Published on Friday, December 6, 2002 by the San Francisco Chronicle
Bay Chapter Leaders Split with Sierra Club
They Seek Resolution Against a War in Iraq
by Joe Garofoli
The San Francisco-based Sierra Club, which supports the Bush administration's controversial aim of disarming Iraq, now finds itself in a debate with high-ranking members of its own Bay Area chapters who want the club to oppose any possible war.
In a resolution passed last month, the executive board of the 700,000- member environmental organization said it "supports disarming Iraq of weapons of mass destruction."
The 15-member board commended the U.N. Security Council's resolution calling for disarmament inspections, urging "all nations to work with the U.N. to achieve this objective."
But that didn't go far enough for some Sierra Club members, who expect the nation's largest environmental organization to loudly rip the administration for heading down a path that could result in war, by far the most destructive thing man can do to nature.
The resolution "lends legitimacy to what the (Bush) administration is doing, " said Bill Michel, vice chair of the club's Palo Alto-based Loma Prieta chapter, which covers Santa Clara, San Benito and San Mateo counties. "We wanted them to use this as a way to talk about how the administration has abandoned international treaties. This is about more than Iraq.
"This was a way to get the environment back on the national screen by showing how harmful this path we're headed down can be, and they didn't do it."
Sierra Club executive director Carl Pope disagreed and said the whole thing is being overblown.
"If you're saying that (the resolution) lends legitimacy to the multilateral action led by the U.N., and a peaceful resolution of this situation, then yes, it does," Pope said Thursday. "But if you're saying that it lends legitimacy to the United States waging war come hell or high-water, it absolutely does not."
Dissent in the Sierra Club is even louder in Utah, where four top officers of the state's sub-chapter there may lose their leadership posts -- or see the group disbanded -- for publicly criticizing the club's national policy.
"The political strategy of the club is to try to be as inoffensive, as middle-of-the-road as possible, so that it stays out of the way of risky issues," said Patrick Diehl, vice chair of the Glen Canyon Group of the Utah chapter.
The former East Bay resident is one of the four officers who could be disciplined.
Several of the Sierra Club's top officers and numerous members across the nation oppose what they call the resolution's vagueness, while also wondering why it mentioned "Iraqi aggression" without specifically condemning the United States for contemplating a first strike against the Middle Eastern country.
Steve Krieg, chair of the San Francisco Bay Chapter, which covers parts of five Bay Area counties, says he wishes the club's national leadership had made a strong anti-war statement, "but I understand that there are a lot of people in the Sierra Club."
His chapter, along with the Loma Prieta and Santa Rosa-based Redwood chapters, urged the club in October to take a stand on Iraq.
The San Francisco Bay Chapter's Executive Committee could come up with a plea for a stronger resolution when it meets Monday. A spokesman for the Redwood chapter, which covers much of northwest California, said Thursday that he is reviewing the national policy but is generally comfortable with it.
Pope, in playing down the dispute, said that since his membership is full of a lot of opinionated people, this kind of heated debate isn't that unusual. However, as critics point out, this time the issue involves international war, not a local protest over logging or development.
And Pope said it is possible that the Sierra Club could craft another, stronger resolution if the United States -- or Iraq or another nation -- escalates the situation.
Still, he disputed the notion that his organization, which devotes part of its Web site to mocking the administration's environmental malapropisms, is going soft on the president.
The dissenters in Utah aren't ready to back off their criticism, and are ready to take this as far as they can.
Pope said they can keep their leadership positions if they stop resisting the Sierra Club's national policy while speaking as club officers.
If not, he's prepared to strip them of their jobs. As a last resort, he'd disband the 175-member sub-chapter, but he said Thursday that he doesn't expect that to happen.
©2002 San Francisco Chronicle