Sierra Club Bulletin: News for Members Island Activism
By Jennifer Hattam
Puerto Rican street art points the way: "Environmental health is fundamental."
The traffic-clogged highway out of San Juan is lined with Wal-Marts, Ford dealerships, and McDonald's restaurants. Only the road signs en español remind American visitors that they're not in the 50 states anymore. But a short drive from Puerto Rico's largest city delivers you to the lush depths of El Yunque, the only tropical rainforest in the U.S. Forest Service system.
With the island's almost 4 million residents living in an area smaller than Connecticut, tension between construction and conservation is acute. Though developers have historically had the upper hand, the Sierra Club is helping to change that. Last year, the board of directors chartered a new Puerto Rico chapter, the Club's 64th and its first in more than a decade.
Local activists cheered the decision. "Most environmental groups here were formed to protect individual places," says chapter vice chair Francisco "Pachi" Pérez. "They use up all their energy in one fight, while developers have the money to be in it for the long haul." Other groups have already joined the chapter in its campaign against two mega-resorts planned by Marriott International and Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts. The luxury lodging would be built in and around the Northeast Ecological Corridor, a 3,200-acre coastal area that encompasses most of the island's ecosystems and is a key nesting ground for the endangered leatherback sea turtle.
The seeds for the new chapter were planted in 2002, when five Puerto Rican students traveled to Washington, D.C., for a Sierra Student Coalition wildlands lobbying event. That cadre of activists has now grown to almost 300 members tackling sprawl, solid-waste disposal, and enforcement of environmental laws. The fight against development in the ecological corridor has brought together "community leaders, businesspeople, church folks, fishermen, and tree huggers," says Club regional representative Camilla Feibelman. "Our group has never been stronger."
America's outdoors lost a passionate advocate when conservation lawyer Fred Fisher, 68, died August 16. He had been battling cancer for a year.
In his early 30s, Fisher and his partner Don Harris helped file an influential Sierra Club lawsuit, challenging a proposed ski resort in the Sierra Nevada's Mineral King Valley. Walt Disney Productions dropped its development plan, and the case established citizens' right to sue for enforcement of environmental laws. Encouraged by the passage of such legislation as the Clean Air Act, the two went on to found the Sierra Club Legal Defense Fund in 1971 as a "new voice for the environment." (It was renamed Earthjustice in 1997.) Fisher was vice president for the first 17 years and a trustee until his death.
Among its victories, Earthjustice has made the EPA enforce air-quality regulations nationwide and has blocked power plants on the Colorado Plateau, a redrock area Fisher loved. To learn about the Fred Fisher Red Rock Fund, visit www.earthjustice.org/support.
Last summer, Sierra Club of Canada executive director Elizabeth May received her country's top civilian honor: membership in the Order of Canada. The Order recognizes citizens' lifetime achievements "in service to Canada or to humanity at large." Most notably, May's 17-day hunger strike in 2001 raised awareness of Nova Scotia's Sydney Tar Ponds, a 300-acre toxic site (see "Sierra Club Bulletin," September/October 2001, page 81).
Our Ears Are Burning
"The deadliest U.S. hurricane season in more than a century has some Wall Street investors sounding like members of the Sierra Club. Firms including Goldman Sachs Group Inc. and JPMorgan Chase & Co. are telling U.S. clients for the first time that climate change poses financial risks."
—Bloomberg News, September 28
"Wal-Mart Stores Inc. announced more affordable health care for some of its workers Monday in the latest shot in a battle with critics for the hearts of consumers ...
"Pressure on Wal-Mart has mounted as groups from unions to the Sierra Club ... have linked up, creating two new campaign organizations this year, Wake-Up Wal-Mart and Wal-Mart Watch."
—Associated Press, October 24
Follow the Leader
To recognize its volunteers who lead hundreds of trips each year, Sierra Club Outings held a contest for a new logo. The winning design (right), by Nicole Geiger-Brown of California, will be featured on patches worn by thousands of leaders on journeys from the Arctic to Africa.
IDAHO AND FLORIDA
Digging Up Trouble
Idaho and Florida are linked by water. Not literally, of course, but Sierra Club chapters in both states are fighting to protect creeks from mining of phosphate, a mineral used mainly in fertilizer. In southeast Idaho, a September 2005 court decision permitted the J. R. Simplot Company to explore a 400-acre site in the Sage Creek Roadless Area, which harbors Yellowstone cutthroat trout and threatened bald eagles and lynx. Activists are worried this will lead to open-pit mining, deep digging that allows selenium—a mineral that's toxic in high doses—to seep into streams. The Eastern Idaho Group has launched a letter-writing campaign and vows to challenge Simplot if it applies for a full mining permit.
In southwest Florida's Peace River Basin, the Mosaic Company wants to expand its mining by more than 6 square miles in the habitat of the endangered Florida panther. Some 460,000 acres have already been stripmined in the state, which produces 75 percent of the nation's phosphate supply. Last November, the Florida Chapter called for a moratorium on all such mining permits. "Florida's environment and economy depend on clean coastlines, healthy beaches, and vibrant wild places," says chapter chair John Swingle. "The phosphate industry is a direct threat to all three." For more information, go to thephosphaterisk.com.
This article has been corrected subsequent to publication.
Big Stink in Louisville
The filthiest air in the Southeast blankets Louisville, Kentucky. That finding, released by the EPA in 2002, spawned a new alliance between the Sierra Club and Rubbertown Emergency Action, a local environmental-justice organization. For years, the largely African-American low-income residents of Rubbertown, a World War II–era industrial region, have been exposed to unsafe levels of carcinogens like chloroprene and butadiene. Last June, the groups' three-year battle against pollution culminated in the city's adoption of one of the most progressive air-quality plans in the country. It calls for major reductions of industrial emissions that may put people at higher risk for cancer. "There's no justification for letting business use everyone's air for free waste disposal," says Sarah Lynn Cunningham, a member of the Club's Greater Louisville Group.
But now state senator Dan Seum (R) and state representative Perry Clark (D) have proposed bills to repeal the new program, which they claim will hurt industry in Louisville. The Sierra Club plans to fight the bills, pointing out that three manufacturers have decided to move to the city since the program was implemented. To find out more, visit apcd.org/star.
Join the Sierra Club's Take Action Network at sierraclub.org/takeaction, where you can send faxes to elected officials.