By Omar Rosales-Cortez

As a CCAN Policy Fellow, I have had the opportunity to help support major 2021 legislation and campaigns in Virginia. My experience in policy was limited before joining CCAN, and jumping into the realm of policy as a scientist felt like being a fish out of water at first. I am used to letting science speak for itself so I never thought there was a need for people to speak up for science in the real world. 

However, with a political climate that has many Americans questioning facts, we’re already seeing people dismissing science and in turn climate change as well. In response, I started seeing many of my colleagues and professors begin to speak up in the name of science. Their goal is to prove to the world that climate change is real. We all had the necessary knowledge to push for meaningful climate policy. The hard part was making our knowledge accessible to the public and crafting personal stories for the largest possible impact. 

My motivation to join the fight for our planet was to make an impact as a science advocate and to learn how to communicate effective solutions for issues like clean transportation, sustainable infrastructure and environmental justice to the public and policy makers. As a policy fellow with CCAN, I got first-hand experience having critical conversations with community and statewide leaders to pass legislation like the Clean Car Standards bill (HB 1965). 

This clean car bill isets a state-wide mandate to get more electric vehicles (EVs) to Virginia and on the road. This legislation was a key step in modernizing transportation and infrastructure in Virginia, and will have countless benefits for people and the environment by creating cleaner air and more affordable EVs.

Making this legislation appealing to the masses, however, was anything but easy. The real work behind getting this legislation passed by the General Assembly included many nights of nonstop work between organizations, as well as various community outreach events to mobilize constituencies to hold their elected officials accountable. There were many times when I thought this bill was doomed. Yet it managed to escape death time after time, and it was through the teamwork of the Virginia Conservation Network, CCAN, the Sierra Club, and many more that the bill stayed alive. 

It took a limitless amount of energy and grit to keep defying the odds. The bill’s passage was something I am proud to have been a part of and witnessed. This bill was also only one fight during the 2021 legislative session. There were dozens of other bills that the network of green organizations were fighting for, some ending with victories and some as losses. But I can say that everyone gave it their all and will continue to do so as the fight to protect Virginia’s environment and health carries on. 

My time as a Policy fellow was rewarding to say the least. I had the opportunity of a lifetime to help make a historic impact in Virginia’s growth towards a sustainable future. I got to do outreach, distill dense policy, and help coordinate a lobby day for the public. And during the Covid-19 pandemic, that was not an easy feat. 

I plan to take what I have learned to further my career in science and environmental policy. I plan to advocate for solutions based in science to promote a healthier, more informed society. 

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