By Michael Marquez, Rio Grande Chapter intern
For the fall semester, Kendall Anderson and I have been leading campaigns to raise awareness at New Mexico State University and University of New Mexico, of the importance of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and how its programs impact on our state and campuses.
While most people know about the regulations and cleanups the EPA spearheads, many are not aware of how much research the EPA sponsors at universities around the country, including those in our state.
One example is the UNM College of Pharmacies Native American Health Equity Research Center, or Healthy Voices, to which the EPA has promised $1.5 million in funding. This program would, with the help of Montana State and Washington Universities, research the health and environmental impacts of uranium mining on the indigenous lands and people of the Navajo Nation, Crow Tribe and Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe.
That’s just one example. In fiscal year 2016, UNM received $565,596 in EPA funding that went to a long list of programs around campus.
But not only are we trying to spread the word on the EPA’s contributions, we are also talking about some of the myths about the agency.
Part of the challenge is that the EPA is being discussed as a partisan issue. We are reminding students about the environmental disasters that led to the agency’s creation and the bipartisan response to resolve them. My favorite quote to drive this point home comes from Ronald Reagan’s 1984 State of the Union address:
“Protecting the environment is not a liberal or conservative challenge, but a common-sense one.”
This was a little more than a decade after the agency was signed into existence by another Republican, Richard Nixon.
We are petitioning our student governments, ASUNM and ASNMSU, to make a statement of support to show our delegation in Washington D.C. where UNM stands when it comes to the EPA’s funding, and by extension the important research at our universities.
At UNM, I am organizing an Alleycat — a scavenger-hunt-style bike race that would tour Albuquerque Superfund and brownfield sites. We are working with a local cycling club called Gatos Calleros that organizes these kind of rides throughout the year.
The event would involve activities at each stop that act as a way to show students how to make political action, such as writing or calling their senators and representative. We also want to use the activity to drive home what the EPA does for our city by physically visiting toxic-waste sites, as well as buildings refurbished through the brownstone program, and why it’s worth defending.
At NMSU, Kendall is working to increase the presence of the Sierra Club and encourage activism by engaging students on social-media platforms and through outdoor activities.
These activities include a hike through the Organ Mountains Desert Peaks National Monument and outdoor mindfulness sessions around campus!
We’re hoping to build lasting relationships with students, equip them with the tools to make their voices heard, and foster appreciation for our outdoor spaces and community. For more information about NMSU’s campaign and upcoming events check out the NMSU Sierra Facebook page.