← Go Back

NAL Report by Ellen Zumbach

2011 National Affairs and Legislation Conference

February 2011


For four mind bending, eye opening, sometimes overwhelming days I attended the
National Affairs And Legislation Conference (NAL) on Washington D.C in late February/
early March.
There are four primary purposes of this meeting. One is to better understand the
legislative process and how individuals such as mere garden club members can affect and
facilitate that process. Secondly, as attendees we are educated on issues of importance to
the GCA and to share those concerns on those particular issues with our legislators.
Thirdly, special speakers are brought in to share their concerns and their needs on current
or proposed legislation. They may reflect GCA’s positions or may have differing points of
views. The goal is to have a clearer grasp of the issues and how they may be perceived.
Finally, we then meet with our congressional representatives and share our views on
various environmental and conservation issues that both GCA endorses and that affect
our own districts.
In the first two days of meetings, we were educated and enlightened by various
speakers, A highlights of the first day was a Skype interview with environmentalist and
writer, Bill McKibben (he was snowed in in Vermont and was unable to attend). His
sense of humor and low key approach bely the fact that he has among other
accomplishments helped found an organization called 350.org. The 350.org had the
dubious distinction of being singled out by Glenn Beck on his white board as part of a
communistic conspiracy just days before our conference began. When Bill McKibben’s
learned of it, his glib response to Mr. Beck in an editorial in the Washington Post was….
“I’m not a Communist, I’m a Methodist”! The 350.org is an international campaign that
is building a movement to unite the world around solutions to the climate crisis. They
coordinated the largest ever global coordinated rally of any kind with 5200 simultaneous
demonstrations in 181 countries in 2009. Currently, they are working on a campaign for
October 22-24. The number of 350 parts per million of co2 is what scientists have
concurred is the safe upper limit for carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Currently, the
northeast’s levels are around 390 parts per million of co2 in the air.
There were other accomplished speakers that were informed and informative
about our environment, among them, John Broder who is a reporter for the New York
Times addressed environmental reporting of the issues or lack of Most recently a very
timely article published in the NY Times the Sunday before our conference began on
hydraulic fracking and its effects. Sandra Whitehouse also spoke. She is the head of
Ocean Conservancy’s Coastal and Marine Spatial Planning program and the wife of
Senator Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island. She spoke of the state of our oceans. As
food for thought, she stated that “Oceans rule our climate and climate rules our oceans”
Now in the the depth of our oceans is where 1/3 of the world’s carbon is stored and that
this has made the oceans more acidic which is beginning to affect sea life .That was all
before lunch!
After lunch we heard more wonderful speakers as well as updates and reports from
conservation chairs. Rich Inness gave us a primer in Advocacy 101. We learned that the
mood in Washington DC and Capitol Hill in regard to Mother Earth and our environment
is not a supportive one to say the least. Many of our country’s newly elected
representatives have agendas that disregard or deny that our environment needs either
mankind or our governments’s help. We learned that wording was important when
addressing our congressman as an example, referring to global warming as global
“climate change”. Global “warming” seems to annoy a lot of people. The budget and cuts
in programs were at the forefront of The House of Representative’s agenda as we
converged on Washington. Martha Phillips who is a member of the Litchfield Garden
Club, put together a marvelous and comprehensive legislative update on areas pertaining
to conservation and the environment. It made sense of the many riders attached to the
budget with their many cuts. In particular, it became apparent that a lot of those riders
were dealing with the EPA and its ability to regulate and enforce the Clean Air Act. The
EPA was clearly in danger of becoming a non-entity by eliminating most of their budget.
As we broke down into our Zone groups to begin to do our own congressional visit
planning, it seemed that our main mission as representatives of The Garden Club of
America was to lobby our congressman for support of the Clean Air Act which until now
has enjoyed strong bipartisan support for 40 years. As the budget was moving into the
Senate, time seemed crucial.
Another day and we all met refreshed, this time, on Capitol Hill. It was now the
turn of government with various legislators, heads of agencies and cabinet members to
educate and enlighten us. We had the pleasure of hearing Senator Cardin who spoke not
only as a strongly environmentally friendly legislator but of his own states’s need for
protection of the Chesapeake Watershed and legislation for it’s protection. Again the
EPA was part of the budget cut talks in this area as well as the controversy the EPA
generates when they are allowed to regulate. Finally, from the source itself, Gina
McCarthy, asst. administrator to the EPA, spoke eloquently of The EPA and what it is
meant to do and how it has been effective both believe it or not, economically and
environmentally. For example, our air is 60 percent cleaner than in 1970. The feeling
among many in congress is that the EPA is good for the environment but bad for business,
Gina put forth facts and projections that disputed that, in fact many of the same figures
that our representatives heard in the House. I think Ms. McCarthy enjoyed a more
sympathetic audience in our room. In business as well as in many parts of congress,
regulation has become a very dirty word. Certainly a thought shared by Senator Lindsey
Graham when he came to address us after lunch. He loves the environment but hates
regulation.There was much food for thought and time later in the day to meet for last
minute strategies for our big day on the Hill with our own reps.
We were luckier than many of our other Zone reps as our legislators in
Connecticut have strong environmentally friendly voting records. Our first meeting was
with Jim Himes, who although recovering from a virus couldn’t have been more
gracious. He even gave us an abbreviated tour of the Capitol and ushered us to the secret
senate subway as we had to hustle to Senator Joe Leiberman’s office. He was unable to
meet with us but his aide, did and was not very reassuring about votes needed to pass the
budget. We left with heavy hearts to meet with Senator Blumenthal, who although just in
temporary offices was also very gracious and reassuring. He felt something could be done
to stop the budget from passing in its current form. As it turns out he was right as they are
still debating a budget.
It was not all business, the NAL committee did a lovely job entertaining us with an
optional trip to the US Botanical Gardens and dinner and a show by the Capitol Steps, on
the last night. Tuesday night, Martha Phillips graciously hosted the Zone II reps at her
brownstone for wine and cheese. Then it was a short walk off to our restaurant for very
fun team building dinner. I continue to be amazed and honored to have met so many very
bright, very clever, very interesting fellow GCA members. I now look at Washington with
a lot more interest and feel that if we don’t try to help our own future who will? If there
was ever a time to be little more proactive, my fellow garden club members, it is now.
There are things we can do to help our causes it can be as simple as writing your
congressman and expressing your concerns and saying you are member of the Garden
Club. I was surprised just how much respect that name holds in Washington D.C. Thank
you so much for the opportunity to learn and to represent you.
Ellen Zumbach
P. S. Here is an update from conservation chair, Nancy McKlveen:
Hello Everyone,
I am convinced that your never faltering communication with legislators just may have
successfully slowed the attack on the EPA! Here is a brief review of what happened this week:
President Barack Obama signed the budget agreement covering federal spending for the
remainder of the current fiscal year on Friday, April 15th, bringing an end to any remaining fears
of a government shutdown. The bipartisan deal, which won approval Thursday from both the
House and Senate, cuts $38.5 billion in spending while funding the government through
September 30. All 15 of the anti-EPA riders were dropped from the bill. The riders would have
blocked EPA from carrying out numerous aspects of current law, limiting protections for public
health, air, and water. Furthermore, the riders wouldn’t have saved the government a single cent,
but they would have imposed costs on those suffering from additional pollution.
This is a major victory. Allowing the riders to become law would not only have blocked the
specific protections that were under attack, it would have given a green light to future efforts to
hamstring EPA. We will have more specifics a bit later in May with the next Legislative Update.
Thanks to everyone for all you do for our dear earth!!!!! You are an amazing force.
Best from Nancy