Through creating and nurturing relationships with our members of Congress, we can ensure our voices are heard. [Post written by Amelia Weeder and John Kashwick. Above, Rep. Tom Malinowski (D-NJ) is sworn in by former Secretary of State John Kerry. (U.S. Congress)]
By Amelia Weeder and John Kashwick
To people like me who are not comfortable lobbying, many environmental protection efforts feel like struggles between Godzilla and King Kong. I witness the intensity of the contest and the ground around me gets trampled while I do what I can to support or inform the combatants, and yet I am sure that my voice is lost amidst the din.
Still, within the pitched battle over the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge — which I view as misdirected fossil energy efforts vs. the rights of the first people and the sanctity of a rare pristine wilderness — I have found success in working with others who support and amplify my concerns so that my voice is heard.
Thanks to Alaska Wilderness League staff, I understand that despite the support shown for Arctic protection bills introduced in Congress, the only way to avoid harm to the coastal plain environment this year is to defund the government’s ability to continue its seismic exploration and lease sales activities. And to do that, constituents like myself needed to speak to our representatives in Congress, which controls funding of federal projects.
I knew my congressperson actively supported environmental protections based on his platform statements and actions. However, I found that he was unaware of the urgent action needed to prevent irreparable damage to the Arctic Refuge coastal plain.
As a busy new congressman from New Jersey’s recently flipped 7th district, scheduling a meeting with Rep. Tom Malinowski took persistence and time. To increase the chances of speaking directly with him, I joined a coalition of Sierra Club members (all of us constituents from within his district) and requested a meeting to address a set of related environmental issues. Each of us succinctly discussed one specific issue. During our face-to-face meeting, I was pleased to find that Rep. Malinowski had a firm grasp of and thoughtful, well-defined positions on each of the topics raised; he knew the legislative actions being taken and the sponsors involved.
On Alaska/Arctic issues, he had already been made aware of oil leasing/drilling concerns and demonstrated support for protecting the Arctic by co-sponsoring bills to stop Arctic Ocean drilling and to negate the provisions that had been inserted into the 2017 tax bill that allowed drilling in the Arctic Refuge coastal plain.
I spoke about the ecologically catastrophic seismic exploration scheduled to start this year. Rep. Malinowski reviewed photographs and substantiated information demonstrating the damage to tundra and animals that seismic exploration would inflict. He not only personally supported our effort to prevent seismic exploration and drilling, but also helped to move the effort forward, referring me to a representative on the House Appropriations Committee, which controls funding of the Interior Department’s Arctic Refuge coastal plain leasing project.
Again, scheduling a meeting with an aide to the Appropriations Committee member took time, and was accomplished with assistance from my district’s Democrat state committee representative. Still, the effort to gain support of several of my state’s congressional representatives has, in a relatively short time, shifted from initial education to understanding and support, including engaging members of the Appropriations Committee who have influence on the funding for Arctic Refuge exploration and leasing.
Certainly not all meetings with congressional members go this well, and not all representatives will be as responsive to your concerns. At other times with different representatives, my concerns have been listened to politely, but no action has been taken. However, I still feel that thoughtful presentation of well-grounded concerns is how understanding is increased, and that through creating and nurturing relationships with our representatives, leaders like Rep. Malinowski, that our voices are heard.