August is prime R&R time for lawmakers, who are kicking back in their home states and pressing the all-important constituent flesh. No such vacation at the Sierra Club, however, where summer means it’s time to drive lawmakers crazy by running ads against them.

On the receiving end of the group’s radio spots this time around are Reps. Chris John (D-La.), Anne Northup (R-Ky.), Heather Wilson (R-N.M.), and Sen. Spencer Abraham (R-Mich.).

You can write off the little known John (who desperately needs a last name) as the token Democrat of the bunch. He ran unopposed last year and doesn’t figure to draw a strong challenge this time.

The other three are top Democratic targets. Northup, elected in 1996, barely hung on last time out against former Attorney General Chris Gorman and will almost certainly get a challenge again next year in her Democratic-leaning Louisville district. Which is not to say that she’ll be a pushover: She will raise serious money (she has half a million in the bank already) and will be vigorously defended by the national GOP.

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Heather Wilson — attacked for her votes against one House amendment that would have increased funding for the Land and Water Conservation Fund by $30 million and another that would have transferred $27 million earmarked for timber sales to river and stream restoration projects — represents an Albuquerque district Democrats feel is rightly theirs. Wilson won the seat in a special election after Rep. Steve Schiff (D) resigned to battle the cancer that ultimately killed him, and she held onto it last November in a rematch of the special election against Phil Maloof (D), a wealthy, well-connected (if somewhat intellectually challenged) state senator.

The trick in this district is the Green Party. Maloof probably would have won last time had Green nominee Robert Anderson not siphoned away 10 percent of the vote. Hard to say whether the Greens will put up a candidate in 2000 (they didn’t return a call to party headquarters, adding to some suspicion that they don’t really exist), but if they do, it could mean more headaches for Democrats.

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In Michigan, Abraham is loathed by enviros and is near the top of the target list at the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. Dems have already recruited a top-tier challenger in Rep. Debbie Stabenow, who will certainly use Abraham’s enviro record against him.

The Sierra Club spot whacks Abraham for voting against Sen. Patty Murray‘s (D-Wash.) rider to strike Sen. Larry Craig‘s (R-Idaho) rider that would eliminate restrictions on the amount of toxic waste that mining companies can legally dump on public lands. From the ad: “Tell [Abraham] he was wrong to allow big mining companies to dump more cyanide on more of our public lands. Tell him not to make the same mistake twice.” We’re pretty sure he is prepared to keep making that mistake again and again.

Trade and True

Rep. Jim McDermott (D-Wash.) showed up a bit unexpectedly at a Seattle meeting last week run by the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy. His appearance delighted participants who had gathered to discuss the environmental impact of free trade as well as other issues they hope to raise at the annual meeting of the World Trade Organization in Seattle this November.

IATP Executive Director Mark Ritchie described McDermott as among the first leaders to understand and articulate the “tremendous implications” that free trade agreements have on the environment and food safety.

Meeting participants discussed a range of events to be staged at the WTO meeting, as well as a possible deal with RealNetworks to provide a 24-hour-a-day Internet video feed live from the meeting.

Enviros Want to Take a Stand

Washington state may raise the bar for enviros engaged in a unique and controversial effort to raise money, much of it from Seattle-area techies, to purchase 40 square miles of land in the Loomis State Forest to protect it from logging.

Last month enviros scraped together $13.1 million to compensate for the state’s logging rights on the land, but now the state is reappraising the property. While the final price won’t be released for months, Mitch Friedman, executive director of the Northwest Ecosystem Alliance, the group spearheading the effort, says he wouldn’t be surprised if it went up by as much as 15 percent.

Should that happen, Friedman says his group will push the Washington legislature to come up with the extra dough. If that effort should fail, Friedman will go back to dialing for dollars.

Is this private purchase of public land the new wave in conservation strategy? Hopefully not, says Friedman, who describes the effort as just one tool in a broad arsenal.

“I think it would be wrong to interpret this to mean that conservationists are opening their checkbooks and are ready to bid on Old Faithful. … If government did its job, private citizens wouldn’t need to go to these extremes.”

Calling a Slade a Slade

Sen. Slade Gorton (R-Wash.), whose environmental exploits we’ve chronicled in previous columns, is getting some reluctant praise from enviros these days for his stand on increasing fuel-efficiency standards.

Slade, Card Shark

As the Seattle Post-Intelligencer smartly points out, Gorton doesn’t have a lot to lose politically by taking on the auto manufacturers who oppose toughening corporate average fuel economy (CAFE) standards. Washington state is not exactly a hotbed of auto production.

So why should the Sierra Club in Washington state hand out faux baseball cards criticizing Gorton, while the Sierra Club in Washington, D.C., pats him on the back for wanting to choke off exhaust from the ever-expanding army of sport utility vehicles menacing American roads?

We thought we’d just let Sierra Club Political Director Dan Weiss‘s unexpurgated rant to Muckraker speak for itself:

“It’s like he is a man who runs a heavily polluting factory but occasionally donates a little money to charity. His [League of Conservation Voters] voting record last year? Zero. His voting record in 1997? Zero. … His average score over the last five years? 2 percent. He has actively attempted to undo environmental laws from his seat on the Senate Appropriations Committee. Although we appreciate his leadership on fuel economy, he has really been an aggressive advocate for weakening environmental protections. … It’s like he has a vocation, which is weakening environmental protections, and a hobby, which is to improve fuel economy standards. Slade Gorton’s main mission in Congress is to undermine environmental laws.”

Any questions?