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Experts on the panel agreed that elected officials on the national and state level failed to unify the country in the midst of the environmental crisis. Pictured above is the 2017 climate change fest.

The Climate Action Alliance of the Valley hosted a panel in Harrisonburg Wednesday night to report the status and efforts of those pushing for a healthier environment in Virginia. The discussion centered around politics, as three panelists gave their opinions on state legislation, the Virginia Green New Deal, political leadership and how citizens can get involved.

Karen Lee, moderator of the panel, “Wake Up Virginia: Mobilizing for our Climate Crisis,” and member of CAAV informed the attendants that the need to gather awareness and support from citizens is crucial, especially given that problems like deforestation and water pollution are as high as they’ve ever been in Virginia.

Lee hopes to garner as much support as possible. “This is something I wish every citizen of Virginia could be in because it related to every one of them, and you,” Lee said.

The panel began by advocating for elected officials to work harder on mobilizing environmental stewards. April Moore, a panelist who currently serves as member of the Chesapeake Climate Action Network Board of Directors, expressed disappointment in U.S. political leaders.

“What we really need now, and what we lack, is leadership. We don’t have it in the White House,” said Moore. “The lesson I take from this is that we need, in 2020, to elect a new president not only who gets it about climate change and is committed, but has vision and political skills and who can help bring our nation together.”

The panel agreed that elected officials on a national and state level failed to unify the country in the fight for the environment, though coalition building and alliance formation with various groups was offered as a potential solution. Karen Campblin, co-chair of the Green New Deal Virginia Coalition and environmental and climate justice chair for the Virginia NAACP, sat on the panel in full support of such partnerships.

“As part of our coalition building, we're trying to reach out to everybody,” Campblin said. “We’re looking at labor unions, teacher federations, healthcare, transportation, all of the different pieces that we need to make sure Green New Deal Virginia is successful.”

The Sierra Club, the nation's largest grassroots environmental organization, is involved in state legislation dedicated to preserving Virginia’s environment. Recently, the group supported the Coal Ash Cleanup Act. Winning by a 98-2 vote margin, the act requires energy company Dominion Energy to clean up and recycle more than 28 million tons of coal ash from further contaminating the Chesapeake Bay.

The Sierra Club also supported the Solar Freedom bill, which sought to remove a number of obstacles in the current Virginia code that make it difficult for citizens and small businesses to easily install rooftop solar panels. The bill was struck down by the Virginia General Assembly in early 2019 due to what panelist Bob Shippee, legislative and political chair of the Sierra Club’s Virginia chapter called “a partisan blight that's struck all levels of government.”

To conclude the discussion, the audience wanted to hear ways to contribute to this statewide battle for a greener Virginia. Shippee, offered ways citizens can do their part.

“Get involved in the election. There’s an election in November, all 140 seats in the General Assembly are up, it’s crucial. We got to get some turnover there and get delegates and senators that are friendlier to the environment,” Shippee said.

Shippee added the importance of keeping in communication with elected officials about the various environmental challenges Virginia faces, even in the political offseason.

“Don’t leave your delegates and legislators alone in that offseason. Place a phone call, plant those seeds, annoy them, don’t be bashful about pestering them,” Shippee said. “Make yourself a special interest group that’s going to handle a way on your issue until they start listening to you.”     

Contact Christian Lovallo at lovallca@dukes.jmu.edu. For more coverage of JMU and Harrisonburg news, follow the news desk on Twitter @BreezeNewsJMU.