Thursday, March 18, 2010

Environmental lobbying in Springfield with Faith in Place

Environmental lobbying in Springfield with Faith in Place

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Things were hopping at the state capitol in Springfield last Wednesday morning as the legislature anticipated the Governor’s budget address. But I was in town on a different errand. I had accepted an invitation from Brian Sauder of Urbana to accompany him and others as they lobbied state legislators on a suite of environmental priorities.

Sauder is a graduate of the U of I Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Sciences who is in the process of completing a Master’s degree in Religion at the Urbana Theological Seminary. He also recently began work for an organization called “Faith in Place,” which seeks “to give religious people the tools to become good stewards of the earth.”

Sauder and his group from Faith in Place were in Springfield as part of a lobbying day organized by the Illinois Environmental Council that included more than 100 other people. Among them were representatives from the Sierra Club, Environment Illinois, Openlands, Environmental Law and Policy Center, Protestants for the Common Good and even some Girl Scouts.

Together these groups were seeking support for two legislative packages. One is a collection of bills designed to promote wind and solar power. The other is a measure that would ban use of the chemical Bisphenol-A (BPA) in plastic food containers.

The environmental groups were also asking legislators to oppose two measures currently alive in both chambers in some form. One of those would provide financing support for development in floodplains, and the other would lift the current moratorium on construction of nuclear power plants in Illinois.

Given the hectic schedules of lawmakers in session, I learned lobbying is a very hit or miss activity. The team I was with did much of its talking with staff from the offices of various legislators, who listened courteously and accepted our written materials to pass along.

We did manage to catch up with a few legislators in person, though. Among them was State Senator Michael Frerichs, who we sat down with for a 15-minute chat. He was highly favorable toward the renewable energy bills, and is in fact chief sponsor of one. But he pressed my teammates on their opposition to the development of nuclear power as an alternative to fossil fuel, and indicated he would withhold support for a ban on BPA until he felt the question of its toxicity to humans was more settled.

We also touched base directly with Representative Naomi Jakobsson, for whom environmental legislation is a priority and who voiced across-the-board support for the lobbying day positions.

I suppose the participation of a group like the Sierra Club at an environmental lobby day requires no explanation. But I asked Brian Sauder to articulate what brought him and others from Faith in Place there. This was his answer: “As a person of faith I feel responsible to work for social and environmental justice. That means accounting for the way our treatment of the earth—as individuals and as a society—impacts others. In that light it’s important to help individuals change their behavior, but it is equally important to work for change on a larger scale, too.”

You can learn more about the environmental work of Faith in Place through its Website or contact Brian Sauder at 217.649.1898 /