Most people do not think the environment is a significant issue
in presidential campaigns, but Deb Callahan, president of the
League of Conservation Voters, urges students to pay more attention
to candidates’ environmental records.

Mira Levitan
Deb Callahan, president of the League of Conservation Voters, speaks at the Dana Building yesterday on the correlation between politics and the environment. (DAVID TUMAN/Daily)

“Most Americans hold these (environmental) values so
strongly that they would not even expect an elected official to
support rolling back environmental regulations,” Callahan
said yesterday during a lecture at the Dana Building.

She said pollsters have found that less than 50 percent of
Americans understand that the federal government has been cutting
back conservation laws.

Instead of nationwide clean air and water regulations,
policymakers are moving toward different regulations for specific
areas, according to their economies, she said.

While she said financial considerations are important, Callahan
counters that the value of equity is also significant.

“Every American has a right to a certain standard of
living and quality of life,” she said.

Mike Phillips, vice president of the College Republicans, said
Republican leaders are “fairly interested in giving state
officials more power with creating policies that are specific to
the local environment,” he said.

Callahan said that this year’s presidential campaign is a
critical time for promoting awareness on conservation issues.

“How we take advantage of this moment in time will
influence the nature of environmental politics for years to
come,” Callahan said.

She also said that because environmentalists are not typically
involved in politics, they fail to organize during elections. This
presents a challenge for those who want to educate the public about
environmental issues.

“We have to make the point in the voters’ heads that
one candidate is better than another (in environmental
issues),” she said.

Callahan stressed that voters have the power to change election
results — which have been decided by very slim margins in
recent years.

She said one method of grassroots mobilization involves sending
different intermediaries to various groups of voters. Students can
act as leaders in rallying local voters because they can influence
their peers.

The LCV is a national watchdog organization that publishes an
annual scorecard evaluating how well members of Congress have
addressed conservation issues.

The LCV has not endorsed a particular presidential
candidate.

Mayor John Hieftje, who spoke briefly before Callahan, also
referred to the easing of federal environmental regulations.

“These are dark days, if you look at what is coming out of
Washington,” he said.

But Hieftje said that there are some environmental victories
that have occurred at a more local level.

He mentioned the Greenbelt initiative passed last November,
which works to preserve parks and other green spaces in the Ann
Arbor area.

LSA sophomore Deepti Reddy said she thinks people should realize
the importance of environmental investment.

“The end product does not just better the lives of animals
but also the lives of people,” she said.
“Environmentalists care about water and air but everyone
should care too because we all drink water and we all breathe
air.”

Reddy, who considers herself an environmentalist, said
Callahan’s speech embodied accurately the views of the
movement.

“If you give people information about environmental
issues, we feel that they will make the right decision,” she
said.

The School of Natural Resources and the Environment sponsored
the program.

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