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Letter from the Chair
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by David O'Leary | 2012

Over the past several months, I’ve been watching Ken Burns’ documentary, The National Parks: America's Best Idea. In addition to interesting history and beautiful images, watching the series has provided an opportunity for proud reflection on the role of the Sierra Club in establishing and protecting our amazing parks.

Letter from the Chair

 

By David O’Leary—Over the past several months, I’ve been watching Ken Burns’ documentary, The National Parks: America's Best Idea. In addition to interesting history and beautiful images, watching the series has provided an opportunity for proud reflection on the role of the Sierra Club in establishing and protecting our amazing parks. From John Muir’s advocacy on behalf of Yosemite and Sequoia National Parks in California’s Sierra Nevada mountains, to David Brower’s leadership of the fights to protect Dinosaur National Monument and Grand Canyon National Park, the Club has provided a prominent voice for the parks. One of the final scenes of the documentary is President Jimmy Carter’s signing the legislation that established and expanded several national parks and monuments in Alaska in December of 1980, after Carter had lost his bid for re-election but before he left office. The historical component of the documentary did not continue past 1980, when Ronald Reagan was elected.

 

Remembering James Watt

I’ll reveal my age by sharing that I was in high school in 1980. One of the first high-profile environmental issues I remember was the controversy over the actions of two of President Reagan’s appointees, James Watt, as Secretary of the Interior, and Anne Gorsuch, as the EPA Administrator. Watt proposed that all undeveloped land in the country, including designated wilderness areas, be opened to drilling within twenty years, that regulations be reduced for industrial activity on public land, and that funding be cut for many programs. Gorsuch sought significantly reduced funding for the EPA, and cut staff and reduced enforcement and penalties on polluters. The blatant actions of these two public officials quickly drew the attention of the environmental community, since they were so far from mainstream views and would have resulted in significant impacts to the environment and programs to protect the environment and public health. Public response to their proposals was so strong that both Watt and Gorsuch were no longer in their positions within two years.

How do these events of thirty years ago matter to us now? As Senator Barbara Boxer said in a hearing after she became chair of the Environment and Public Works Committee in 2009, “Elections matter.” As we progress through this election year, the environment is not one of the top issues discussed by most of the candidates. But we can be certain that the 2012 election will matter to the environment, as it did in 1980. We are still recovering from damage done and precedents set during the Reagan administration and, more recently, the Bush administration. Vice President Cheney’s Energy Task Force resulted in policies that the Sierra Club works against every day. The calls of “Drill, Baby, Drill!” heard regularly before the 2008 election, continue to ring out.

While some actions taken by the Obama administration are unacceptable to us as environmentalists, the difference between our situation now compared to the Bush (and Reagan) years is stark. Given the environmental challenges that we face—climate change, polluted air and water, habitat destruction, species extinction, and others—we can’t afford four more years of weaker regulations, reduced funding, and lax enforcement. I encourage you to read through this issue, register, vote, and get involved in the elections—because “Elections matter.”

 

Pride in the Maryland Chapter

The Maryland Chapter has had a lot to be proud of over the past several months.

Congratulations to Nicole Veltre, Baltimore Inner City Outings Chair, who was recognized with a national Sierra Club award for her work in leading efforts to help young people experience the outdoors.

The Beyond Coal campaign conducted a kayak trip, based on our experience running similar educational trips to protect the Mattawoman Creek, to raise awareness about the Wagner coal-burning plant which continues to pollute the air near Baltimore. The success of our conservation outings program was profiled at the Club’s annual meeting last month. Thanks Jan Hoffmaster, chapter outings chair; Laurel Imlay, Chapter Coordinator; and the many trip leaders who contribute to these efforts.

Our interns have helped out in numerous ways over the summer—planning events, making phone calls, conducting research, and updating the calendar, the web site, and the member database. Thanks to all of you for your efforts!

It is great to see so much going on—but there is so much more to do. If you would like to get involved, please contact one of the chapter leaders listed in the directory in this issue, or call the chapter office at 301-277-7111. Consider serving on the executive committee of the chapter and or one of the local Groups—information about nominations appears on page 7.                                 

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