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A healthy environment is impossible without a healthy democracy

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From the breathtaking peaks of the Blue Ridge Mountains to the roaring rapids of Great Falls, our state brims with irreplaceable beauty. However, threats to our environment are more present than ever before, and if we fail to act now, we risk losing our ecological richness forever. Fortunately, our democratic system encourages us to fight for what we believe in, and Virginia voters prove time and again that protecting Virginia’s clean air and water is a top priority at the ballot box.

My organization, the Virginia League of Conservation Voters (Virginia LCV), works to ensure everyone in our state has a voice on the environmental issues that impact them, and that our federal and state lawmakers represent our interests in Richmond and Washington. But while we returned a conservation majority to the General Assembly this November, corporate polluters and bad actors still spend millions of dollars to undermine the legislative process and subvert the will of the people. Meanwhile, some public officials, motivated by power and self-interest, consistently take legislative actions to stifle the Virginians’ voting power, especially in communities that carry the heaviest burden of climate change and environmental degradation.

If we allow these efforts to undermine our fundamental rights, our leaders may no longer represent the unique values of our state and its people. We have too much on the line to let this happen, and at this critical juncture, we must stand up to protect our path to climate justice and a safe and healthy environment – a feat that is impossible without a secure, inclusive democracy.

It is time for our leaders to pass legislation like the Freedom to Vote Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act. The Freedom to Vote Act sets forth common-sense, bipartisan safeguards that protect our elections from dark money and outside influence. These provisions hold lawmakers accountable, ensuring they govern on behalf of Virginians and prioritize the needs of local communities over out-of-state corporations and foreign agendas. Meanwhile, the John Lewis Act roots out subversive practices, delivering power back to our state’s voters and affirming that everyone has an equal say in the issues that matter most to us. As the stain of polluter-backed dark money spending and partisan interference becomes more pervasive, we need these bills to guarantee the results at the ballot box reflect our collective values.

Our own U.S. Sen. Tim Kaine has long championed these measures, and I’m grateful for his work. His commitment is a much-needed step toward building the future we desire, and I hope Kaine continues to work with his colleagues to enact these reforms in Congress. Likewise, our leaders must follow in his footsteps, putting politics aside and fighting for what we all hold dear.

This fall, millions of Virginians will line up at polling places around our state. Regardless of which candidate you vote for or what issues you care about, we must all remember the privilege a free, transparent, and fair democracy affords us. Disingenuous, dishonest figures may try to break us apart, but they don’t understand the resilience of our state and its people. Our path to a more equitable democracy is paved with small victories, and as we face new threats, we cannot give up. We must fight to ensure that corporate polluters aren’t able to override our voice. By enacting these crucial protections, we can secure the system we desire and the one every person in Virginia deserves.

Michael Town serves as executive director of the Virginia League of Conservation Voters. You may contact him at [email protected].