Amherst College program lets high school students lobby legislators

Last modified: Friday, August 17, 2012

Laura Krok-Horton, a student at Northampton High School, lobbied state Rep. Ellen Story, D-Amherst, last week on behalf of a bill to make it easier for consumers to buy electricity from renewable sources.

Were using coal 100,000 times faster than we can produce it, she said. Who wants to pay for something that pollutes our precious air and land?

Story told Krok-Horton that she was heartened to learn that young people care so much about the issue.

You understand that this is an obvious change we have to make, but people who are older are sometimes not very good with change, Story said. Its frightening or upsetting or just unknown.

The site of the lobbying was not Storys offices in Boston or Amherst. Instead, it was the culmination of a weeklong program in environmental civics for high school students. The course, at Amherst College, was taught by Paul Newlin of Whately and Christopher Bathurst of Conway.

The 13 students learned how to use databases, researched four bills related to the environment that were filed last year, and received training in how to speak in front of legislators, Newlin said. Last Friday, they lobbied Story and Sen. Stanley Rosenberg, D-Amherst, in groups of three or four.

Pretend like you are me, Story told them before the lobbying started. Put yourself in the place of a legislator and talk to me like that, because you could be me someday.

One group pushed a bill to promote clean energy in the public schools. Story quizzed the teenagers on how much the program would cost and whether local school committees would decide on participation. She suggested that if the bills passage would not result in a loss of jobs, that should be prominent in the presentation.

Another group spoke to Story about a bill sponsored by Rep. Peter Kocot, D-Northampton, that would protect bluefin tuna. Miguel Reda of Amherst Regional High School said the population has been depleted by overfishing and the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

Most people dont pay a lot of attention, so this is something you need to raise awareness of, Story said. You helped me a lot about this bill.

Story also heard from students urging passage of a bill to eliminate all use of coal for electricity generation by 2020. Cylvanna Elgadi of Amherst Regional said the bill would reduce the risk of asthma and cut the emission of chemicals that contribute to climate change.

Story challenged the students on whether its possible to burn coal cleanly, and corrected their pronunciation of the name of the sponsor, Rep. Lori Ehrlich (D-Marblehead).

She praised each group for making eye contact with her and being well-informed about the issues. She suggested to one group that members not read their statements, and recommended looking up legislators voting records in advance to thank them for their past support for environmental legislation.

Between 6,000 and 8,000 bills are filed in the Legislature each year but only about 200 pass, Story told the students. A lot of good legislation never gets voted on because theres no advocacy for it, she said.

They were extremely well-prepared, Story said of the students after the mock lobbying session. They were comfortable and did their homework. I was impressed.


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