Sierra Club: The Planet--1996
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The Planet

Illinois Activists: 1 Incinerators: 0

In what Illinois environmentalists are calling one of their biggest victories to date, Gov. Jim Edgar signed legislation in March that abolishes billions of dollars in subsidies to polluting waste incinerators.

Edgar's action caps a three-year campaign by hundreds of grassroots volunteers to end Illinois' "Retail Rate Law," which guarantees incinerator developers inflated rates for the electricity they produce. These subsidies had attracted more than 20 proposals for new incinerators in Illinois communities, but also raised the ire of local activists who rejected the idea of paying to pollute their own backyards.

The Illinois House and Senate voted to repeal the subsidy program earlier this year, but it was up to Edgar to deliver victory to state taxpayers.

"The governor was subjected to extreme pressure by the financial community, but Sierra Club and other activists mounted an unprecedented campaign against the subsidies," said Jack Darin, state field representative of the Illinois Chapter. "In the end, he did the right thing for taxpayers and the environment."

Waste incinerators are a leading source of highly toxic pollutants such as dioxin, mercury, lead and other chemicals known to cause cancer and other serious health problems. They also hurt local recycling efforts by incinerating newspapers, cardboard and plastic materials that otherwise would be reused. "Illinois citizens can breathe a lot easier knowing their tax dollars won't be subsidizing polluting waste incinerators," said Darin. "Thanks to everyone who helped make it possible."

For more information: Contact Jack Darin in the Illinois office at (312) 2511680.

Club Wins One for Clean Water

The Sierra Club helped achieve a victory for clean water in Georgia this March when a U.S. District Court judge ordered the Environmental Protection Agency to force the state to set water-quality standards.

"At its current pace, Georgia will take more than 100 years to comply with the Clean Water Act," said Judge Marvin Shoob in his order requiring the EPA to submit a plan to make the state set water pollution limits called total maximum daily loads (TMDLs).

The win is the result of a 1994 suit brought by the Sierra Club, Sierra Club Legal Defense Fund and other environmental organizations against the EPA for failing to enforce the 1972 Clean Water Act. "For over 16 years," said Georgia state legislative chair Mark Woodall, "the state shirked its responsibility to make waterways safe for swimming and fishing by failing to set TMDLs for its polluted waterways."

"We're overjoyed with the ruling," said Woodall, who praised former water issues chair Michael Wardrip for first urging the chapter to pursue the issue and Eric Huber of the Sierra Club Legal Defense Fund's New Orleans office for seeing it through. "Now the question remains whether the EPA should have approved Georgia's listing of only 340 impaired or polluted waterways," he added.

For more information: Contact Mark Woodall at (706) 846-2281 or e-mail:

Pilot Project to Assist Chapters and Groups

"I don't sleep much," said Glen Besa when asked how he balances his Club commitments with those of his full-time job as director of environmental programs for the Maryland Lung Association. "Taking on the role of an activist is certainly a challenge for volunteers throughout the Club - especially when it can also mean less time with your family and lost job opportunities - but the environment is something we care very deeply about."

Besa first became active in the Sierra Club six years ago when he learned the Maryland Dept. of Natural Resources planned to log the most popular cross-country ski area in the state. By joining others to publicize the department's plans, he helped protect one of his favorite retreats. Today, as Maryland Chapter chair and a task force member of Project ACT's newest organizational development initiative, he's working to help other activists become more effective.

Joined by three other volunteers and two experienced staff members, Besa will select chapters and groups for a pilot project offering organizational development assistance. Chapters and groups will submit applications and identify their conservation priorities, be they local or national. Once the entities are selected, the Club will provide consulting teams of volunteers and staff in areas targeted for improvement - which may include expanding membership, recruiting volunteer leaders and identifying new funding sources.

Although their $80,000 budget will allow for only four or five projects, Besa believes the money will be well-spent. "We have a lot of dedicated volunteers and staff to help this project succeed," he said. "And the bottom-up approach will mean that chapters and groups ultimately determine what they want to work on and the nature of assistance they require."

Interested chapters and groups must identify their needs, and the task force will provide consulting teams, specialized training and limited financial assistance to meet those needs. "Project ACT is a positive step for the Club because it's returning us to our roots as a grassroots organization," added Besa. "What we're really talking about is helping volunteers who give up their time every day to save a park or stop a road. If our experienced leaders can assist them, the Club will be stronger for it."

The first-round deadline for applications for chapter and group organizational development pilot projects is May 1; the second-round deadline is July 15. Selections for first- round applications will be announced by July 1, with second- round selections to be announced in September. Chapters and groups best positioned for selection include those that have goals that can be met in the next year. "It will be a challenge," said Besa, "because we expect to receive many more deserving applications from chapters and groups than we can offer to assist. But the more effective we are, the better the chances that the project will continue."

For more information: Contact Glen Besa at (301) 478-2735 or e-mail:

Olympic Feet

On May 24, Teresa Brown will carry the Olympic torch through the streets of New Orleans. Brown, a marathon runner, has been a New Orleans Inner City Outings volunteer for over two years. She was selected for the honor of torch-carrier through the Community Heroes program sponsored by the United Way.

"The ICO program is so important because it introduces kids who are used to hearing bullets buzzing by their ears to the outdoors - I get the most satisfaction as a volunteer from seeing them enjoy the open space," said Brown. "I'm dedicating my run to ICO volunteers who so selflessly spend so much time and give so much of themselves without getting any recognition."

Club Directors Put Immigration Debate to Rest

At its quarterly meeting in Washington, D.C., in February, the Sierra Club national Board of Directors voted that "the Sierra Club, its entities, and those speaking in its name, will take no position on immigration levels or on policies governing immigration into the United States. The Club remains committed to environmental rights and protections for all within our borders, without discrimination based on immigration status."

For several years, various Club entities debated a full range of policy options on immigration. The Board's action reflects a desire to put the immigration debate to rest within the Club and to focus on other pressing components of our population program. The Board decision also instructs all Club chapters, groups, committees and other entities to take no position on immigration policy.

The Club will continue to aggressively work toward world population stabilization through international family planning, equality and empowerment of women and maternal and infant survival programs. The Club will also continue its leadership in defending human rights associated with environmental justice around the globe.

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