William E Siri.

Reflections on the Sierra Club, the environment and mountaineering, 1950s-1970s : transcript, 1975-1977 online

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of the power plant at Diablo Canyon, provided the Nipomo Dunes were
made available for acquisition by the state and that PG&E would not
develop the dunes.

AL: We re talking now about the May, 1966, board meeting.

Siri: Yes, that resolution was passed at the May seventh meeting in 1966.
It was a lengthy debate, again running a full day or a day and a
half. The resolution that started all of this was, "The Sierra

Club reaffirms its policy that Nipomo Dunes should be preserved
unimpaired for scenic and recreational use under state management
and considers Diablo Canyon, San Luis Obispo County, as satisfactory
alternative site to the Nipomo Dunes for construction of a Pacific
Gas and Electric Company generating facility, provided that..."
Then there were a number of conditions placed on use of the Diablo
Canyon site. That passed by a vote of nine to one; those who favored
it were Adams, Clarkboth ClarksJules Eichorn, Leonard, Marshall,
Mauk, Siri, and Wayburn. Fred Eissler was the only person who
opposed it, and Brooks and Dyer abstained. I ve no doubt whatever
that Litton would have joined Eissler had he been present at that

Well, that was the resolution that started two years of intense
controversy and ultimately led to the resignation of Dave Brower,
not on that issue alone, but this was the start of it all.

AL: The start of a split in the club, would you say?
Siri: Yes.


Contending Philosophies in the Club; Approval of Alternate Sites

AL: As you look at the material on this whole issue, it appears as if

it was your main and overriding interestwas that just in retrospect,
because of all the controversy, or did you spend much of your time
as president working this out?

Siri: No, there were a great many other things happening at that time and
Diablo Canyon simply became the most visible of a growing number of
controversies. It brought into open conflict a number of contending
forces within the club. Diablo Canyon became linked with the nuclear
energy issue and I m sure this had an effect on the attitude of
some people in the club who had strong feelings about nuclear energy.
Dave Pesonen was the most outspoken opponent of nuclear energyor
maybe it was PG&E , I never know for certain whichbut I guess it s
even more gratifying if you can combine them.

Fred Eissler was deeply disturbed by the board s decision. Fred
was purist, in the strictest sense; he didn t like electric utility
companies; he didn t like nuclear energy; he didn t like anything
on the coast, or development anywhere for that matter. I don t say
this in criticism, but simply to suggest that compared to other
environmentalists, perhaps even Dave Brower, Eissler took extreme
and uncompromising positions on issues in which he had an interest.
He and Martin Litton emerged as leaders of the opposition to the
Diablo Canyon decision by the board of directors. Dave Brower was
not deeply immersed in the issue at that time, but said the board
was taking precipitous action and should delay a decision.

AL: How did your own beliefs about the benefits of nuclear power affect
your strong support for Diablo Canyon?

Siri: Nuclear energy had nothing to do with my position on Diablo Canyon.
I was not and still am not opposed to nuclear energy with adequate
safeguards, but I held no brief one way or the other on nuclear
power plants as opposed to other kinds of power plants at that site.
The alternative at that time probably would have been a natural
gas-fired plant, which in retrospect would have meant an uglier
installation and tall stacks emitting plumes of pollutants.

AL: Can we backtrack a minute here now? I ll ask you a few questions
about what we ve talked about. Who was it that made the first
contact with PG&E? Was it Kathy Jackson? And how were you drawn
into it? You seem to have taken it on with quite a bit of interest?

Siri: As I said earlier, I had named Kathy task leader for the Nipotno

Dunes project. She was obviously the person most interested, best
informed, and almost singlehandedly leading the battle for the dunes.


Siri: It was she who had contact initially with PG&E. She had contacted

everybody who owned property in the dunes; the Collier Coke Company,
the oil companies, PG&E, and the private owners of the Oso Flaco
Lakes at the inland edge of the dunes.

AL: Did Doris Leonard have a role?

Siri: I don t recall just where Doris fitted into the picture at that

time. She and George Collins, who together formed a conservation
organization of their own, called Conservation Associates, became
interested in the controversy. They independently contacted PG&E,
and they also agreed that this was an acceptable solution to the
site problem, in spite of the fact that George Collins had once
prepared a report showing that this area was one that the Interior
Department ought to consider for acquisition, as a dedicated area
of one sort or another. George backed away from that position,
and agreed that Nipomo Dunes was a place that had to be saved. He
and Doris then lent their support to this proposal independently.
They had much stronger contacts with PG&E than I did, or the Sierra
Club did, or the Sierra Club wanted. We dealt with PG&E only on
the basis of negotiating for the best possible solution to the site

RL: Had Conservation Associates any other constituency?

Siri: Not really.

RL: Just as individuals.

Siri: That s right. So far as I know there were no members other than
Doris and George; they operated out of Dick Leonard s law offices
in the Mills Tower. They appeared to have influential contacts in
agencies and industry. Just how influential they were is hard for
me to judge, but some members of the club felt, I think, that
because of these contacts, Conservation Associates may have been
used as a conduit by others to arrive at compromises on environmental
issues. In any event, George and Doris, I m afraid, were not terribly
persuasive with Sierra Club leaders. I think they were largely
discounted. This may also be partly because they had not taken
active roles in club affairs in recent years. Doris had been extremely
active at one time, but many of the club leaders were new and they
knew little of Doris Leonard. In any event, I don t know that she
and George played a significant role in the club s controversy over
Diablo Canyon.

AL: In these deliberations you and Jackson were having with PG&E were
members of the board also brought into the thinking? Was this
discussed at board meetings, or was it done informally?


Siri: Yes, both at board meetings and informally. Wayburn and I met

regularly; often with Lewis Clark and Dick Leonard and whoever else
happened to be available. I had also discussed it privately with
Fred Eissler on several occasions. At first he had only the
mildest of reservations about the site at Diablo Canyon but as
time passed he took an intractable position in opposition, and by
that time the die had been cast.

As the pro and con factions formed, I found myself being drawn
more and more into the controversy, and it proved to be a messy one,
no question about it.

AL: Was it usual that the club would sort of be drawn into PG&E s

problems and their technical decisionswas that a departure from
the usual way of doing things?

Siri: The club had traditionally worked this way the club had almost

always on major issues conducted studies on proposed alternatives.
It was consistent with the longstanding tradition, starting with
Muir in the Hetch Hetchy battle and on many of the other issues that
had come up. On highways, this was the usual practice, to find
alternative routes.

AL: Alternative routes that would meet the needs of the agency?

Siri: Yes. Tioga Road, for example. Or, for other examples, Brewer s

proposal to substitute a nuclear power plant for Grand Canyon dams,
or in the case of the battles with the Forest Service, our proposing
alternative cuts to preserve some area that we felt ought to remain
as wilderness or alternative developments to those proposed. In
the case of San Jacinto and San Gorgonio I think this was done -

AL: Mineral King was the alternative there, wasn t it?

Siri: Well, it was. That s right. It s a practice obviously that can

AL: Were there people at that time - Eissler, maybe Litton - who were
actively opposed in principle to the club s seeking alternative

Siri: Both Eissler and Litton, and Porter too, took the position that the
club should consider only its concerns about an area that came under
dispute and should not concern itself with working out the other
man s problems that was not the club s business. If it opposed a
development or a use of a forest or shore, then the club should
address itself solely to that issue and oppose it without compromise.
It s a position that Eissler and Litton took almost without
exception; it was a rigid doctrine with them. It s an extreme position,
and one that has not worked to their benefit; in fact, this battle was
lost not so much because I was clever but because they lost it.


Siri: Eissler could have won that battle, but Eissler was his own worst

enemy. He came across as an intractable, rigid, irritating person,
who lost friends left and right, who recognized no principle other
than that of attaining his goal. The means by which he attained it
didn t seem particularly to matter, because the goal was the
important thing, and so justified the means. This came through so
strongly that it offended a great many Sierra Club members who
heard him and also offended most of the board members. It took
outrageous forms, and Eissler, like any devout person - ! guess
Jesus Christ was one, so was Joan of Arc, and a number of others
have been nailed to a cross or burned or otherwise disposed of by
societyall have this inflexible, total dedication to a cause, and
any means to achieve their end were justified. Most people don t
see it that way, happily. I think that society would fall apart if
they did, but it probably takes a few such people also to achieve
some useful ends in the long run.

AL: How about Brower on that issue of alternate sites? He must have
participated in some of those searches for alternate sites in the

Siri: Yes, for example, his proposed trade of nuclear for Grand Canyon dams
and the original Mineral King decision. Brower responsed very slowly
to the Diablo Canyon issue; it may have been because of his deep
involvement in other club problems. This one may not have seemed to
him at first a sufficiently important issue. The publications
especially were beginning to have problems about that time, so he
spent a great deal of time in New York and overseas, out of San
Francisco. Dave was running into serious internal problems from the
way he was managing the club, exceeding his authority and over
spending. The club s financial position was beginning to weaken,
publications were running deeper and deeper into debt, books were
coming out late. Dave was more and more troubled, and so was the

Dave s response to the Nipomo Dunes issue was slow to start,
but then his alignment was inevitable because in Eissler, Litton
and Porter, Dave had strong allies, in the sense that whatever
Dave s view or position was would be supported by at least these
three men. It didn t matter what the issue was or how it came out,
there was strong mutual support among them. Dave probably was
troubled, I think, by the club s agreeing to a site. This ran
somewhat counter to his feelings about the coast, although not in
the doctrinaire sense that it was with Eissler and Litton. I think
he also saw that this was the only position he could take and still
have Eissler and Litton s unquestioning support, at a time when
all the other problems facing Dave were beginning to emerge as well.
So it wasn t just the Diablo Canyon but other problems that were
surfacing now, where Dave needed all the allies that he could possibly


Board Acceptance of Diablo, May, 1966 - A Fraudulently Obtained Vote?

AL: Brewer s initial position, though, in the May, 1966, meeting, was
simply to delay it so that some of the board members could visit
Diablo Canyon. Was that very seriously considered, or why did you
in particular reject that?

Siri: There were some timing questions in all this, because PG&E was ready
to move and had nearly all of its permits and licenses and all the
rest of the things that they needed to start construction either at
Nipomo Dunes or Diablo Canyon. The county was pressing very, very
hard to get PG&E to start immediate construction of the plant. And
so there was a strong sense of urgency in all of this to delay
another three months until the next board meeting might have been
crucial in what happened, in the possibility of saving the dunes.
We had come to the very bitter edge of that prospect because every
thing was set now for PG&E to go ahead except for this last minute
back-off Ipok at another site. If they found one that we would not
oppose, Nipomo Dunes were saved.

AL: Everything was set for the construction at Nipomo Dunes to go ahead,

Siri: Yes, it was clear that if we took the position that we would oppose
any other site, PG&E was prepared to say, "The hell with it; we ll
fight it out, in the dunes." It was at that critical stage, where
everybody had his cards on the table, and it was who held the
highest hand. There was a critical question of timing; this was
the reason for the move. Normally one could delay, and this is the
usual practice. Delay is generally to the benefit of the Sierra
Club. We had already, you see, for about a yearat least a year-
delayed the construction.

AL: It came up later that this initial discussion at the May 7th, 1966,
board meeting was based in part on some erroneous information about
PG&E s site in the canyon, or on the shelf above the canyon.

Siri: Do you remember the specifics of it?

AL: During the discussion at the board meeting, did Kathy Jackson present
the description of Diablo Canyon?

Siri: Kathy did, I did, several other people did.

AL: Apparently the impression was given or directly stated that the plant
would be hidden from view in the canyon, and then a few days later,
after the board had passed the resolution, Kathy Jackson was told by
Ken Diercks of PG6-K that it wouldn t be hidden in the canyon, that
it would be on th south coastal shelf, more visible.


Siri: That s quite possible. Kathy may have misunderstood precisely

how the plant was to be sited, but I felt this had been clear to
others; I didn t think there had been misrepresentation on this.
I gave a detailed description of site and location of facilities.

AL: You understood it yourself.

Siri: Oh, yes. They indicated exactly where the plant would be, where
the switchyards would be placed and what areas it would involve.
I don t think there was ever a misunderstanding about that on the
part of others, including Fred Eissler and Martin Litton. I think
they were aware of all the details from the very outset. And they
made a point of informing themselves.

AL: So when the board made its decision they never thought the plant
would be hidden in the canyon.

Siri: No, I don t think so. In fact, it was described I think in fairly
specific terms as to where the plant would be. I never quite
understood Kathy s misunderstanding about that.

AL: Kathy Jackson did develop some misgivings aside from this incident,
later, after a couple of months.

Siri: Yes, I think it was Eissler who had gotten to her. But then she came
about again, and she was a strong, vigorous supporter of the club s

AL: What was Martin Litton referring to when later he said that this

was a fraudulently obtained vote, or something to that effect? Do
you recall that? I think he wrote to PG&E.

Siri: Oh, yes. That famous letter. That was a letter he wrote on Sunset
stationery which led to his separation, or threat of separation,
from Sunset, because they were terribly exercised about it. That
letter was so gross an exaggeration and distortion that it pretty
well spoke for itself. He made every conceivable charge. I guess
I left that letter in the collection of things I sent to Bancroft,
or a copy of it. That was a priceless letter, because it was
obviously written in a state of utter fury, and it was not correct.
It was not a fraudulently obtained vote. It was a resolution passed
overwhelmingly after a day and a half debate. It was a very, very
lengthy debate, with a full opportunity for everyone to be heard -

AL: What about statements about the quality of the environment at

Diablo Canyon - statements made in May? Would you say those were
challenged later effectively?


Siri: They were challenged, but not effectively.

AL: So there was nothing new to you brought out by the opposition

Siri: Yes, there were some new elements that I was not aware of. I d
seen the oak grove, and it was indeed an old and attractive oak
grove but I hadn t realized the full extent of it, where it
reached far back into Diablo Canyon. There were one or two other
things that I wasn t aware of before. By that time so much
momentum had been developed that it was now impossible to turn back.
I don t know how the whole issue would have come out if the Sierra
Club had taken a strong stand against PG&E s locating a plant in
Nipomo Dunes and at Diablo Canyon. There ll always be an "if" in
my mind, and a troublesome one, I admit.

AL: You mean you think there s a possibility the club might have won on
both counts, at both sites?

Siri: Well, it s always possible but at that time I think improbable. If
it were done today, it might be different, mainly because some years
after Diablo Canyon, campaigns for the preservation of the coast
were so successful. We couldn t generate such enthusiasm for the
coast at that time in the mid-sixties, but later in the sixties and
the early seventies, yes, in response to the coastal initiative. At
the time of Diablo Canyon it was a different matter. It was too
small an issue to attract wide public supportand it might have
gone to PG&E - but I don t deny the possibility we may have saved
both sites if there had been a way to delay construction.

AL: This is all in retrospect, of course, but when you say that it sounds as
if the possibility of building the one unit at Moss Landing might
have worked out, and times would have changed by the time they
needed a second unitfeelings would have been stronger. Of course,
it would have taken a good deal of foresight.

Siri: That s possible.

Political Dynamics on the Board of Directors

AL: Let s continue our discussion of the political dynamics on the board.
Ansel Adams was certainly strong in his support for the Diablo Canyon

Siri: Yes, he was.


AL: Was there a particular reason for that? I have always heard him
described as a purist.

Siri: On some things he is a purist, but Ansel was also of the old school
of "let s propose alternatives; let s be reasonable men and work
out a compromise, or negotiate a solution to a problem." On
Diablo Canyon he was of course absolutely adamant in feeling that
this was a reasonable solution to a difficult problem.

AL: Was it a personal sort of distaste for Litton and Eissler?

Siri: I m sure it was. I m sure this colored a good many people s feelings.
That s why I say that these two men were their own worst enemies.
You know, they had enormous talent and perseverance, which are two
qualities we need most in environmental battles, but those qualities
were too often used in a way that alienated people. They tended to

be abrasive and divisive without realizing it. They did not under
stand that when they treated opponents ruthlessly they were going to
alienate a lot of people who were in the middle. The way they
conducted their affairs simply polarized people who otherwise might
have been willing to go with them or stay in the middle and not join
one side or the other. Ultimately, it would lead to a situation that
could not be reversed - that is, they tended to polarize an issue in
a way that was almost impossible to reverse or to resolve except by
direct confrontation and test of strength.

It was a fascinating phenomenon to observe, and one I m sure

would interest sociologists. I was acutely conscious of this at the
time and found it easy to take advantage of their indiscretions.
One of the more blatant errors was Dave Brewer s publication of
the infamous half -Bulletin, which made an incredibly serious
mistake in tactics. It is a pity that Dave, Martin, and Fred were
so overwhelmed with their total dedication to the virtue of their
point of view that they didn t realize they were making serious
tactical errors.

AL: Apparently a few people, when they visited Diablo Canyon, did come
to feel it was a mistake; I think Jules Eichorn was one.

Siri: Yes, Jules was one.

AL: You wouldn t expect him to go along with Litton. Did he often vote
with them?

Siri: No, he didn t, that s right, and Jules made a very dramatic switch
after he visited Diablo Canyon.

AL: Do you think there are others who may have made the switch if it
hadn t been for this deep division?


Siri: Yes, I think so.

AL: So board politics entered into it.

Siri: Yes, in the sense that board politics were generated by the two
men trying too desperately to achieve their purpose, and in the
effort, failing largely by their own overzealous actions. One
can ask whether the position the club ultimately held on Diablo
Canyon was a consequence of the way in which Eissler and Litton
conducted their campaign. I m sure this was a major element in

what ultimately happened. As to who was right, only the future
will tell.

AL: The issue of the club s integrity was brought up quite a bit.

Siri: Yes, that s right.

AL: Do you think that was a determining factor for some board members?

Siri: Oh, unquestionably, yes. It was for a lot of members of the club.

AL: What about George Marshall?

Siri: George might have supported a position against use of the Diablo
Canyon site by PG&E , if Eissler and Litton had not gone about it
the way they did. George is a man of extraordinarily high principle,
just instinctively a very honorable man, and he was offended by
many of the things he heard and saw.

AL: He was president during that following year, after the May, 1966,

Siri: Yes, that s right.

AL: Were the political dynamics more important, do you think, than the
issue of reversing the policy of the club?

Siri: It wasn t all that clear to anyone, you see, that the club policy

should be reversed. With 20/20 hindsight, maybe it s more arguable.

AL: But at that time, you feel that even after this yearI m talking
about the year from May 1966 to May 67 - that still aside from the
extraneous issues -

Siri: Well, there s no way of separating those out. I don t think that s
possible, because attitudes have been set, in part by the pros and
cons of the issue, but also by the tactics that had been used, and
the intensity of the controversy. It was almost impossible psycho
logically for people to shift their position. It presented a set of


Siri: circumstances that are not too different from two nations going to
war, each of them recognizing it s a stupid war that will gain them
nothing but losses, and still not being able to stop it. How many
wars have we gone into and done that - the Sierra Club did exactly
the same thing; we had a civil war. The phenomenon was probably
quite similar. I even have transcripts of some of those angry

AL: Were those pretty hot meetings?
Siri: They were indeed I

AL: You mention Litton and Eissler. What about the other supporters?
Did they also get hot, or were they just silent?

Siri: Everybody was pretty excited, but it was mainly Eissler and Litton

on one side, and myself I guess, and Marshall and Leonard on the other
[looks over transcripts]. Nate Clark I see had a lot to say too, but
naturally an enormous space was taken up by Litton - well , Litton was
always fascinating to listen to. I don t know if you have heard him
or not, but he uses the most colorful language, totally uninhibited,
in a highly inventive way, and so people simply sit back and listen
in fascination to his articulate outrage, sometimes for hours. He s
very difficult to turn off.

People are fascinated with it and won t agree. He comes on too
strong to make his case credible. He overkills and no longer sounds

Online LibraryWilliam E SiriReflections on the Sierra Club, the environment and mountaineering, 1950s-1970s : transcript, 1975-1977 → online text (page 11 of 30)