Sierra Magazine


Roadless reversal | Junkie Marmots | CAFE standards | Corporate excess | Bold Strokes | China leads climate change | Boise Cascade | Power Ties | Updates

Return of the Roadless Wrangle

Politics trumps public opinion in forest battle-for now

The Clinton administration elicited an outpouring of public support when it proposed a ban on roadbuilding, logging, and other destructive activities on 58.5 million roadless acres of national forest. An unprecedented 1.6 million Americans weighed in with written remarks--nearly quadrupling the record set by the 1998 debate on organic-food standards--and thousands spoke up at 600 hearings nationwide. Fully 95 percent of respondents favored the broad protection ultimately enacted in January as the Roadless Area Conservation Rule.

But the Bush administration failed to hear their resounding message. When the state of Idaho and timber giant Boise Cascade sued to block implementation of the law, the Department of Justice rolled over. "Instead of defending its rule, the government offered only bland statements about its intent to revisit the roadless issue, saying that there was no need for the court to act in the interim," says Timothy Preso, an attorney with the Earthjustice environmental-law firm.

Boise Cascade won the first round in May, when U.S. District Judge Edward Lodge issued a preliminary injunction that allowed roadbuilding and logging until the court case is settled. In his decision, Lodge wrote that the rule-making procedure "was grossly inadequate and thus deprived the public of any meaningful dialogue or input"--which must have been news to the many Americans who made their opinions known over the three-year planning process.

The Bush administration added further insult by declining to appeal Lodge's decision, even though Attorney General John Ashcroft had promised to defend the roadless rule in his confirmation hearings. In anticipation of this apathy, Earthjustice filed an appeal in May on behalf of the Sierra Club, the Wilderness Society, and six other environmental organizations. If they succeed in overturning the injunction this fall, the roadless rule will take effect immediately, but it may not be permanent. At press time, the original court case--and the fate of the forests--was not expected to be decided before next year.

While environmentalists mustered their legal defense of the roadless rule, the Forest Service began trying to revise it, opening a new 60-day public comment period that ended September 10. "We're not devaluing the comments that we got from the original comment period, but asking the types of questions that were not addressed during the preparation of the January rule," says Heidi Valetkevitch, a media spokesperson for the Forest Service. "There's a good portion of people who feel they were cut out of that process."

If the Bush administration wants to write its own rule, it will have to consider this round of comments, issue a new draft, and send that out for public review. But the pace of this new public process may hinge on what happens in the Idaho courts. If environmentalists win their legal battle, Preso says, "the government might move more quickly to amend the rule. If we lose, they could just sit on their hands." Again.--Jennifer Hattam

Junkie Marmots

Gnawing problem in national parks

Addicts are wreaking havoc in the Mineral King area of California's Sequoia National Park. For the last two decades, they've been congregating in the visitor parking lot during the summer months, hanging out for a day or two, getting their fix, then returning whence they came. In the process of feeding their habit, the addicts damage numerous automobiles, which they often camp underneath four or five at a time. Strangest of all is that more of them haven't died, considering that their fix is antifreeze.

The perpetrators are yellow-bellied marmots who chew through hoses on automobile engines. They then lap up the minerals that collect on the rubber and imbibe the antifreeze, which contains alcoholic ethylene glycol. According to Harold Werner, a Sequoia National Park ecologist, 20 to 40 cars are damaged each summer by an estimated 200 marmots. Werner says he's boggled by the marmots' ability to consume antifreeze, a substance that would kill humans and most other animals. (Condors, for instance, have died after drinking the spilled liquid.) All it does for marmots, apparently, is give them "a bit of a high."

Werner says that he has heard reports of such activity in Olympic National Park and the Rocky Mountains, but nothing like the level at Mineral King. It's almost as if, he says, "the marmots are waiting for the cars to show up when Mineral King opens" after the winter. Because of this acquired taste, several marmots have become stowaways, remaining under car hoods sometimes for hundreds of miles. Some visitors have taken to wrapping chicken wire under their engines and laying out hoses around the car as sacrificial offerings, but Werner suggests hikers simply arrange to be dropped off at the trailhead.--Andrew Becker

Calculate your savings

How often do you get to save thousands of dollars and help save the planet? You can do both by supporting tough new corporate average fuel economy (CAFE) standards. Congress has barely changed the current rules in 20 years; updating them is the single biggest step we can take to curb global warming.

The Sierra Club has figured out how much money you'd save over the average 12-year life span of a car--and how much less CO2 you'd produce--if the government raised fuel-efficiency standards to a 40-miles-per-gallon fleetwide average. To find out, go to our MPG Calculator at Just plug in the make and model of your car, the number of miles you drive annually, and how much you pay for a gallon of gas. (The examples at right presume 15,000 miles a year and $1.79 a gallon.) Then contact your members of Congress and tell them to stop heating up the earth by burning your money.

Honda Civic HX
You'd save: $3,072 and
32,516 pounds of CO2

Toyota Camry
You'd save: $5,376 and
57,033 pounds of CO2

Dodge Caravan
You'd save: $7,116 and
75,546 pounds of CO2

Ford Expedition
You'd save: $11,592 and
122,984 pounds of CO2

Citizen's Arrest

Three ways to curb corporate excess

The first artificial life-form was created not by scientists but by the U.S. Supreme Court. On May 10, 1886, it ruled that a corporation is a "natural person" entitled to the same rights and protections enjoyed by U.S. citizens, yet whose liability is strictly limited. So when a mine pollutes a water supply or a chemical dump poisons a school, the guilty corporation might absorb the fines but no one goes to jail. (Even in the event of bankruptcy, corporate officers are protected, sailing away on golden parachutes.)

"When people find out that corporations have the rights of citizens but not the obligations, they're outraged," says James Price, Southeast staff director for the Sierra Club. Yet, he says, environmentalists are learning many different ways to challenge corporate power: "In some cases you can use the courts; in others, it takes direct action. The key is educating the public."

The citizens' action group Alliance for Democracy is calling for an overhaul of state corporation codes to make corporate officers and boards personally liable for their organization's actions. Another approach is to threaten rogue corporations with the revocation of their charters. In California, environmentalists and human-rights activists tried-but failed-to persuade state attorney general Bill Lockyer to yank the charter of Los Angeles-based oil company Unocal for its environmental and human-rights record.

If charter revocation is the stick, the carrot is a seal of good corporate citizenship. The Coalition for Environmentally Responsible Economies invites companies to adopt its ten-point "CERES Principles," promising to reduce pollution, use recycled products, and communicate their progress through annual self-evaluations. "My job is to talk with companies from across the table instead of across a demonstration line," says CERES board member (and Sierra Club Atlantic Chapter chair) Stuart Auchincloss. So far, more than a dozen Fortune 500 companies have signed on, including Ford, Sunoco, Nike, and Consolidated Edison. Merely signing does not confer a seal of approval, however. "Campaigners should hold companies up as hypocrites when they endorse the principles and don't live up to them," says Auchincloss.

Firms can also be pressured from within through actions like the one brought against Home Depot in May 1999, when activist shareholders demanded a vote on phasing out the sale of old-growth wood products. The measure won almost 12 percent of the voting shares. Within three months, Home Depot announced it would cease selling old-growth products by the end of 2002. "Even though there is a tremendous amount of corporate power, resistance is growing," says Ruth Caplan, chair of the Sierra Club's Corporate Accountability Committee. She cites as a hopeful sign the defeat of the Multilateral Agreement on Investments, which would have given corporations broad powers to sue national governments, and to evade boycotts and trade sanctions for environmental and human-rights abuses. The defeat, says Caplan, came about largely through grassroots pressure: "It proved that an effective citizens' movement can make a real difference." --James Carter

For more information, contact the Alliance for Democracy, 681 Main St., Waltham, MA 02451; (888) 466-8233; or CERES, 11 Arlington St., 6th Floor, Boston, MA 02116; (617) 247-0700; For a reading list, see

Bold Strokes

Driving Change
One hand is clapping for Conservation International and Ford Motor Company's new Center for Environmental Leadership in Business. Launched with a $25 million contribution from Ford, the joint effort will target industries that have the greatest environmental impact: transportation, manufacturing, agriculture and fisheries, forestry, energy and mining, and travel and leisure. The goal of the center is to develop and promote business practices that reduce environmental degradation and to contribute to conservation. It's a lot of talk just now, but it's also a lot of money. To keep track of the center and encourage it to actually do something, check its Web site:

Keep Off the Grass
What began as an anti-lawn party has become a mini-revolution. In May 1991, the Montreal, Canada, suburb of Hudson passed a law banning the "cosmetic" use of pesticides within town boundaries-making it illegal to douse those dandelions in the garden or on private lawns. Recreational facilities such as parks and golf courses were also restricted from using pesticides. TruGreen Chemlawn and Spray Tech, two pesticide-application companies, didn't care for the ruling and challenged the law, taking it all the way to Canada's Supreme Court. This summer it became official: The high court ruled that municipalities across the country now have a right to ban pesticide use on public and private property. And for good reason: Of the 36 most commonly used lawn pesticides, 13 have been found to cause cancer, 14 cause birth defects, 15 have been linked to liver or kidney disease, and 21 damage the nervous system. --Marilyn Berlin Snell

China Leads

But United States refuses to follow

When President George W. Bush denounced the Kyoto Protocol, he argued that the 1997 agreement placed an undue burden on the United States to reduce its greenhouse-gas emissions. "I oppose the Kyoto Protocol because it exempts 80 percent of the world, including major population centers such as China and India, from compliance," Bush wrote in a March letter to a group of Republican senators.

Ironically enough, it's developing nations like China that have taken some of the most substantial steps to address climate change. According to a June report by the World Resources Institute, a Washington, D.C.-based environmental think tank, China voluntarily cut its emissions of heat- trapping carbon dioxide by 19 percent between 1997 and 1999. This achievement was not mandated by the Kyoto Protocol, which calls on the richer-and more heavily polluting-industrialized countries to lead the way. (For more information, visit

Although the exact numbers have been questioned by some scientists, China's energy-efficiency initiatives and reduced subsidies for coal and oil have clearly had an impact. "There's no doubt that what's going on in China is good for the environment," says Kevin Baumert, coauthor of the WRI study. "They're doing far more than any other country." Belying Bush's fears that cutting carbon dioxide output would "cause serious harm to the U.S. economy," China's economy grew 15 percent during the period when it slashed emissions. Meanwhile, U.S. emissions have risen every year since 1991.

Over the last century, the United States released 30 percent of the carbon dioxide stemming from fossil-fuel use worldwide-more than the 22 percent contributed by the entire European Union and far more than any other single country. (Bush's favored scapegoats, China and India, contributed only 7 percent and 2 percent, respectively, to the total.) To put it another way, U.S. emissions amounted to 20.5 tons of carbon dioxide per person-11 times the per capita rate in China and more than twice the rate in Europe. Whichever way you slice the statistics, the United States doesn't have to look nearly so far to find someone to blame for our warming planet. --J.H.

Boise Cascade Bites Back

Annoy a dinosaur and it can turn on you. That's what San Francisco-based Rainforest Action Network learned after a year of targeting Boise Cascade for "predatory logging practices" in endangered and old-growth forests around the world. Through its Web site (, leaflets, and creative protests (sometimes involving civil disobedience), RAN has worked to educate the public about the timber giant's anti-environmental role.

Boise Cascade was not amused by RAN's efforts. The company wrote to the nonprofit group's funders, complaining about its "harassment and intimidation"--such as the thousands of letters RAN got schoolchildren to write to Boise CEO George Harad asking him to end old-growth logging. The company's allies have also piled on: In June, the right-wing think tank Frontiers of Freedom (founded by former Republican senator Malcolm Wallop of Wyoming and largely funded by R. J. Reynolds and Mobil) began a crusade to get the Internal Revenue Service to revoke RAN's tax-exempt status. RAN should be ineligible, the group contended, because of its "pressure campaigns aimed at forcing companies to change the way they do business." By way of example, they cite an October 2000 incident when "RAN activists taunted Boise Cascade by floating over the company's headquarters a 120-foot inflatable balloon shaped like a dinosaur and bearing a sign reading: 'Boise Cascade: I love logging old growth.'"

In the past, the IRS has drawn the line at tax- exempt nonprofits engaging in legislative advocacy, which is why the Sierra Club lost its tax-exempt status in 1966. But the Rainforest Action Network hasn't been trying to change laws--only corporate behavior. At issue now is whether advocacy can be considered educational, and if so, what kind. Should the IRS and the courts take a narrow view, free speech could be set back to the days of the dinosaurs. --Paul Rauber

Power Ties

Top resource posts in Washington are filled with industry insiders Environmentalists are suitably alarmed about George Bush's high-profile appointments: fellow former oil exec Dick Cheney at his side; one-time "wise-use" attorney Gale Norton heading the Interior Department; oilman Don Evans keeping the wheels turning at Commerce; former Enron advisor Lawrence B. Lindsey as chief economic advisor; and Spencer Abraham, top recipient of polluter contributions while a Michigan senator, as Energy secretary. Even sometimes-greenish EPA chief Christie Whitman has delayed implementing a federal water cleanup plan.

But Bush has also made disturbing appointments to powerful subcabinet posts. Witness the following: Deputy Interior secretary J. Steven Griles honed his skills as a lobbyist for the National Mining Association and Occidental Petroleum. As assistant secretary for Lands and Minerals Management under Reagan, Griles advocated drilling off California's coast.

Lynn Scarlett, assistant Interior secretary for policy, management, and budget, was president of the libertarian Reason Public Policy Institute, which downplays the risks of global warming and opposes tighter standards for particulate air pollution.

Former Alaska state senator Drue Pearce, Gale Norton's senior advisor for Alaskan affairs, has promoted oil development as consultant to the Arctic Slope Regional Corporation (which owns mining rights in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge) and the Energy Council, an international oil lobby. Before becoming Norton's special assistant in Alaska, Camden Toohey was director of Arctic Power, a joint venture between the state of Alaska and the oil industry that lobbies for drilling in the Arctic Refuge.

As assistant EPA administrator for air and radiation, Jeffrey Holmstead will influence key aspects of the Bush energy plan. As an attorney, he represented Cinergy; American Electric Power; and the Alliance for Constructive Air Policy, an industry group that seeks to weaken the Clean Air Act.

Linda Fisher, deputy administrator at the EPA, was a lobbyist and coordinator of political contributions for pesticide manufacturer Monsanto. As a Mississippi representative, Mike Parker garnered a "zero" rating from the League of Conservation Voters three years running. Now he's in line to be assistant secretary of the Army for civil works, a post in charge of the embattled Army Corps of Engineers. Parker's nomination is backed by the barge industry, which stands to benefit from destructive projects along the Mississippi River.

The top Justice Department job enforcing environmental and natural- resource laws is slated to go to Tom Sansonetti, a Wyoming lawyer who has lobbied on behalf of fossil-fuel industries.

In June, Bush nominated Mark Rey, a former lobbyist for the timber industry, as undersecretary of agriculture, a post that oversees the Forest Service. As a Republican aide to the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, Rey helped craft the 1995 "salvage rider" that cleared the way for logging old-growth forests.

John Graham, head of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs at the Office of Management and Budget, is the White House's "regulatory czar." As a member of the EPA's Science Advisory Board subcommittee on dioxin, Graham tried to insert weakening language into an EPA risk assessment.

Bush has tapped Utah's natural-resources director, Kathleen Clarke, to head the Bureau of Land Management. In Utah, she sided with energy companies to allow drilling in areas that are winter ranges for elk and made it easier for the firms to petition to remove species from state protective listings. But the industry-friendly wall can be breached: In September, Donald Schregardus, Bush's nominee for top enforcement officer at the EPA, withdrew after conservation groups and senators criticized him for lax enforcement of environmental laws while heading Ohio's EPA. --Reed McManus


JUSTICE DENIED IN MEXICO. The election last year of reformer Vicente Fox as president of Mexico raised hopes that imprisoned environmental activists Rodolfo Montiel (at right) and Teodoro Cabrera would be set free. Those hopes were dashed in July, when a Mexican judge denied their final appeal. Although the two ecologistas were arrested in 1999 and forced to confess to drug and weapons charges, their real "crime" was fighting to save old-growth forests. The Sierra Club and Amnesty International are calling on President Fox to release Montiel and Cabrera immediately and unconditionally. (See "Defending the Forest, and Other Crimes," July/August 2000.)

CANADA TO PAY FOR CLEARCUTTING. An unusual coalition of environmental groups and American logging companies won a partial victory in August, when the U.S. Commerce Department agreed to impose a 19.3 percent tariff on softwood lumber imported from Canada. (The Canadian government quickly challenged the decision, saying that it violates World Trade Organization rules.) The coalition claims that the high subsidies Canada gives its $10 billion lumber industry encourage clearcutting and create an unfair advantage over U.S. companies. The tariff, while smaller than the group had hoped, may encourage Canada to create a system that's easier on the competition-and on the trees. (See "Buzz Cut," September/October 2001.)

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