Student interns push legislators to pass Clean Power Plan

Brigit Benestante

Bailey Anderson can’t predict how people will respond when she petitions on the street for lower carbon emissions. Sometimes, people support and encourage her work. Other times, they tell her restrictions on emissions would hurt the economy. And then there are those who tell her what she’s doing is wrong and that climate change is not real. 

Anderson, an international relations and global studies junior, is part of a new batch of Sierra Club student interns who are trying to increase support from local politicians to pass the Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Power Plan in Texas. The Clean Power Plan, which orders each state in the nation to cut down its carbon emissions, is currently not backed by Texas. The Sierra Club is trying to change that.  

The local chapter of the Sierra Club, a national environmental organization, hired student interns this year to work on its new campaign, Austin Beyond Coal. The campaign advocates for the reduction of coal as a main energy source. According to Jacob Rainey, field organizer for the Sierra Club and overseer of the interns, the students play a huge role in petitioning local politicians to
support this campaign. 

“We’re trying to get local legislators and local politicians to build a base of support, so that, when they go to the state legislator and say that they want to push the clean power plan from the EPA, there is a basis for it for that,” Rainey said. 

Geography sophomore Michelle Paschall became a Sierra Club intern last month and went to the Shield the People Climate March on Sept. 21. She said interning will give her the hands-on experience in activism that she wouldn’t get otherwise. 

“I want to be involved in the real world in taking part in climate action,” Paschall said. “You only learn so much in the classroom and I really wanted to learn about what was going on locally and in the country today. Now is the time to get involved.”

Anderson said getting Texans to support the EPA’s plan is essential. 

“[Texas is] the number one producer of carbon emissions in the nation, so, if Texas doesn’t make a change, it’s going to be really difficult for the rest of the nation to cover for that,” Anderson said. “We also have the highest potential for solar and wind power in the country, so Texas could make a huge difference.” 

Anderson wants to sway the mixed responses from the public on this issue and gain more support. 

“I’ve heard every different variety of answers to this,” Anderson said. “I think the public is very confused, and they’re not sure what to believe.”

In the coming months, Paschall, Anderson and the other student interns will push Austin Beyond Coal and the EPA’s Clean Power Plan to local legislators for next year’s session. Paschall said the ultimate goal is to get Texas on board with the Clean Power Plan and to reduce carbon emissions nationwide. 

“It’s vital for Texas to be a part of that plan,” Paschall said. “It is a fight.” 

Anderson said it is important for students to get involved also.

“We should take care of the planet we have because we don’t really have another option,” Anderson said. “I feel like our generation is the one that’s actually going to be able to make a difference in this. If we don’t do something now, our opportunity to make a difference is going to disappear.”