Ask Eartha: Help the environment, write to your representatives (column)
January 20, 2017
With the presidential inauguration coming up, I feel overwhelmed by the prospect of a president who doesn't take seriously the challenges facing our environment and our future. What can I do?
The 45th president of the United States will be sworn into office during the inauguration ceremony on Friday, Jan. 20, and will jump into his plan for the first 100 days in office. Under Trump's initiative to support American workers, he proposes to eliminate restrictions on production of shale, oil, natural gas and coal as well as to remove roadblocks to dirty energy infrastructure projects like the Keystone Pipeline. While climate (in)action doesn't directly make his first 100 days' list, during the campaign, Trump indicated that he would withdraw from the Paris Agreement and overturn the Clean Power Plan. He has also suggested limiting the power of the Environmental Protection Agency and has chosen an ally of the fossil fuel industry as its leader. None of this looks bright for the environmental and sustainability movement.
The president of the United States may be one of the most powerful people in the world, but he does not have absolute power. That's the beauty of our Constitution. The president has executive power, is the head of state and commander in chief. But sole legislative power (the making of laws) rests with Congress. The Senate has 100 members (two from each state) serving four-year terms, and the House has 435 current members serving two-year terms. The president, in his executive right, does have veto power over legislation. But the staggering of elections in Congress allows for turnover even within a president's term of office, meaning we could have a very different congressional makeup in just a few short years.
In addition, not all legislative power rests at the federal level. Our state's legislative body today is split between a Republican Senate and a Democratic House. The relationship between states and our federal government can play a major role in the advancement of environmentally friendly policies, and there are many states that are setting progressive examples despite what the federal government looks like heading into 2017. Likewise, at a local level, there are councils and commissions that govern our municipalities and counties where we can still have major impacts on environmental policy in our communities.
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Writing to your legislative representatives, whether they be town councilors, county commissioners, state representative and senators or congressional representatives and senators, is your right and duty as an American citizen. It's how we communicate in the democratic process. If you've never had the opportunity to do so, 2017 is a great time to start. Show them that despite the outcome of the presidential election, we're still interested in protecting our environment and natural spaces for future generations. We still want to address the climate crisis, and we want to have clean, renewable power for our communities. Demonstrate that clean air, clean water, untouched landscapes and protected spaces are still important to us.
Here's how to take action today:
Do your research. Know the issue inside and out including the context (i.e. the relevance to other issues or systems). Search for stakeholders on both sides so that you better understand the positions, pros/cons and possible impacts of a given action.
Create a proposal or plan. Before approaching decision-makers, have a plan in place that shows how much research you've done. If you can approach your representatives with a course of action that is well thought out and takes into consideration future impacts, you're more likely to get their attention.
Contact your representatives. Understanding the context of the issue will give you a better idea as to who you want to approach first. Decision-makers reside at all levels of government, so understanding if you're dealing with a municipal, county, state or federal issue is important for your course of action.
Contacting your legislators can be overwhelming if you've never done it before, but rest assured, they hear from constituents all the time. Think about this: If you're not reaching out about an issue, your opponent likely is, so be heard and get your voice out there. For more tips about writing your legislator, visit HighCountryConservation.org/about/takeaction. Remember, our president can be kept in check by Congress, and Congress answers to the people of the United States — so don't be overwhelmed by the next four years. Be inspired to take action today.
Ask Eartha Steward is written by the staff at the High Country Conservation Center, a nonprofit organization dedicated to waste reduction and resource conservation. Submit questions to Eartha at firstname.lastname@example.org.