As I begin my fourth week of my environmental policy internship, I find myself excited and frustrated by what I have learned so far. The politics of passing legislation that protects our health and natural world are more complicated and slowed by red tape than I had imagined just a few short weeks ago. For example, I have read and analyzed the proposed Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) rulemaking, which would enable Pennsylvania to join the 10 other New England and Mid-Atlantic states that have established a carbon dioxide cap and trade program. Partaking in this initiative would enable PA to reduce pollution from carbon emissions by 188 million tons by 2030, create more than 27,000 new jobs, and prevent up to 639 premature deaths from respiratory illnesses.
However, the legislature is currently trying to block RGGI through House Bill 637/Senate Bill 119, which would delay and obstruct swift, significant action on climate change and energy transitioning. These bills would essentially prevent the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) from regulating carbon dioxide emissions or joining a regional greenhouse gas cap and trade program without specific permission from the General Assembly. While this bill is making its way through the legislature, DEP advisory boards such as the Air Quality Technical Advisory Committee discussed and voted in support of the final rulemaking last week. I have learned that the outcome of the anti-RGGI bill is difficult to predict due to voting timelines, a potential veto from the governor, and consequential efforts on behalf of the legislature to override a veto.
This all sounds like a headache, right? Imagine doing community outreach, lobbying, attending strategy meetings, and more in addition to staying updated on environmental policy in the PA General Assembly. As an intern for the Sierra Club, a nonprofit organization, I’m observing that advocating for beneficial environmental policies is of critical importance, yet exhausting and riddled with challenges and uncertainty. There are more stakeholders in energy issues, for example, than I realized, and compromise is difficult to achieve. Public hearings and comments, lobbying and bill amendments, and multiple considerations on the floor are some of the procedures used by the legislature to create some kind of compromise, which is quite a lengthy process.
To be successful working in the environmental advocacy field, I’ve observed a few key strengths and skills in the Sierra Club Pennsylvania Chapter staff. These community organizers, campaign managers, and program directors are passionate about their work and in it for the long haul. They demonstrate endurance every single day when they oppose problematic environmental policies, propose better solutions, host public meetings and outings, and so much more. This work takes time and patience to see changes made in environmentally significant bills and often results in disappointment after months of time spent lobbying, fundraising, and engaging the public in crucial issues. Therefore, I think that perseverance, patience, enthusiasm, and a long-term perspective are valuable characteristics to have when working for an environmental nonprofit. Having a farsighted vision while working toward a more sustainable, healthy world through daily advocacy and education is vital.
Furthermore, other important competencies specific to the Sierra Club and my role include strong communication skills, familiarity with online outreach tools such as Hustle, an independent work ethic, and analytical skills for understanding legislation. To advance sustainability, environmental justice, health, and land conservation, many of the aforementioned skills are helpful, but passion for the cause and dedication are key characteristics for success. The environmental movement has come a long way and has an even longer way to go, and to continue making much-needed progress, those working for environmental nonprofit organizations must continue to embody resilience and endurance. I’ve learned that encouragement within this team to take time for rest and self-care as well as to celebrate smaller successes is necessary to remain energized in this work.
From my home workspace (see photo), I have the honor and privilege to learn from environmental champions at the Sierra Club. I’ve enjoyed reading bills, compiling campaign finance information, and meeting with Sierra Club staff so far and cannot wait to see what the rest of my internship experience brings!