Clear skies and sunny weather coincided with South Carolina’s annual Conservation Lobby Day on March 19. There, members of the South Carolina Conservation Coalition advocated for expanding access for renewable energy, preventing offshore drilling, and protecting the rights of local communities to solve plastic pollution.

These actions built upon last month’s unanimous passage of HB 3659, or the Energy Freedom Act, in South Carolina’s House of Representatives. Now, the Senate version of the bill, SB 332, is awaiting a vote from the Judiciary Subcommittee.

The network of 40 statewide organizations and hundreds of South Carolinians—including Audubon South Carolina and its members—work with local and state lawmakers to ensure a prosperous future for the environment. It was a full day for the conservation advocates: After a morning of training and an afternoon at the state house, the coalition capped the day with an evening oyster roast with their legislators.

Audubon South Carolina and its members know that solar legislation reform is at the forefront of this discussion. The primary goal for this legislative session is to expand access for renewable energy in the state. Audubon supports more solar in the state of South Carolina because it promotes cleaner air and water, reduces heat-trapping emissions, gives consumers control over energy choices, supports economic investment in green jobs, and returns communities online quicker after natural disasters. 

According to Matt Johnson, director of bird conservation for Audubon South Carolina, the organization reached its goal of doubling participation from last year’s lobby day. Audubon’s 28 ambassadors proudly wore stickers that reminded legislators, “You are what hope looks like to a bird.” Johnson says he was thrilled to see a mix of first-time advocates, college students, volunteers, and Audubon Ambassadors.

Volunteer Will Billbrough waits his turn to meet with his legislator at lobby day in Columbia, South Carolina. Dominic Arenas/Audubon

“Our Audubon South Carolina chapter members, volunteers, and Audubon Ambassadors are critically important and ‘go-to’ leaders within their local communities,” says Johnson. “They were particularly important during the 2018 reauthorization of the South Carolina Conservation Bank. They called legislators, sent a flurry of postcards to their representatives, and wrote to their local papers.”

Audubon Ambassadors are one of Audubon South Carolina’s volunteer groups. To help the ambassadors prepare for their meetings with legislators, Audubon South Carolina hosts two to three advocacy trainings a year. The half-day workshop provides tips that encourage Audubon Ambassadors to host presentations on the dangers facing birds like increasing temperatures, sea level rise and stronger storms, and speak confidently with public officials.

Two such ambassadors, Charlie Stricklin and Rufus Jones, attended last week’s lobby day and Audubon South Carolina’s first ambassador training in 2017. In addition to passing the Energy Freedom Act, Stricklin and Jones want their legislators to ban single-use plastic bags this legislative session. Though this was their first lobby day, the two were prepared to share their personal stories and advocacy work with state senators.

“It was a privilege to attend lobby day as an Audubon Ambassador to promote environmental protection,” says Stricklin. “I had the opportunity to meet with my senator and voice my concerns this legislative session. We had great discussion and she was receptive of laws that would protect the birds we love in this state.”

Another ambassador, Judith Kramer, did not get a chance to meet her senator, but emailed him early the next morning, encouraging him to act on solar legislation reform and support the ban of plastic bags. Kramer has gone through formal Audubon Ambassador training and even hosted a gathering to recruit more volunteers. In addition to her work as a seabird steward, Kramer is a member of several conservation organizations including Conservation Voters and Conservation League, and serves on the board of the Coastal Master Naturalist Association. She has also generously supported summer camp scholarships for the Audubon Center at Beidler Forest. Though Kramer considers herself a nonpolitical person, she credits her advocacy training for becoming an active and aware ambassador for birds.

“Going to Lobby Day is worth the time. Last year I had no clue what to expect, but once you’re there and see the political process, you will want to contact representatives,” Kramer says. “What keeps me motivated is my grandchildren—our generation will not have much to pass onto them if we do not do something.”

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