Bluewater Network: A Mission to Curb Emissions

Fishing has been a way of life on the waterways of India’s Kerala state for millennia, but in more recent years some of the ancient boats have added small outboard engines. In the early 1990s, Russell Long worked in Kerala as a fisheries manager and promoter of eco-friendly boat designs. Complaints about fish that tasted like kerosene led to research into the inefficient design of traditional two-stroke marine engines. About 25 to 30 percent of unburned fuel was being ejected into the waterways.

Bluewater Network concentrates on reducing small-engine emissions.

Driven by the disastrous effect these engines were having on the environment, Long created the Bluewater Network in 1996 as a project of the Earth Island Institute. One of the network’s first priorities was its now successful campaign against two-stroke engines—in boats, snowmobiles and other applications. Today, two-stroke engines are on their way out and more environmentally friendly four-stroke engines have taken their place.

Long’s Bluewater Network became an independent organization with a focus on the negative effects of transportation on air and water quality. But last spring, it announced a merger with Friends of the Earth (FOE). Brent Blackwelder, president of FOE, says, "Bluewater Network has a great track record of winning precedent-setting victories for the environment in California and across the country."

Bluewater Network focuses on issues that many other environmental groups avoid. "We haven’t quit any campaign since we started," Long says. "Many groups will work on a campaign for two or three years but it’s impossible to do a thorough job in a short time frame."

Bluewater’s Ford campaign, launched in 2000, is an example of its tenacity. The group met with Ford and with shareholders, working on several fronts to persuade the automaker to build more fuel-efficient cars. The network was responsible for several full-page advertisements in the New York Times portraying Ford as a fuel-efficiency also-ran. "We’re concentrating our efforts on Ford’s public image, which is where they’re most sensitive," Long says.

Jennifer Krill, who runs the "Zero Emissions Campaign" at Rainforest Action Network, says, "The Bluewater Network plays an important role in the coalition we’re bringing to bear on Ford. We’re focusing on getting the worst to turn around, and the others will follow."

Perhaps Bluewater’s most far-reaching victory is its crafting of California’s ground-breaking law aimed at curbing greenhouse gas emissions from vehicles, a law since adapted by seven states and Canada. The network’s other projects include encouraging national parks to ban jet skis, snowmobiles and off-road vehicles in favor of those powered by alternative fuels, and the elimination of coastal dumping.