New York Times
September 6, 2000

Sierra Club Endorses Hillary Clinton as Better Environmental Ally


NEW ROCHELLE, NY -- Hillary Rodham Clinton today won the endorsement of the Sierra Club, one of the nation's oldest environmental groups, whose backing set off a duel between the Senate candidates over who has done more to protect natural resources.

Sierra Club officials said Representative Rick A. Lazio, the Republican Senate candidate, gave inconsistent support for environmental matters during his eight years in Congress. And club members said in an interview that Mr. Lazio did not demonstrate a firm grasp of the environmental issues the group studies.

By contrast, said Rhea Jezer, the chairwoman of the club's New York chapter, Mrs. Clinton "showed an unequaled depth of knowledge on a plethora of state and national issues." Mrs. Clinton told the group, which is nonpartisan but has historically supported Democratic candidates, that she had worked to push the Clinton administration to take greater account of children's health in setting air and water quality standards and, if elected, would pursue protecting forests and drinking water supplies from development and industrial pollution.

Club members said that although she does not have a legislative record, her attention over the years to children and health issues, like breast cancer research and treatment, indicated she would be a powerful ally for environmentalists.

"We believe she will continue Daniel Patrick Moynihan's legacy," said Robert Cox, the Sierra Club's national president, who stood with Mrs. Clinton as she accepted the endorsement at a park here bordering Long Island Sound.

Mr. Lazio defended his record and suggested that the club's endorsement was politically motivated. He said the club had not endorsed a Republican for statewide office in New York in more than 10 years, an assertion club officials did not dispute, though they said they had endorsed other Republicans in statewide races outside New York and in Congressional races in and out of New York.

"I've got to presume that it was not on merit, based on the fact that I have such a strong record on the environment and my opponent has no record on the environment," Mr. Lazio said after a campaign stop in Rochester. "So it's hard to make a judgment that it was about anything but politics."

Mr. Cox said that although the group endorsed Mr. Lazio in his 1996 Congressional race, he later cast votes that the club felt hurt the environment. The club said Mr. Lazio voted for bills that would weaken the Superfund toxic cleanup program and reduce spending on measures to curb suburban sprawl, and voted against attempts to strengthen protection of Utah's wilderness.

Mr. Lazio, his aides said, believed he had a shot at winning the club's endorsement because of his support, among other things, for legislation to clean up Long Island Sound. But Ms. Jezer said Mr. Lazio had a mixed overall record on environmental causes and fell short in his interview last month with club members.

In addition, she said, the group heavily weighs the opinion of the local chapter nearest the candidate's home, and the Long Island branch did not give a high rating to Mr. Lazio, who represents western Suffolk County.

Mr. Lazio pointed to endorsements by the League of Conservation Voters, another national organization, in some of his Congressional races. Neither the group's national nor its New York directors have announced an endorsement in the Senate race.

Mr. Lazio also noted his sponsorship of the Long Island Sound Restoration Act, which provides $80 million a year to help clean up pollution.

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