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The Planet
State Field Report

By Paula Carrell
State Program Director

As the Bush administration races backwards, much responsibility for protecting public health and the environment falls to the states. Sierra Club chapters have long been active in state legislatures and before state environmental agencies fighting for habitat protection, sound urban planning, clean air and water, and more. Some recent highlights:


Roads v. Trails in Washington State—And the Trails Win!

Supporters of a proposed loop road through Mount St. Helens National Monument are blaming environmentalists for Governor Gary Locke’s (D) March veto of a $400,000 state budget item to study the road proposal. "It doesn’t make sense that the Sierra Club has more power than the state legislature," fumed one paid lobbyist and road supporter. Gifford Pinchot Forest Supervisor Claire Lavendel says building a road across the unstable pumice plain would be unsafe and expensive, and would disrupt scientific research in the Mount St. Helens blast zone. The Sierra Club and the Washington Trails Association lobbied lawmakers and encouraged their members to call Locke opposing the road. The governor also signed a bill reforming the state’s off-road vehicle program by reducing gas tax-generated funding for ORV areas while increasing funding for non-motorized trails. The Cascade Chapter has been working on these reforms since 1991.


Sprawl-Fighting Progress in New Jersey

The New Jersey legislature passed a Transfer of Development Rights bill that the New Jersey Chapter has been working on for two years. The new law will allow towns and cities to steer development into designated growth areas while forcing builders to shoulder the cost of saving open space. "It’s going to give local governments the ability to say ‘you can build here but you can’t build there,’" said a spokesman for Governor James McGreevey (D).

Chapter Director Jeff Tittel said the measure will allow municipalities to protect farms in exchange for giving developers rights to build at higher densities elsewhere. "Towns will be able to set growth boundaries," Tittel said, "setting aside some areas for preservation and allowing growth in others."


Wolf Killing in the West

Sierra Club chapters in Montana, Idaho, and Wyoming are working to protect resurgent wolf populations from state-sanctioned moves to resume killing them off. As the wolves have re-established themselves in the Northern Rockies, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service proposes to remove wolves in the region from the Endangered Species list if all three states adopt management plans that are acceptable to the Fish and Wildlife Service. While some "take" of wolves will be approved, the states are being lobbied by cattle interests to allow indiscriminate killing. Montana’s and Idaho’s plans have already been approved, but the Idaho Chapter opposes its state’s plan because it allows wolves to be killed for even harassing livestock. At the bottom of the heap and (thankfully) holding up the whole show is Wyoming, which proposes to classify wolves as a Trophy Species and basically institute open season on them. Wyoming’s plan did not receive federal approval, and the state has appealed that decision by filing suit against the federal government.


North Carolina Governor Leads the South Towards Cleaner, Healthier Air

At the direction of Governor Mike Easley (D), North Carolina filed a petition in March calling for the U.S. EPA to require major reductions of air pollution from 13 upwind states. "We’ve already taken unprecedented steps to reduce emissions in North Carolina, but air pollution does not respect state boundaries," Easley said. "The time has come for EPA to level the playing field and make other states take responsibility for their contributions to this problem." In 2002, the state enacted the landmark Clean Smokestacks law, requiring North Carolina power plants to reduce by three-fourths their emissions of nitrogen oxides and sulfur dioxide during the next five to ten years.


Georgia to Address Water Needs

Concluding a four-year struggle, the Georgia Chapter, as part of the Georgia Water Coalition, pushed the state to develop a State Water Plan by 2008. Equally important on the water front is what did not happen this year. As the result of well-organized environmental opposition in the Georgia legislature, bills were defeated or gutted that would have cashiered the state’s requirements for vegetated buffers on streams; allowed any stream under a certain annual flow rate to be piped rather than protected in its natural course; and facilitated inter-basin water transfers to feed Atlanta-region sprawl.


Iowa Fights Hog Factory Pollution

In April, the Iowa Chapter and its allies celebrated an air quality victory, particularly for those living near hog-raising operations, when Governor Thomas Vilsack (D) vetoed a bill approved by the legislature to set pollutant standards for hydrogen sulfide and ammonia at 50 times the level proposed by the state’s air quality agency. The governor came out strongly for tougher standards.

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