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Executive Director’s Report, Nov 2019

By Chris Morrill, Executive Director

I hope everyone had a good Thanksgiving and your meals and holiday didn’t devolve into a political fight with flying turkey legs and overturned mash potatoes. In the spirit of the holiday, and in accordance with tradition, I want to outline what I’m thankful for this year.

There is no doubt the task is harder this year.

California continues to deal with some of the worst fires in its history. People are seeking therapy for “climate anxiety” which is becoming a mental health condition. Partisanship makes getting anything done nearly impossible. There seems to be something fundamentally dysfunctional about our politics that is compromising our ability to tackle collective problems. All of this adds to a growing sense of despair.

Earlier this month, I had a chance to go to Denver and attend the State Environmental Leaders Conference. I wanted to learn what challenges groups from other states were facing. The presentations were wide-ranging and very informative.

I left the conference moved and inspired not just by their success, but how the groups were attacking these challenges and how they were winning in states of every political makeup.

Many of these groups work on a wide portfolio of issues including clean energy, transportation, oil and gas development, land protection, among many others.

On one hand, the Natural Resources Council of Maine has put the state’s climate work into overdrive with a law passed this year, requiring the state to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 45% by 2030 and 80% by 2050.  In a more challenging state, the Alabama Environmental Council promoted a recycling program, tackled community environmental problems, and inspired youth through its environmental programming.

The Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy is working to block the opening of a copper mine in the northern part of the state. The environmental consequences of this mining are huge. The allure of the economic benefits for local mining communities can’t be brushed aside either. Vox did a piece on this proposed mine that is informative and highlights the challenges of navigating environmental issues at a local level.

Other great stories abound:

  • The Wild Earth Guardians in New Mexico are working hand in hand with ranchers to preserve their ranches and open space by retiring grazing permits;
  • The Montana Wilderness Association is working with local tribes to right past wrongs and ensure greater protection to the wild lands of Montana; and
  • The New Mexico Wildlife Federation is taking kids along the Mexican border out to fish and hunt and gain an education and appreciation for the inspiring public lands in New Mexico.

Whether their state was working to retire long-held grazing permits on public lands or setting ambitious climate targets, these groups engage in the hard conversations. Getting environmental protections in places that you live is difficult – all the more so when you live in a place where these concepts are new.

If we want to see environmental progress in the years to come, we will need to see it in lots of little ways, in lots of different places.

Is it really worth the local pollution and public health impacts to open another coal mine? How do we help local natural resources communities continue to thrive without exploiting these natural resources and causing irreparably harm to the landscape? How does the environmental community address the environmental inequity that in many cases it was complicit in?

These are difficult questions.

So, this year, I am thankful for all of the dedicated, smart, and savvy people I met in Denver working to answer them.

Please let me know your thoughts, comments, and questions by emailing me at