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How the Debt Ceiling Deal Undermines Critical Environmental Protections With Maya van Rossum

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Several acts were put in place by the government to ensure that the environment is well-protected and benefits every single citizen adequately. But because of the debt ceiling deal, these are not being implemented to their fullest. Corinna Bellizzi speaks once again with Maya van Rossum of Green Amendments For the Generations. This time, they discuss how the debt ceiling deal undermines critical environmental protections. The two explain how it hinders people from enjoying clean water and air, as well as puts endangered species at more risk. They talk about the needed work at the federal level to make a real change in this matter and finally create a Green Amendment in the US Constitution. Maya also highlights a glimmer of hope happening in Montana, where youth plaintiffs are fighting against climate change and demanding their constitutional right for a healthful environment.

About Maya van Rossum

CMBB 146 | Debt Ceiling DealMaya K. van Rossum is the Founder of Green Amendments For the Generations, a grassroots non-profit inspiring constitutional recognition and protection of environmental rights in every state and ultimately at the federal level. She is also the Delaware Riverkeeper, leading the 4 state, watershed-based advocacy organization, the Delaware Riverkeeper Network, for 30 years. Since launching her national Green Amendment movement, New York passed a Green Amendment in 2021, with proposals advancing in 12 additional states. She authored the book The Green Amendment, The People’s Fight For a Clean, Safe & Healthy Environment which was released in its second edition in November 2022.

Guest LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/maya-van-rossum-21803114/

Guest Website: https://forthegenerations.org/

Guest Social: https://twitter.com/MayaKvanRossum

Additional Resources Mentioned: https://forthegenerations.org/active-states/, https://caremorebebetter.com/stand-up-with-the-earth-fighting-against-fossil-fuels-and-climate-change-with-tzeporah-berman-founder-of-standearth-and-fossilfueltreatyorg/, https://caremorebebetter.com/creating-a-spark-in-climate-activism-through-music-with-donna-grantis/

Show Notes: – Mixed Audio

00:00 – Introduction

02:03 – Debt ceiling deal

04:35 – National Environmental Policy Act

10:33 – Mountain Valley Pipeline

13:19 – Preventing backdoor practices

15:55 – 14th Amendment and the Biden Administration

19:52 – Youth activism in Montana

29:12 – Working for a Green Amendment

36:49 – Bringing voices together for positive activism

42:45 – Arguments about rights

46:50 – Closing Words

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How the Debt Ceiling Deal Undermines Critical Environmental Protections With Maya van Rossum

I’m thrilled to get back to the topic of climate activism with someone we have connected with before, Maya van Rossum. She is the Founder of Green Amendments for the Generations, a grassroots nonprofit inspiring constitutional recognition and protection of environmental rights in every state and ultimately at the Federal level. She is also the Delaware Riverkeeper, leading the four-state watershed-based advocacy organization, the Delaware River Keeper Network, for many years.

Since launching her National Green Amendment Movement, New York passed a green amendment in 2021 with proposals advancing in twelve additional states. She authored the book, The Green Amendment, to help people fight for a clean, safe and healthy environment at their local levels and grassroots levels to inspire and activate them.

We have so much to talk about. We are going to talk about the debt ceiling deal, what it means to the go-forward plans for a healthy and clean environment and why you might need to be concerned about some of these deals in the background. Changes are inserted here and there that don’t move forward with the will of the people. I’m going to invite her up to the stage again. Maya, welcome back.

Thanks so much for having me.

It is nice to have you. When I saw your press agent come in contact with me, I was like, “I know her. She can come back. Let’s do it.” I’m excited to have you on. In our last conversation, we dove into the content of your book. Its second edition is broadly available. We talked about the Inflation Reduction Act, something else that affects many people. We are here to dig into the controversial topic of the debt ceiling deal. Can you give us a download on what the consequences are of this deal and help us understand what we can do about it?

My focus in looking at the deal was the environmental ramifications. There are a lot of other social aspects to it but that is beyond my expertise so I won’t even try to go there. When the debt ceiling manufactured crisis and battle was going on, it didn’t even occur to me that I needed to be paying attention because we were talking about the debt ceiling. We weren’t talking about the environment and environmental protection or lack thereof.

At the end of the Memorial Day weekend, suddenly, it became clear that there were all kinds of environmental implications and aspects to the debt ceiling deal. I was quite shocked and found myself quickly having to dig in to figure out what was happening. It wasn’t just a shock to find out that there was anything in there at all about the environment but it was quite a shock to see how the legislators and the President had misused this process to undermine critical environmental protections.

Why am I not surprised?

That is the sad state of affairs. I can give you a quick rundown. When it comes to funding, there were areas where government funding was put on hold. They put on a bit of a freeze. That is going to have implications for environmental protection because the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of the Interior need funding to implement and enforce critical environmental protection laws.

We talked about this last time, how their funding had already been undermined under the Trump administration. They were already operating with too little money. Things were starting to get better. This freeze is going to continue to have implications for the ability of those agencies to do that critical work. That is number one.

Number one is freezing non-defense spending for the Environmental Protection Agency and beyond.

Number two, there is the first major environmental protection law passed in the United States of America. It is called the National Environmental Policy Act. This law is considered to be more of a procedural law, not a substantive law. What I mean is it puts in place procedures that have to be followed when the government is looking to take action that will impact the environment. It doesn’t put in place standards. You can only release X amount of pollution. It is more about reviewing.

Under the National Environmental Policy Act, when government officials are undertaking major actions that will impact the quality of the environment, they have to look at what are going to be the ramifications. What will be the environmental implications of that dredging project of approving that new fossil fuel project or whatever it is that they are proposing to do?

It is an oversight committee.

Look at the implications and the other options. What are the other alternatives? What the impacts would be if you implemented alternatives A, B or C versus the proposal? It also requires the government to consider what they call the no-action alternative. What would be the ramifications, positive or negative, if we didn’t do this at all? It is about getting good quality information to inform government decision-making. The government does not have to pick the best option after they do their analysis but they at least have the information. That is important.

The third was something that was a little shocking to me.

NEPA wasn’t wiped away but it was modified in ways that damaged it. That is the National Environmental Policy Act. Under NEPA, the amount of time and the number of pages that could be used to assess these impacts and alternatives, there were arbitrary limits put in place. It is a limit on the number of pages that could be part of either the environmental assessment or the environmental impact statement that was done pursuant to NEPA. These environmental assessments or environmental impact statements, different documents for different reasons, could be written by the industry that is going to benefit from the decision the government’s about to make.

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Debt Ceiling Deal: Under NEPA, there were arbitrary limits put in place to the amount of time and the number of pages that could be used to assess impacts and alternatives.

It is like the fox guarding the hen house. The government will have to oversee that document but the primary responsibility for that document could be to that regulated entity. It also opens the door for things like economic considerations to be put into place. If an industry wants to do something that requires government approval, they could start to say things like, “It is going to be expensive. It is going to be expensive so we don’t have to consider the environmental impacts.” They get out from under this informational process.

If they are already limited in how much data they can review, you are opening the door to cherry-picking whatever is going to tell the story that you want to be told to convince people, which ultimately, while it might take less time and review, isn’t the whole picture.

Neither the government has the full picture nor the people who are going to be impacted. Underneath there is a robust opportunity for people to give information, engage in this process and understand and comment on what is the analysis that has been put forth. If you are artificially truncating the number of pages, the amount of time and putting in place all of these qualifiers, that limit has to be considered in this document based on things like economics and other terms like, “Is it reasonably foreseeable? Who defines that?” You are starting to strip away more of the opportunities and the protections for public engagement, including those who are going to be on the front lines on the receiving end of whatever the damages are of that project.

NEPA has been weakened. What I say is, “This time, it was NEPA, an iconic, important law to environmental activists and community members but a large process review project.” Next time, it might be the Clean Water Act, Safe Drinking Water Act, Clean Air Act, Endangered Species Act or all of them. These are all iconic critical environmental protection laws that those on the conservative side of the spectrum have for years wanted to weaken. That weakening is happening in large part at the Supreme Court.

Legislators have been unable to modify those laws in ways that weaken them because they couldn’t make it through the legislative process under the transparent eye of the people and sunlight. A backroom deal, an iconic, powerful law, was rewritten in a critically harmful way. Game on for any other environmental protection law that legislators won a weakened but they can’t do it in the bright light of sunshine and the transparency of the legislative process. That was number two.

It sets a precedent for the bad actors to use it as an example and shove more unpopular ideas through with deals.

Number three was also a true shocker. In Virginia and West Virginia, there has been a proposal to build a fracked gas pipeline, a natural gas pipeline, transporting gas that’s fracked from the earth, which is a devastating industrial process, highly polluting, devastating for the climate, human health and environment.

This pipeline called the Mountain Valley Pipeline would travel for 3 miles across portions of Virginia and West Virginia, cutting through mountains, forests, rivers, environments, communities, private property and public property. Whatever is in its way would have to be cut and fall so this fracked gas pipeline could be installed. There have been assessments that when this project if it were completed, would be responsible for leasing 89 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent every single year. It is a devastating climate project as well as a devastating environmental project.

From what I understand, this deal mandates the approval of the Mountain Valley pipeline. Is that a done deal? Is that what that means?

Yes, it is. What this debt ceiling deal did was mandated that the Federal government expedite and issue all essential environmental approvals for this project. Permits and approvals that they have been unable to secure or that they had secured and that communities had challenged in the courts and defeated, all these environmental regulatory requirements are bypassed. All those approvals must be given on an expedited basis. The ability of the courts to consider challenges to these approvals has been largely truncated or removed.

Communities have successfully gone to court and challenged approvals given to the Mountain Valley Pipeline project because they are claiming that they did not comply with the law. It challenges succeeded because the people convinced the court that these approvals did not comply with the law. Therefore, the approvals or the permits were wiped away and the project has been slowed down or at this point, stopped. All of that goes under the bus. This project does become a done deal with all of its devastating consequences.

This is why I said it was the most devastating piece. It is because we feel. As a community of climate activists and sustainability advocates, we make little progress. We chip away at that block and make progress. It is 1 step forward and defiantly 2 back. There is nothing we can do about it. How do we confront issues like this and remain somewhat optimistic? How can we, as a collective, shine more light on these backdoor practices and prevent them from occurring in the first place?

With the legislation, I want to emphasize it. To me, this becomes the legislator’s vote for sale. The next time we have this debt ceiling “crisis,” legislators of all sorts are going to be safe. They were like, “You don’t get my vote until my dirty fossil fuel project or my devastating dredging project is put into the backroom deal-making process and put on paper. You get me what I have been fighting for all these years, no matter what the devastating consequences for communities, the environment, constituents and future generations. It is only when you put it in the deal will you get my vote.” That is the groundwork that we have laid.

We have to remain hopeful. Our only other option is to sit down and shut up. If we sit down and shut up, we lose. We have to rise, be impassioned and use our democratic process to empower us and empower us in a couple of ways. First, anybody who voted for this part of the dirty deal, vote them out of office. There may have been other things about this deal that people liked and thought were fine but other legislators could have and would have voted for those good things but not succumbed to the dirty deal-making.

This dirty deal didn’t have to happen. We heard all the talk about the 14th Amendment of the Constitution. The President could have used that and legislators should have forced him to use that before inflicting this harm on our communities and future generations. We need to hold accountable those who sold us out. That is number one. Number two, we do need to be demanding that reforms be put in place. This can’t happen again. Whether it is the 14th Amendment or wiping away the debt ceiling, we need to be demanding legislative change that prevents this from happening.

For those that may be unaware of this conversation about the 14th Amendment, can you give us an overview of what Biden and his office had to say about that particular piece of this whole puzzle?

The 14th Amendment says that the full faith and credit that the US government’s debts cannot be challenged and questioned. If you can’t challenge them and they must be honored, an artificial debt ceiling crisis, like the legislator saying, “We can’t pay our bills because we are not going to raise the debt ceiling,” would be in contravention of the 14th Amendment. That mandates that the US government pay off all of the debts that it incurs. This is a constitutional obligation. The fact that the US government will do this, it will not be questioned, cannot be questioned, should not be challenged and cannot be undermined. It’s the language I don’t have fully in my head but that is the concept.

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Debt Ceiling Deal: The 14th Amendment says that the US government’s debts cannot be challenged or questioned. An artificial debt ceiling crisis would be in contravention of that.

This debt ceiling idea says to the President and the government, “You are prohibited from paying US debts.” That would be in contravention of the Constitution. The President should have said, “This debt ceiling is in and of itself. This whole concept and the failure you are to vote for it is unconstitutional. I’m constitutionally obliged to pay our debts. You, the Congress, can’t challenge or question that.” There were legal experts coming out saying that this was viable and doable. The President started to talk about it, ghosted the concept and went silent.

There is got to be a motivation behind that. This is the part where I get all my skepticism comes on high alert because, from the far right in particular, I heard nothing like, “Biden is killing the economy. We are going to crash world markets. In six months, people are going to be losing their homes again. This is going to be worse than the 2008 crashes of our housing markets.”

This is the fear-mongering I have been hearing from the far right side. The left side has been still saying some of the same things like, “We need to raise the debt ceiling because if we do not, these are some of the challenges that we will face. Our creditors could come, ask for the money and stop giving us those resources. We won’t be able to pay for these social programs that we have in effect, including perhaps even some of the benefits Americans rely on.”

You may not have an answer for this. I’m asking the question broadly. How do we even have faith in the process when all that we, as the public, are getting is spin that is doctored to a specific purpose, to rile a base rather than to inform? That is how I feel at this point. It is making me outraged. At the same time, I also have been watching things that are happening in other spots around the globe, whether it be the issues of dams that we have built in the Pacific Northwest that are crumbling and our government continues to fund because we always have. We got lobbyists crawling in your ear and saying, “They need it because of Army Corps of Engineer involvement.”

It is almost like a government thing that is continuing its rolling to look at what’s happening in Montana. We have young activists coming with hope forward and utilizing concepts from your work to say, “We have a right to clean air, drinking water and environments to enjoy the great outdoors and not be stuck in a polluted environment that you have created and that we have not.”

I was hoping that we could talk for a moment about what is happening in Montana as a perhaps hopeful perspective because we are talking about a state that is right-leaning. Unfortunately, right-leaning states and the extreme red, especially, have tended not to protect the environment and have tended not to make decisions that are going to introduce more regulation, control and common sense about how we treat our resources. They have tended to vote in favor of extractive principles that we have all seen aren’t working. Let’s start there. Let’s talk about the suit that is held versus Montana, the young people leading it and why it is momentous.

That is the next step of opportunity, accountability and using our democracy to make the change. We got to do what we can at the Federal level because there is a lot of power at the Federal level. We see that. There is also a lot of power at the state level when it comes to environmental protection. That respect and power at the state level are built into the legal system in place here in the United States of America when it comes to environmental protection.

One of the things that we can do is grab hold of our state constitutions and the Bill of Rights section of those constitutions, called the Declaration of Rights section in some states. We can use our power as people to work the process to get added to that Bill of Rights, Declaration of Rights section of the Constitution, a right of the people to pure water, clean air, a stable climate and healthy environments. Ensure those rights are given the same most powerful protection as we give to other fundamental rights like free speech, freedom of religion and private property rights.

This is a gross comparison but the right to bear arms. We all see how powerfully that right is protected because it is in the Bill of Rights section of our state and Federal constitutions. Imagine if we placed in the Constitution the right of the people to a clean, safe and healthy environment, how powerfully we could use that tool. That right exists in Pennsylvania and Montana. We got it in the State of New York in 2022.

In Pennsylvania, we use that right to defeat an excruciatingly disgusting pro-fracking piece of fossil fuel legislation. In the State of New York, they have been using their newly minted right to help address critical air contamination that was being left unaddressed under the existing laws. In Montana, their amendment has been used in a variety of ways but it is being used by the Our Children’s Trust Organization with a number of youth plaintiffs saying, “We have a constitutional right to a clean and healthful environment. That includes a right to a safe climate.”

This litigation has been brought in other states where they didn’t have Green Amendments. When those states were challenged and the courts were asked to dismiss them out of the gate, the courts agreed, dismissed them and said, “Yes, there is no right to this. Based on the language and the constitution, it was dismissed.” Montana has a Green Amendment so with this most powerful constitutional language, which is why I call it a Green Amendment, it is a certain type of environmental rights amendment that meets the key criteria I have identified in my book and laid out as part of this work.

The state said on multiple occasions, “Courts, we want you to dismiss this case because the kids don’t have this.” The court said, “No, they have a right. The climate is an environmental entitlement or at least they have the right to make the argument that it should be.” The youth do have a right to a clean and healthful environment, including climate, so they are entitled to the opportunity to go to court and make their case to prove that what the Montana State government is doing is resulting in a violation of their right to a safe climate and a healthy environment.

It is the Green Amendment language that has provided the powerful foundation and allowed that case to resist motions to dismiss and it is advancing to the courts. The lawyers for our children’s trust working with the youth and some other lawyers from other good environmental organizations are teaming up to make that case. It is going to be historic in terms of making this argument that people do have a right to a safe climate.

In my Green Amendment work, it is going to be historic but it is going to prove the point that when we get constitutional Green Amendments added to the Bill of Rights section of our state constitutions, we are putting in place the most powerful protection for our rights to a safe climate as well as other fundamental human environmental rights that we all hold dear in our hearts. Unless we can get it into the Constitution, they are not enforceable. We transform that.

Montana is going to prove that point, which I hope is going to make people get the book, The Green Amendment. Go to the website, ForTheGenerations.org so we can work together to get these kinds of entitlements in every state constitutions across our nation. When the Federal government sells us out, we can turn around and hold our state governments accountable. Eventually, we will get a Federal Green Amendment but we are going to start with the states because we can do it in the short-term in the near term and we can get powerful protection when we do it that way.

I listened to a podcast episode by The Weeds in which they were interviewing some of the people involved and also took comments from the state as well as others, saying that they felt like there wasn’t cause for the suit and that is what they were going to focus on proving out in court. These individuals could not demonstrate that the actions of the state were putting them specifically in harm and could not prove that the actions within the state were degrading the environment.

This will be interesting to see play out. At the same time, I had this thought as I was listening to these young activists explaining their case and pleading with their enthusiastic activism. That was, “What it would be like to be listening to this person from the other side of the aisle that I sit on? What it feels like to have somebody in their teens and early twenties tell me this is my fault?”

I have been an activist since I was nine years old. I know that in pursuing law and pivoting your focus to environmental protection, this is not your fault. Collectively, there are many people in our generation and even our parents’ generation who have continued to fight for the environment and mindful practices, who have continued to say, “The extractive principles of our present capitalistic society don’t create a future where we can all succeed.”

I have listened to some of these individuals and on the heels of hearing them, one part of me is cheering them on and saying, “Yes, come out and say it.” The other part of me is saying, “You don’t understand how you sound. You don’t understand how hard many of us have worked to continue shining light on these issues to saying no with our presence and understanding, advocating with every fiber of our being for the things we believe in.”

This is partly the fallacy of youth. We all sound like that when we are 15, 20, 25 and sometimes even 30. The perspective of having been in this fight for so long can change how you even hear. It enables you to understand how to try and have this conversation in a way that doesn’t alienate the other side of the aisle because I feel like that is where we are. We have a young, vibrant activist community that is willing to say all the difficult things and come out hard on a specific line and say, “How dare you?” Like we heard from Greta Thunberg, “How dare you put me in this situation? It is you.”

I don’t think we are going to make progress this way. We need solutions that enable us to reach across the aisle and say, “You are my friend and partner.” We need to lock arms and build a solution together. How are we going to get there if we are accepting money from these giant fossil fuel companies? How are we going to get there if we are not able to make this a nonpartisan issue?” This has been brewing for a while. I’m on the verge of tears. I feel a little bit chilled at the same time because I want to see things change. I want to see us capable of moving the volley, going towards that touchdown and winning a game as opposed to being stuck at a scrimmage line.

That is one of the things about the work to get a Green Amendment. The courtroom is a different place and space. That battle is a different place and space. When we achieved our victory against the pro-fossil fuel law that was passed by the Pennsylvania legislature in 2012 and signed by the governor, there was a conservative court in place in the Pennsylvania Supreme Court led by an incredibly conservative chief justice.

This powerful, beautiful opinion was written and breathed legal life into Pennsylvania’s constitutional Green Amendment and set me on my path of founding this Green Amendments For The Generations Movement and writing the book was that conservative chief justice who wrote the opinion in these beautiful, powerful words. In making the case, we can change hearts and minds but to have the opportunity to make the case, we have to have a legal foundation. That is what the Green Amendment does. It provides that legal foundation.

In the effort to work towards a Green Amendment, what I see in the fifteen states from coast to coast, including in the Hawaiian Islands where we are working, there are states of all different political persuasions. We have Green Amendment proposals, not in places like New Jersey, Maine and Washington State, that are traditionally thought of as more environmentally leaning and liberal. We have Green Amendment proposals advancing in Florida. That one is advancing by citizen petition. The people are grabbing the power and doing it through signature.

We have Green Amendment proposals in New Mexico and Iowa. We have proposals that were put forth in 2023 in Nevada and Texas. There is a proposal in Arizona. It is not moving quickly but it is there. We have a proposal in Delaware. What I see in the communities that are working on getting these proposals adopted by the legislature and accepted by the people like we had to have happened in the State of New York or Florida. It is about convincing people to sign the petition that is necessary to get the Green Amendment on the ballot before the people.

People are going into different communities with people of all different political persuasions, all colors, ethnicities, backgrounds, wealth categories and different kinds of jobs, farmers, business people and developers. They are having good conversations, trying to use the terminology that meets people where they are at. They are talking with the farmer, who may traditionally be viewed as more conservative and perhaps more opposed but about how the farmer needs clean water to do their work. How farms and farmers have lost their entire livelihoods, farms and herds due to PFAS contamination and how devastating that has been.

Coming together in conversation about this idea, this is not a partisan issue. This is a people issue. We all need clean water and clean air. We all need a healthy environment to have beautiful, joyous, healthy lives, including jobs and economic income. Sometimes the conversations are hard and challenging, particularly when you are talking with certain kinds of legislators or frack industrial gas operators. They are not going to come around and we have to acknowledge that. Many people recognize that we all are in the same place and space when it comes to the environment. We all need a clean, safe and healthy environment. It is beautiful to hear those good conversations.

[bctt tweet=”Saving the environment is not a partisan issue. It is a people issue. Everyone needs a healthy environment to have beautiful, joyous, and healthy lives.” username=””]

When it comes to advocacy and how people advocate for the things they care about, I am often asked to change the way I advocate or I’m asked to say, “Maya, you are the leader. You should talk to everybody. Tell them how to advocate, bring forth facts and figures, be reasonable and not bring forth their poems and their art. Nobody wants to hear their songs.” They will say, “Only the young people should advocate on this issue. Only the elderly should advocate. Only people of certain political persuasions, races, ethnicities or people who live in certain geographic locations should advocate on this issue.”

I have this belief that we need all voices, all people coming and advocating in the way that works for them. On the other side of the aisle, when it comes to the decision-makers, they are all different personalities too. Some of those legislators are going to react to the angry hold accountable. They might not at first but they are going to think about it.

There are a lot of personalities and I tend to be one of them, like you come right at me. I might be like, “I will think about it.” There are going to be some who need the facts and the figures or some who don’t advocate with that beautiful poem song or heartfelt story and the tears. The decision-makers all hear and respond to different kinds of messages and messengers themselves.

We need all the different voices and people advocating the way that it naturally comes forth out of them. It is as powerful and convincing as it possibly can be because they are the ones owning it. When we have that diversity of voices, we are going to have a way to connect with all of the diversity of decision-makers that we need.

[bctt tweet=”We need all the different voices and people advocating for a common goal that it naturally comes forth out of them. It is as powerful and convincing as it possibly can be because they are the ones owning it.” username=””]

That is my belief and what I have seen in the world. I’m often struck. You can see how decision-makers respond and react differently in the moment or over time to different advocacy and messengers. I feel like it works when we all do it the way that works best for us. Sometimes people are advocating. They are coming at me and suggesting that I haven’t done enough or using broad language where it might seem like I’m swooped up in the category of people they are talking about because I’m seventeen in my heart and in the way I behave but I’m not seventeen. I say, “I don’t own that because that is not me. I don’t know who you’re talking to but you are not talking to me.” I let it be directed at whomever they are speaking to.

We need more voices. More women our age are standing up and not pushing it off on the younger generations because we have the perspective of the years that we have been at this and maybe thinking about other ways to get the message across that might land a little differently, be heard a little differently and open the door to consideration in a new way.

When you are easily labeled as an idealist activist, some people and in particular, those that don’t agree with you, will automatically dismiss the message. That is something we have to break through with everybody. I know it will take a lot. I was thrilled to see when I interviewed Tzeporah Berman on this show and talked about the reality of the fossil fuel treaty and why we need to work so hard to hold these companies accountable, have the hard conversations, be in the boardrooms and do all the work was critical.

It got picked up by Donna Grantis, who is a musician. She chose to start an entire album that she is working on releasing where she takes the words of activists like Tzeporah Berman and plays them to music to reach another audience. She made the point in her interview with me. Those facts and figures you were referring to a little bit ago, Maya, are going to speak to one person but music and the arts will speak to another.

We need to do our best to open our hearts and our minds. As a species and people, we need to try a little harder not to just label one another and shove each other in a box because we are not going to make progress that way. Sadly, even the word progress has become something that is labeled by the progressives and far left.

The next thing to progress is the movement forward. It is a positive change. We should all advocate for positive change. I call it the common sense metric. What makes sense? It makes sense for everybody to care about this, to care about clean air, clean water and basic protections. At the same time, you have Texas ruling that sanctuary cities can’t exist. Your laws there are unenforceable. It is a mess.

I had sat in the room when somebody stood up more than one person and said, “It was ridiculous that we would protect the right to clean water in the same way we protect the right to free speech.” He said it in such and I’m thinking to myself, “Free speech is powerful and important in a democracy.” It is how people get their voice and how we make a change.

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Debt Ceiling Deal: Free speech is powerful and important in a democracy. It is how people get their voice and how we make a change.

To suggest that our ability to drink the quality water necessary to keep ourselves alive so we could participate in that free speech, isn’t that a little bit odd? The other one was we would compare it to freedom of religion. That was absurd. It is striking. It is important for us to try to have conversations where we are meeting people where they are at. The truth is I have heard plenty of legislators say, “They are just kids.”

That is what I’m getting at. It is easy to dismiss.

I have heard plenty of legislators say, “He is so old.” You can see the dismissiveness when a Black person comes up to speak. You could see it in the body language of some people. It was like, “I don’t know. What is it?” You have receptors and neurons. Different receptors or neurons connect in different ways. How I think about the advocates and the decision makers is if we have everybody there, we are eventually going to find the right receptor or neuron to come together.

I have had people who have been dismissive of people who have come forth with their art, people who have come forth and sung a song or read a poem that captured the essence of what they were trying to communicate about a pipeline. At the very same time, when that disregard is obvious on the face of some and you hear about it later and when I’m thinking about one particular moment when a woman came forth to the microphone nervous and her voice was shaking, she quietly started to sing her song. She sang it got a little bit louder but not much louder. It wasn’t like she came to own it. She was nervous.

When she was advocating, even though you could see the disregard on the face of many, you could hear a pin drop in that room when she took the microphone, not when others took the microphone to talk about their facts and figures. I agree with you. The power of art is there. By some, it will be embraced and by some, it will be dismissed. It is important for those of us who have been engaged for a long time and have a lot of experience, knowledge and abilities that we do not allow ourselves to be sidelined by anybody. We own our voice. I’m with you on that.

I hear things like somebody saying, “What do you mean nobody should have a right to clean drinking water?” I think, “Bought by for the pharma industry. Is that it? Who is talking in your ear?” In a way, keeping them sick funds the entire pharma industry. If you don’t have clean drinking water and good food, you go to Taco Bell for your dinner and pay $1 for a bean burrito, you are not getting adequate nutrition. You end up with arterial degradation. You are going to the doctor. That whole business is getting your health, vitality and dollars. It is a sad reality.

We need that. You are only going to get good quality food grown in good quality soil with good quality water. If you can’t get those good vegetables or you can’t get those good quality nutrients in your body one way or another, you fall prey.

[bctt tweet=”You can only get good quality food grown in good quality soil with good quality water. If you can’t get those nutrients in your body one way or another, you fall prey.” username=””]

It is sad. It is a vicious cycle because what might start with something as simple as saying, “You need to have access to clean air and drinking water.” Everybody should be able to go to their tap, open the spigot and get water that is safe and clean. We are not producing the same level of plastic waste because we are going and getting Alhambra jugs, these giant things, delivered to our house every few weeks to have drinking water. Why should we have to pay money for that? Shouldn’t this be a public utility where we have clean and safe drinking water? We could keep talking about this. I’m a little angry.

You come off as very wise and caring. That is how I view it.

I wish we were in a different space. I didn’t realize until I got this reach out from your team that the debt ceiling was even related to what is happening with environmental protection. The fact that it came as a broad-side surprise is unsettling.

One of the reasons why they got away with it is when you listen to the news reports on all the news outlets. Did you ever hear them talk about the environment?

Not once.

I tried hard and I’m sure others did. I only know the day off and/or the day after but if people had known about it.

By that time, I was focused on wildfires in Canada. I’m like, “What is happening in Canada?” I’m heading to New Jersey. I’m like, “I’m going to be there, see that and experience it.” This knowledge that while in California, where I live, we were evacuated from our home and were ravaged by floods in 2022, which has cost an incredible amount of financial resources and my bank account to help solve those issues.

It is one thing after the other, from fire to flood. People are making baseline comments of, “It is cold in June. Global warming is not such a thing.” With the way our environment works and the global society we are in, fires have shifted a little bit to somewhere else because they didn’t get the water that we got too much of. We have these continual issues we face. I’m a little tired of the skepticism around the human effect of climate change.

We have pathways. We are going to take advantage of them and make a difference.

You got the second edition of this book out in full circulation, The Green Amendment: The People’s Fight for a Clean, Safe and Healthy Environment. My hope is we will get one passed in California. We don’t have to keep having these conversations about what is happening in my local environment. Thank you so much for joining me. I know we have gone on a couple of little meandering paths here but I wondered if there was something that you wanted to leave our audience with as a closing thought.

CMBB 146 | Debt Ceiling Deal
The Green Amendment: The People’s Fight for a Clean and Healthy Environment

I want to inspire people to be engaged and find that issue they care about. Is it the climate? Is it a species? Is it that special wetlands in your backyard or your community that perhaps is being threatened or needs a little bit of loving care of some native plants? Get active. Do something every day in your community or with your government to make a difference. Making personal changes is important. Don’t get that plastic water bottle. We have to hold our government responsible for making it as easy as possible for us to do better and mandate that business operations do better.

Maya, thank you so much. I want to direct people to your website ForTheGenerations.org. They can pick up a copy of your book there. They can also find out what other states have Green Amendments in progress and what they can do to help support them. That is a fantastic tool. I appreciate all of your work and that you are willing to shine a light on these issues. Go to Montana and witness everything happening there. I’m thrilled to have had the chance to connect with you again.

Thanks for having me. I enjoy it.

To connect with Maya van Rossum and to get your copy of The Green Amendment: The People’s Fight for a Clean and Healthy Environment, visit ForTheGenerations.org. It is critical that we keep this conversation going with small actions like sharing this show with your community or notes to your congresspeople. You could even go on a lobby day or speak up at your local city hall.

There is hope, after all, even when you are as angry as I am. We can all play a role in resolving our global crises and our environment. I hope you will let me know what you think of this episode. You can leave me a voicemail message. You can tap that microphone icon in the bottom right-hand corner of the website or send me an email note directly from the site.

I will be happy to answer any questions you have. I’m always thrilled to hear from our community. Some of the guests I have featured have come specifically from you. I want to thank you for that. Thank you, readers, now and always for being a part of this show and community because together, we can do so much more. We can care more. We can be better. We can even pass a comprehensive Green Amendment at the Federal level. We have to keep at it. Thank you.

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  • Maya K. Van Rossum

    Maya K. van Rossum is author of the book The Green Amendment, The People’s Fight For a Clean, Safe & Healthy Environment (2d edition coming November 1, 2022). Maya is the Founder of Green Amendments For the Generations, a grassroots non-profit inspiring constitutional recognition and protection of environmental rights in every state and ultimately at the federal level. van Rossum is also the Delaware Riverkeeper, leading the 4 state, watershed-based advocacy organization, the Delaware Riverkeeper Network, for 30 years. Since launching her national Green Amendment movement, New York passed a Green Amendment in 2021, proposals are advancing in 12 additional states, and there is increasing use of amendments in Pennsylvania and Montana.

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