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The Planet

What a Difference Two Decades Make

The Planet, March 1997, Volume 4, number 2

by Carl Pope Sierra Club Executive Director My first assignment with the Sierra Club, back in 1973, was to organize public turnout for a clean-air hearing in San Francisco on the issue of meeting ozone standards.

It was a rout. The Chamber of Commerce and the Business Roundtable out-organized us, dominated the media coverage and had the active support of William Ruckelshaus' Environmental Protection Agency in setting up the hearings so that the environmental side would be overwhelmed.

The EPA was ordered by Congress not to act. This happened repeatedly throughout the decade. We may have had most people on our side, but we couldn't turn them out, and the other guys could.

We've learned a thing or two in the last 24 years. In Boston, Chicago, Salt Lake City and Durham, it was the environmentalist voice that dominated the hearings. (I also suspect that some of the genuine passion that used to exist among auto dealers and shopping center operators on the other side has faded as they realize that they, too, want to protect the quality of the air their children breathe.)

When the Chicago Sun-Times runs a box on the clean air issue -- listing in one column the American Lung Association, the Sierra Club, the PTA and the American Public Health Association, and in the other the Illinois Petroleum Council, the Farm Bureau, the United Mine Workers and the Chemical Industry Council -- I want to celebrate the success of our efforts in getting the public organized.

When I read in the Wall Street Journal a scathing exposé of how the National Association of Manufacturers has set up a dummy think tank to do its research for it, and realize that three months ago an anonymous source inside NAM leaked us the documents describing this plan, I'm overwhelmed by the sea change in public attitudes over the past two decades.

If we needed a reminder, this was it. Wall Street is too short-sighted to save the environment; Pennsylvania Avenue is far too deep in hock to K Street. We have to win our battles on Main Street.

And that's precisely where we won this first battle of the new year. Thanks, and congratulations, to everyone.

http://www.sierraclub.org/planet/199703/differ.asp


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