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John Zierold, who ran legislative strategy in Sacramento for the Sierra Club during the 1970s and 1980s, as environmentalism became a powerful social and political movement, has died.

Former colleagues in Sacramento learned over the weekend that Zierold, who had retired to Kentucky, had died on Dec. 26 in Louisville at age 88. He had been preceded in death by his wife, Mary.

Zierold, who had worked in Europe as a U.S. intelligence operative during the immediate post-World War II era, began representing the Sierra Club at the Capitol in 1969, during the infancy of the environmental movement.

Zierold played pivotal roles in legislative battles for almost two decades over such issues as coastal protection, the California Environmental Quality Act, creation of the state Energy Commission, regulation of logging, and legislation designating "wild and scenic rivers" on which dams would be prohibited.

He also clashed with Jerry Brown during his first stint as governor over Brown's advocacy of a liquefied natural has terminal near Santa Barbara and a "peripheral canal" to carry Sacramento River water around the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta — battles that Brown lost.

"He saved the Coastal Commission from defeat," Norbert Dall, a Sacramento environmental consultant who worked for Zierold during the period, said Tuesday, recounting Zierold's skills at working the legislative system. Dall also said that Zierold played a major role in rounding up key votes to elect Leo McCarthy as speaker of the state Assembly in 1974.

Zierold's survivors include a stepson, Marc Allaman, in Folsom.

PHOTO: Protesters hold signs during a July 19, 2012 rally sponsored by the Sierra Club to make their point regarding limits on levels of deadly soot pollution. The Sacramento Bee/Randy Pench



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