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Conservation Lobby Day

Below the high, vaulted ceiling, three hundred well-dressed people are milling around, gathering in clusters around state senators and representatives who step out of their respective chambers.  It’s hot, it’s loud, all conversations are necessarily shouted, and my senses are seriously off balance.

Suddenly John Tynan rounds the corner.  Executive Director of Conservation Voters of South Carolina, one of Audubon’s partners in this event, John has a big grin on his face.  “Isn’t this amazing?!?” he shouts in my ear, then vanishes into the nearest cluster.

Yes!  It is amazing.  I’ve been to a number of Conservation Lobby Days, but never one that felt this urgent or this exciting. 

Exciting Week

Dozens of citizen advocates have traveled to Columbia today to ask their legislators to protect birds, other wildlife, and the iconic landscapes that make our state such a magnet for visitors.  That’s typical of Conservation Lobby Days, which are organized by many groups around the state.

What’s not typical is that all four of the critical issues that we’ve come to discuss with legislators are being debated and/or voted on this week:

  • The Conservation Bank (H.4727)The state’s most powerful land protection tool, whose future looked bleak a few months before, passed through the Senate — a huge step forward!  Now all that needs to be done is reconcile the slightly different bills approved by House and Senate.
  • The Solar Habitat Bill (H.4875):  This Audubon-inspired bill actually passed in the House while we watched.  The support was incredibly strong:  96 to 11.  Now, onto the Senate!
  • Solar Energy Bill (H.4421):  The House debated an Audubon-backed bill that eliminates outmoded barriers to renewable energy in our state, and also protects electric consumers in other ways.  It was fascinating to see complex, high-stakes legislation in motion.
  • Plastic Bag Legislation (H.3529):  After House approval last month, a bill that prevents local governments from limiting the use of plastic bags and other plastic containers moved from subcommittee to committee in the Senate.  That’s one step closer to passage, and not good for birds.

All this activity made it a more hectic Lobby Day than any I’ve ever attended — but also more meaningful for me and my fellow participants.  It was exciting to approach legislators who were actually preparing to vote on our conservation priorities. 

It was exciting, too, to deliver letters of support for the Conservation Bank signed by 14 hunt club presidents representing 170 hunters, and three major South Carolina business leaders representing 1,300 workers.

Moment of Truth

So there we stood in the noisy, crowded lobby.  Our group of about 100 conservation activists — 15 of them from Audubon South Carolina —  had studied the issues together that morning.  And we’d gotten a candid, entertaining course in how to approach legislators from Senator Mike Fanning (D-Fairfield) and Representative Russell Ott (D-Calhoun). 

Ultimately, though, it was up to each of us to distill a lifetime of musings about planetary wellbeing into a memorable one-minute plea, delivered at top volume.  I studied my notes.  Tried to focus.  Glancing up, I saw the tall, carved wooden doors part, and my own senator emerge into the lobby. 

I felt a droplet of sweat cascade down the back of my neck.  Then I remembered John Tynan’s big grin.  “Isn’t this amazing?!?”

Yes.  It is.

Stepping confidently toward my senator, I smiled and extended my hand . . . .

As many of Audubon’s 15 lobbyists as we could corral into one image. Front row: Barbara McIntyre, Caroline Eastman, Judith Kramer, Madeleine McMillan, Angelina Ricci Eisenhauer, Cori McIntyre. Back Row: David McIntyre, Nolan Schillerstrom, Mike Dawson, Trip King, Matt Johnson.