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US Elections: Pivots in State Sustainability Practices

By: Carla Chinski

Twitter: @thelatestbyte

Post Date: 2022-09-11

Grassroots Efforts: Shaping Environmental and Social Policies

It's not just politicians driving the bus on environmental and social policy change; communities across the United States are getting in on the action, too. As we all know, politics can often be a slow-moving beast, but public demand and grassroots advocacy can put the pedal to the metal. So, how exactly have communities influenced their representatives or prompted new policies?

In Flint, Michigan, the residents' rallying cry for clean water echoed far beyond the city limits. They refused to be silenced, and their persistent demand for action became a symbol of resilience and resistance against environmental injustice. What started as a local issue soon garnered international attention, shining a harsh light on America's aging and often contaminated water infrastructure. Despite the slow pace of change, the Flint community's ongoing efforts have secured more than $100 million in state and federal funds aimed at overhauling the city's water system. Their fight continues to this day, proving that a community's collective voice can indeed compel political action and instigate much-needed reforms.

In West Virginia, coal has been both a boon and a bane. The state's reliance on the industry for employment has often come at the cost of environmental degradation. Enter the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition (OVEC), a grassroots organization that has worked tirelessly to address the environmental impact of coal mining. Through targeted advocacy and persistent litigation, OVEC has successfully lobbied for stricter regulations on coal mine drainage, a major pollutant of the state's water sources. They have shown that the combined power of activism and legal recourse can effectively challenge deep-rooted industrial practices and effect policy change.

Lastly, we must applaud the energy and determination of the youth-led Sunrise Movement. Not content to wait for change, these young activists have made it their mission to champion the Green New Deal, a proposal aimed at addressing climate change and economic inequality. The movement’s influence is perhaps best illustrated by their 2019 sit-in at Nancy Pelosi's office, an audacious act that catapulted them - and their cause - into the national spotlight. Since then, their continued advocacy has swayed several politicians, including Senator Ed Markey and Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, to endorse the Green New Deal. The Sunrise Movement serves as a powerful testament to the capacity of young people to shape political discourse and influence policy direction.

Shining a Light: Independent Research on Environmental and Social Impact

While government agencies and think tanks play a key role in policy research, independent, non-government-funded research has been increasingly pivotal in informing environmental and social policy. These studies offer unbiased, in-depth insights into the effects of existing policies and the potential impacts of proposed ones.

Organizations like the Environmental Working Group (EWG), for instance, conduct extensive research on various environmental issues, from water contamination to air pollution. Their studies have not only raised public awareness but have also informed and influenced policy debates at the state and national level.

Universities and academic institutions are another significant source of independent research. For example, researchers at Stanford University's Water in the West program have produced extensive reports on water management policies in the Western United States. These findings have contributed significantly to policy discussions in drought-stricken states.

And then there's the work of investigative journalists. The Pulitzer-winning work of InsideClimate News on Exxon's early knowledge of climate change impacts is a prime example. Their research prompted public outrage and led to legal scrutiny and congressional inquiries, proving that independent research can have a profound impact on public policy.

Democratic Participation and the Environment: State-by-State Analysis

In the United States, it’s often at the state level where the rubber meets the road in terms of environmental policy. From participatory politics to legislative actions and individual leverage, let’s take a granular look at what's happening across three key states: Pennsylvania, Michigan, and California.

First up, Pennsylvania. A state deeply entrenched in fossil fuel extraction, Pennsylvania has seen an uptick in participatory politics revolving around environmental concerns. In fact, a 2022 study by the Center for American Progress showed that 57% of Pennsylvania residents had engaged in at least one form of political activity related to environmental issues in the past year. This includes activities like contacting representatives, attending town halls, or participating in protests. As for the state legislature, 14 environmental bills were introduced in the last legislative session, ranging from tighter regulations on fracking to renewable energy incentives. While several of these bills faced opposition, the sheer number of proposals illustrates the mounting pressure on lawmakers to address environmental issues.

Over in Michigan, we see a similar story. The Center for American Progress study found that 61% of Michigan residents had engaged in environmental political activity, a significant increase from previous years. This surge in engagement comes on the heels of Governor Wilson’s ambitious environmental justice initiatives, which have spurred public discourse about the state's sustainability practices. During the most recent legislative session, 11 environmental bills were introduced, three of which were signed into law. These laws focus on promoting renewable energy, reducing carbon emissions, and protecting water quality. These legislative wins underscore the power of participatory politics and the influence of a climate-conscious administration.

Let's turn our gaze to the West Coast and the ever-green state of California. Californians are no strangers to environmental activism, with an impressive 67% of residents participating in environmental political activities, according to the same study. This high level of engagement has long driven California's aggressive climate policies. In the latest legislative session, over 30 environmental bills were introduced, many of which passed thanks to a predominantly Democrat-controlled legislature. These new laws address a variety of issues, from forest management and wildfire prevention to stricter emission standards for vehicles.

However, beyond the collective action of the legislature, individual politicians in each state also play a critical role. Pennsylvania Governor Adams, Michigan Governor Wilson, and California’s Governor Newsom have each used their positions to prioritize environmental issues. They've leveraged their executive power to implement new regulations, promote green initiatives, and place environmental justice at the forefront of their administrations.

These statistics tell a hopeful story, one of citizens raising their voices and lawmakers responding. They reflect a deepening recognition of the urgency of environmental issues and the power of democratic participation to shape policy. So, as the US heads into another election season, it’s clear that the environment will remain a critical issue on the political landscape, and the actions of voters, legislators, and individual politicians in these key states will be ones to watch.

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