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Growing state leadership from Montpelier to Minneapolis

From Amber Collett, VNRC Communications Director

Every year, state environmental advocates from across the country come together to connect, share resources, and encourage each other’s professional development. The State Environmental Leaders Conference (also called SELP, short for State Environmental Leaders Program – its original name) celebrated its 30th year in November 2018. Johanna Miller, VNRC’s Energy & Climate Program Director, and I were able to attend the conference in Minneapolis, MN and I wanted to share some of the key takeaways with you.

Johanna Miller and Amber Collett in Minneapolis, MN above the Mississippi River.

Workshop topics included the technology of movement building, fundraising, engaging rural communities, successful issue campaigns, strategic planning, and building a more inclusive and diverse movement. One thing was clear, spanning any political divides, Americans are concerned about global warming and want clean water, clean air, and to protect our wild places. Environmental protection is not a partisan issue, but some politicos are trying hard to make it appear that way.

With the federal government either abdicating their responsibilities to protect our natural resources, or rolling back the vital rules and policies that protect our communities from toxic chemicals and pollution, it’s easy to become discouraged. It can feel as though the issues we care most about are being attacked from all sides. During these challenging times, I find that that one of the best ways to stay upbeat and motivated is to double down on commitments – to community, country, and the earth. As individuals, we may feel powerless, but together, we can create meaningful change.

In Vermont, we have a federal delegation that is committed to protecting the health and wellbeing of Vermont’s environment and communities. Talking with colleagues from across the country at SELP was a good reminder to be thankful for the dedicated lawmakers that we have here in Vermont, and a call to action to do even more to help Vermont lead on passing forward-looking policies that show it is possible to increase wellbeing for residents while protecting our natural environment and strengthening our economy.

Johanna Miller and former EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy.

The conference also made clear, through its keynote speakers – Sierra Club Director Michael Brune and former Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Gina McCarthy – what we are keenly aware of: Any substantive action on clean energy, climate change, and protecting our environment rests solely on cities and states.

At the state level, we know we have a lot of work to do. But in that work is the incredible opportunity to position Vermont as a leader in our nation on renewable energy and greenhouse gas reduction efforts, reforms to protect communities from toxic chemicals, keeping forests as forests, strengthening the economy through safeguarding our environment, and setting the gold standard for water clean-up and protection. The messaging, networking, and advocacy workshops offered at SELP will help us do our work more effectively, and that is a win-win for Vermont.

But, we can’t do this work without you. I hope you’ll take a moment to join our activist network or support our work with a year-end gift. With your support, we can continue to protect, restore, and enhance Vermont’s natural environments and thriving communities.