Jamie Rhodes is Rhode Island director for Clean Water Action, a national nonprofit that works to promote clean, safe and affordable water, the elimination of pollution and creation of environmentally safe jobs and businesses.
The organization also organizes grassroots groups, coalitions and campaigns to elect environmental candidates and works to solve community environmental problems.
Rhodes has helped the Rhode Island office focus on an electronics take-back campaign and community education in support of the 2010 Diesel Emissions Reduction Act that, among other things, limits heavy-duty vehicles idling time to five minutes.
PBN: Clean Water Action is celebrating its 40th anniversary this year. How has public support for your cause grown in that time?
RHODES: Public support for Clean Water Action has grown state by state. We started as a motivated core, specifically our founder David Zwick, who worked with federal lawmakers to create and enact core pieces of our nation’s environmental protection [legislation], including the Clean Water Action, Clean Air Act and the Safe Drinking Water Act in the mid-1970s. Now we are a vibrant and active organization operating in 12 states and Washington, D.C., to build local and statewide action to protect our environment and public health. Our focus on developing members has built a national base of 1.2 million members including 40,000 right here in the Ocean State.
PBN: What’s the easiest way a Rhode Island resident can help to keep the state’s water clean?
RHODES: Dispose of your trash, recycling, medical and hazardous waste correctly. We need to think as much about how we dispose of our waste as we do what our next purchase will be.
PBN: What do you say to people who think they alone cannot make an environmental impact?
RHODES: We are all stewards of our natural resources. Small actions add up to huge impacts. One of the core Clean Water Action mottoes is “Lead by Example.” Turning down your thermostat, buying a refillable water bottle, biking to work one day, or simply separating your recycling everyday amount to massive weekly, monthly and yearly impact (and personal savings).
PBN: What are the most important issues on your radar right now?
RHODES: It surprises a lot of people when I say that in Rhode Island we need to focus on our waste management. There maybe two decades of life left for the Central Landfill, and it is essential that we develop new methods of managing our waste stream. Clean Water Action believes that developing more comprehensive and expansive recycling models where product manufacturers have a financial incentive to make their products more durable, less toxic and more recyclable will move us toward a zero waste society.
PBN: How do you work with other area environmental advocacy nonprofits?
RHODES: I mentioned one Clean Water Action core motto, “Lead by Example,” but our other is “Strength in Numbers.” This applies not only to our grassroots organizing work, but also how we work with our friends and allies. The Environment Council of Rhode Island exists as a platform for environmental advocacy groups to work in coordination with each other on the various issues affecting our state. In the Ocean State, I am proud to say that the environmental movement is working together as a group to identify and address the concerns of all Rhode Islanders.
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