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  November/December 2000 Features:
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Sierra Club Bulletin: News for Members

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Home Front

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 | North American Prarie | Southeast | Pacific Coast

Atlantic Coast: Don't Believe the Hype

If you leave toxic waste alone long enough, eventually it will clean itself up. That's what General Electric is telling New Yorkers about the nation's largest Superfund site--almost 200 miles of the Hudson River.

Since PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls) were banned in 1977 as suspected carcinogens, the corporate giant has been dodging responsibility for removing the million or so pounds its factories dumped into the river for decades. At long last, the EPA is scheduled to announce a cleanup plan in December, so now GE is spending millions trying to convince the public that the Hudson has purged itself. To counter the misleading media blitz, the Sierra Club is airing ads of its own, accusing the company of polluting not only the river but the airwaves, and informing citizens that the toxics are still there, "no matter what General Electric tells you."

The Club is also making sure the EPA doesn't cave in to corporate pressure, with a postcard campaign urging its administrator, Carol Browner, to stick to the December deadline. "The Hudson is a major focus of life here--for recreation, commerce, fishing," says Club volunteer Jim Mays of Ulster County. "It's the lifeblood of this region."

North American Prairie: Harmful Hydro

Since the 1970s, Manitoba Hydro has rerouted rivers and dammed lakes in 50,000 square miles of boreal forest. Flooding caused by the government-owned power project, which sells almost half of the power it generates to the United States, has also washed out 3 million acres of traditional Pimicikamak Cree land. Minnesota's Northern States Power, Manitoba Hydro's biggest customer, now wants to purchase even more wattage. The North Star Chapter's Harmful Hydro campaign is working to galvanize Minnesotans to stop the buy and unplug altogether from the Canadian company.

"Many people think hydroelectric power is clean," says Kate Kempton of Sierra Club Canada. "In fact, big hydro projects flood wetlands and forests, and the vegetation rots under water, releasing methane--a gas that causes global warming."

The Minnesota Public Utilities Commission will most likely make its decision on the power buy--and on the fate of the Cree and their lands--in early 2001. To comment, contact Gregory Scott, Chair, Minnesota Public Utilities Commission, 121 Seventh Place East, Suite 350, St. Paul, MN 55101 or Or send a letter direct from our Web site.

Southeast: Raising a Stink

Hog, chicken, and cattle manure from factory farms has polluted 35,000 miles of rivers in 22 states and contaminated groundwater in 17 others, according to the EPA. But in Kentucky and North Carolina, the chickens are coming home to roost for these concentrated animal feeding operations, or CAFOs.

Kentucky's Cumberland Chapter won a major victory in July when the state made permanent the emergency regulations signed by the governor in February. Until then, big meat companies like Perdue and Tyson evaded responsibility for environmental violations by contracting with independent farmers to raise livestock that the companies slaughter and process. The new laws hold the corporate giants jointly liable with farmers and keep CAFOs from being built less than 1,500 feet from homes. Bernadine Edwards, who lives within two miles of some 80 chicken houses, applauds the new rule. "I can't sit in my yard now, or even have my grandkids come to visit," she says. "The stench and the flies are horrible."

In North Carolina, Attorney General Mike Easley has cut a deal with the state's biggest pork producer to eliminate open-air manure lagoons within five years. The Smithfield Company, which owns 70 percent of the hogs in the state, will pay North Carolina State University $15 million to find acceptable alternatives. "This agreement breaks the gridlock; it's the first tangible step toward phasing out hog lagoons and spray fields," says North Carolina Chapter director Molly Diggins.

Pacific Coast: Save the Southern Sea Otter

Joining forces to save the endangered southern sea otter and its habitat, the Angeles, Ventana, Santa Lucia, Los Padres, and San Diego Chapters have undertaken a campaign to restore at least 20 percent of their region's ocean, coast, and watershed resources by 2010. "We're especially working with youth groups who can adopt a beach or a tide pool and help revegetate the otter habitat that has been destroyed by pollution or other human encroachments," says Bruce Monroe of the Angeles Chapter. "We want to encourage kids to become good stewards of the planet they will inherit."

Across the Nation: People Power

In an outpouring of support for public lands, more than a million Americans wrote to the U.S. Forest Service, calling for a ban on logging, roadbuilding, and other harmful activities in the last wild areas of our national forests and for protection of the Tongass rainforest in Alaska (above), among other threatened places. Sierra readers deserve kudos for contributing thousands of postcards from the May/June issue to a record-breaking campaign. In all, nearly four times more statements were submitted in this federal rule-making process than in the one on organic food standards in 1998, which set the previous all-time high. Throngs of Sierrans and other environmentalists also dominated close to 400 hearings nationwide, where they voiced their support for full protection of wildlands. The agency will release its final proposal in December.

by Elisa Freeling

To spotlight Sierra Club activism in your area, contact Elisa Freeling at Sierra, 85 Second St., 2nd Floor, San Francisco, CA 94105-3441; e-mail; fax (415) 977-5794.

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