Athens advocate discusses clean energy, environmental benefits to Ohio Congress members

On March 22-23, the Ohio Sierra Club Chapter invited UpGrade Ohio’s Information and Outreach Director Mathew Roberts to join a coalition of environmental stakeholders to meet with Ohio Representatives and the staff of Ohio’s Senators in Washington D.C.

The coalition expressed concern over the administration’s proposed budget, particularly how it would affect vital restoration work being done in Ohio. This included, but not limited to: Clean energy development in Ohio, the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, climate and water quality science and monitoring, lead contamination in municipal drinking water systems, agricultural run-off mediation, and local government capacity for environmental improvement and renewable energy projects.

Tensions were high in Congress, as the halls were flooded with lobbying groups within the healthcare industry as House Republicans stalled to bring forward a “repeal and replace” bill against the current Affordable Care Act. The coalition walked into the audience viewing area from the House gallery to watch in real-time as House Democrats testified and debated against one Texas Republican Representative, who was speaking for the entire Republican Party as his counterparts were rushing to get a bill to the House floor.

The healthcare crisis in the United States sheds light on the struggles of democracy, but also the struggle for advocates, such as those represented in this environmental coalition, to get their issues heard when Congress tends to hyper-focus on one issue at a time. Alarmingly, some of the causes of the continued degrading health of U.S. citizens, which has increased insurance premiums and healthcare costs in general, can be linked directly to a lack of environmental protection that causes negative health outcomes for people living near contaminated areas. Here are some examples:


  • Harmful algal blooms have been increasing in frequency and severity over the last several years. Changes in weather as a result of climate change will exacerbate the harmful algal bloom problem – not only hurting the ecosystem of the Great Lake, but threatening the drinking water supply of 3 million Ohioans.
  • By de-funding the Clean Power Plan the Trump Administration has eliminated a program that would combat climate change, cut carbon pollution from existing power plants, and protect public health. When implemented the CPP would be preventing up to 3,600 premature deaths, 90,000 asthma attacks in children, and 300,000 missed work and school days every year.
  • Donald Trump has proposed to gut the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency budget and decimate its staff, which would prevent the agency from fulfilling its mission to protect public health and the environment. The EPA’s budget is about two-tenths of one percent of overall federal spending, and equals about 1 percent of annual defense spending. Shifting 31% of the EPA’s budget to the Defense Department amounts to a drop in the ocean for defense spending – but decimates EPA’s ability to meet its mission of protecting public health from dangerous pollution, leaving all Americans at risk. Additionally, more than a quarter of the EPA budget goes toward popular drinking water and clean air grants for states, local communities, and tribes.


Letter – From Mathew Roberts, Information and Outreach Director for UpGrade Ohio

“I was honored to be asked, again, to represent southeast Ohio interests through the organized efforts of the Sierra Club and other collaborating environmental organizations. Last September, I met with the same staff members within Senator Rob Portman and Senator Sherrod Brown’s D.C. office about the potential of the RECLAIM Act. This bill is still a gamechanger for coal-impacted regions, where mining and other coal-related employment has been steadily falling for decades. The RECLAIM Act would unleash $1 billion from the Abandoned Mine Land fund for economic development projects – creating temporary reclamation work for Appalachian states and permanent employment opportunities once the land has been reclaimed, or otherwise improved for new industry or conservation research sites.

Going back a second time has proven that lobbying your representatives is no easy task, but something everyone should do at least once in their lifetime. I say this because it is YOUR RIGHT to speak to your representatives, it is YOUR RIGHT to be heard, and it is YOUR RIGHT to hold your representatives accountable for the actions they have taken, or not taken, for their constituency (fancy word for people they represent in Congress). In September, the crisis was Flint, Michigan and the deteriorating public works that is our municipal water systems. This time it was healthcare.

I don’t know what it is going to take for our national government to realize that all of these problems are indirectly, if not directly, attributed to a lack of environmental protection, conservation, and stewardship. But I personally won’t stand idle without a fight. If we, as human beings, don’t have a healthy planet, or at least working to improve the health of these United States, how can we expect anything else to be adequate? When will we realize that we are not masters of the natural world, but we are part of it? The world is not our playground – it is our home – and we need to recognize that very quickly.

If you want to learn how to effectively lobby your representatives, whether that is at the local, state, or national level, I am cordially inviting you to the Appalachian Ohio Sierra Club’s “Showing Up for The Environment” lobby training day at the Athens Community Center on Tuesday, April 11 from 6-8 PM. I hope to see many of you there.”

Contact: Mathew Roberts – – 740-707-0131