By Mona Blaber, Chapter communications coordinator

A delegation of Rio Grande Chapter volunteers visited New Mexico’s congressional delegation in Washington D.C. in late September to share stories about living near the border and growing up in the Four Corners oil, gas and coal extraction economy.

During the visit, part of the Sierra Club’s Lobby Day, which brings volunteers from around the nation, we met with Rep. Ben Ray Luján and staffers for Sen. Tom Udall, Sen. Martin Heinrich and Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham.

Each of these lawmakers has been a staunch ally in votes and sponsorship of legislation protecting our climate, water, air, land and wildlife. But all lawmakers want to hear from their constituents — and they need to know that we have their backs when they do the right thing.

Michael Marquez, a University of New Mexico student from Kirtland, in San Juan County, told the congressional delegation about growing up in a community dependent on oil, gas and coal employment.

“Growing up, we thought it was normal that our parents told us not to play at the pump jack next to our elementary school, or that we could swim in Morgan Lake in November. We didn’t realize it was warm because it cooled the generators at San Juan coal plant,” Marquez said.

“I assumed I’d eventually get an oil and gas job, but when I grew up, the jobs had dried up.”

Marquez told the policymakers that he wants more sustainable, healthy industries to invest in the Four Corners. He encouraged the senators to back the Reclaim Act, which commits $1 billion from a fund that coal-mining companies paid into in the ’60s and ’70s for economic development and diversification in communities with older abandoned coal mines. Reps. Lujan and Lujan Grisham are already sponsors of the House version of the bill, which has picked up bipartisan support.

We also expressed thanks to Rep. Lujan Grisham for standing up on the House floor recently to speak out against a budget amendment that would prevent implementation of climate-protecting methane rules. The amendment passed the House, but the Senate has not agreed on a budget yet. The deal President Trump and Democrats agreed to continues current funding levels through Dec. 8, when a new budget must be passed.

Kendall Anderson, a New Mexico State volunteer and intern, shared her experiences of living near the border and the near-constant awareness and fear of the border patrol even for citizens. She expressed the Sierra Club’s commitment to keeping funding for a border wall out of congressional budgets.

Marquez and Anderson are also student interns for a Rio Grande Chapter project to promote the life-saving mission of the Environmental Protection Agency on their campuses. Conservation chair Karl Braithwaite, who helped pass the Clean Air Act when he worked for Sen. Ed Muskie in 1970, urged our delegation to defend funding for the EPA.

EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt, who was a vocal opponent of the agency before he was named to head it, has asked for a 30% reduction in funding. The current House budget includes a 10% cut to a budget that was already bare-bones from cuts in recent years. Each of our senators and both representatives we visited promised to do everything in their power to defend the EPA’s current funding and defeat border-wall funding, but their power is limited with an anti-environment majority in both chambers.

NM volunteers visit Capitol Hill