Cleaning Up Our Act at the White House

I was lucky enough yesterday to be one of the youth invited to the White House for the Clean Energy Economy Forum. It was a great opportunity for those of us involved in the environmental movement to hear from the Obama administration and also to make ourselves heard. The 100 plus members of the audience included youth from all over the country, representing small and large environmental organizations and non-profits. We came from a variety of backgrounds, but we were all together to ask Obama and his administration to take charge on environmental issues.

The forum was broken up into two parts. First, a panel made up of three Cabinet members (Secretary of the Interior Kenneth Salazar, Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis and Secretary of Energy Steven Chu) and EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson answered questions from the audience. There were some great, encouraging answers from the panel and some very political ones, but overall we ended with a lot of clear answers on a wide range of issues. Topics ranged from mountaintop removal (the EPA is looking at Clean Water Act violations, a good sign) to creating green jobs that won’t just provide a temporary salary but a true career path so that a stable clean, green economy will eventually be created.

After about an hour and a half of Q and A, we were broken up into smaller groups for discussion. Jon Carson, Chief of Staff at the White House Council on Environmental Quality, facilitated for my group. We spent a while discussing corporate accountability and how we can convince corporations to become more “green”, and put the idea of the creation of a youth advisory board on the table. Carson seemed to be especially interested in finding ways to open the channels of communication between the youth environmental movement and the White House.

I didn’t know what to expect from the forum (how often do you get to go to a meeting at the White House, right?), but I was encouraged by the outcome. The Obama administration almost seems impatient to open a dialogue with the younger generation of voters, and this was a first step. One thing emphasized over and over was that while the administration wants to work on environmental issues, they can’t do everything. They need to be given tools to make change. And while the youth environmental movement is growing, one way to push the administration to act is to increase our numbers and our voice. We have a lot of tools – new media, for example, and fast channels of communication – that we can use to accomplish these goals.

And, as the Obama administration repeated, we need to acknowledge how much has changed in the past couple of years. That’s not to say we should be complacent – we need to keep pushing for more. A couple of steps in the right direction are great, but that doesn’t mean we should sit down and take a break. Instead, we should look for ways to continue this dialogue and express our gratitude while asking to move further towards our goals.

The Obama administration wants to hear from us, and we want to be heard. The forum was a first step in opening those channels of communication. We showed our power in the 2008 election with all of our Power Vote pledges, and with our huge turnout at Power Shift. Let’s show the White House that we’re ready to act and ready to keep talking.

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