Sierra Club imploding

March 28th, 2008


As I look at Sierra Club turmoil today, my brother’s voice rings in my noggin:

Does the Pope shit in the woods?

Sierra Club seems to be imploding, in the midst of a hostile takeover.  This postfrom Betsy Roberts and Joy Ezell of Florida Sierra (ardent, active, and EFFECTIVE leadership of Florida Chapter) notes that:

“we opposed IGCC coal plants, even though national funding required us to remain silent on the issue

As you readers know, I’ve been frustrated by enviro IGCC impotence, as have my clients, who just don’t understand why “enviromental” groups won’t talk to them.  I’ve had several discussions with some individuals in Sierra around the country where they’re inexplicably supporting IGCC.  But for the record, I want to thank the Minnesota North Star Chapter for its willingness to address IGCC, though not as an Intervenor in the Mesaba Project, as a Commentor in the docket — their politics are in the right place, and they’ve done good.  Their participation has been greatly appreciated.  It’s been helpful when the other “environmental” groups have their “hands tied” and their heads firmly implanted.  So I’m sorry to see Sierra in such disarray and it sounds to me like national leadership has their priorities screwed up.  The Clorox deal, blasting Florida, whatever are they thinking.

From a Florida blog, more to follow after we pick up a bunch of lumber, and there are links to more on the blog:

Thursday, March 27, 2008
Sierra Club Meltdown: What the removed Florida leaders have to say. By Geniusofdespair

I have edited their statement of March 26th:

Dear Florida Sierra activists:
The National Sierra Club Board of Directors made an unprecedented and unfortunate decision, as predicted, to “suspend” our Florida Chapter for four years, finalized March 25 on a 10-2 vote (Jim Dougherty and Bernie Zaleha). Consequently, our Flexcom, our committees, and state-wide and regional entities are now suspended.

Today national has also shut down these list serves: FL-CONSERVATION-FORUM, FL-SPRAWL, FL-COASTAL, FL-GLADES-COMM, FL-LEADERS, FL-MEMBERS, and will likely shut down all of the chapter list serves. We expect that National will also take the Florida Chapter pages off the National Sierra Club website soon.

The consequences of their ill-advised, anti-democratic action we fear will be disastrous for the environment, even as our local Sierra groups around the state attempt to continue in their present make-up. Local groups can look to National staff and a National-appointed steering committee for direction.

As over a hundred of us warned, Sierra’s name and impact will be undermined now, possibly for years, since powerful public relations firms for the developers and their governmental and otherwise compromised environmental group apologists will doubtless take full advantage of the situation.

Your specific role as a volunteer for one or more of our forty-some Chapter committees has been suspended, though some may be approached by the new national-imposed steering committee.

We hope to (-snip-) not lose all the institutional memory that has come from your generous donation of time, creative energy, and hard work over the years (or for some of our newly-elected Flexcom officers, just the last three months). (Hit read more)

We will all have to make our own decisions as to what roles we take on now with our continuing environmental activism. We acknowledge and are thankful that many of us were introduced through the years through the Sierra Club. Urgent Alerts and announcements of important upcoming meetings will surely still be shared among us.

We are compiling our “lessons learned” from this last year of misery at the hands of the National Club. The implementation of Project Renewal, passed in last month’s Board of Directors meeting in Atlanta, has already replaced dozens of national activist committees, comprised of longtime, dedicated volunteers.

Some of these long-time Sierra leaders have begun resigning from the Club entirely. This Earth Day, the Clorox Greenworks products will begin displaying the Sierra Club logo, the first corporate endorsement in the hundred year old organization’s history. National has boasted that some share of the corporate earnings from the marketing of these products will be paid to Sierra. As we Floridians have warned for two years,

National’s Energy Policy is still encouraging the unwise development of biofuels in a state whose water resources and agricultural soils are already overused and in danger of imminent exhaustion. Nationally, other enlightened groups are realizing the folly of many of these biofuels proposals consume more energy than they produce. Someday, Sierra will stop embarrassing its members and will have to admit that both the technology and the economics of biofuels are wrong. They may not admit that the Florida Chapter was right, but we will still know. Meanwhile, where do the new major funding sources for Sierra’s promotion of biofuels really come from? Inquiring minds want to know, of course, and the truth will eventually be revealed.

We are so sorry to have to be telling you this. Please be aware of the club’s rules on affirmative standards of conduct– no personal criticism / attacks, especially in the press; and be very discreet before sharing internal documents outside the Club; to be safe, assume all internal documents are confidential and refer reporters to national’s public relations office.

It is true that in recent years, the Florida Chapter has disagreed with National over a growing number of issues, many by official resolutions sent to the Council of Club Leaders and other national bodies:

We opposed the giveaway of our Coffeen Preserve on a Panhandle beach;

we disagreed with the reduction of c4 funds returned to our chapters and groups around the country; we urged a program to share more dues back to chapters and groups, in order to encourage local membership recruitment, which national revoked a year later; we urged changes in staff decision-making without direct volunteer oversight;

we encouraged more emphasis on energy conservation in the new national energy policy and more direct encouragement of sustainable lifestyles;

we opposed IGCC coal plants, even though national funding required us to remain silent on the issue; we asked for more shared decision-making concerning door to door canvassing, and national closed the canvasses in Florida completely;

we asked and were rejected in a shared fund-raising plan with national staff;

we have repeatedly asked in vain (or attempted to provide funding ourselves) for important conservation campaigns (-snip-)anti-sprawl campaigns, and against the behemoth St Joe Corporation in the Panhandle, and anti-coal plant campaigns and other energy work by our local and chapter activists.

But it is also true that Florida was the most enthusiastic chapter to support and attend the first ever Sierra Summit in California with more official attendees than any other chapter! We also participated at national’s behest in the NPLA Harvard Surveys; and were among the first to volunteer to be a pilot chapter to dedicate four weekends to national’s new Leadership Development Project.

When national reorganized conservation priorities to the three Conservation Initiatives Committees, Florida was the first chapter to reorganize our conservation issue committees under a parallel structure, showing our team work with national conservation leaders.

All this has not kept us from the unprecedented national scrutiny which exaggerated our every internal disagreement over the last two years. (-snip-) The decision-making votes by our hard-working FLEXCOM (were analyzed) and found that 95% of over 220 motions voted on in 2006-2007 were decided by at least a 2:1 margin, And in over four-fifths of the decisions, agreement was overwhelming, with 90% or more voters agreeing.

In approximately two thirds of the decisions, agreement was unanimous.

We sincerely want to thank you for helping us build one of the strongest, volunteer-led Chapters in the country, and we hope that you will continue to channel your energy and time into local environmental work.

Stay in touch! There is so much more to do and your work is really appreciated by environmentalists and our supporters in communities who have wisely avoided internal bureaucracy, complaint departments, and special problem-eliciting websites, etc… See you at the next demonstration, picket line or government public hearing!

Your partners in protecting Florida’s fragile environment,

Betsy Roberts, Chapter Chair (November 2006-March 2008);
And Joy Towles Ezell, Chapter Conservation Chair (November 2007-March 2008)

(See yesterday’s post and comments for news reports on the Florida Sierra Club Chapter)

2 Responses to “Sierra Club imploding”

  1. Alan Muller Says:

    This is a sad situation on many levels.

    (I’m a former Sierra Delaware Chapter Conservation Chair who was kicked out years ago …..)

    I’ve always felt that the strong “volunteer” element in the (very complicated and contentious)Sierra Club system set some limits on how much the professional staff could sell out. A system of checks and balances ….

    But many reports suggest that Carl Pope (Executive Director since 1992) has destroyed that, making himself in effect the dictator of the Sierra Club.

    Of course, Sierra isn’t along. Look at the recent reports of Audubon taking $20 million from Toyota, now a maker of gross V8 powered pickups and opponent of fuel economy standards.

    The really sad thing is that with the social and policial pendulum swinging back towards environmental concerns, the mainstream US “environmental community” is too compromised to provide real leadership.

    Look at the ill-considered (or non-considered) support for IGCC, “biomass,”and other bad ideas originating with special interests….


  2. Bob Sullivan Says:

    Many Florida Sierra leaders have come to the conclusion that the suspension of our Florida Chapter was necessary. We look upon this Board of Director action in a positive light. Years of nepotism, anti-democratic “secret websites” and internal vote manipulation finally took their toll. We embrace this action, and are looking optimistically, at the light at the end of this tunnel, for a stronger, more vibrant, and most importantly, more democratic Florida Sierra Club!

Leave a Reply