Don’t feel bad Ohio, New Jersey’s polluted too

Tyler Van Kirk schools Alyssa Cain in the art of canvassing.

COLUMBUS — “I grew up in New Jersey, a state that the rest of the country views as more or less a big stretch of highway dotted with oil refineries and chemical plants. Unfortunately, proximity to pollution doesn’t necessarily make one an activist. Like most people, I was completely blind to the egregious environmental issues that existed all around me. I grew up in a well-kempt, upper middle class neighborhood in the northern part of the state, and like most Americans, I was insulated from visible signs of pollution. I was a Boy Scout, I camped, hiked, hunted and fished (and yes you can do all of those things in New Jersey), all within biking distance of my house. I grew up with a strong appreciation for the outdoors, and for most of my life that was what environmentalism was.

I graduated from college in 2008 with a political science degree and got a job as a paralegal. I worked for two large corporate law firms and helped defend companies which I later learned to be some of top polluters in the country. Unsurprisingly this corner of the legal field did not turn out to be a hotbed of political unrest; it was through this experience though, that I learned about the EPA Superfund. Specifically I learned about the Superfund site in Ringwood, New Jersey, about fifteen minutes from my hometown. Needless to say, my career as a corporate attorney didn’t pan out, and a few months later I found myself responding to a Craigslist ad for the New Jersey Environmental Federation.

When I walked into the New Jersey Environmental Federation canvass office in 2009, I had a decent amount of passion but didn’t really know what to do with it. I learned a great deal on that first day, and I’ve learned something every day since. Working on these campaigns has given me the tools to be an advocate for the causes which before I had just passively supported. When I started this work I fought to protect open space in New Jersey. Since then I’ve campaigned to close the oldest nuclear power plant in the country, end mountaintop removal coal mining, stop toxic lawn chemicals from polluting our waterways, expand recycling programs in Houston, TX, end the exporting of electronic waste to third world countries, and now I’m fighting to close one of the oldest and most toxic coal plants in Ohio. Each campaign has deepened my knowledge and strengthened my resolve but it all started with a first step. So to all of you out there who have not yet taken that step, I am a testament to the fact that you don’t need to be an expert on these issues, you just have care enough to want to do something about it…so what are you waiting for?

Tyler Van Kirk, Columbus Staff Director, Ohio Citizen Action