LUTHERVILLE, Md. – Spokesmen for several environmental organizations announced Thursday they have collected 1 million signatures – 40,000 of them from Marylanders – on an “Environmental Bill of Rights.”
The petition to Congress calls for measures to prevent pollution and preserve America’s wilderness.
It also lists 25 demands, including a phaseout of nuclear power and passage of stronger laws to keep pollutants out of food and drinking water.
“Congress is engaged in a massive effort to roll back 25 years of environmental progress,” said Bheesham Sethi, campaign director for the Maryland Public Interest Research Group. “This day marks the turning point in the war that all too many members of the 104th Congress are waging on the environment.”
Ten national environmental groups have worked on the petition since the idea came up at the Free The Planet conference in Philadelphia last February, Sethi said.
The drive was launched March 22. “This is the fastest 1 million signatures ever gathered for any legislative cause,” he said.
Petition organizers plan to present copies of the signatures to Senate Majority Leader Robert Dole, R-Kan., and House Speaker Newt Gingrich, R-Ga., in October.
Organizers said they are convinced budget cuts being made by Congress will not allow the Environmental Protection Agency to enforce parts of the Clean Water Act that prevent industrial pollution.
A proposed amendment to the Endangered Species Act would protect the animals, but not their habitats, Sethi said.
The petition urges members of Congress to vote against that amendment.
Congress also is discussing plans to drill for oil in Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. “America’s Serengeti is threatened to be degraded,” said Sethi.
The environmentalists presented about 2,800 of the signatures to Rep. Robert Ehrlich’s district office. The Republican from Timonium was the only Maryland congressman to receive a 0 rating this year from MaryPIRG for six votes cast on environmental issues.
“We want to let him know that people in Maryland care about the environment,” said Larry Bohlen, conservation chairman for the Maryland chapter of the Sierra Club.
Bohlen said Ehrlich’s record has improved.
“After siding with the polluters in his votes on the Contract with America, Representative Ehrlich voted against the Dirty Water Bill and to strip the harmful riders from the EPA appropriations bill,” Bohlen said. “We want to applaud him on that.”
Richard Cross, a spokesman for Ehrlich, said he doesn’t understand why the environmental groups picked his office for the announcement. “In the two most significant environmental votes, the congressman put himself at odds with the Republican leadership.”
Cross said Ehrlich “believes there needs to be a balance in environmental laws.”
He said, “There are legitimate complaints about the [Endangered Species] Act by property holders.” And, Cross said, the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is a local matter. “That’s not the role of the federal government to overrule the will of the local people.” -30-