Mary Elizabeth Clark, SSJ, recently met U.S. Sen. Bob Casey in Washington, D.C., to discuss the reauthorization of a program that provides protection and greater public access to national parks and recreational sites.
Sister Mary Elizabeth, director of the Earth Center and assistant for sustainability to the president of Chestnut Hill College, traveled to Washington, D.C., on Dec. 12 for a two-day trip in which she advocated for the full funding and reauthorization of the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF). During the trip, she visited Casey and the offices of the 33 senators on the U.S. Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, presenting them with materials that underscored the significance of restoring the LWCF before the end of this year’s congressional session. Among the materials she delivered were a letter, a fact sheet and her book, “Teaching Kids to Care for God’s Creation.”
The trip, Sister Mary Elizabeth said, was “absolutely amazing.”
“It was well worth it, and we were very well-received,” she said. “Our visit really helped reinforce the importance of assuring that this line item in the federal budget will be addressed when it goes to a vote.”
By visiting Capitol Hill, Sister Mary Elizabeth wanted to generate the awareness and bipartisan support needed for Congress to reauthorize the LWCF. Established in 1964, the program is the result of a bipartisan effort to protect and preserve national parks, forests, rivers and wildlife refuges. The Land and Water Conservation Authorization and Funding Act, a bill introduced to Senate in March 2017 by Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-WA), would restore LWCF and provide it with full, dedicated and permanent funding. The bill will go to the Senate floor next week for a vote.
After visiting five senator’s offices on Wednesday, Sister Mary Elizabeth met with Casey (D-PA) early Thursday morning at his constituent coffee meet and greet, held at his office in the Russell Building. There, she gave Casey both a letter and a fact sheet concerning the reauthorization of the LWCF, and the two of them then briefly discussed the program. Afterward, they had their photograph taken together.
Despite the long line and wait to meet Casey, Sister Mary Elizabeth said that he took the time to speak with her about how essential the LWCF is to preserving the country’s foremost natural areas.
“Senator Casey gave us an extraordinary amount of time,” Sister Mary Elizabeth said. “He was so gracious and so reassuring about his commitment to the environment and the LWCF.”
Following the meet and greet with Casey, Sister Mary Elizabeth visited the offices of the other 28 senators seated on the energy and natural resources committee. By the end of the day, she had visited every member on the committee, which consists of both Democrats and Republicans as well as all the senators whose states touch the Delaware River.
“We had a wonderful reception and assurance from all the senators’ offices that they will address this bill,” Sister Mary Elizabeth said, adding that she plans to stay in touch with all their offices in the future. “We hope that next week, when they put it to a vote, the significance of the LWCF will be in their consciousness because of our visit.”
Since its inception, the LWCF has worked to conserve natural areas and water resources by supplying them with federal funding and shielding them from development. The program also provides matching grants for local and state parks and recreational projects, such as trails and playing fields. In recent years, it has issued grants to increase the use of easements and safeguard cultural landmarks.
Restoring the LWCF, Sister Mary Elizabeth said, will “preserve the natural treasures entrusted to us by God and protect outdoor spaces so children and families can enjoy them and make memories.”
“I see it as providing inexpensive access to national parks and recreational sites for people who may not be able to afford a visit,” she said. “It’s crucial to have national parks and open space that are not closed off so that all people have a chance to see our country’s national treasures.”
Sister Mary Elizabeth said she is optimistic the bill to restore the LWCF will pass next week.
“I didn’t hear any opposition to what we were advocating,” she said. “This is a bipartisan issue that everyone can get behind.”
Sister Mary Elizabeth runs the Earth Center at Chestnut Hill College. The center’s mission is to promote ways of living in harmony with all creation through outreach within local and national communities. She has also directed a Sustainability Conference, chaired the Sustainability Task Force and worked with the college’s Green Team to educate others about the critical need to protect against indifference toward planet Earth.
Her book, “Teaching Kids to Care for God’s Creation,” is a response to the appeal from Pope Francis to have an inclusive dialogue about the future of the planet. It offers readers thirty lessons and practical activities that engage children, catechists and families to keep the planet livable and sustainable for coming generations.
Looking ahead, whether she is advocating for protecting the natural environment in a book, on campus or in Washington, Sister Mary Elizabeth said her work is far from complete.
“I have a lot of work ahead of me,” she said. “Preserving open spaces and outdoor places for the enjoyment and teaching of future generations is an important part of our role as stewards. God’s creation must be honored and protected.”