Scott Pruitt was confirmed twice last week. First as the new head of the Environmental Protection Agency. The second confirmation was of his suspected ties to oil, gas, and coal companies after thousands of his emails to fossil fuel execs were leaked.
Environmental groups fear the worst, but there are specific steps you can take on an individual, local level to fight back.
Several area non-profits have teamed up to create “protester primers,” workshops on environmental crises and actionable ways to combat them.
“Resist: Skills to Fight Back for Maine's Environment: Portland” will be held on March 8 at the University of Southern Maine. While many attendees may be of a similar political persuasion, the intent is to avoid politics.
“We really want to highlight that this is not a partisan event,” said Sophie Halpin, communications and development coordinator at Maine Conservation Voters, the lead organizer. “We’re not talking about resisting Trump because he’s a Republican. It’s because of his statements and cabinet picks. We want everyone to come together to say that the environment is not a partisan issue; it’s a basic human right.”
The idea is to draw attention to President Trump’s policy proposals and cabinet picks.
“It’s not normal that Scott Pruitt is heading the EPA, which he has sued several times,” said Melissa Mann, advocacy coordinator. “We were thankful that (Senators Angus) King and (Susan) Collins voted against him, but he’s still in charge so we’re looking at what that means for the Clean Air and Water Acts.”
“There has been an outpouring of support,” Halpin said. “There’s a waitlist to get into training, so we’re looking to do more for staff members of organizations that want to expand what they do into advocacy work as well.”
For more than two years, the Maine Conservation Voters group has worked to increase the number of Mainers talking about climate change and taking on civic engagement around environmental issues around the state. As part of that foundational effort, she worked with community members and students from Unity College and the University of Maine to identify major areas of concern. Interest in organizing informational and action sessions peaked at the end of last year.
“After the election, there was fever pitch of people who wanted to do this work on a higher level,” Mann says. “We knew we needed to do more, to build on that activist energy. And to do that within our mission, we needed to give Mainers the means and method to respond. We also wanted to make sure it wasn’t a one-man show.”
Maine students advocating for renewable solar energy.
Maine Conservation Voters worked with the Appalachian Mountain Club, the Maine Public Health Association, the Natural Resources Council of Maine, and the Wilderness Society to create the events. In addition, speakers and workshop leaders representing several other groups, including Revision Energy and Knack Factory, a multimedia production company based in Portland, will provide information about the current threats to national parks, how to grow solar power in Maine, and effective measures to defend the Clean Air and Clean Water Acts.
Once well armed with this environmental information, work-shoppers will get a quick lesson in Organizing 101.
Next, attendees will get busy with workshops on how to put all this info into action.
They’ll learn how to lobby legislators on issues that matter the most to them, how to make an impact with unique stories, and how to get messages out using social media and letters to the editor.
Maine Speaker of the House Sara Gideon (D-Freeport) will address Portlanders and lead the session on how to lobby legislators. Majority Leader Erin Herbig (D-Belfast) will speak at the Belfast workshop.
One of the most important issues to Mainers is arsenic in well water. According to Mann, York and Kennebec counties have some of the highest reported incidents of toxicity. In some counties, more than 20 percent of their wells are contaminated with arsenic above federal safety levels.
“We’re working to get increased testing,” she said. “There is arsenic in well-water across the state. Education is key. In Kennebec County, children with arsenic in their well water had lower average IQ scores than their peers. Arsenic is also linked to kidney failure, as well as skin, bladder, and lung cancer. Arsenic in water is a social justice issue.”
These specific examples from our state offer credible evidence of national concerns.
“On a bigger scale, it relates to why protecting water and air are so important,” Halpin said. “So we can make these environmental issues protect all families in Maine.”
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