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You can gain valuable practical experience by volunteering with an environmental organization. This practical experience can help you understand the issues and obstacles that environmental lobbyists encounter. By volunteering to work for local political campaigns or by serving as a page in Congress, you can learn about our country’s political system. If you really feel this career might be for you, try landing an internship with an environmental organization or government agency.
Environmental lobbyists strive to influence legislators and government officials through both direct and indirect lobbying. Direct lobbying involves reaching legislators themselves. Environmental lobbyists meet with members of Congress, their staff members, and other members of government. They call government officials to discuss the impact various measures might have on the environment. They sometimes testify before congressional committees or state legislatures. They distribute letters and fact sheets to legislators’ offices. They sometimes try to approach legislators as they travel to and from their offices, and some lobbyists ask legislators who share their views to broach issues with other, less sympathetic legislators.
In another form of direct lobbying, environmental lobbyists strive to persuade members of Congress to serve as cosponsors for bills the lobbyists support. When a member of Congress becomes a cosponsor of a bill, his or her name is added to the list of members supporting that measure. Lobbyists typically assume that cosponsors will vote to support the bill. They also use the list of cosponsors to influence other members of Congress to support a measure. A bill’s chances of one day becoming a law dramatically improve as more members agree to serve as cosponsors.
Indirect lobbying, also called grassroots lobbying, involves educating and motivating the public. The goal of indirect lobbying is to encourage members of the public to urge their representatives to vote for or against certain legislation. Environmental lobbyists use an array of indirect techniques. They issue press releases about pending legislation, hoping to inspire members of the media to write topical articles. They mail letters or send e-mails to citizens, urging them to write or call their representatives. They post information on the Internet via blogs or Web sites, send tweets, and sometimes go door-to-door with information to mobilize members of environmental groups. On rare occasions, they take concerned citizens to state capitals or to Washington, D.C., to meet with representatives.
For both direct and indirect lobbying efforts, environmental lobbyists try to form coalitions with other environmental groups. Members of these coalitions work together because they have a common interest in protecting the environment. By pooling information and resources, members of the coalition can be more effective in reaching the public and members of government.
Some environmental lobbyists also support political candidates who are likely to support measures that protect the environment. They promote these candidates by distributing positive information to the public and by raising money for their campaigns.
There is a huge range of environmental issues that are brought before local, state, and federal governments every year. Clean air and water, global warming, global climate change, genetic modification of crops, renewable energy, wildlife preservation, and conservation of natural resources are just a few of the major issues. A national environmental organization might lobby the federal government for tighter restrictions on air and water pollution or for laws to prohibit building or mining in an area that is a habitat of an endangered species. State and local lobbyists might propose laws to prohibit a particular company from dumping chemical waste into a specific river, offer tax credits for "green" buildings, or provide funds for the cleanup of neighborhoods in decline.
An example of effective lobbying concerns old-growth floodplain forest in South Carolina. The state once had more than one million acres of old-growth floodplain forest. The forest contained beautiful 150-foot-high loblolly pines and towering bald cypress trees, and featured more than 600 animal and plant species. In recent years, development had whittled these forests down to about 13,000 acres, with approximately 85 percent of the forests protected in the Congaree National Park (http://www.nps.gov/cong). Facing the loss of these remaining rare forests and ecosystems, the Sierra Club, an environmental advocacy organization, sprung into action. It encouraged its members to write letters to their Congressional representatives to urge them to protect the remaining acreage. It contacted the media to alert them to the issue. It also hired lobbyists to contact members of Congress regarding the issue. All this hard work paid off: Congress appropriated $1 million to protect additional old-growth floodplain forest and incorporate it into the Congaree Swamp National Monument (now Congaree National Park).