Our Perspectives on the Latest Issues
We are at the dawn of 2017 and on the precipice of dealing with new political, federal, and state-level elected and appointed officials who are openly hostile to the environment. This is not news.
But did you know that we need your financial support even more now than we have in almost two decades?
Right now, we have an amazing opportunity. Every citizen who cares about our environment and our collective future can take this moment in time to push back and have a hand in implementing PennFuture’s mission.
I feel comfortable stating that this is our shared responsibility. And the truth is that without your support, we could not be nearly as effective at preventing the damage we face at the hands of de-regulation and the sale of our public resources to private interests.
This is especially personal to me, which is why I have not only decided to dedicate myself professionally to this organization as its new Chief Development Officer, but also why I am making a personally significant recurring monthly donation to PennFuture as well - and I strongly urge you to do the same.
When I first arrived in Pennsylvania, the staff and leadership of PennFuture were among my first friends and colleagues. I was fresh out of graduate school and was going to work for the U.S. Department of Interior’s Office of Surface Mining (OSM) as an Environmental Protection Specialist. I had spent the last six years learning environmental education, policy and law. I knew why congress had passed, and presidents had signed, and courts had upheld laws like the Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act, Endangered Species Act and the National Environmental Protection Act. I knew how and why the federal agencies charged with implementing them were created, and how much due diligence, scientific research and public participation had gone into the regulations these agencies wrote.
That was in 2000, when we were facing an incoming set of elected leadership under the Bush administration who put a target on the back of anything that looked remotely like environmental regulation or species protection – very similar to the times we are facing now.
I understood the value of watchdog organizations like PennFuture in that political climate, and the importance of their viability, so I looked to my friends at this organization to fight the good fight, as I did my job with the U.S. Department of the Interior.
That was once upon a time when I was young and naïve enough to think that the laws were sacred; that regulations required process to undue. As a federal employee, I was initially shocked to find myself inside of a process which was designed to work like molasses so that no individual could do too much too fast, and immediately undo the incremental steps of everyone that had come before them, just as no one in the future could immediately undo theirs.
Unfortunately, the system’s design did not matter at all to the political appointees who were laser-focused on stripping agencies of their abilities to regulate, communicate and coordinate with each other.
The paranoid administration of the time was the same one that sharpened the knife of the Hatch Act, thereby effectively silencing any dissent from individuals inside of the agencies, pulling even the most routine decision-making from the regional and local back to the Washington, DC offices -- under their full and direct control.
Even worse, in very short order, I witnessed the roll-back of legal protections vis-a-vi federal policies and interpretations that were not transparent, and did not incorporate any of what I had thought were required public notice or comment periods.
Unbelievably, a small handful of mining permits that benefitted a small number of people, but were on their very face in violation of the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act and its regulatory diction, were pushed forward by Pennsylvania’s DEP. This happened because of anti-environmental individuals seated by the electorate.
It was done at the expense of the flora and fauna and landscape that make up the state, as well as clean water, clean air, individual homes and farms, and the public’s health and safety. It wiped out OSM’s long-standing interpretation of the need for balance, ignored all of the scientific work that went into defining that balance, and happened without any real process or evaluation -- just because a handful of people didn’t like what most reasonable people saw as reasonable restrictions on mining activity.
The legitimate comments and feedback the public had given when agency rules were passed was swept aside, along with any presumption that as federal employees, our job was to assure that we do no lasting and permanent harm.
This is the reality of the power of a few well-placed ideologues with an anti-environmental agenda.
I made it through about six years of the Bush administration and then I left federal employment to work full-time for nonprofits, feeling disheartened and demoralized, but certainly much wiser when it comes to knowing how much damage an administration can do.
In looking in the rearview mirror, I am confident that this type of damage doesn’t just disappear with the next incoming class of legislators or the next administration -- it lingers. And today, the stakes are even higher. I remember back in the early 2000s, I used to wonder if environmental groups were taken unaware. Surely, I thought, if they had been more prepared for the coming onslaught and war against anything that resembled environmental regulation or protection of species or historic places, they could have done something about it. And I was probably right. Had PennFuture had a hefty infusion of funds, they would have been better positioned to win all of these battles on our behalf. And this is what I have joined the team to help with and I hope you will stand shoulder to shoulder with me to see this through.
When nonprofits have money, they can do more and have more impact.
In fact, with enough money, nonprofits can accomplish solving almost any problem just as effectively as any business or government entity can.
We have top attorneys, lobbyists, outreach staff and leadership. We are a well-oiled machine built out of very smart and experienced people. We know how to do this. There is an astounding difference in effectiveness between organizations that are perpetually under-funded and those that are able to bring in sufficient donations to pay for the staff, infrastructure and program expenses to reach their goals. PennFuture will be well funded for the challenges ahead – specifically in the next four years – and it is individuals like you and I, standing shoulder to shoulder, who will make it happen.
PennFuture’s goal is simple: We are your watchdog. We fight big polluters and enforce environmental laws with a team of lawyers to protect your right to clean air and clean water. We work with communities to empower citizens to take ownership of their environment through outreach and education. We work in Harrisburg to defend and support laws that protect the environment and public health. And it is exciting to be a part of making it happen.
My dollars, pooled with yours, will magnify our impact and together, we will get the job done. I look forward to working with all of you and I am already inspired by each of you because I know that together, we can fund our future!
PS. The chair of our board, Char Magaro, shared this link with me. It tells the story of environmental awareness and conservation in the most beautiful and evocative way, and reminds me that in our mission, we are connected with many people from all over the world, who are joined by a similar mission and a similar consciousness. It is too beautiful and tells too good of a story to not share, and it can be used to capture people’s attention and remind them that they do care about our planet.