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  March/April 1996 Features:
Assault on Mauna Loa
Where the Mountains Have No Name
A Natural History of the Yellowstone Tourist
Fish Out of Water
 
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Sierra Magazine
Sierra Club Bulletin: News for Members

Cleaning House | Green Candidates | Wild Card | Canyonland Concerts | Volunteer Spotlight | Ecoregion Roundup

Cleaning House

It's time to sweep out the halls of power.

by B. J. Bergman

On a drizzly November day in Washington, D.C., the Sierra Club and allied green groups delivered 85 mail sacks to selected denizens of the Capitol, including an uncharacteristically reticent House Speaker Newt Gingrich. The bags (green, naturally) contained copies of the Environmental Bill of Rights petition signed by more than a million Americans.

A day later, in what Representative Sherwood Boehlert (R-N.Y.) called "one of the key votes of this Congress," the House That Newt Built severed from its budget proposal 17 riders aimed at muzzling the Environmental Protection Agency.

Coincidence? Perhaps. Plainly, though, the past year of grassroots environmentalism is having an impact on Congress, state legislatures, and voters. In Washington state, the legislature approved a "takings" initiative that would have forced taxpayers to compensate property owners whenever government action limited the use of their land. Environmentalists quickly mobilized to place the measure on the ballot, and their efforts were amply rewarded. By a three-to-two margin Washington voters rejected the notion that taxpayers should have to pay polluters not to pollute—a key component of the Contract With America.

Nor were the Contract's supporters faring better in other parts of the country. In Virginia, citizens answered Governor George Allen's pleas for a Republican-led "anti-regulatory" statehouse with the political equivalent of a Bronx cheer. In Kentucky, Democrat Paul Patton was elected governor in what many viewed as a proxy race between President Clinton and the GOP leadership. And in Maine, two special elections went to Democrats, ending Republicans' brief dominance of the state legislature and possibly presaging a shift back to pre-Newt values.

Just as significant were signs that the party of Teddy Roosevelt, if not actually emerging from its protracted bout of anti-environmental fever, was at least recognizing the political risks of being tagged as the party of James Watt. Republicans like Boehlert, it should be noted, have never forgotten their conservationist roots, or the fact that the vast majority of Americans want to protect our air, water, wilderness, and wildlife. But they have been a distinct minority in the new congressional majority. Most Republican legislators seemed to regard trashing the environment as a free pass to re-election. But the more voters learned about the leadership's plans, the less they liked them. And GOP leaders have been feeling the heat.

In October, the House Republican Conference suggested that GOP representatives "build credibility" on the environment by engaging in high-profile (if highly deceptive) photo opportunities, from planting trees to picking up highway trash. (See "Instant Environmentalists" in "Priorities," January/February.) The memo advised ersatz enviros to act quickly before "green extremists" labeled their stunts "craven, election-year gimmicks."

Three weeks later, Gingrich himself was apologizing for his party's year-long efforts to dismantle environmental protections. "We mishandled the environment all spring and summer," admitted the Speaker. "Some places they moved a little faster than they should."

Well, yes. Mistakes were made. Newt's minions moved too fast in trying to cripple the Clean Water Act, neuter the Endangered Species Act, hamstring the EPA, sell off national parks, and drill the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. And how did they come, albeit belatedly, to see the error of their ways?

The million-plus signatures on the Environmental Bill of Rights certainly helped. That initiative, part of a broader campaign to bring the polluters' agenda to the attention of the media and the public, contributed to a remarkable change in the political landscape. The environment has become increasingly prominent in the debate over the nation's future. And thanks to the tireless efforts of Sierra Club members, incumbents are finding that fronting for polluters can be hazardous to their careers.

Voters, most of whom call themselves environmentalists, are getting mad. What worries Gingrich and the rest of the Republican leadership—as well as genuinely pro-environment legislators like Boehlert—is that they'll soon want to get even. On election day, they'll get their chance.

B. J. Bergman is associate editor of Sierra.


Where All Candidates Are Green

Do you want to help shape the Sierra Club's future? Then don't just sit there. Vote.

Yes, it's that time again, when you and 560,000 other concerned environmentalists get to exercise your most basic right as a Club member: the right to participate in continent-wide leadership elections. "The Sierra Club is the only national environmental organization that is run with full democracy at all levels," says Sandy Tepfer, the Club's chief inspector of elections. "But democracy doesn't work if electorates are not informed, or fail to vote."

As happens every spring, the terms of 5 of the 15 members of the Board of Directors are about to expire. Candidates for these open seats are either selected by the nominating committee or must petition to appear on the ballot. The Board of Directors is the Club's primary governing body, responsible not just for conservation policy but also for the organization's legal affairs and finances—including management of a $40 million annual budget. In addition to choosing new directors, members will be asked whether the Club should seek to ban all commercial logging on federal lands.

Brief biographies of the candidates as well as ballot-question arguments pro and con will be included with your ballot, which you'll be receiving early in March. Further information on the candidates will be available in group and chapter newsletters and at the Club's World Wide Web site, http://www.sierraclub.org. (You can also find us on the Internet via gopher or FTP.) Your completed ballot must be received by noon on Saturday, April 20. Results will be reported in the September/October 1996 issue of Sierra.

"I urge every member to be an informed and participating voter," says Tepfer. "The future of the Sierra Club is in your hands."


Wild Card

More than 55,000 Sierra Club members now use a Sierra Club MasterCard issued by the MBNA America Bank. With every purchase made by the card, a contribution goes to support the Club's programs. The funds raised—more than $1 million since 1993— provide an important new source of support for our conservation work.

The card has no annual fee. For more information, contact MBNA directly at 1-800-847- 7378 and mention priority code IQGM.


Canyonland Concerts

"Here's an example of art paying back to the land and people we love," says composer John Duffy of his Symphony No. 1: Utah. Commissioned by the Sierra Club's Utah Chapter, the critically acclaimed work is making both a spiritual and a material contribution to the cause of the Southwest's redrock wilderness.

Since its 1989 world premiere at New York's Lincoln Center, Symphony No. 1 has been performed frequently throughout the country. The Utah Symphony plans to feature the piece in 36 concerts this year to help celebrate the state's centennial; concertgoers will also get a glimpse of the region's stunning visual beauty—now threatened by legislation moving through Congress—via a slide show projected behind the orchestra.

For those who can't make it to Utah, the Sierra Club—sponsored symphony is available on a Koss compact disc of Duffy compositions titled Freedom Works, performed by the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra. Half of Duffy's income from performances and disc sales of Symphony No. 1 goes to the Utah Chapter.


Volunteer Spotlight: The Politics of Persistence

by Amy Wilson

There were few bright spots for environmentalists in the 1994 elections, but in Rhode Island all three candidates the Sierra Club endorsed for federal office won. Republican environmental champion Senator John Chafee was elected to his fourth term. Our longtime ally Jack Reed, a Democrat, earned a third term in the House. Newcomer Patrick Kennedy—a Democrat who had shown strong environmental leadership as a state representative—became the latest of the Kennedy clan to join the U.S. Congress.

Behind the scenes in each of these races was Liz Kelley, the Sierra Club's Rhode Island political chair. Months before the election she was researching the candidates' backgrounds, writing press releases, talking to reporters, and drumming up support in the Sierra Club and beyond. "A political chair doesn't have to be a policy wonk," she says, "but it's essential to know what's worth fighting for."

In the Chafee race, some activists argued against an endorsement, on the grounds that Chafee had opposed them on some issues. "I believed in his commitment and his record," Kelley says. "I spent hours talking to the dissenters to get at the core of their concerns. Then I went to the senator's staff to get answers. In the end I was able to persuade people that even if we were not in one-hundred-percent agreement with the senator, we did see eye-to-eye on a majority of issues." A few months later, Chafee, newly appointed head of the Senate Environment Committee, was boldly defying other GOP leaders' attempts to roll back the nation's environmental laws.

Kelley's interest in politics dates from her youth in the Boston area—"American revolution country," she calls it—where she tagged along with her father to town meetings and stuffed envelopes at local candidates' campaign headquarters. "My father taught me the importance of community involvement," Kelley says. "And he was right—volunteering is exhilarating. It gives you a feeling of connection with your neighbors, helps give you control over your community's destiny, and introduces you to like-minded, energetic people."

Today Kelley works full-time for a financial planning company in Warwick, the second- largest city in Rhode Island. She volunteers for Amnesty International and tutors exchange students in English at Brown University. Despite the breadth of her commitments, Kelley retains a reputation for scrupulous attention to details.

"What makes Liz so valuable is that she doesn't let anything fall through the cracks," says colleague Helen Tjader, Rhode Island Chapter chair. "You have to move fast when you're doing electoral work, yet she follows up on every detail." Since the 1994 elections, Kelley has made it a priority to "keep communication flowing" between Club activists and their congressional delegates. She's also preparing for the Sierra Club's 1996 endorsements. "I triple-check everything when I'm working with a candidate," Kelley says. "An endorsement is a major decision. It's important for me to be informed and for the candidate to see the Sierra Club as a top-notch organization."

Amy Wilson is senior editor of the Sierra Club's activist newsletter, The Planet.


Ecoregion Roundup

In 65 chapters and hundreds of local groups spanning 21 ecoregions and two nations, Sierra Club members are hard at work for a healthier planet.

by Tracy Baxter

Pacific Coast: Halting the War on the Environment
Pigs in slop couldn't have worn smiles broader than those of the timber and real-estate interests in Washington state after the shakeup of the November 1994 elections. They celebrated their victories by helping pass an anti-environment "takings" bill that would have paid property owners not to poison the public. Acting fast, the Cascade Chapter and its allies rounded up a quarter million signatures to place a referendum on the November 1995 ballot. And though the opposition poured money into a counter-campaign, people power triumphed: the worst takings law in the nation was routed by a three-to-two margin.

American Southeast: Making Connections in a Watery Realm
As Gulf Coast wetlands are drained and diverted to make way for development, migratory waterfowl are increasingly taking refuge in rice fields. Unfortunately, most farmers drain their fields after their second annual harvest in October or November, further shrinking the freshwater habitat available to traveling geese, ducks, and cranes. But in adopting the Houston Chapter's plan to keep 65 acres inundated through the winter, Raun's Lowell Farms is providing an excellent roosting and feeding haven until March, when the last birds normally return northward. In return, the chapter is encouraging local markets to sell the farm's brand of organically grown jasmine rice.

Pacific Northwest: Defending the Ancient Forests
The British Columbia Chapter and other environmental groups are celebrating a solid gain in their fight for sustainable forestry: the B.C. government has agreed to dramatically reduce the rate of the cut in Clayoquot Sound. By keeping the pressure up, environmentalists impelled officials to appoint a 20-member Clayoquot Scientific Panel. Assigned to reinvent forest management in the Sound, the panel hammered out ecoregion- specific recommendations that would effectively ban conventional clearcutting. In summer 1995, the B.C. government agreed to implement all of them. But as some centuries-old Sitka spruce, hemlock, and western red cedar are still being felled for such consumer disposables as phone books and newspapers, environmentalists have a way to go in protecting the pristine areas of one of North America's last great rainforests.

Great Lakes: Protecting Our Public Lands
Reflecting Minnesotans' overwhelming support for protecting Voyageurs National Park and the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness from increased motorized recreational use, 400 citizens gathered last October on the lawn of the state capitol to cheer the North Star Chapter's 100-member "paddle parade." As a counter-demonstration of 20 participants and one snowmobile doddered along, Minnesota's Democratic Representatives Bruce Vento, Martin Sabo, and Bill Luther further ignited the Twin-Cities crowd with their denunciation of congressional proposals that would shatter the serenity of the parks with the roar of internal-combustion engines. A field hearing the following month in Minneapolis drew 1,500 supporters.

Southwest Deserts: Restoring Wildlife
The Grand Canyon Chapter's report on a federal field hearing on wolf reintroduction held last November in Phoenix was short and sweet: we came, they didn't. In the weeks prior to the event, the chapter created a pro-lobo buzz by mailing 15,000 postcard alerts and following them up with four nights of phone calls. Newspapers in Phoenix and Tucson responded with editorials supporting reintroduction of Canis lupus in Arizona and New Mexico. After hearing convincing testimony from environmentalists with little rebuttal (ranchers stayed away in droves), the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service adjourned the hearing early.

Sierra Nevada: Preserving Wild-and-Scenic Rivers
In a more temperate political climate, a proposal to destroy 48 miles of two free-flowing mountain rivers with the most expensive dam in U.S. history might quickly die of embarrassment. But in the unreasonable 104th Congress, Representative John Doolittle's (R-Calif.) Auburn Dam plan is alive and well. The billion-dollar-plus multipurpose dam, which is being sold as a flood control project, would be constructed on an earthquake faultline, a planning decision widely regarded as folly. Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), usually an environmental ally, is leaning toward support of the project. The Motherlode Chapter is asking Club members to write to the senator, suggesting cheaper and safer alternatives such as fixing the rivers' levees and lowering the Folsom Dam spillways.


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