal Act explicitly requires protection of the
state's breathtaking coastal vistas. Yet the Hearst Corporation recently muscled
zoning approval from San Luis Obispo County officials to build a mega-
resort on the shoreline, replete with three hotels, a dude ranch, and a 27-hole
golf course. In the months leading up to a state Coastal Commission public
hearing on the development, San Luis Obispo Chapter members worked furiously to
mobilize the public, canvassing locals and going toe-to-toe with Hearst
Corporation lawyers in a series of public debates.
"The response to our effort
was nothing short of astounding," says chapter Chair Pat Veesart. "The commission
received 5,000 letters and nearly 1,500 people attended the hearing." Swamped
with demands to uphold the law, the commission voted unanimously to reject the
Hearst project, leaving the craggy cliffs and unobstructed views
of the Pacific Ocean intact for now. "People are feeling pretty darn good about
this victory," says Veesart, "but we've got to keep an eye on this."
Pacific Northwest: GROWING PAINS
Once one of North America's great wildlife nurseriessome historians
believe on a par with Florida's
Evergladesthe Klamath Basin in southwestern Oregon and northern California has
lost 80 percent of its original 350,000 acres of wetlands
to agricultural use. The remaining 70,000 acres, preserved in a complex of
national wildlife refuges, hosts the largest winter population of threatened bald
eagles in the continental United States and millions of migrating waterfowl. But
because of the Bureau of Reclamation's water-allocation decisions, onions and
sugar beets are compromising the creatures' habitat.
In recent years the bureau
has diverted enough water out of the refuges to dry out marshes on migratory
routes, killing thousands of endangered sucker fish, and exposing nesting white
pelican colonies to
coyotesall to irrigate farmland. The Mother Lode Chapter and its Shasta Group
and the Oregon Chapter and its Rogue Group are suing the bureau to make sure that
farmers' needs don't come before wildlife's in the Klamath refuges.