If youd attended a parade in Zumbrota or Stillwater or Eagan, Minnesota, this summer, you probably would have heard the marching band, waved at the local politicians, and smiled at the adorable children. You might also have encountered Asphalt Annie, three-eyed Tom the Toxic Trout, or Mike the Mutant Frog. With their "guerrilla theatre," these costumed creatures aim to highlight the poor environmental voting records of legislators from towns across Minnesota. And theyve got the lawmakers running scared.
"We get some boos, but a lot of applause," says Sam Garst, the Toxic 12 Campaign coordinator for the Sierra Clubs North Star Chapter. The Land of 10,000 Lakes is increasingly threatened by air and water pollution, urban sprawl, and poor management of state-owned forests. Frustrated by attempts to repeal environmental laws in the 1999 to 2000 legislative session, the chapter decided to fight back.
First, they identified a dozen state senators and representatives who had opposed the Sierra Club on legislation more than 90 percent of the time over the past few years. Next, the chapter held press conferences, sent letters to editors, rolled out a series of print ads, and, for maximum impact, made the parade appearances.
The result? Three environmental "zeros" were defeated by green candidates in the 2000 election, and another three were taken off the list after they began changing their votes. (Three more Toxic 12 members have announced their retirement.)
"One representative, Jim Abeler [R], had a zero percent rating in his freshman year. Now hes above sixty percent, and he led efforts to ban school-bus diesel and get tougher on pesticides," says Garst. "He changed so much we decided to endorse him this year."
Abeler may be off the Toxic 12 list, but a dozen new legislators are being targeted, including House Speaker Steve Sviggum (R). "Some people call it a negative campaign," says Garst, "but if were beating up on the legislators, its because theyve been beating up on our environment."
Our Ears Are Burning
"Security was so tight at Xcel Energys annual meeting on Thursday that guards staffing metal detectors even confiscated Sierra Club materials from people trying to enter . . . includ[ing] a press release in which the Sierra Club and the Pimicikamak Cree Nation called on Xcel to increase its investments in renewable energy and to stop buying power from Manitoba Hydro in Winnipeg. Xcel Chief Executive Wayne Brunetti defended the companys instructions to seize the Sierra Club papers, saying annual meetings in the past had been disrupted by inflammatory and dangerous materials." Rocky Mountain News, April 19, 2002
Eleanor Roosevelt won one in 1956. Jesse Jackson took the honors in 1999. And this May, Sierra Club executive director Carl Pope became the latest recipient of the Officers Award given by the Sidney Hillman Foundation. Pope was lauded for partnering with the AFL-CIO to safeguard worker rights and environmental protection in international trade agreements, marching with union leaders at the World Trade Organization protests in Seattle, and serving on the National Strawberry Workers Commission for Workers Rights. Named for labor leader Hillman, the foundation has been giving awards since 1950 to "journalists, writers, and public figures who pursue social justice and public policy for the common good."
To join the Sierra Club activist network, write to the Office of Volunteer and Activist Services, 85 Second St., San Francisco, CA 94105-3441; e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. Members receive a free subscription to the Planet monthly newsletter and Sierra Club Currents, a twice-weekly e-mail update.
North Carolina Shade-Tree Activist While resting beneath their favorite old willow oak, new homeowners in Charlotte, North Carolina, might want to raise their glasses of iced tea to toast Sierra Club activist Rick Roti. As chair of the citys Tree Advisory Commission, Roti recently shepherded a pioneering residential ordinance that protects trees in new housing developments. Builders must now save at least 10 percent of the green canopy and will be given incentives to protect more. In addition, large specimens can only be removed by permit, and a street-tree planting program will ensure that residents encounter more than mailboxes when they pass through Charlottes newer neighborhoods.
Ten percent may sound small, but the norm for many developers is "scorched earth" bulldozing. And the grandest trees are often among the first to fall because theyre inconvenient to build around.
Between preservation and planting, Roti hopes that every subdivision will one day have 50 percent tree cover. Then theyll resemble the regions leafy older neighborhoodswhose stately shade trees also provide low-energy air conditioning.
Pennsylvania Keystone Capers Outside Pennsylvania, not many people know that the Keystone State has its own "Grand Canyon," the 1,000-foot-deep Pine Creek Gorge cutting 50 miles through the Allegheny Plateau. And until recently, few Pennsylvanians knew that their state had its own drill-everywhere energy plan, one that included the gorge among approximately 500,000 acres of state forest and park land being auctioned to natural-gas interests.
But that all changed this spring, when legal notices placed in small newspapers announced the largest sale of mineral rights in state history. After a public uproar, the state postponed the sale and held six "outreach sessions." It soon received some 4,500 comments, 90 percent opposing the gas leases. From their booth at Earth Day festivities in Redding, Phila Back and other Sierra Club volunteers generated more than 800 comments alone.
In late June, state officials halved their ambitious plans and added new environmental protections to the leases. Among the areas spared from this summers auction was Pine Creek Gorge. Now Back and her colleagues are working for legislation to ensure that Pennsylvanias public lands wont be managed for private interests.
Spotlight Sierra Club activism in your area by contacting Reed McManus at Sierra, 85 Second St., 2nd Floor, San Francisco, CA 94105-3441; e-mail email@example.com; fax (415) 977-5794.