Recycling. Driving a hybrid. Not driving at all and using transit. Turning off the water when you brush your teeth. Replacing your light bulbs with compact fluorescents.
When you think about being green, these actions likely come to mind first. But what is the greenest thing you can do?
It’s actually the easiest. All you have to do is vote.
Elected officials at the local, state, and national levels can change laws and implement policies that can do more to protect the planet than our individual actions can accomplish alone. Your vote can put conservation-minded officials in office who can make laws that will save the Earth, or at least make our little corner of the planet in Alabama a little healthier.
In 2010, all legislative and constitutional offices in Alabama are up for election. You will have the opportunity to vote in, or out, candidates based on their environmental records. It’s patriotic. It’s powerful. It’s green. It’s your vote.
But in order to vote for legislative candidates based on their environmental record, we must look at the whole body of work. Conservation Alabama plays a unique role in this regard. As the only full-time environmental lobby organization in Montgomery, we work everyday to make sound environmental policy a political reality.
Over the last three years, the Alabama State Legislature has made some strides toward a greener Alabama. In 2008, the legislature passed a fee increase for dumping waste at landfills, which is funding an Alabama Department of Environmental Management grant program to municipalities to start their own recycling programs.
In 2009, the legislature passed bills that would allow the state to consider the “life cycle” cost of purchases when putting items such as vehicles out for bid. The state estimates it will save $1 million annually in energy costs by purchasing compact fluorescent light bulbs.
While these are just some examples of recent legislative accomplishments, 2010 will be a touchstone year for green legislation.
With Alabamians consuming more energy per capita than any other state, the Joint Legislative Committee on Energy is continuing to promote legislation that will reduce our energy use in the state. One bit of legislation in the package of energy bills in 2010 is a Conservation Alabama-drafted bill to establish a sales tax holiday on EPA-rated Energy Star appliances. Such a holiday will help Alabamians make the transition into a more energy-efficient lifestyle while revving up our sluggish economy.
However, over the past few years, the Alabama Education Association has opposed the Energy Star bill because it would draw funding from education coffers. That expense is minimal, though–the state estimates the loss in revenue to be only $147,000 annually. Many states, such as our neighbors in Georgia, that have sales tax holidays for school supplies and Energy Star appliances report that that weekend is the third biggest sales weekend of the year, following the days after Thanksgiving and Christmas. Therefore, the increase in volume of purchases of non-tax exempt items can offset the lost revenue from the holiday.
In addition, it is time to renew our commitment to the state land preservation program, Forever Wild. In its 17-year history, this program has purchased and preserved more than 200,000 acres of land for hunting, recreation, and wildlife protection for current and future generations. As the program will sunset in 2012, we need to ensure funding is renewed and even more important lands can enjoy the status of “forever wild.”
While these are some proactive measures we’ll be working on 2010, Conservation Alabama has a 10-year track record of stopping bad environmental legislation, which we hope to continue in 2010.
First, Alfa is pushing its Family Farm Preservation Act–a veiled attempt to protect corporate hog farm operators from nuisance lawsuits. These hog farms produce noxious smells, threaten water quality and bring large black flies to rural communities. Working with citizen groups throughout the state, we hope to defeat this bill for a ninth year.
Several proposals are aimed at raiding $1 billion from the Alabama Trust Fund, our state’s savings account, to build new roads. Not only will this reduce funding for Forever Wild, it will drive sprawl and do very little about the crumbling infrastructure that plagues Alabama. We helped defeat this proposal in 2009, and we will be working again in 2010 to stop this ill-advised plan.
These are just some of the many conservation-related bills expected this legislative session. You can keep track of the bills we are following by visiting conservationalabama.org and signing up to receive our weekly Conservation Hot List.
By setting a clear green agenda, and then evaluating our elected officials based on those priorities, Conservation Alabama will work to have more conservation-minded state leaders after the 2010 elections.
But your green vote will be the difference.
Adam R. Snyder is executive director of Conservation Alabama. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.