Jim Turner is a former staff member of the House Committee on Science and Technology and has been a donor to EESI since 2008. He offers a unique perspective on the impacts EESI has in Congress. Indeed, he has seen firsthand the difference he makes by giving for informed energy and environmental policymaking—the difference that so many of you make as well!
As a Congressional staffer, Jim Turner was a beneficiary of the work done by EESI and its predecessor, the Environmental and Energy Study Conference (a bipartisan Congressional caucus). When he started working as a Hill staffer, energy and the environment were among the issues he had to master. The briefings and fact sheets provided by the Study Conference and later EESI were crucial to help answer his questions, and when he became a committee staff member, EESI staff were among those available to help shape legislative solutions.
He explained that for many staffers, like himself at the time, there is much information but limited time to go through it all. Because of this, he said:
EESI is uniquely positioned to inform each successive Congress on the merits of energy and environmental legislation. There is a lot of information available to staff, but not a lot of objective information that is tailored to helping busy Members and staff understand the importance and consequences of their actions.
While much of the information out there may be relevant for these staffers, it is often advocacy for a specific point of view or a lengthy scholarly article or book. What is most useful to staff is concise, objective information that is tailored to help them understand what is really important. Elaborating on this, Jim emphasized:
It is crucial to have organizations like EESI that are providing information from a policy perspective rather than a perspective of personal gain. The briefings, the website and written materials, and EESI being there to answer questions are crucial to balanced legislation.
Jim has expressed his determination to foster sensible environmental policy through regular giving for all of these years because he feels EESI is uniquely positioned to inform Congress and the public on energy and environmental issues. He feels that “[EESI] is a positive friendly force in what sometimes can seem a formidable legislative landscape.”
For years, Jim gave by mailing in a check, but recently switched to giving via a Donor Advised Fund. Donor Advised Funds, or DAFs, are a way for donors to make a single charitable contribution to a nonprofit fund, from which they can then recommend grants to nonprofits, including EESI.
EESI works to make giving as easy as possible for donors, so they can choose to give in the way that’s right for them (online, by mail, through a DAF, by donating a stock or mutual fund, or by naming EESI as a beneficiary in their will or retirement plan).
Jim found the Donor Advised Fund to be the easiest way for him to make charitable contributions to multiple nonprofits by giving appreciated stock. He also notes giving through his DAF is easy: “after the fund is set up, all that you have to do is go online and select the charity and the dollar amount and the check is sent automatically.” And he can easily set up recurring gifts (an option we offer for online giving through our website as well). EESI has in fact incorporated a DAF Direct widget on our website to make such giving even easier!
This just shows one of the many ways that people express their desire for informed environmental policy—namely by giving in the way that works for them and brings them satisfaction and joy. We are incredibly grateful to Jim and give him our deepest thanks for his long-term commitment to sustainable energy policy. Jim and others like him are making better environmental policy for the United States possible.
Author: Anna Gallicchio and Susan Williams
Q&A with Jim Turner
Where are you from and how did that influence you during your career and today?
I was born in Tennessee but grew up in New Wilmington, PA, a one-square-mile small college town 60 miles north of Pittsburgh that was surrounded by Amish farms. We were close to nature and through the Amish had an idea what life was like before the industrial revolution and the Anthropocene. I also had parents who let me follow my dreams but encouraged me to be the best at whatever I chose to do. This led me to study mathematics and some physics, religion, and then law and to work summers in activist positions. I entered law school assuming I would be a poverty lawyer or work for a related government agency, but my law-related jobs (FAA, NASA, House of Representatives) introduced me to science and technology/energy policy which became my career. I did not realize until I was 30 and joined the staff of the House Committee on Science and Technology that what I loved was a possible career, but it worked out that way.
What drives you to care about environmental and science policy?
My core beliefs are religious and central to this is how we treat others. I feel strongly that basic human rights include food, shelter, and a livable environment. Starting as a child, I had a strong interest in mathematics and I assumed until my senior year in college that this would be my career so there was a tug of war inside me between service and mathematics/critical thinking. Working on Capitol Hill and being able to work to enact major energy and technology policy legislation gave me a way to do work involving both value sets.
Tell me how you first got involved with EESI.
EESI's predecessor organization, the Environmental and Energy Study Conference, was very important to me. I started working on Capitol Hill as a legislative assistant in January 1975, the year that the Study Conference was formed, and Gary Myers, my boss and home district Congressman, joined the caucus from the beginning. Energy and environment were among the issues I followed for the Congressman and the green sheets that the caucus initiated to keep Congress up to date on everything happening legislatively in those areas were essential to me in advising the Congressman. These sheets and occasional briefings by the Environmental and Energy Study Conference were the precursor to what has been EESI's core mission over the years. So I was an EESI beneficiary from the absolute beginning.
From a congressional staffer perspective, what is the importance of briefings on environmental, energy or scientific topic areas?
Staffers in personal offices are overwhelmed by definition. Two or three staffers per office have to advise their bosses on all the legislation being considered that week in their committees and on the floor of the Senate or House and this is just one of their duties. It is impossible to read and study every bill and amendment. The staffers are also deluged with information from interest groups. It is crucial to have organizations like EESI that are providing information from a policy perspective rather than a perspective of personal gain. The briefings, the website and written materials, and EESI being there to answer questions are crucial to balanced legislation.
Committee staffers are generally the ones who are creating and shaping the legislation and their time horizon can be months or years. Briefings may give these individuals ideas that they can shape into legislative solutions.
Why do you give to EESI?
I started giving to EESI when a close friend joined EESI's staff and I have continued because I feel EESI is uniquely positioned to inform each successive Congress on the merits of energy and environmental legislation. There is a lot of information available to staff, but not a lot of objective information that is precisely tailored to helping busy Members and staff understand the importance and consequences of their actions.
What would you tell someone who is thinking about giving to EESI?
EESI's unique history of being founded by Members of Congress who paid dues to establish an objective source of information on energy and environment even today gives EESI unique insights into what information Congress needs to do the right thing in energy and environment. It is a positive friendly force in what sometimes can seem a formidable legislative landscape.