July 27, 2019

Speaking to Congress about the Environment

Back in May, I had the amazing opportunity through the Texas Chapter of the American Society of Landscape Architects to fly to Washington, D.C. and speaking with different members of Congress about Environmental issues that affect the United States of America. Not only was it my first time going to D.C., but having to chance to vocalize why I am passionate about my profession, be around leaders within Landscape Architecture, and make a difference on a national platform was such awe-inspiring experience.

Every day when I log on to Facebook, I always see at least one post someone has shared about an environmental issue. I think it is truly amazing how a lot of people, especially millennials,  are wanting to make a difference for our planet. I think the more people recognize the beauty of our planet and come together to discover financially responsible ways to achieve a healthier ecosystem, the better off we will all be!

I want to share with y'all the three bills in particular that ASLA advocated for while on capitol hill, the reaction and feedback we got from Congress members, and my own personal suggestions of how you can help advocate for our country!  I also want to state, that every bill that was advocated for was bipartisan, meaning it had support from both Democrats and Republicans.

1. Restore Our Parks Act ( H.R. 1225 & S. 500):  This act is pretty exciting because it was the only one that has complementary legislation in both chambers of Congress! With that being said, the House Resolution has gained more traction than the Senate. Almost 70% of the House of representatives has cosponsored this bill, including the members I spoke with while in D.C. (Did I do a happy dance when I learned they cosponsored? why yes, yes I did!) In Senate, 40% of the congressional members have cosponsored.  Now, Senator Cornyn's Staffer did say that he wanted to see some tweaks to the bill before he cosigned, but that he was in favor of a bill like this.  So I have faith that at least one of our Senators in Texas will bump up that percentage. 

So what is this Act all about? To summarize, this will address the 12 billion in deferred maintenance at our National Parks.  With these parks being visited by 331 million people a year the infrastructure of our parks is deteriorating! In fact, I recently read an article talking about how some parks like, Joshua Tree, are some of the most polluted places in our country. Ok, so now that I've really driven in the maintenance issues, you are probably wondering where the money is coming from.  Well, 50% of oil and gas royalties that have not already been allocated to other projects and put this towards a fund.  This would not divert any dollars away from the Land and Water Conservation Fund. Basically, taxpayers (aka, where you come into the equation) aren't having to pay any additional money. 

2. Water Quality and Job Creation Act ( H.R. 1497):  This bill honestly so straightforward.  It essentially Reauthorizes the Clean Water State Revolving Fund to 2024.  Since the original Fund was established pollution has seen a dramatic decrease!  The only real changes that would be made with this is that money would be allocated for a pilot program for water resource management and to help cities update their combined stormwater systems (Y'all combined systems are so bad for public health! They mix rainwater with wastewater.  Gross!)  The best part about this? No taxpayer money! (are you seeing a reoccurring theme?) A State Revolving Fund is exactly what it sounds like, cities pay the money back into revolving fund with interest (but the interest is WAY below market value).  

The response from our Congress members that I spoke too on this one, was interested but didn't know a lot about it, and that does reflect the current number of cosponsors the bill has as well. 

3.  Transportation Alternatives Enhancement Act ( S. 1098):  Raise your hand if you've ever been personally victimized by the lack of sidewalks in your town. That's what I thought. This legislation would allow for states and cities to plan, design, and construct smaller-scale transportation! So all your bike, pedestrian, and recreational trail dreams can come true! Plus for the parents out there, that mean safe routes to school! Since local communities rarely get enough to fund more than 1 project this would change the existing funding from 50/50 to 34% State-run grants and 66% to local communities. I've always joked that if I ran for president my platform would be sidewalks for all, which is essentially what this bill is!

What Can You Do to Help?
After talking about the three bills that we advocated for, you might be wondering, "Well what can I do, these are cool bills". Truth is, there is stuff you can do!

  1. Research: First off, do research! Websites like www.asla.com and www.congress.gov have really great resources to see what bills have been proposed to help environmental issues, and you can see if your congressman/woman has cosponsored the bill yet.
  2. Write to Your Congressman: After all, they are elected officials to represent us! I know you think most congresspeople never read your emails, but actually, surprisingly a lot do. Just remember to keep it short, sweet, personal, and be the expert in the email when you send it. Check out this website for good tips on how to write your elected official.
  3. Share your Knowledge: Once you've learned, share what you know with your friends and family! I mean if the entire congressional district writes to there congressman, they are sorta obligated to listen if they want to get reelected (at least that is what common sense tells us)

In the words of the Conservation president himself, Teddy Roosevelt, "We have fallen heirs to the most glorious heritage a people ever received, and each one must do his part if we wish to show that the nation is worthy of its good fortune."

Capitol Building

Supreme Court Bldg

Ted Cruz Staff

Coffee with John Cornyn

Speaking to Congress about the Environment

Speaking to Congress about the Environment

Washington Monument