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September 27, 1998

   VT Chapter Sierra Club, Annual Meeting, Oct. 4, Woodstock Historical Society. 12-6 p.m. Keynote address, 1 p.m., John Ewing, "Sprawl Costs Us All." Small groups, 2-3:30 p.m. include a discussion of responsible storage of nuclear waste (separation from the environment, dumps leak!), led by Gary Oliver, member of the Executive Committee of Big Bend Chapter of Sierra Club, TX. Van pool from Burlington and Montpelier, call Steve @ 658-5782.

Subject: Texas Observer, 9/ /98

Olive Hershey is a Houston writer and environmental activist who accompanied the TX delegation on the Abolition 2000 WALK in VT.

Sanders to Sierra Blanca: "Drop Dead!"

"Habla por mi," one of Gary Oliver's neighbors called out, as Gary stepped into Susan Curry's car a couple of weeks ago. West Texans Curry, Oliver, and Hal Flanders were bound for Vermont to deliver this message to officials and citizens of the Green Mountain state: don't nuke West Texas. Gary's neighbor lives in Sal si Puedes, a suburb on the east side of Marfa that sometimes floods so badly that its residents are cut off from the rest of the town by a deep-running arroyo. "Sal si puedes" means, "Get out if you can."

To speak for West Texas, these three were driving 2,000 miles to Montpelier, the Vermont capital, to address the Senate Natural Resources Committee chair, and to make the case against a plan to ship low-level nuclear waste from the Vermont Yankee plant in Vernon to Sierra Blanca, hard by the Rio Grande, in Hudspeth County, Texas. Maine's nuclear waste is also part of the deal.

The Vermont Chapter of the Sierra Club had arranged for this hearing, held in the stately granite building that looks like a small prototype of the Texas Capitol. Apparently, some Vermonters are waking from their long utopian dream of environmental purity and moral rectitude, and they're having second thoughts about shipping their nuke waste to Texas. The committee chairman, state Senator Elizabeth Ready, acknowledged, "Some of us don't feel very good about it."

So badly do environmentally sensitive Vermonters feel that about forty of them listened for two hours while Oliver, Flanders, and Curry delivered their message in no uncertain terms: Sierra Blanca, which was chosen for purely political reasons, is environmentally no better suited than Vermont for burying nuclear waste. And after the West Texans got through lambasting federal, state, and local politicians from all three Compact states, as well as the nuclear utility lobbyists whom they hold responsible for arranging things this way, several of the Vermonters in the audience stood up and apologized.

During the following week, the West Texans joined an anti-nuclear weapons march from Montpelier to Springfield, sponsored by the Unitarian Church and the American Friends Service Committee. The marchers from Vermont were careful to restrain the West Texans from protesting aloud on any platform occupied by Bernie Sanders, Vermont's independent Socialist candidate for re-election to the U.S. House. Sanders' campaign committee had warned march planners that Bernie wouldn't show if the West Texans were on the platform.

Nonetheless, spirits were high on Thursday morning, August 20, as the West Texans, along with about twenty Vermonters, trudged up and down the lush green hills on their way to a Springfield rally, where Bernie was scheduled to speak. They'd driven two thousand miles and walked nearly a hundred, and they'd had a wonderful time, meeting Vermonters, talking with them about the Sierra Blanca dump, and changing quite a few minds. Gary Oliver explained some of the group dynamics this way: "There'd been all this tension on the walk, because it's been planned since February, and we just got invited two months ago. But the issues [nuclear power and nuclear weapons] are two warts on the same hog."

Before the rally Sanders invited the three West Texans to meet with him privately, and the Texans eagerly agreed. The meeting was no longer than Sanders' attention span - when it comes to Sierra Blanca. "He didn't listen," Curry said. "He had his mind made up." Afterward, Bernie was giving his pro forma campaign speech, never mentioning nuclear power or nuclear waste. Sierra Blanca activist Bill Addington, who'd arrived just that morning to join the march, along with his neighbor María Méndez, had had enough, and he yelled from the crowd, "What about my home, Bernie? What about Sierra Blanca?"

Several others joined in. "What about Sierra Blanca, Bernie?"

Sanders left the stage, which surprised no one in the small Texas delegation. Earlier, he had told them, "My position is unchanged, and you're not gonna like it." When they asked if he would visit the site in Sierra Blanca, he said, "Absolutely not. I'm gonna be running for re-election in the state of Vermont."

A few people took Bill Addington to task for being so rude. Then all the marchers took the stage, to sing a unique version of "Down by the Riverside." One of the new verses was, "I'm gonna lay down my nuclear waste, down by the riverside." The West Texas marchers sang along.

Asked how he felt about the rally, Hal Flanders summed it up: "I'm disgusted."

The Texas Observer
307 West Seventh Street
Austin, Texas 78701
(512) 477-0746
(512) 474-1175 (Fax)

Lea Terhune
10 Waterview Road
Colchester, VT 05446
phone 802 658-1908
fax 802 660-4366

Sierra Club office, same address
phone and fax: 802 651-0169
888 729-4109

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