Sierra Club Newsmakers -- 5.2.2008
On May 1, Kansas Governor Kathleen Sebelius, above, rejected an ultimatum by the state legislature to approve two new coal-fired power plants in the state. "It's great to see a leader get the big picture," said Kansas Sierra Club leader Bill Griffith. "Governor Sebelius is a rare breed of politician who examines long-term policy implications and truly does what is best for the citizens she represents." Last month Sebelius vetoed a bill to approve the project. The Senate overrode her veto on May 1, but the House fell four votes short of doing so. "Today's vote solidifies Kansas as a true leader in the fight against global warming and opens the door for a new economy based on clean energy technologies," the Kansas Sierra Club said in a statement to the press.
Longtime Mississippi Sierra Club activist Becky Gillette, above, who broke the story about Gulf Coast hurricane refugees being poisoned by formaldehyde in FEMA-issued trailers, was the subject of a lengthy profile in USA Today. After a local FEMA manager alerted his supervisors in 2006 about the problem but was told "not to worry about it," Gillette organized the testing of 69 FEMA trailers and mobile homes, 60 of which showed high levels of the toxic gas, forcing the agency to act. "For the longest time, it looked like they would never admit it was a problem," said Gillette.
The Sierra Club's burgeoning alliance with hunters and anglers made headlines this week. The partnership, said national Sierra Sportsmen organizer Jon Schwedler, is long overdue. "We've come full circle. John Muir was encouraged to start the Sierra Club by Teddy Roosevelt, a sportsman. Sportsmen were some of the first conservationists, and have always been an important part of the Sierra Club." Associate Press Secretary Kristina Johnson told reporters that the newly-launched SierraSportsmen.org will help connect sportsmen across state lines on conservation issues.
Seattle vaccine scientist David Sylvester was about to apply to graduate school when he decided instead to embark on a 15-month bicycling and hiking tour of the continental United States with his best friend, a shepherd/husky mix named Chiva, to raise awareness and money for protecting the environment and preventing animal cruelty. "Hiking with Chiva is my biggest passion in life and I love to bike," the 26-year-old Sylvester said. "This is about following my dreams and living by the principles of public service and outdoor adventure." Sylvester plans to summit the highest peak in each of the lower 48 states en route. His charities of choice are the Sierra Club and the Humane Society.
The Sierra Club made a big splash on and around Earth Day, the biggest coup arguably being CBS Early Show's seven-minute feature on location in the Everglades, which included an interview with the Club's Florida field rep Jon Ullman and national publicist Orli Cotel. Ullman spoke of the risks facing the Everglades and why it's so important to protect this national park. After correspondent Dave Price presented some Earth Day tips, Cotel handed him a compact fluorescent bulb and said, "if every family in America just changed five of their lightbulbs to these, it would be the same as getting ten million cars off the road."
Also on Earth Day, the Sierra Student Coalition at West Virginia University gave a Toxic Tour of Morgantown, which contains the highest concentration of power plants in the nation. Co-organizer Christy Hartman said students can "go home and tell their parents about it. Focus on the solutions, too, because it's not all gloom and doom. There are a million opportunities to address the problems we face, which is why we're out here." For a lighter take on the tour, check out this 1-minute YouTube video, and note the subtle message just before the end.
Sierra's green living guru Bob Schildgen, author of "Hey Mr. Green," popped up in a McHenry County, Illinois, newspaper story about the environmental implications of colleges and high schools that now require graduates to buy gowns as opposed to renting them. Mr. Green comes down solidly in favor of renting. "It's not that much trouble to launder a graduation gown," he said.
In Arkansas, Sierra Club forest specialist Tom McKinney urged a slowing of prescribed burns that would torch more than 200,000 acres of Forest Service lands in the state. Much of the forest doesn't need fire to rejuvenate itself, he said—the wet climate rots dead trees and leaves, unlike western forests in drier climates. McKinney advocated a return to burn levels of the 1980s, about 20,000 acres a year.
Fast-growing Bakersfield, California, which lost more than 30,000 acres of rich farmland to development between 1994 and 2004, has recently begun to rethink the wisdom of yet more sprawl. In an April 30 op-ed, the author asked whether an already-approved 79-acre development was worth the traffic, bad air, and loss of agricultural lands. No, said local Sierra Club leader and air quality specialist Gordon Nipp: "Hold off, figure out what to do about the traffic situation, and give the community a chance to say what they want."
A California grandmother who led Sierra Club outings for 25 years has recently been leading far tamer "Sex on the Mountain" hikes on Mount Tamalpais, Marin County's much-beloved local landmark. What? Tame X-rated tours? "I talk mostly about insects, and I throw in a couple of flowers, how they keep the gene pool wide," said 77-year-old Nancy Skinner. "Then I talk about genetics, that sort of thing." Skinner is the Mount Tamalpais Interpretive Association's official historian.