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The Planet

Clean Air, Baseball and Apple Pie

Spring Outreach Supports Stronger Air Standards

The Planet, June 1997, Volume 4, number 5

by John Byrne Barry

Taking a group of 50 kids from the South Bronx to see the Mets battle the Chicago Cubs might not seem like much of a clean air outreach activity. But these kids live in a neighborhood where the air is thick with particulates, due in part to the coal-burning furnaces in the local schools, and where there is a high incidence of asthma.

So the Sierra Club, which has been fighting for funding to replace the coal furnaces, joined forces with the Hunts Point Environmental Awareness Committee to bring a group of neighborhood kids to Shea Stadium the Sunday before Earth Day. The idea was to show the kids a good time and to mobilize support for the Environmental Protection Agency's proposed new standards for smog and soot.

Between games, the kids -- dressed in oversized T-shirts emblazoned with the message "Clean Air For Our Kids" -- walked onto the field to get their pictures taken with Mr. Met, the team's baseball-headed mascot.

"Not only were the kids thrilled to be at the game and allowed on the field," said Susan Holmes, a member of the national Sierra Club Board of Directors and the New York City Group's executive committee, "the fans were extremely receptive to the Club's clean air message. Hundreds signed postcards to President Clinton urging adoption of strong air quality standards."

Holmes, who organized the event along with Environmental Public Education Coordinator John Samatulski and Northeast Regional Representative Marion Trieste, said sports fans are the kind of audience the Club needs to reach out to. "We want to make clean air as American as baseball and apple pie."

Obviously, watching a Mets game is not going to cure a kid's asthma, but by going out into baseball stadiums, malls, city parks and gardening stores this spring, Club members mobilized support for stronger clean air standards. In April and May, the Club distributed a quarter-million postcards in more than 50 cities calling for the new standards.

"Americans clearly care about clean air and children's health," said Club President Adam Werbach, who spent part of Earth Day on CNN going head-to-head with National Association of Manufacturers President Jerry Jasinowski over the EPA's proposed standards. "Our job is to translate that concern into action -- to get postcards and calls to the president and members of Congress to make sure that industry efforts to derail these much-needed new standards don't succeed."

Activists also focused on the connection between pollution and children's health in dozens of other cities, including Salt Lake City, where 200 Utahns rallied for clean air on the steps of the state capitol, making a point about the ill effects of dirty air on asthmatic children. Nina Dougherty, Utah Chapter air quality coordinator, was quoted in the Salt Lake Tribune the next day. "We know we have a problem," she said, "We know the air makes us sick. We have the data."

The week before Earth Day, the Club also aired a radio ad supporting strong clean air standards that ran in 12 cities, including Denver, St. Louis and Tampa.

Though clean air was the national focus, Club Earth Day volunteers also organized around a variety of other issues, from clean beaches in San Diego to factory hog farms in Oklahoma. In Bismarck, N.D., 50 volunteers, some in canoes or waders, installed new signs at wetlands interpretive stations, renovated bluebird houses and prepared a trail. South of Bismarck, in Aberdeen, S.D., a town with nine Sierra Club members, organizers Holly Denning and Doug Kind turned out 45 volunteers to deliver 8,000 postcards supporting strong clean air and water protections. Denning said she hopes the strong spring showing will lead to the formation of a new Sierra Club group in Aberdeen, the state's third largest city.

To take action: Call the Capitol Switchboard at (202) 224-3121 and tell your representative and senators to support the EPA's clean air proposal. Also call President Clinton at (202) 456-1111.

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