The power was out in many neighborhoods, highways were closed, and flights were scarce, but early last November Sierra Club staff and volunteers still managed to meet in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, to plan a greener Gulf Coast. In the wake of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, environmental problems are of greater concern than ever to local communities.
Louisiana's wetlands, for example, which help absorb storm surges, are disappearing at the rate of 16,000 acres per year--largely because of erosion-causing canals and navigation channels. And poor planning, such as allowing construction in flood-prone areas or near toxic sites, disproportionately exposes the poor and people of color to health hazards.
Recovery efforts offer an opportunity to "build diverse, healthy, thriving communities and restore our natural environment," according to the Club's Gulf Coast task force. The group will push federal, state, and local government to: INVEST IN THE LOCAL ECONOMY by using in-state businesses for cleanup and reconstruction, fairly compensating workers, and guarding them against environmental dangers; REBUILD SMARTER by providing adequate public transit, designing sewage systems and levees to withstand hurricanes, and embracing energy efficiency; and PROMOTE RESPONSIBILITY TO THE COMMON GOOD by protecting barrier islands and wetlands that help prevent flooding, ending shoddy construction practices, and properly storing and disposing of toxic materials.
With the 2006 hurricane season starting in June, the Club issued a readiness plan for local and state Louisiana officials. (For example, closing New Orleans's Mississippi River Gulf Outlet, a canal that flooded some neighborhoods during Katrina, would offer greater security to residents.) The Club is also developing a Gulf-rebuilding guide based on the task force's goals. Finally, Club activists are leading "Cool Cities" tours nationwide to promote clean energy--an effort to reduce global-warming emissions and help avert future Katrinas.
Springtime ushers in change and renewal: Sierra Club members have the opportunity every year to elect five representatives to the volunteer board of directors. Each will serve a three-year term on the 15-person board, which determines conservation priorities, supervises staff and volunteer activities, and approves the annual budget.
Your ballot should arrive in the mail by mid-March. Please review the candidate statements and return your completed form by noon eastern daylight time on April 24--or follow the instructions to vote online. Sierra will report the election results in the July/August issue.
MORE INFORMATION Check your local chapter or group newsletter, or go to sierraclub.org/bod.
Our Ears Are Burning
"The Sierra Club is well-known for trying to stop big real-estate-development projects. But in a move that could help it gain new allies, the nation's best-known environmental group is starting to go to bat for some builders ...
"Mixed-use developments in big cities are becoming a hot trend in real estate. Sierra Club leaders say they support these kinds of developments because building more homes and businesses on existing urban land will help combat the problem of sprawl."
--Wall Street Journal, on the Club's "Guide to America's Best New Development Projects," November 30, 2005
The Real World
Sick of Survivor? Bored with The Bachelor? Tune in for some true reality-TV stars. In January, Sierra Club Productions and filmmaker Robert Greenwald (Wal-Mart: The High Cost of Low Price) launched Sierra Club Chronicles, which features activists fighting to protect their communities from environmental hazards. They include New York City rescue workers who are lobbying for medical care for those with September 11-related illnesses and western cattle ranchers who are protesting oil and natural-gas drilling on public lands.
The March 9 episode follows plaintiffs of a class-action lawsuit against a polluting DuPont chemical plant in DeLisle, Mississippi. These residents and ex-employees, many of whom are seriously ill, are standing up to one of the country's largest emitters of carcinogenic dioxin--and finally having their day in court.
The seven monthly episodes run through July on Link TV. For more information, go to sierraclubtv.org.
Pieces of April
On August 6, 2005, Sierra Club members hiked the Galápagos Islands, went windsurfing, protested drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, and otherwise explored, enjoyed, and protected the planet. Hundreds of their inspiring stories were featured in the Web project "Every Day Matters: A Day in the Life of the Sierra Club." Celebrate Earth Day, April 22, by participating in the next installment. Visit sierraclub.org/earthday.
CALIFORNIA: Emerald Isle
It may not contain any buried loot, but Treasure Island, about two nautical miles from San Francisco, could soon boast riches of a greener sort. Urged on by the Sierra Club's San Francisco Bay Chapter, developers of the 403-acre former U.S. Navy base proposed high-density housing, along with restaurants and shops, around a new ferry terminal facing the city's downtown. The plan, which will likely go before the San Francisco Board of Supervisors in June, lays the groundwork for "the creation of a 'car minimal' oasis," says Ruth Gravanis, chair of the chapter's Treasure Island sustainability campaign. The chapter also successfully lobbied for 20 acres of organic farmland, green-building features such as solar panels, and wind turbines to harness the island's high-powered gusts. --Erin Pursell
MICHIGAN: Life Swap
Inner-city resident Rhonda Anderson and farmer Lynn Henning seem to be from opposite worlds. "Everything was out to divide us: urban versus rural, black versus white, liberal versus conservative," says Anderson. But when the women, both Sierra Club organizers in their communities, met while lobbying at the Michigan statehouse, they realized that a desire to fight pollution connected them.
This winter, Anderson and Henning rented a bus and invited members of their communities to visit their counterparts. The idea for the Common Justice Tour came from the discovery that "we were fighting the same battles only an hour and a half away from each other," explains Anderson.
Detroit residents traveled to Hudson, Michigan, where they witnessed the manure-contaminated streams from the massive concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) that are springing up all over the state's farmland--and destroying local livelihoods. The rural families then rode the bus to Anderson's hometown to tour such facilities as the Marathon Oil refinery, which pump sulfur dioxide, particulate matter, and other pollutants into nearby low-income African-American neighborhoods.
Representatives from both groups will lobby together in the state capital this spring. "Dumping is dumping," says Henning. "When I saw the industrial sites pouring toxic chemicals into the river, I thought, 'They're all CAFOs to me.'" --Orli Cotel
Join the Sierra Club's Take Action Network at sierraclub.org/takeaction, where you can send letters to elected officials.