While most students were still recovering from Thursday night out on the town, 17 members of the Free the Planet environmentalist group spent the day on Capitol Hill lobbying senators on environmental issues Friday.
The GW students joined five students from Georgetown University’s ECO-Action group to lobby the staffs of 13 Senators.
Members of national environmental organizations like the National Environmental Trust and the Alaska Wilderness League trained students on how to present themselves and the issues for three weeks prior to the visit, FTP President Amanda Fisher said
Fisher, a senior, said Friday was the first time the club had lobbied Congress and hopes do it more in the future.
“One of the most important things about (lobbying) is building a relationship with people who work in the Senate so that it can make an impact on other issues in the future as well,” Fisher said.
Students proposed three amendments to the energy bill, which recently passed the House, at meetings with Senate staff members who work on environmental policy.
The group proposed several amendments to the bill, including provisions to increase fuel efficiency in cars and light trucks, oppose drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and require utility companies to use a higher percentage of renewable resources.
“(The) energy bill is huge, and these are the main concerns and most understandable. They relate to each of our daily lives,” she said.
She said the group scheduled meetings with a wide range of Democrats and Republicans, regardless of their stance on the issues.
FTP Campaign Coordinator Tyler Van Fleet, a sophomore, said the experience lobbying is the most important part of the effort.
“It is valuable to go in and learn how to vocalize our opinions,” she said.
“It is really a big moment in our environmental movement.”
A group of three students who met with Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) legislative assistant John Myers said they had trouble getting specific information from him. Myers hesitated to comment on certain issues, saying he was not sure how Specter would vote, they said. Students ended the meeting by encouraging Myers to urge Specter to use “ethics” when considering all the proposals.
Senior Sarah Edelman said although the group did not get a chance to clearly define their issues with Myers, it was important to show that students care. She said the senator was already aware of their proposals and the most important thing to do was to get a feel of how Specter felt on the issues.
Fisher said the group was well organized but needs to do more research and target specific senators in the future.
Myers said he thinks it is important for students to lobby on the issues important to them.
“There is no ineffective way to communicate with Congress,” Myers said. “The more voices heard, the more beneficial (to us).”
He said he has spoken to GW students about environmental issues before and noted that a group of Pennsylvania college students are scheduled to discuss the energy bill with him on Monday.
Fisher said it is difficult for GW students to lobby because they address national issues.
“Other campuses usually set up things with state lobbyists on local issues,” Fisher said. “It is very hard for students to campaign on a national level like we are doing.”
She said it is difficult to gauge the impact of the meetings because it is hard to see the substantive results of the meetings.
Fisher said the group will send thank-you letters and extra information for the staffers and follow how the senators voted on the issues.
“Overall the day was awesome,” Fisher said. “I think we all learned a lot, and that is the important part.”