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Sierra Magazine
Sierra Club Bulletin: News for Members

Club's EPEC Sweep | Por Nuestras Familias | Home Front

Club's EPEC Sweep

For Team Environment, 1995 was what sports fans call a rebuilding year. The political arena, some will recall, was effectively owned and operated by the pollution lobby, the unofficial winner of the previous November's elections. Grateful (and beholden) congressional leaders were openly hostile to existing protections for public health and public lands, let alone the possibility of new ones. After a quarter century of steady gains, all environmentalists could do was play hard on defense and dream of better days ahead.

And rebuild. The Sierra Club, in particular, quickly set about working to increase its muscle by boosting the efforts of its chapters and groups throughout the United States. This renewed focus on the grassroots gave rise in 1997 to EPEC, the Environmental Public Education Campaign, and it's already paying dividends.

The EPEC program was designed to allow the Club's thousands of volunteer activists to tailor a broad message —"Protect America's Environment: For Our Families, For Our Future"—to local and regional needs. Whether walking precincts, staging rallies and media events, or swarming the letters-to-the-editor pages, volunteers in communities across the country have been talking about issues that resonate with their neighbors. And corporate campaign donors notwithstanding, what resonates with the public still strikes a chord with most decision makers. Some cases in point:

• In Oklahoma, volunteers joined family farmers, rural residents, and fellow environmentalists to highlight the threats posed by mega-hog farms and other industrial-style livestock operations. The state legislature eventually banned such facilities.

• In Montana, Club activists helped generate enough public outcry to convince authorities in Lewis and Clark National Forest to reject new oil-and-gas development on the Rocky Mountain Front, adjacent to Glacier National Park.

• In North Dakota, a half-dozen Club members in the town of Williston—which is to say, all the Club members in town—organized to successfully block construction of a toxic-waste facility.

• In Georgia, Club activists alerted DuPont stockholders, and eventually the entire country, to the folly of a proposed stripmine adjacent to the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge, causing the chemical giant to shelve the project.

• In Louisiana, the Club's public-education efforts forced state regulators to step up testing for mercury levels in fish, and to expand public-health protections for citizens who might be exposed to contaminated fish.

• Throughout the Northwest, activists have been rallying public opinion behind the endangered species that symbolizes the region, the salmon, and its equally imperiled habitat. One measure of the campaign's success: in September the region's four governors agreed to set up a forum to oversee salmon recovery. Through efforts like these, repeated in state after state, Club activists linked their local causes to nationwide policy objectives, from cleaning up our air and water to preserving public lands and endangered species. By helping their neighbors see the effects of federal policy, grassroots volunteers were instrumental in putting the environmental movement back on the offensive. A few of the highlights:

• During the first half of 1997, the Club waged an all-out campaign to inform the public of the need for a tough new EPA proposal to reduce smog and soot emissions. In July, despite fervent opposition from polluters, President Clinton signed the proposed new rules into law.

• The EPEC program made forest-road subsidies the focus of its efforts to mobilize public sentiment against exploitation of public lands. In January Clinton announced a plan to halt road construction in many (though not all) of the last remaining roadless areas in the public's forests.

• After helping to beat back congressional assaults on the Clean Water Act in 1995, the Club in 1997 made clean water a centerpiece of its public-education efforts. The payoff came early this year, when Clinton unveiled his Clean Water Action Plan to address hog- and chicken-farm pollution, loss of wetlands, logging and grazing impacts, and other issues raised tirelessly by Club activists. Expect a repeat performance in 1998, when the EPEC program builds on last year's victories and pushes for additional funding for environmental initiatives and a stronger, more effective Endangered Species Act. In the next edition of the "Bulletin": a look at how EPEC organizers learn the ropes.


Por Nuestras Familias...

Polls show that Latinos are not just deeply concerned about the environment, they're eager to do something about it.

Which is why the Sierra Club, one of the nation's oldest and largest environmental groups, has joined forces with Santa Fe-based Hispanic Radio Network, the nation's oldest and largest educational Spanish-language radio service, to spread the word about saving the planet.

The airwaves alliance took wing in February and March, when the Club sponsored 40 segments of HRN's Planeta Azul (Blue Planet) a daily three-minute environmental report syndicated to 150 stations in the United States, Puerto Rico, and Latin America. The network and the Club plan to continue working together on ideas for several HRN programs, as well as a widely syndicated newspaper column.

"Hispanics consider the environment a legacy that is to be passed from one generation to another," notes Javier Sierra, HRN's managing editor. "The great thing about this partnership is that your objectives and our objectives are very similar."

To hear Planeta Azul, call Hispanic Radio Network at (505) 984-0080 and ask for information on stations in your area, or e-mail the network at radio@hrn.org.


Home Front

In 65 chapters and hundreds of local groups spanning 21 ecoregions and two nations, Sierra Club members are hard at work protecting our natural heritage.

Atlantic Coast: BLUE SKIES FOR BLACKWATER
A stone's throw from Blackwater Falls State Park and Monongahela National Forest, Blackwater Canyon looks like parkland to the kayakers of its river rapids and the hikers wandering its 12-mile trail. But recreationists found proximity didn't equal protection last year when the Allegheny Power Company sold a 3,000-acre tract of canyon land to a logging firm. With the habitat of black bear and the endangered Cheat Mountain salamander at stake, the West Virginia Chapter tried to nullify the purchase.

While the chapter's legal argument—that state law prevented the sale—was rejected by the Public Service Commission, the case's notoriety helped spur state legislators to work on a land swap. "The deal is a beginning, but it would protect only 700 acres," says Jim Sconyers, conservation chair of the West Virginia Chapter. "And it wouldn't prevent construction on Lindy Point, the area's most scenic overlook."

Sconyers believes that the best way to save Blackwater Canyon would be outright purchase by the U.S. Forest Service or the West Virginia State Parks Department. "You simply don't find many more places like this in the East. We can't just throw it away." While the chapter appeals the commission's decision, Sconyers urges the public to call Senator Jay Rockefeller at (202) 224-6472 and ask him to help save the entire canyon.

CONNECTING FOR JUSTICE
Though thousands of miles apart, the working-class communities of Sydney, Nova Scotia, and Fort Valley, Georgia, both know what it's like to get dumped on. Residents of Sydney dwell next to a tidal estuary containing Canada's worst environmental blight—700,000 tons of toxic sludge, the by-product of a century of steelmaking. Fort Valleyans live in the shadow of a Superfund site where pesticides are manufactured.

When activists from the two towns met in Fort Valley in a visit organized by Sierra Club of Canada they discovered they had something else in common: fighting spirit. Sharing comfort and counsel, they discussed strategies on strengthening community involvement and getting governmental agencies to take action. With new tactics in their tool kit, the Canadian activists are now preparing for a visit from their southern allies.

Sierra Nevada: SIERRA SCHOLARS
College-bound youth in the Sierra Nevada interested in community service recently received a helping hand from the Sierra Club. To encourage new ideas on building strong and sustainable local economies, the Sierra Nevada Ecoregion Task Force invited high school seniors to submit essays on how to improve the quality of life in their hometowns. The ten most thoughtful and well-researched essays won their authors four-year scholarships of $1,000 per year, donated by an anonymous member. The essay-review committee, made up of church leaders, educators, and local Club members, is counting on the ten winners to put their fine words into action after graduation.

Great Northern Forest: ADIRONDACK JEWELS
When heiress Marylou Whitney and her fiancé declared that the hotel and 40 exclusive homes they planned to build in Adirondack Park would make the Sierra Club proud, the Atlantic Chapter immediately worked on setting them straight. The publicity alone about a scheduled black-tie protest in front of a Whitney costume ball helped persuade the couple to drop the development scheme. Later, when negotiations to sell the majestic 14,700-acre forest to the state faltered, the chapter used rush-hour radio ads to pressure Whitney and New York Governor George Pataki to close the deal. At the last minute, Whitney signed on the dotted line for $17 million, giving the chapter a new goal—championing the land's establishment as a proposed Oswegatchie Great Forest and Boreal Heritage Reserve.

Pacific Coast: CITIZEN GAIN
The voter-mandated California Coastal Act explicitly requires protection of the state's breathtaking coastal vistas. Yet the Hearst Corporation recently muscled zoning approval from San Luis Obispo County officials to build a mega- resort on the shoreline, replete with three hotels, a dude ranch, and a 27-hole golf course. In the months leading up to a state Coastal Commission public hearing on the development, San Luis Obispo Chapter members worked furiously to mobilize the public, canvassing locals and going toe-to-toe with Hearst Corporation lawyers in a series of public debates.

"The response to our effort was nothing short of astounding," says chapter Chair Pat Veesart. "The commission received 5,000 letters and nearly 1,500 people attended the hearing." Swamped with demands to uphold the law, the commission voted unanimously to reject the Hearst project, leaving the craggy cliffs and unobstructed views of the Pacific Ocean intact for now. "People are feeling pretty darn good about this victory," says Veesart, "but we've got to keep an eye on this."

Pacific Northwest: GROWING PAINS
Once one of North America's great wildlife nurseries—some historians believe on a par with Florida's Everglades—the Klamath Basin in southwestern Oregon and northern California has lost 80 percent of its original 350,000 acres of wetlands to agricultural use. The remaining 70,000 acres, preserved in a complex of national wildlife refuges, hosts the largest winter population of threatened bald eagles in the continental United States and millions of migrating waterfowl. But because of the Bureau of Reclamation's water-allocation decisions, onions and sugar beets are compromising the creatures' habitat.

In recent years the bureau has diverted enough water out of the refuges to dry out marshes on migratory routes, killing thousands of endangered sucker fish, and exposing nesting white pelican colonies to coyotes—all to irrigate farmland. The Mother Lode Chapter and its Shasta Group and the Oregon Chapter and its Rogue Group are suing the bureau to make sure that farmers' needs don't come before wildlife's in the Klamath refuges.


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