From Issue 4
We live in an age where we are constantly reminded about our current political climate. You open your phones or turn on the TVs and politics is splattered across the screen and yet almost one-quarter of the population in America is not old enough to vote yet. It is draining to watch it all unfold; I know I personally feel disheartened and helpless at times. It feels like only the few select people in Washington DC can have the last word and we can merely observe. But that’s okay because politics, doesn’t impact you – right?
Politics, whether you like it or not, impacts our daily lives. This became abundantly clear recently with the Roe v. Wade overruling changing thousands of lives across the country overnight. Issues like immigration, guns, inflation, jobs, infrastructure, and various social justice causes are alternating in the media because it impacts so many of us. With these issues and more fighting for our attention, we often don’t hear about environmentally-focused bills. However, those have a dramatic impact on our ecosystems and all of our livelihoods.
Staples such as the Clean Air Act and Clean Water Act have both regulated and protected the natural systems that give us life for over 50 years. Lesser-known legislation like the Ocean Dumping Act, Pollution Prevention Act, and Superfund Act better protect our planet by limiting pollution and providing resources for healthier ecosystems. While these all are huge steps towards better protecting us environmentally, we still have a long way to go.
The all-consuming and mostly dreadful news cycle can make it seem like the world is ending and there is nothing we can do unless you are in a position of power or rich – or both. While that’s partially true, those people account for only a tiny fraction of the population. We have power in numbers, so we can help influence or encourage them to act on behalf of the people. The question then becomes how to do so.
The Importance of Local Policy
With the amount of news and media coverage, you would assume legislation only comes from Washington DC but the policies that have the biggest impact on us occur statewide and locally. Despite the bad news, we also have had some big wins in the past few years to better protect our planet. Some examples include Protect and Restore America’s Estuaries Act and the Save our Seas 2.0 Act passed in 2020 to protect our at-risk waters.
There are also some important bills that are currently in the works. This is where we come in. There are many stages that bills go through before becoming law. In a quick nutshell, they need to pass the house, senate, and be signed by the president. To ensure that happens, we can put pressure on local politicians to act. This can be in many different forms, including calling their office, writing letters, sharing on social media, and tagging them. The most impactful however is meeting with them. While it isn’t always possible to meet with federal representatives, you can meet with state and local politicians to share your views and proposals, or you can speak at open-floor hearings and pitch your cause.
In order to get started, we all have to work on not being intimidated by the process. After all, politicians are people just like you and me. They want to hear from their constituents and it’s their job to represent us – not the other way around. The best way to begin is to find out who your representatives are and to contact them to share your views on your choice of legislation over email or phone. ‘Pitch’ the bill the best you can. They want to hear from you on why this bill is important out of the hundreds of bills that are introduced each session.
Bills to Have Your Eye On
There are already a number of promising federal bills that are introduced in the US that you can contact your federal representatives on. Since each state has its own bills and legislation specific to where you live, you can research to learn more about what bills are being addressed in your state and contact your state reps on those.
– The Ocean-Based Climate Solutions Act focuses on reducing greenhouse gas emissions and promoting ocean/coastal restoration to increase carbon storage.
– The End Polluter Welfare Act abolishes dozens of tax loopholes and subsidies that benefit oil, gas, and coal industries and makes it more accessible to divest from fossil fuels.
– The infamous Green New Deal designates government funding to invest in climate-prepared and climate-friendly infrastructure while creating green jobs.
– Similarly, the Build Green Act focuses on green infrastructure such as electric public transport and provides more jobs.
– The End Oil and Gas Tax Subsidies Act includes specifics on how we can reduce our reliance on fossil fuels and diminish the cost disparities between renewable and non-renewable energy.
– The CLEANUP Act would expand liability and close loopholes for oil spills, especially inland spills, and other hazardous substances under federal law to ensure that polluters are held accountable.
– Plastic Pellet Free Waters will limit the spillage of plastic pellets from plastic-producing facilities into water streams.
– The Climate Change Education Act to increase climate literacy.
– The Climate Solutions Act of 2021 establishes renewable energy standards, energy saving targets, and greenhouse gas emission reduction targets.
– And my personal favorite: the Break Free From Plastic Pollution Act. This bill addresses the many problem areas of the consequences of plastic pollution and how we can prevent it in the first place. It will ensure plastic producers are financially responsible for waste management, invest in domestic and legitimate recycling and compositing infrastructure, phase out certain types of single-use plastics, and more.
Tips for Getting Out There
When reaching out to your local representatives, you want to always have a clear call to action. Ask yourself, what am I asking them to do? Even if they don’t agree with you, hearing from you will plant that seed and the more people they hear from in support of it might be enough to demand them to act.
Where you can, stay engaged and informed on what environmental bills are moving in your area or nationally. Social media is a great tool for that (but make sure to verify the information you find). A great example to motivate you comes from the recent lobby day for World Oceans Week. This past summer, passionate ocean-loving activists met with approximately 50 representatives to ask for their support on the bill. When the activist first began, they were told that the bill wouldn’t be scheduled for a hearing due to other current events taking priority. After their meetings, there was enough pressure from elected officials that they scheduled a committee hearing.
It’s also important to remember that you don’t have to do it alone. Bring friends and family or join a political action group that focuses on environmental issues that resonate with you. There is so much power when we come together. By choosing to be more proactive in environmental legislation as little as 10 minutes a week, we would have a lasting impact.