- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 25, 2000

Vice President Al Gore took another step toward sewing up his Democratic base yesterday, accepting a key environmental endorsement from the Sierra Club.

"Today we are joining forces for an enduring cause: to protect the air, the water and the planet God gave us," Mr. Gore told supporters in Grand Rapids, Mich.

"I want you to know that's a cause I have held for my entire life, long before I entered public service."

Robert Cox, president of the Sierra Club, said Mr. Gore will be "the most pro-environment president in history."

But the environmental group's board of directors also praised Green Party nominee Ralph Nader and recommended that the consumer advocate be included in the October presidential debates.

Mr. Gore is striving to shore up his support among labor, women and environmentalists before the Democratic convention Aug. 14-17 in Los Angeles.

The vice president flew from Michigan to Cleveland yesterday, where he met with members of the United Steelworkers of America. The Clinton administration this week will propose increased monitoring of steel imports from Asia, a move that could help Mr. Gore solidify his labor support.

President Clinton won the Ohio electoral vote twice. But Texas Gov. George W. Bush, the presumptive Republican nominee, leads Mr. Gore by 9 points in Ohio, according to a Fox News/Opinion Dynamics poll conducted Wednesday and Thursday.

The Sierra Club waited until after Labor Day to endorse President Clinton in 1992 and in 1996.

"This is the earliest we have ever endorsed," said Allen Mattison, a spokesman for the Sierra Club. "It was intended to give Gore a boost, but not because of any external force."

Mr. Gore, author of "Earth in the Balance," has campaigned as a staunch environmental activist. Critics label him an extremist because he has called for phasing out the internal combustion engine. But he has struggled to hold his environmental coalition together.

The Washington Times first reported last year that a Sierra Club board member urged colleagues not to endorse Mr. Gore, citing his "tawdry environmental record."

In the Democratic primaries, Friends of the Earth endorsed Bill Bradley, Mr. Gore's rival. In Washington Friday, 61 environmentalists from 18 states formed a group called "Environmentalists Against Gore." Many of them support Mr. Nader.

But the League of Conservation Voters endorsed Mr. Gore in May and the Sierra Club yesterday backed Mr. Gore enthusiastically.

"The Sierra Club endorses Al Gore because he is committed to cutting air and water pollution and protecting our nation's treasured forests and wild lands," said Mr. Cox, president of the Sierra Club.

Mr. Cox said Mr. Bush would weaken standards for cleaning up toxic waste, allow oil drilling in the arctic refuge and increase logging in national forests.

The Bush campaign did not return a call for comment. But the Republican National Committee (RNC) continued to label Mr. Gore an environmental extremist. The RNC Web site features a bobbing photo of Mr. Gore's head with the caption: "The Earth is Balanced. Al Gore is not."

The Sierra Club said it spent six months reviewing the candidates' records and surveying its chapters.

Thirty-nine chapters, representing 413,854 members, supported an endorsement of Mr. Gore. One chapter, with 3,006 members, backed Mr. Nader. Sixteen chapters, with 138,236 members, did not respond.

The Sierra Club said in a news release that its board of directors "recognized consumer-advocate Ralph Nader's record of work for the environment, but emphasized the urgency of defeating Texas Governor George Bush."

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