Rhonda Anderson ends every phone call and e-mail with a single word: "Peace."
Its something thats in short supply in her home of Detroit, where 26 percent of inner-city residents live in poverty and one in every 100 people falls victim to violent crime each year. As an organizer with the Sierra Clubs environmental-justice program, Anderson is exposing the hidden connections between these social ills and environmental onesand helping local residents fight both.
Nationwide, dirty power plants and other toxic-spewing facilities are more likely to be located in low-income areas and communities of color, like the Riverbend neighborhood that surrounds an abandoned Continental Aluminum recycling plant on Detroits east side. Although no one knows exactly what kind of contamination the company left behind, residents have high levels of asthma and lead exposure, which has been linked to learning disabilities and increased criminal behavior. Anderson is working with local activists to get the Continental site closed off, tested, and cleaned up.
But that wont be the end of the story. Concealing at least 19 city and county environmental and safety violations in a decade at Riverbend, in 1998 Continental relocated to Lyon Township, a once-rural suburb about an hour from downtown Detroit. Residents of the two communities now suffer similar health problemsnausea, headaches, nosebleeds, respiratory ailments, and sleeplessnessand face a common struggle to get attention from state and federal regulators. But residents from mostly white Lyon and predominantly black Riverbend have yet to meet.
"Detroit communities are segregated and isolated, so theres little conversation across borders," says Anderson. "Solving environmental problems becomes even more complicated when you cant get people to speak to issues of race or poverty." To begin the discussion, Anderson is building relationships one household at a time. As she hands out information and listens to peoples concerns in both communities, she encourages them to look past what divides them and unite over what they share: the same air and water.
On The Web For information about the Sierra Clubs environmental-justice program, which provides organizing assistance, legal and media resources, and grants to communities, visit www.sierraclub.org/environmental_justice.
Many students use the summer to earn money for school, while others lounge around at the beach. A few learn how to change the world.
Each year, the Sierra Student Coalition, the student-run arm of the Sierra Club, leads weeklong training programs for high school and college students who want to become environmental leaders. Participants learn nitty-gritty organizing skills, hone their public-speaking abilities, and discuss various ways to get involved in their communities.
College students must apply by May 1 for the June training in Medford, Oregon (tuition is $75 for SSC members; $94 for nonmembers). High schoolers have until June 1 to apply for June and July programs in California, Illinois, Vermont, Virginia, and Tennessee ($160 for members; $179 for nonmembers).
To apply for a summer training, inquire about scholarships, or bring the SSCs year-round training academy to your community, visit www.ssc.org/trainings or call (888) JOIN-SSC.
"The Bush administration Monday threw out the Clinton administrations ban on snowmobiles in Yellowstone. These vehicles scare the animals, burn up gasoline, and infuriate the Sierra Club. Its Dick Cheneys idea of hitting the Trifecta."Daily Oklahoman, November 13, 2002
Last fall, hundreds of activists planned to culminate 600 demonstrations, and two years work, with a National Day of Action targeting office-supply giant Staples. But instead of protesting on November 13, many were popping open the champagne. The $11 billion company, one of North Americas largest suppliers of photocopy and printer paper, had agreed to more than triple the average recycled content in its paper products and to phase out items made from old-growth and national-forest trees.
Some celebrants werent even old enough to break out the bubbly. Sierra Student Coalition members as young as 14 had joined the Paper Campaign, a coalition of environmental groups led by ForestEthics and the Dogwood Alliance. Students "adopted" local Staples stores as the sites for monthly events. Some distributed faux sports cards to customers (featuring the companys CEO playing on a team called the "Tree Cutters"), while others caused a ruckus at the check-out counter asking for 100 percent recycled paper (which they knew the chain didnt carry). They even dressed up as staplers to chase down other activists dressed as trees.
The next outlet for the SSCs creativity? A "tree-free campus" campaign, where students will ask their schools to stop buying products from timber companies that log national forests and old growth. With 40 percent of the worlds industrial logging supporting the paper-products industry, such corporate- reform efforts can have a big impact. Theyre also appealing to a generation coming of age with the anti-environmental Bush administration in charge.
"Market-based campaigns are only going to get more popular, since were facing such a difficult time politically," says Jim Steitz, the SSCs forest-protection coordinator, and practically an old fogy at age 22. "We want to make selling products made from national-forest trees the equivalent of selling stuff made with sweatshops or child labor. Then it just wont be worth it to cut them down." J.H.
On The Web To join the Sierra Student Coalition, visit www.ssc.org. For details on the campaign to transform the paper industry, go to www.thepapercampaign.com.
Its time once again for Sierra Club members to elect five representatives to the volunteer board of directors. Each will serve a three-year term on the 15-member board, which votes on the Clubs officers, oversees staff and volunteer activities, sets conservation priorities, and approves the annual budget. Your ballot should arrive in the mail by mid-March. Return the completed ballot by noon eastern standard time on April 23or follow the instructions to vote online. Sierra will report the election results in the July/August issue.
Check your local chapter or group newsletter, or visit the Clubs Web site, www.sierraclub.org/bod.
To join the Sierra Club activist network, write to the Office of Volunteer and Activist Services, 85 Second St., San Francisco, CA 94105-3441; e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. Members receive a free subscription to the Planet bimonthly newsletter and Sierra Club Currents, a twice-weekly e-mail update.
Minnesota Setting Boundaries Most Northstar Chapter activists would rather be in canoes than in court showing their support for Minnesotas Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. But theyve put down their paddles and filed suit against the U.S. Forest Services decision to triple the number of motorboats allowed on lakes in and on the edge of the popular wilderness area carved out of Superior National Forest lands 25 years ago.
In 1999, a court determined that the Boundary Waters motorboat provisions only apply to property owners immediate waterways and not to the extensive lake chains so beloved by canoe adventurers. But instead of defending the Boundary Waters fragile wilderness, the Forest Service bowed to boat owners demands and announced it would increase daily permits from about 2,400 to nearly 7,000. Club activists and other conservationists argue that the haunting call of the loon, not the putt-putt of boat engines, should define the northern wilderness.
Nevada The Claws Come Out Ah, the American West: Big sky, fresh air, room to set down roots and work the land. But if your dreams include opening a kitty litter mine, expect opposition. Chicago-based Oil-Dri Corporation of America, the worlds largest producer of cat litter, has been fighting for several years to develop two open-pit clay mines on Bureau of Land Management property ten miles north of downtown Reno. Challengers included the Reno-Sparks Indian colony (which borders the mine site), the Toiyabe Chapter, and other regional environmental groups, which convinced Washoe County that the mine and adjacent processing plant on private land would increase traffic, noise, and air pollution.
When the county denied Oil-Dris permit, the company sued and then turned to a kitty-litter-miners best friend: the Bush administration. In October, the Justice Department filed a brief in U.S. District Court in Reno, charging that county officials violated the Mining Law of 1872. According to that archaic legislation, federal decisions supersede any local opposition to mining on public land. Mine opponents point out that the law was created to spur Manifest Destiny and the extraction of precious metals, not sales of Cats Premium Pride kitty litter.
California Live and Let Live The timber industry and Bush administration claim that critical forest-thinning projects are hampered by lawsuits and citizen appeals, a situation theyve dubbed "analysis paralysis." But Trish Puterbaugh and her allies in the Yahi Group of the Mother Lode Chapter can tell you that a little public scrutiny goes a long way. After filing two appeals, they convinced Lassen National Forest last fall that its Storrie Post-Fire Restoration Project was a timber sale masquerading as a salvage effort. Club volunteers research showed that although the Storrie fire burned 56,000 acres, it was not "catastrophic." In fact, two-thirds of the area had burned at low intensity, which is actually healthy for a forest.
Puterbaugh and her compatriots found many live trees in remote locations marked for logging with a spray-painted "H," signifying a hazard to humans. The hazard-trees loophole allows the Forest Service to increase volume in a sale, sweetening the pot for timber companies. As a result of the activists findings, logging plans for some old-growth areas have been dropped, and the volume of trees to be logged has shrunk from 16 million board feet to around 5 million. Elsewhere loggers will only remove trees that are, like the Wicked Witch of the West, "positively, absolutely, undeniably, and reliably dead."
California To Sur With Love Given the current political climate in Washington, conservationists may feel like lonely voices in the wilderness. But at least theres a bit more terrain in which to howl, thanks to a bill signed into law in December designating more than 54,000 acres of new wilderness in and around Californias famously rugged Big Sur coastline. Steered through a not-particularly-outdoorsy Congress by home-state Democrats Representative Sam Farr and Senators Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer, the legislation protects steep canyons, oak woodlands, and tumbling creeks, along with mountain lions, endangered California condors, and steelhead trout. The Clubs Ventana Chapter mobilized grassroots support for the bill; its activists and others throughout the Golden State are energized at the first success in the California Wild Heritage Campaign, an effort to safeguard Californias remaining wilderness and wild rivers.
Kentucky Caving In Mammoth Cave National Park includes the longest cave known on Earth. But Kentuckyians are just as proud of its surface activities, which include backpacking and hiking on 70 miles of rugged trails and angling and canoeing on more than 30 miles of the Green and Nolin Rivers. So when the Kentucky Division for Air Quality approved construction of a coal-fired power plant just 50 miles west of the park, the Cumberland Chapter and local conservation groups immediately appealed the decision. Mammoth Cave already has the worst average visibility of all national parks, and Peabody Energys 1,500-megawatt coal-fired plant would release 22 million pounds of sulfur dioxide into Kentucky skies every year.
But the Interior Department signed off on the states project, saying that the plant can initially operate at high emissions levels, with the company promising to lower them after two years.
Environmentalists suspect that the cozy compromise is related to the fact that Peabody is a major Republican contributor, and its chair, Irl Engelhardt, was an energy adviser to the Bush-Cheney transition team. Club activists want Kentucky to require Peabody to use "best available" pollution-control technology as mandated by the Clean Air Actand theyll work on securing best available decision-makers in the next election.
Contact Us Spotlight Sierra Club activism in your area by writing to Reed McManus at Sierra, 85 Second St., 2nd Floor, San Francisco, CA 94105-3441; e-mail email@example.com; fax (415) 977-5794.