An event organized by the University’s Eco Facilitators assisted students in sending letters to their Senators urging them to protect the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) from President Donald Trump’s proposed budget cuts. Although the main job of Eco Facilitators is leading sustainability programs in first-year dorms, they wanted to involve the entire student body with an activism-oriented event in Usdan.
Inspired by the Climate Ambassadors’ success with past letter-writing events, organizers Samantha Zuniga-Levy ’19, Emma Porrazzo ’19, and Medha Swaminathan ’19 thought that this type of event would be perfect to advocate for environmental protection under the Trump presidency.
“[We] are working on a semester-long Environmental Political Action Project,” said Porrazzo. “This is one of several events we are hosting in order to respond to the ways in which the current presidential administration is actively inhibiting efforts to combat climate change.”
The event was originally going to feature letters protesting the Dakota Access and Keystone XL Pipelines, but the release of President Trump’s budget changed the focus of the event organizers.
“He just rolled out his budget when we were planning this event, and there were a ton of headlines about the EPA, so that’s what we centered in on,” said Swaminathan. “We were initially going to focus on the pipelines, but this felt more urgent. The EPA has such a broad reach.”
Before writing the letter, the group researched the effects that President Trump’s budget would have on the EPA.
“We took a look at the numbers, read a bunch of articles, and looked around on [President Trump’s] website, which was unfortunate, to put together the main issues,” Swaminathan explained. “We actually had to update the letter a bunch of times because he kept updating his budget.”
At the event, students addressed the letter to one of their Senators, signed it, and provided a return address.
The letter urged representatives to take a stand against such a cut.
“I am writing to urge you to resist President Trump’s proposed 31% budget cuts for the Environmental Protection Agency,” the letter read. “The cuts would lower the EPA budget from $8.2 billion to $5.7 billion–its lowest level in 40 years (adjusted for inflation). The Trump budget would discontinue funding for the Clean Power Plan, sharply reduce funding for the Superfund program, and reduce the budget for EPA’s Office of Research and Development by halfIt also outlined the detrimental effects a budget cut would have on the EPA. These effects include a reduction of grants that limit air pollution, defunding of environmental justice programs, and job loss.”
One of the effects of the budget cuts that troubles Swaminathan the most is the defunding of environmental justice programs.
“I think environmental justice is one of the most pressing issues in our country, which is an umbrella term to describe the ways that climate change and other environmental factors have a disproportionate effect on marginalized communities. The EPA has done a really good job recently trying to focus on environmental justice, so the fact that EPA funding is being threatened, for me, was also indicative of larger forces against social justice in this country.”
The facilitators hope that these letters will encourage Senators to oppose cuts to the EPA budget. Beyond achieving the event’s stated goal, Porrazzo hopes that this event will reaffirm the relevance of environmental issues.
“We are hoping that this event will…keep the conversation of responding to national climate-related issues constantly relevant at Wesleyan,” Porrazzo explained.
Zuniga-Levy expressed a personal connection to the event.
“I personally love the outdoors and want to do anything I can to protect the environment,” she said. “I think I’ve taken the EPA somewhat for granted in the past, but now it’s time to stand up for it.”
Porrazzo believes that this type of event shows how easy it is for people to stay involved in protecting the environment.
“Climate change is one of the most important issues facing humanity right now and while a lot of people agree that it is a problem, sometimes it is hard to know how to help or realize how little time it takes to make a difference,” Porrazzo said.