- Environmental Justice in Cleveland
- Club Chapter's TV Debut
- Last Chance for the Pacific Salmon
- Report From the Field: Giant Sequoias At Risk
Coalition-building pays off in the battle against environmental injustice,
Sierra Club leaders in Cleveland are finding.
A victory came last year, after the Club formed an alliance with residents
of two predominantly African-American, low-income communities to fight
a planned medical waste incinerator at Cleveland's Mt. Sinai Hospital.
The incinerator proposal coincided with the Environmental Protection
Agency's release of a report that found the cancer-causing chemical dioxin
was produced by burning medical wastes. Glenn Landers, a staff member with
the Sierra Club's Great Lakes Program, held a press conference in front
of Mt. Sinai to denounce the hospital's plan.
As a result, Landers and of her environmentalists were invited to meet
with hospital administrators. Landers then asked members of She affected
neighborhoods to participate.
"I'd just gotten back from vacation when I got a phone call from Glenn
inviting me to meet the president of the hospital about a $3 million incinerator
planned for my neighborhood," recalls local civil-rights activist and retired
hospital worker Kathleen Geathers.
At the meeting, Landers and Geathers were told that the incinerator
would likely be built despite the EPA report.
That's when I was catapulted into a fight to stop it," says Geathers,
who went door-to- door inviting neighbors to join the Greater Cleveland
Coalition for a Clean Environment. Geathers and of her citizens stuffed
mailboxes with a fact sheet she wrote outlining the dangers of dioxin,
a Cleveland Earth Day Coalition flyer showing the disproportionately high
breast cancer rate in the community, and a Sierra Club fact sheet on the
connection between medical waste and dioxin.
Coalition members organized public meetings where speakers included
Bernice Powell Jackson, executive director of the United Church of Christ's
Commission for Racial Justice. They collected signatures on a petition
calling for the hospital to halt plans for the incinerator. And they kept
in touch with local reporters.
The turning point came when Cleveland Mayor Michael White intervened
after reading about the effort in a local newspaper.
"The mayor saw an article about the petition drive in the Cleveland
Plain Dealer and stopped the permit process for the incinerator in its
tracks," says Landers.
Club leaders and the Greater Cleveland Coalition for a Clean Environment
have now turned their attention to the Cleveland Clinic Foundation. Activists
say the facility does not provide services for locals but operates four
medical waste incinerators in the area, including one that burns radioactive
Geathers' advice to Sierra Club members interested in forging similar
alliances with inner-city neighborhoods is simple. "Don't try to fight
our battles for us," she says. "We need to do it together."
The television cameraman calls "Quiet on the set!" and cast and crew
immediately jockey into position, the news anchors alert for the call of
No, this is not a behind-the-scenes look at vile evening news, but a
glimpse into the making of a Sierra Club chapter's television debut.
The seven episode show, "Mountain & Desert," is the brainchild of
Nevada's Toiyabe Chapter. Produced, performed and filmed by Club members
and volunteers, this community-access cable program aired in Reno and Sparks
during the last 13-week television season.
Chapter Vice Chair Rose Strickland, the driving force behind "Mountain
& Desert," says the show--which took hundreds of volunteer hours to
produce--educates the general public about environmental issues. "The program
combats the Wise Use portrait of 'green devils' by showcasing our side
of the news, how to enjoy the outdoors, and how to be conservation-oriented
at home," says Strickland.
Each half-hour episode includes environmental news that commercial TV
stations didn't cover, says Strickland; an in depth interview on a "hot"
conservation topic; a segment called "My Favorite Place" profiling local
point of interest; and outings information.
Strickland says that while it's difficult to gauge the impact of the
show on television audiences, the chapter received many comments from viewers
and experienced an increase in membership inquiries.
"We reached people with our environmental messages whom we wouldn't
reach otherwise," she says "because community access stations are everywhere
cable TV is, we strongly believe that nearly any group or chapter can do
the same to get their message out."
A new video production titled "Last Chance for the Pacific Salmon" chronicles
the threat of extinction for 10 major salmon species including the coho,
reports Josh Kaufman of Northern California's Redwood Chapter
The one-hour documentary was co-produced by fisheries biologist Pat
Higgins, who presented a slide show and lecture last summer to the chapter's
North Group. "When Pat told us he was working on a video, we saw a great
opportunity to publicize the plummeting salmon population and formed a
partnership that night," says Kaufman. The video makes its debut just after
the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS)--in response to a lawsuit
filed by the Sierra Club and the Sierra Club Legal Defense Fund--proposed
listing the coho as threatened in most of She Pacific Northwest. The final
decision is still pending in federal court.
By far, the most significant factor in the decline of the coho salmon
has been destruction or modification--mainly by logging--of its stream
habitats throughout California, Oregon and Washington. Any long-term solution
on depends on protection of these ecosystems, says Kaufman. "We've always
recognized the connection between intact forests and healthy salmon habitat,"
he explains. "It's no coincidence that the best runs are in the least damaged
"Last Chance" details the threat of extinction and promotes solutions
such as watershed restoration, community action and political organizing.
It also features interviews, dramatic location shots, underwater footage
and computer graphics.
For a copy of the video, please send $20 payable to the Sierra Club
Redwood Chapter to: Salmon Video, Sierra Club Redwood Chapter, P. O. Box
466, Santa Rosa, CA 95402. All donations cover video costs and help fund
the conservation effort.
by Ellen Mayou
For the past several years, Ellen Mayou has helped publicize
Houston-based MAXXAM Corp.'s destruction of ancient coastal
redwood trees in Humboldt County, Calif. This summer, she
journeyed to California to take part in an "activist outing" to
the ecosystem of the giant sequoia, a close cousin of the
I joined Club members from Texas, California, North Carolina, Illinois
and Missouri in the mountains of California this summer for a weeklong
activist outing to Sequoia and Kings Canyon national parks and Sequoia
National Forest. We were there to see the last ancient giant sequoia trees--and
learn how we could help protect them.
The giant sequoia, distinguished by its glowing red bark and huge size,
grows only on the western slope of California's Sierra Nevada. By the turn
of the century, entire groves of the trees--which grow up to 35 feet in
diameter and live as long as 3,200 years--were being felled by loggers
eager to reap quick economic rewards. We saw one such grove, dubbed Stump
Meadow," that is a vivid reminder of the consequences of uncontrolled logging.
Although current national forest policy prohibits harvesting of giant
sequoias, it allows road-building and clearcutting within 500 feet of the
remaining groves, affecting the micro climate and underground water flow
on which giant sequoias depend.
"Policy isn't enough--we need a law," said Carla Cloer, a guest speaker
on the trip and a Sierra Club member who chairs a special task force that
works to protect the ancient trees. "Recent history has demonstrated that
policy can change Practically overnight."
During the Reagan years, a policy that prohibited logging, road building
or any other destructive activity in sequoia groves was quietly overturned.
A new policy was implemented that allowed log gin operations within eight
sequoia groves. The public might never have been aware of this if a friend
of Cloer's, Charlene Little, had not stumbled upon a logged-over portion
of a grove during a 1986 hike. Little's discovery led to a lawsuit by the
Sierra Club and other environmental groups that managed to stop logging
in the sequoia groves--for now. But Sequoia National Forest still faces
An independent consultant's report found logging in the forest cost
the government $6.5 million in 1992 due to below-cost timber and road-building
Logging roads themselves cause considerable damage to the grant sequoia
ecosystem, which is not protected by Forest Service policy.
And while the Forest Service claims "selective harvesting" can prevent
fires by thinning the forest, Club leaders say the method harms the ecosystem
and prescribed burns would be a better way to reduce underbrush. The Salvage
logging law signed by President Clinton presents a major new threat by
allowing the Forest Service to sidestep environmental laws and increase
logging in Sequoia and all other national forests.
Activists are now working with Rep. George Brown (D-Calif.) on legislation
that would permanently protect many giant sequoia groves m the southern
Sierra by establishing a new Sequoia National Preserve. Like other trip
participants, I plan to write letters when the bill is introduced and educate
other members of my community about the need to protect giant sequoias.
I may also help coordinate another trip to the southern Sierra for other
members of the Houston Group, since I believe strongly, as John Muir did,
that getting people out to see a place is She best way to inspire them
to save it.
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