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Hope for our Communities, Land, and Rivers

On February 13th, the Center for Resilient Communities Environmental Justice team traveled to Charleston to attend and actively participate in Environmental Day at the State Capitol. The event brought together community organizers, environmentalists, local activists, lobbyists, and legislators alike to advocate for change in our state. The event stood out for its welcoming and relationship-focused atmosphere, providing valuable opportunities for community members and advocates to engage in meaningful conversations. Our team had the opportunity to connect with folks who were participating in the day and learn more about what motivates them to be in the space. 

When discussing environmental justice, we use the working definition as “the pursuit of addressing the disproportionate incidences of contamination and the right for all people to share equally in the benefits of a healthy environment” (Checker 2005). We heard stories of personal experiences or observations of environmental contamination in people's communities as a driving force for their work. Some folks have been exposed to contaminated drinking water from the Elk River spill, experienced contaminated source water from acid mine drainage, and experienced a lack of clean air due to emissions from many coal mines across the state. 

Participants discussed their deep love for their communities, families, and friends and their commitment to ensuring access to clean air, clean water, abundant resources, river trails, and resilient economies. These folks use their organizations as an entry point into conversations about environmental justice. They envision an economy that is diversified and stabilized, not reliant on extractive industries, where profits created are reinvested in local community development decided by those communities. Some of the ideas start with advocating for Senate Bill 532 and House Bill 5414, the orphaned well prevention act that works to plug abandoned wells across the state, and HB 5422, protecting net metering to ensure solar owners earn fair credit for electricity. 

Environmental Day at the Capitol shows us that there is hope in our communities across West Virginia. Whether looking to advocate for bills, learn more about the environmental movement, or hope to build relationships, E-Day provides a space for all these things to happen. There were many agents of change present at the capitol, wanting to do something in an effort to change the current state of their communities. By having meaningful conversations with the folks at E-Day, our team found that regardless if you have been in the movement for 30 years or are just joining, there is space and responsibility to take action. More voices in the movement are encouraged and wanted. Our vision for our state is one that this is an inclusive space that empowers more people to participate in decision-making in their communities, centers voices that are most impacted by climate change, and promotes more equitable access to our resources. Environmental Day is a reminder that we all can play a role in contributing to shaping a more sustainable and resilient future, especially young people. The prospect of returning to the Capitol for sessions or meetings with legislators seemed less intimidating now that they had gained familiarity with the process. We are eager to get back to the capitol and continue to advocate for the change we want to see in our communities, land, and rivers. Clean water is essential to all forms of life. Clean water is not a political issue; it is a human right!

                       EJ team visiting capitol

 Photo:(from left to right) our EJ team Jack Van Dusen (SDI '24), Josie Kemp-Rye (SDI '24), Grace Dever (CRC), Kennedy Lawson (CRC), Ilan Rice (SDI '24), Selena Melendez (SDI '24), Lennon Auvil (SDI '24), and                    Brooke Watters (SDI '24) visiting the Capitol for Environmental and Flood Resiliency Day