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Environmentalists Deliver Petitions To Congress Activists Claim 1.2 Million People Signed In An Effort To Preserve Protection Laws

Environmental activists delivered bags full of petitions to Congress Wednesday, containing what they said were 1.2 million signatures from people who want to preserve environmental-protection laws.

“These are the most signatures gathered on environmental issues in the history of the environmental movement,” said Gene Karpinski, executive director of the U.S. Public Interest Research Group, a non-profit consumer and environmental advocacy group.

“People across the country signed these petitions because this new Congress, led by Speaker Newt Gingrich and Majority Leader Bob Dole, has been engaged in a massive effort to roll back 25 years of environmental progress.”

Twenty national environmental organizations helped gather the signatures over the past six months along with 450 state and local groups nationwide.

“This marks a turning point in the war on the environment,” J. Robert Cox, president of the Sierra Club, told a news conference on the Capitol steps. “The American people have awakened to the environmental nightmare that is happening in Congress.”

About 150 activists attended the rally. Their signs showed representation from most states, and many were directed at Gingrich with slogans such as, “Don’t Let Nature Get Newtered.”

Laws under assault include the Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act and Endangered Species Act, they said. The petitions outlined an environmental bill of rights, calling for, among other things:

Pollution prevention.

Preservation of forests, mountains, wetlands, rivers and lakes.

An end to subsidies for the mining, timber and livestock grazing industries.

Reform of campaign finance laws.

“Our environment is not for sale to the highest bidder,” said Elizabeth Raisbeck, vice president of the National Audubon Society. She said the signatures to be delivered to Gingrich’s office represented “only a fraction of the Americans who are concerned and angry about what Congress is doing to our environmental laws.”

“The so-called Republican revolution last November was not a mandate to sell off our national parks,” she said.

A spokesman for Gingrich’s office said he was not available to comment.

Jennifer Lindenauer, of the Washington state PIRG, said 43,000 of the signatures were gathered in her state, where environmentalists are especially concerned about proposals to increase logging on national forests and the resulting impact on dwindling fish populations.

Another 60,000 signatures were collected in Oregon, said Jonathan Poisner of the Oregon chapter of the Sierra Club.

“Laws such as the Endangered Species Act, Clean Water Act and Clean Air Act have been protecting people and the planet since before I was born,” said Kristen Brengle, a student organizer from New Jersey for the Free The Planet Campaign.

New York Rep. Sherwood Boehlert, a Republican who often sides with environmentalists, attended the rally and joined in the chant, “Stop the rollback, free the planet.”

Rally leaders lauded Boehlert and said more and more Republicans were bucking the GOP party line and siding with environmentalists.

But Karpinski said President Clinton’s veto power may hold the key to protecting forests and streams.

“Mr. Clinton, we are going to need you to use that veto pen to protect the environment, and use it again, and use it again and use it again,” he said.