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  January/February 2003 Features:
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Unmasking Pretenders
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Less Manure, Cleaner Buses, and a Ban on Soft Money

Despite hostile landscape, Club scores wins from coast to coast

By Laura Fauth

Michigan Wins Clean Water Victory: On January 14, the state of Michigan agreed to issue pollution protection permits for factory farms, as required by the Clean Water Act. For years, the state had shirked its responsibility and refused to enforce the permit system. "We won by putting together a coalition that included family farmers, environmentalists, rural communities, and the EPA," says Dan Farough, political director of the Mackinac (Michigan) Chapter.

Campaign Finance Reform Passes: Elections and the environment will be a little cleaner in 2003, thanks to the Campaign Reform Act of 2002. The bill, signed into law by President Bush on March 27, will ban the use of unregulated soft money-huge, unlimited, and unreported donations from corporations and wealthy individuals-by the national parties. The legislation makes the most far-ranging changes since 1974 in how political parties and outside groups participate in campaigns. "The Campaign Reform Act is a critical first step toward taking our elections back from special interests," says Deanna White, the Sierra Club's deputy political director.

Army Chooses Bugs Over Burning in Colorado: The Army announced in March that it would not incinerate 2,600 tons of mustard gas being stored at the Pueblo Chemical Weapons Depot in Colorado. Instead, they will use the much safer "bug method," which involves warm water and microbes. A campaign to halt the weapons incineration was launched 14 years ago by Sierra Club volunteer Ross Vincent, who says it's a reminder that meaningful victories take time. "If we take care of ourselves and each other, we can stick with this for the long haul and win," says Vincent.

Better Buses Hit the Road in DC: Four years of lobbying for compressed-natural-gas (CNG) buses over diesel finally paid off for Washington, D.C., activists. On April 18, the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority Board voted to purchase 250 CNG buses and build a second CNG refueling facility, in addition to 164 CNG buses ordered earlier in the year. Momentum for the decision got a boost when 30 people turned out for a pre-meeting rally carrying signs that said "I Want My CNG" and "Diesel Kills" and chanting "Diesel is a Weasel!"

'I Want My CNG': Washington, D.C.'s transit system is buying more than 400 compressed-natural-gas buses to replace its diesel buses.

Saving South Carolina's Special Places: In April, South Carolina Governor Jim Hodges signed a bill that will help protect the state's wildlands and historical areas from development. The South Carolina Conservation Bank Act allows the state to issue grants to buy land or purchase development rights from landowners. Funding for the program, which will come from a real estate transfer fee, is expected to be around $10 million annually. "This is the most important piece of environmental legislation passed in the state in a half-dozen years," says Dell Isham, director of the South Carolina Chapter.

Senate Stands Up for Arctic Protection: On April 18, 54 senators rejected a proposal to open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil drilling-the largest number to ever stand up for Arctic protection. To defeat the drilling proposal, field staff and volunteers held town meetings, wrote letters and op-eds, and dressed up as polar bears, while Club staffers worked tirelessly on Capitol Hill. "We hit every single senate office many, many times," says Melinda Pierce, senior Washington representative on Alaska and wildlands issues.

Montana's Weatherman Draw Spared: In April, Anschutz Exploration Corporation gave up its plans to drill for oil in a Montana canyon known as Weatherman Draw. The area is sacred to at least 10 Native American tribes and is adorned with Native American pictographs that date back more than 1,000 years. Several Native American tribes joined together to halt the project, working in coalition with the Sierra Club and the National Trust for Historic Preservation. "Without the Sierra Club and the National Trust, this victory would not have happened," says Howard Bogess, historian and member of the Crow Tribe.

Sacred Space: Howard Bogess of the Crow Tribe and Mary Wiper, conservation organizer for the Montana Chapter, visit Weatherman Draw after a successful campaign to save the site from oil drilling.

Hawaii Passes Bottle Bill: Hawaii eased its landfill crisis, created jobs in the recycling industry, and vastly reduced bottle and can litter in one fell swoop this year. On May 2, it became the 11th state to pass a bottle bill, placing a nickel deposit on all glass, plastic, and aluminum beverage containers. The bill passed despite intense lobbying from the beverage industry, thanks in part to strong support from the Sierra Club Hawaii Chapter. "Hawaii is paradise," says Jeff Mikulina, director of the Hawaii Chapter. "We want to keep it that way."

'Sooty Six' and Mercury Dealt Blows in Connecticut: Three years of work on a power plant bill and two years of work on a mercury bill paid off for Connecticut activists this year. On May 2, Connecticut Governor John Rowland signed a bill requiring the "Sooty Six"-the state's oldest and dirtiest oil- and coal-fired power plants-to be cleaned up on-site by 2005. A month later, Rowland signed the landmark Mercury Reduction and Education Act. The bill bans the sale of novelty items that contain mercury, phases out products that contain high levels of mercury, and requires labeling of mercury-containing products, putting Connecticut at the forefront of nationwide efforts to remove mercury from our environment.

School Bus Diesel Law Passes in Minnesota: Minnesota's first law to reduce children's exposure to toxic fumes from diesel school buses was signed into law on May 10. The new law requires bus drivers to minimize the idling of school buses and requires schools not to park buses near air ventilation systems. Student leaders of the Club's School Bus Diesel Campaign were instrumental in getting the legislation passed. "When students learned the alarming facts about school-bus diesel, we got off our butts and became citizen activists," says high school junior Amir Nadav, one of the campaign's leaders.

South Dakota Rejects Corporate Farming: On June 6, South Dakota voters rejected a constitutional amendment that would have invited corporate farming into the state, erasing the 1974 Family Farm Act and a 1998 ban on corporate farms. "We fought hard for family farms and won," says Club organizer Tracie Weber. "The Sierra Club proved it can work alongside farmers and ranchers," said South Dakota State Senator and farmer Frank Kloucek at a party to celebrate the victory. "In a state where the Sierra Club receives a lot of opposition," says Weber, "we proved that we are their friends and neighbors. And that is a victory in itself."

Louisiana Residents Win Relocation: On June 11, after four decades of struggle, more than 100 property owners in Norco, Louisiana, succeeded in compelling Shell Oil to buy out their homes. Norco, a predominantly African-American community, sits in the shadow of a Shell refinery that leaks toxic chemicals into the air. Led by the Concerned Citizens of Norco, with help from the Louisiana Bucket Brigade, the Sierra Club, Earthjustice, and other groups, Norco residents won a concession from Shell of $120,000 for each home ($50,000 for trailer homes), plus moving and legal expenses.

California Paves Way for Cleaner Cars: California passed the nation's toughest automobile emissions law this year, paving the way for other states to follow suit. The bill, signed by Governor Gray Davis on July 24, will establish new emissions guidelines for automobiles sold in California. "We made thousands of phone calls, took out a full page ad in the Sacramento Bee to rebut the auto industry's distortions, and made the bill a top priority during this legislative session," says Carl Zichella, director of the Club's California field office.

Maine Wilderness Protected: The Nature Conservancy announced in August it had purchased 41,000 acres in the Debsconeags Lakes region in the north Maine Woods, to be managed as a wilderness area. The Sierra Club was a partner in crafting the deal between The Nature Conservancy and Great Northern Paper, Inc. Great Northern will also place a conservation easement on 200,000 acres of forestland. "Area residents, hikers, canoeists, fly-fishermen, and wilderness enthusiasts statewide have long prized this area as a remote haven of solitude and quiet beauty," says Karen Woodsum, director of the Club's Maine Woods Campaign.

Court Rules Against Utah's Legacy Highway: Ruling that federal environmental laws were flouted during the permitting process, on September 16 a three-judge panel upheld an earlier ruling that shut down construction of Utah's Legacy Highway. According to the court's evaluation, the environmental impact study for the proposed highway was inadequate as it failed to evaluate an abandoned rail corridor as a possible alternate route, neglected to examine the effect of pending commuter rail projects on the region's future transportation needs, and did not properly assess the impacts of the highway on wildlife. Lawson LeGate, senior southwest regional representative of the Sierra Club, characterized the court's decision as a huge victory. "This isn't the end of our fight, but we clearly enter a new phase significantly stronger than when we started."

Nevada Wilderness Protected: A bill passed in late October designated nearly half a million acres of new wilderness in the Mojave Desert country of Clark County, Nevada. Hundreds of people wrote letters, lobbied, and showed up at public events to show support for the bill, which was the result of almost two years of negotiations involving interested stakeholders and the public. "This achievement could not have come about without extraordinary work by Nevada Sierra Club volunteer leaders and staff," says Barbara Boyle, Sierra Club regional representative.

Staples Agrees to Enact New Forest Policy: The world's largest office supply store announced on November 12 that it would phase out paper products originating from endangered forests and increase its sales of recycled paper products. The move followed a two-year campaign led by the Sierra Student Coalition, ForestEthics, and others. Activists held more than 600 demonstrations, generated 15,000 postcards and thousands of letters and phone calls to Staples, filed a shareholder's resolution, and flew the Staples' CEO over clear-cuts in Tennessee.

Great Lakes Legacy Act Passes: President Bush signed the Great Lakes Legacy Act on November 27, authorizing $260 million over the next five years for the monitoring, remediation, and prevention of sediment contamination in the Great Lakes. Decades of industrial pollution and growing housing and commercial developments have taken their toll on the lakes, which hold 18 percent of the world's fresh surface water. "This successful vote marks more than three years of effort to develop and pass this legislation by the Sierra Club, the Lake Michigan Federation, and others," says Emily Green, the Club's Great Lakes Director.

Victory for Big Sur Wilderness: On November 20, the U.S. Senate approved the Big Sur Wilderness and Conservation Act of 2002, which would protect as wilderness 56,880 acres of chaparral, grassy meadows, pines, oak woodlands, and old-growth redwoods on the Big Sur coast and in Pinnacles National Monument, including habitat for the endangered California condor and steelhead trout. President Bush is expected to sign the legislation, which will permanently ban off-road vehicles, logging, oil and gas drilling, and roadbuilding in these areas.


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