On October 21 nearly 200 people gathered at the Key School in Annapolis to get informed and to make connections with various grassroots groups, environmental agencies and politicians committed to addressing critical environmental issues. The event, called Environmental Action Response Town Hall (EARTH), had the goal of connecting people concerned with the environment with those who work daily on the environmental and climate- related issues that we face.
As more and more Marylanders across the state have found their voice since the last presidential election it is has become apparent that the environmental movement needs to harness this collective energy. The organizers of EARTH wanted to reach as many facets of this movement and included grassroots organizers and politicians, lawyers and public health advocates, Republicans and Democrats. “Whether you want to focus on a piece of legislation, join forces with an established NGO or legally take on a polluting industry in your own back yard, there in a role for every concerned citizen to play in protecting our health and environment” says WISE member Monica O’Connor.
Secretary of the Environment Ben Grumbles opened the event with the vision of how a Republican Administration can work with a Democratic legislature to move forward on a common environmental agenda. This was followed by Attorney General Frosh who did not mince words about the dangers of rolling back protections in favor of industries whose bottom line is profit above all else. Senator Cardin cautioned folks to stay focused and engaged, and gave several examples where citizens spearheaded the challenge to environmentally-destructive legislation and were successful. In an Administration where all areas of the environment are under attack and the health of our nation and the planet are threatened, it is crucial that regular citizens hold our national, state and local leaders accountable for our health and well- being.
The three panels invited to address EARTH focused on legislation and environmental justice. An outstanding panel of long-standing environmental groups including the Maryland League of Conservation Voters, the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, Trash Free Maryland the Maryland Environmental Health Network laid out specific legislative actions that will be proposed during the 2018 Legislative session focusing of clean energy initiatives, forest conservation, critical public health concerns and a ban on polystyrene foam. In another panel, courageous Environmental Justice leaders gave specifics on: battling Dominion Energy Company in Lusby Maryland and their plea to Governor Hogan to do an objective safety study; food insecurities facing the poor, and how increasing access to land can address this problem; and air quality, especially as it affects vulnerable inner city children and a proposal for electric busses to reduce air pollution. Lastly, Delegates from both sides of the aisle engaged attendees on how citizens can work with legislators to address problems of water pollution, lead poisoning and recycling.
To conclude the day, Seema Kakade, the Director of the Environmental Clinic at the Maryland Carey School of Law spoke eloquently of the three branches of government and how advocates need to think about all three when tackling environmental issues. Reminding us that Industry is aware that all three branches play a role in how protections are put into place or dismantled, Ms. Kakade offered that she and her students provide pro bono assistance to citizens and groups working toward a clean, just environment.
- Monica O’Connor, WISE Steering Committee Member, WISE Environmental Huddle Facilitator