Environmental groups seeing an uptick in volunteers, interest – Albuquerque Journal

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ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — In the months since Republican businessman Donald Trump won the presidential election, environmental groups have seen a surge in the number of volunteers ready to take action.

David Broudy, a volunteer with 350 New Mexico, gathers signatures at the University of New Mexico for a petition asking the Legislature to increase the level of renewable energy from wind and solar sources that utilities are required to have in their power mix. (Rosalie Rayburn/Journal)

David Broudy, a volunteer with 350 New Mexico, gathers signatures at the University of New Mexico for a petition asking the Legislature to increase the level of renewable energy from wind and solar sources that utilities are required to have in their power mix. (Rosalie Rayburn/Journal)

They are calling, emailing, showing up at meetings, donating money and offering to lobby legislators in support of measures aimed at promoting renewable energy in place of burning fossil fuels.

Trump, for his part, has made good on his campaign promises vowing to “end the war on coal” by rolling back measures enacted by the Obama administration aimed at curbing greenhouse gas emissions, and lifting a moratorium on the sale of coal-mining leases on federal lands.

“I am appalled that our natural resources are threatened now and it’s happening in a way that we can’t act quickly enough,” said retired teacher Linda Doherty. “I watched the election campaign with horror. I felt compelled to get out of the house and get active.”

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She recently began volunteering regularly for the Rio Grande Chapter of the Sierra Club, which covers New Mexico and West Texas. On a recent Wednesday afternoon, Doherty and other volunteers were crammed into the Sierra Club’s small office at 2215 Lead, calling the governor’s office asking her to sign Senate Bill 227 requiring state facilities to install solar power equipment.

Sierra Club members and volunteers show their concern about environmental issues at the state Capitol during the 2017 Legislative session. (Courtesy of David McGahey)

Sierra Club members and volunteers show their concern about environmental issues at the state Capitol during the 2017 Legislative session. (Courtesy of David McGahey)

(The governor subsequently vetoed the bill, saying it didn’t provide resources to develop a plan to implement the requirements.)

“We’re getting more people here on volunteer day than ever before,” said Director Camilla Feibelman.

There’s also been an uptick in attendance at club meetings and in membership. Recent meetings have attracted crowds of 40 to 80 people, instead of the usual 10 to 20 attendees. The number of members rose 13 percent between October 2016 and January this year, from 7,904 to 8,928.

Dramatic increase

Other groups are seeing a similar increase in support.

Benjamin Shendo Jr. gives a presentation to students of Santa Fe Indian School about his experiences in North Dakota as a pueblo camp leader at the Standing Rock protest against the Dakota Access Pipeline. (SOURCE: Legun Coriz)

Benjamin Shendo Jr. gives a presentation to students of Santa Fe Indian School about his experiences in North Dakota as a pueblo camp leader at the Standing Rock protest against the Dakota Access Pipeline. (SOURCE: Legun Coriz)

“The level of participation has increased dramatically,” said Jim Mackenzie, co-coordinator with 350 New Mexico, the local chapter of an international organization that works on climate-related issues. The group has recently been gathering signatures at the University of New Mexico to petition the Legislature to raise the amount of energy New Mexico utilities get from wind and solar sources from the current 20 percent to 50 percent by 2030 and to 100 percent by 2050.

“I think we have to work against the idea that going back to coal is going to create jobs,” said 350 New Mexico volunteer David Broudy.

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Environment New Mexico, an environmental research and advocacy group that has also been lobbying for greater renewable energy requirements, has also experienced an increased level of support since the November election.

“A lot of people want to get involved any way they can,” said director Sanders Moore.

People have emailed asking how they can help. Those who have previously given money to their cause are increasing their contributions, and donations are flowing in from new supporters. Many offered to write letters or make phone calls to legislators, even go to the state Capitol during the Legislative session, said Sanders.

Sister Joan Brown, executive director of New Mexico Interfaith Power and Light, said attendance at recent events has been roughly double the usual number. Her group is part of a national organization that works with faith communities to reduce the causes and consequences of global climate change.

Brown said a public policy advocacy training session the group held in Albuquerque in January drew 90 participants compared to 30 to 40 in previous years. More than 100 supporters came to an Interfaith “Renewable Energy For All” rally in February at the Roundhouse.

“There were people who had never done anything like this. Young, old, college students, people from other parts of the state,” she said.

The organization is now working with a nonprofit in Gallup to help bring solar power to homes on the Navajo reservation that lack electricity.

Pueblo activism

A new group, Pueblo Action Alliance, was recently formed by members from several New Mexico pueblo tribes who participated with the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe in the protest against the Dakota Access pipeline.

Julia Bernal of Sandia Pueblo said she was inspired to action after she and her brother drove to North Dakota on Thanksgiving weekend to deliver firewood to the protesters. With friends she met at the protest camp, Reyes Devore and Ahjani Yepa from Jemez Pueblo, she is working to get nonprofit status for Pueblo Action Alliance. The group is collaborating with other Native American groups that have been lobbying against oil and gas exploration activity near Chaco Canyon.

Many environmental groups will be collaborating over the weekend of April 22-23 to hold events in support of Earth Day on April 22.