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Sierra Magazine
Sierra Club Bulletin: News for Members

New Sierra Club President Adam Werbach

Pitchman for the Planet: New methods, enduring message.

by Reed McManus

The Sierra Club has a knack for getting its message across. In 1966, then Sierra Club Executive Director David Brower ran full-page ads in The New York Times suggesting that we might as well flood the Sistine Chapel if we were willing to do the same to the Grand Canyon.

Nearly 30 years later, Club activists pulled the media their way by staging an ear-splitting 21-chainsaw salute on the steps of the White House to protest Bill Clinton 's signing of the salvage-logging rider.

So it's really no surprise that the Sierra Club's new president is media savvy. What's gotten everyone's attention, though, is that he is 23 years old. Adam Werbach is young enough to be the still-crusading Brower's great-grandson. Sensing a Generation-X success story, Newsweek, The New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, MTV, David Letterman, and every columnist in cyberspace have come flocking in search of The Adam Werbach Saga.

Werbach works hard to steer reporters away from their pup-to-president angle and on to what he considers the real story, the work of Sierra Club activists and staff. "Stop by and introduce yourselves!" he announces to 150 San Francisco headquarters staff in an electronic-mail message while a People magazine reporter sits in his office. The reporter will leave with her obligatory feel-good personality profile, but her magazine's more than a million readers will meet an energetic spokesman for a 104-year- old environmental organization who cares about the fate of the planet with his heart and soul.

"I want to reach people where they learn," Werbach says, and if that means complementing tried-and-true outreach methods with "green minutes" on music television and links on the World Wide Web, he's all for it.

Werbach particularly wants to stir up his own contemporaries, a generation that learned about recycling and oil spills while still in grade school, only to discover that environmental concern wasn't the norm after all. "When young people see that their congressman voted against clean air and clean water, they're inspired to act," Werbach says.

The media has happily rehashed Werbach's story of spearheading a Sierra Club-sponsored James Watt recall petition drive in the second grade. He later gained recognition in the Sierra Club by expanding the traditional tools of grassroots activism. The student-run Sierra Student Coalition, which he founded while in high school and shepherded as an undergraduate at Brown University, now has 30,000 members. He and his SSC colleagues mastered the mundane (such as registering thousands of student voters before the 1992 elections and phone-banking on behalf of the California Desert Protection Act), the dramatic (such as selling black snow cones at fairs and concerts to publicize threats to the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge), and the modern (spreading the Club's message on the Internet).

Such experience-beyond-his-years helped Werbach land a seat on the Club's Board of Directors in 1994. Finding himself among some of the most seasoned leaders of the environmental movement such as Brower, Dave Foreman, and Anne Ehrlich, Werbach sees himself as a "team builder" rather than a firebrand. When the board split over the Club's logging policy this year, Werbach was unfazed; internal disputes are all part of grassroots democracy at work. "God forbid people didn't have strong opinions on what we do," he says.

Besides, Werbach notes, efforts to turn back the current anti-environmental Congress demand the undiluted energy of all of us. "This is the worst Congress ever, period," he says with the conviction of someone who sees his birthright at risk. It's a tone that's uncannily familiar to anyone who has followed the work of the Sierra Club over the past decade, generation, or full 104 years.


Grassroots Summer

Thousands of Sierra Club members devoted part of their summer to educating and inspiring other Americans who care about wildlands, wildlife, clean air, and clean water.

In Texas, we offered free lemonade at colorful stands along the beach at Galveston--in addition to voter guides and literature explaining what to do "when Congress gives you lemons."

In Washington and Oregon, we put up thousands of yard signs on Flag Day, pointing out that wild salmon and forests are "all-American" values.

In California, we held up signs on a Highway 101 overpass asking motorists to help protect the Carpinteria Bluffs along the central California coast

In North Dakota, we distributed literature at popular fishing holes.

In Maine more than a dozen tall-masted schooners flew a Sierra Club banner: "Protect Maine's clean water: For our families, for our future."

Behind the scenes, the Sierra Club prepared voting charts and candidate comparisons for more than 50 key congressional races around the country. In many of these races, we prepared radio and TV spots and "bird-dogged" candidates in public forums with questions about environmental issues.

These and hundreds of other summer events are part of the largest environmental educational campaign ever--a multimillion-dollar effort that the Sierra Club began on Earth Day in April and will continue up until the November election. "For the past two years, Congress and most state legislatures have been waging a war on the environment," says Sierra Club Conservation Director Bruce Hamilton. "If people become informed and involved, we can end that war."


Ecoregion Roundup

In 65 chapters and hundreds of local groups spanning 21 ecoregions and two nations, Sierra Club members are hard at work protecting the environment--for our families, for our future.

by Tracy Baxter

American Southeast: Fueling Grassroots Action
As Florida Power & Light discovered, it's unwise to count on community apathy when Sierra Club activists are around. In applying to burn a Venezuelan high-sulfur fuel called "orimulsion" at its plant in Parrish, Florida, the utility raved about its abundance and low cost, promising $4 monthly savings for residential energy consumers. Through rallies, petitions, and over a thousand letters to the governor, the Manatee/Sarasota Group and environmental allies exposed the real terms of the bargain: a near doubling of acid rain- and smog-causing emissions. The groups also pointed out that if the tar-like orimulsion spilled in Tampa Bay it would disperse to a depth of ten feet, making cleanup with current technologies uncertain. Responding to strenuous public objections to the experimental fuel, Florida turned down the utility's request in April.

A Burning Health Issue
Somewhere along the way the U.S. Army lost track of its mission. In 1982, it set out to safely dispose of more than 1.1 million obsolete chemical weapons. Now its chief objective seems to be building incinerators that emit hormone-disrupting organochlorines and other toxins. Though the Sierra Club has urged consideration of less hazardous and more effective technologies to neutralize the stockpile of military poisons, the Army is insistent upon burning nerve gas and blister agents at Tooele Army Depot in Utah, ignoring the implications for public health and the environment. The Sierra Club, the Vietnam Veterans of America Foundation, and the Chemical Weapons Working Group filed suit in May to block the project.

Great North American Prairie: Hogwash!
Countering a stink by making one in the state capitol, Sierra Club activists, family farmers, and labor representatives in April made a spirited case against the mega hog factories in Missouri that are forcing smaller operations out of business. First in a flurry of visits to individual legislators and then during a State Senate Agriculture Committee hearing, the 150 eco-allies spoke passionately on the need to protect local residents from the stench and pollution from corporate feedlots. The results? The Missouri Hog Farm bill, opposed by such agribusiness titans as Tyson, Cargill, and the Farm Bureau for its regulatory provisions, became law in June.

Greenscammers Unmasked
Braving brisk April winds and chilly temperatures, 50 demonstrators from the Oklahoma Chapter, the Oklahoma Environmental Alliance, and local labor organizations protested Republican Governor Frank Keating's bogus Conference on the Environment. Decrying the event as a corporate polluters' love-in, they pointed out that the agenda was crammed with presentations from environmental poseurs--including a keynote speaker from a "sound-science" group funded by the likes of Exxon, Dow Chemical, and the National Pest Control Association--but no bona fide conservationists. Not duped by the corporate pet show, the local press made the exclusion of the environmentalists central to their coverage.

Great Lakes: Getting the Lead Out
Having helped abolish state incinerator subsidies early this year, the Illinois Chapter has chalked up another victory. Chicago Mayor Richard Daley has decided to close Illinois' only operating waste burner. Until recently, the city had intended to refurbish the 24-year-old lead belcher, but scrapped those plans after years of appeals from environmentalists. The facility goes off-line in the fall.

Rocky Mountains: Breathing Easier in Colorado
The brown cloud hanging above northern Colorado's Yampa Valley attested to industrial neglect, and the Trappers Lake Group followed the smoke trail to two antiquated coal-fired generators near the town of Hayden. Between 1988 and 1993 the power plant's stack-monitoring data showed more than 19,000 emissions law violations, yet state and federal enforcement lagged. It took a Sierra Club citizen lawsuit under the Clean Air Act to demand that Public Service, operator and co-owner of the power plant, live up to its name. In settling the suit this May, Public Service agreed to spend $130 million on pollution-control equipment, and $2 million for land conservation purposes, and to pay $2 million in fines. The new controls should eliminate 20,000 tons of the utility'semissions per year, which are widely held to have contaminated the nearby Mt. Zirkel Wilderness.


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