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Rookie Legislative Team Attracts Top Tier Talent
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by Marta Vogel | 2011

By Marta Vogel—At the Patuxent River Appreciation Days (PRAD) in October, 2010, Chris Bryan was looking for something to sink his environmental teeth into. Not that he didn’t have enough to keep himself busy, working full time for the feds, a wife and a four year-old daughter, and having just completed a master of arts in great books at St. John’s College. But having aced effective time management in the Navy, he was ripe for a leadership position when he passed the Sierra Club table at the festival on Columbus Day. He picked up a copy of Chesapeake, talked to John and Meredith Sweet and jumped straight into the legislative waters as chair of the committee.

Rookie Legislative Committee Attracts Top Tier Talent

 

By Marta Vogel—At the Patuxent River Appreciation Days (PRAD) in October, 2010, Chris Bryan was looking for something to sink his environmental teeth into. Not that he didn’t have enough to keep himself busy, working full time for the feds, a wife and a four year-old daughter, and having just completed a master of arts in great books at St. John’s College. But having aced effective time management in the Navy, he was ripe for a leadership position when he passed the Sierra Club table at the festival on Columbus Day. He picked up a copy of Chesapeake, talked to John and Meredith Sweet and jumped straight into the legislative waters as chair of the committee.

With eight to ten SC volunteers in Annapolis, Bryan focused the troops. “There is a tendency to try to respond to everything,” notes Bryan. “We picked a few priorities.”

Those included wind power, the bag tax bill, and hydrofracking, all of which connected to  chapter and national priorities of clean water and clean energy. Bryan and his team were fairly sure that they could build popular support around these issues.

 “It’s great to see committed people giving their time,” notes Bryan.

Bryan had no previous experience with either legislative work or with the Sierra Club, but he and his wife had done riparian plantings with the Nature Conservancy in Pensacola, FL,  herpetological  surveys of wild amphibians and reptiles and trail mappings with the Timicuan Ecological Preserve in Jacksonville, submerged aquatic vegetation monitoring with Riverkeepers in the St. John’s River in Jacksonville, and water quality monitoring of streams in Skagit Conservation District in Washington state.

To get him up to speed, the Sierra Club sent him to the State Colloquium in Santa Fe, NM. “The colloquium was great because I got insight into the Sierra Club’s national priorities from the leaders and I discovered how other state leaders attain their goals. It was all quite motivating, especially being exposed to people from other chapters who are so passionate about their campaigns,” he says.

He continued,  “Once you’re in the [legislative] session it’s hard to actively recruit. There is plenty of work to do. Right now we’ve reached our band-width. If we had more people, we could do more. The big thing we need is for people to do things locally—organizing at the grassroots.”

Bryan says that there is plenty of room for more volunteers, especially since so much of the work is done virtually, including researching and writing testimony, and conference calls.

 

That’s one thing that appealed to Barb Krupiarz, lead lobbyist for the Bag Bill this year. “I thought, I can sit at home and do research for the legislative group,” says Krupiarz, who had quit her job with the National Security Agency (NSA) and was home with her children. She liked the Sierra Club’s reputation. At the same time, Krupiarz’s relative closeness to Annapolis—Ellicott City, a half hour away—didn’t hurt, either.

Krupiarz has a masters in Environmental Science from Johns Hopkins. At NSA, which is a large  generator of hazardous waste, she was, “making sure we were in compliance with the environmental laws” such as hazardous waste compliance. She also did a lot of recycling there.

With zero legislative experience, Krupiarz began with the bag bill, a bill to impose a five-cent fee on single-use plastic and paper bags.  

“I didn’t want to be inexperienced with both the legislative process AND have something too technical.” A big plus, she said, is that the Sierra Club works with a vast number of other environmental groups, including the Chesapeake Bay Trust, Alice Ferguson, and Anacostia Watershed.

“I started out shadowing the head of the Anacostia Watershed Foundation,” says Krupiarz, “I testified for both house and Senate.”

The bag bill didn’t pass this time.

 “It never came up for a vote,” says Krupiarz, “We were really close if it had come to the floor. The most frustrating thing is that you’re doing all the work on the ground —talking to legislative people —and one person can hold it up. The chair  of Senate [Education, Health  and the Environment Committee]  sat on it.”

Despite the frustrations, Krupiarz enjoyed the experience. “Everyone I worked with was really good. You know, sometimes at a job, you work with people who you may not like. This was a good, intelligent group with a well thought-out plan. The thing I learned the most is that one person’s voice does really matter. You’re in the legislator’s office and you see that calls and e-mails are holding up the staff. It makes a big difference,” she says.

Next year she’ll be working on the wind bill.

 

Laurie Wilmot didn’t have any legislative experience either when he joined the committee at Alana Wase’s suggestion at the 2009 Cool Cities Workshop. This year he helped with lobby nights— Sierra Club members were invited to Annapolis to lobby on priority environmental bills.

 Wilmot has a BA in environmental science and policy with a concentration in environmental policy and is working on a MS in environmental management.

“The most frustrating thing is when industry lobbyists defeat legislation. The most rewarding thing is when our priority bills or a bill I have written testimony on gets signed into law. It is nice to think that I have played a part in it. I have learned more about the legislative process, how to conduct lobby meetings, and working and interacting with other colleagues, lawmakers, aides, and other environmental organizations,” he says.

 

Yi-Hsuan was an legislative intern two years ago for the Maryland Chapter and has stayed a member of the committee since. She has taken care of the Sierra Club’s Facebook page and has grown the number of fans this session from 10 to 150.

 

Think long term. That’s what Chris Stoughton learned once again through the last legislative session. “We want everything right now,” says Stoughton, “But these things take time and it takes a lot of hard work to get to where we want to go.”

 Stoughton worked with the Student Conservation Association at Yosemite National Park in 1998 issuing backpacking permits and sometimes spending five days at a time in the wilderness.  He graduated from John Muir College at the University of California San Diego and participated in an ecological preservation program on the border of Pakistan and India,  living with a family in the mountains for a couple of months.

But he had never volunteered with the Sierra Club.

When he was a candidate for the 2010 Democratic House of Delegates primary, he was interviewed by the Maryland Chapter for the endorsement process. He didn’t get the endorsement and he didn’t win the election, but he did start thinking seriously about the  Sierra Club. When he attended a town hall meeting in Annapolis last year on wind energy, and talked to Chris and Alana, “It sort of hit me. I went to John Muir College. I’m a huge John Muir fan. Why haven’t I been involved with the Sierra Club?”

In his day job as a policy analyst, Stoughton sets up meetings with members of Congress to raise awareness about public health issues such as substance abuse, traffic safety, and HIV/AIDS. So he was familiar with the legislative process on the national level and worked this past session to familiarize himself with the state level.

Among other things, he testified on an electric vehicle bill that passed. He is interested in enacting a renewable energy plan, as he told the Takoma Voice, “that will set Maryland on a path to become the first state in the nation to generate ALL of its electricity from renewable energy by the year 2050.”

“The most frustrating part was not accomplishing all of our goals,” says Stoughton, “But being in public policy I understand that these things take time and I am confident that eventually we will get there. It is rewarding to be a part of a group of committed environmentalists who are passionate about protecting the environment.”                         n

 

Marta Vogel is a an active member of the Montgomery County Group.

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