April 24, 2007

By Russell Stigall/Frontiersman

MAT-SU - Valley girls get props for helping save the world.

Saturday in Washington, D.C., Palmer resident Megan Waggoner, 16, accepted the President's Environmental Youth Award, presented by the Environmental Protection Agency.

Waggoner, a sophomore at Mount Edgecumbe High School in Sitka, accepted the award on behalf of Alaska Youth for Environmental Action.

The honor came on the eve of Earth Day, April 22.

Waggoner's youth action group sponsors its 3-2-1 program. AYEA and the National Wildlife Federation ask Alaskans to pledge to replace three incandescent light bulbs with three compact fluorescent bulbs, keep their houses two degrees colder in winter and unplug one electronic appliance when not in use.

If the group can meet its goal, according to AYEA's Web site, Alaskans can eliminate 19.8 million pounds of carbon emissions annually.

While in the nation's capital, Waggoner let Sens. Ted Stevens and Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, sign the pledge.

&#8220They are both excited about it, both are supporting legislation to help reduce greenhouse gases though efficiencies,” Knapp said. &#8220Especially Sen. Murkowski, who was incredibly supportive.”

In a prepared statement, Murkowski said she agreed with the action group's program.

&#8220I applaud Megan and all of the members of Alaska Youth for Environmental Action for helping spread the word that we all can take simple steps to reduce carbon emissions on the planet,” Murkowski said. &#8220I hope, by taking this pledge, I can inspire others in Alaska to do the same.”

Waggoner said global climate change sparked her interest in AYEA's activism. She hopes she can help find a way to stop climate change. She is doing her part by focusing on in-school recycling.

&#8220I'm running a group called the Anchorage School District Recycling Coalition program,” Waggoner said. &#8220We get large-scale recycling in the school.”

Waggoner said that through AYEA she has learned about the legislative process.

&#8220That you can help protect environment by using your voice,” Waggoner said. &#8220It is amazing actually.”

Waggoner will spend the summer working for AYEA in Anchorage. Currently there is no AYEA chapter in the Valley.

However, fellow Valley teen Hannah Knapp might change that as she spends the next year bringing a chapter of AYEA to Mat-Su students.

Hannah, 15, is a freshman at Twindly Bridge Charter School in Wasilla. Knapp has lived in the Valley most of her life.

Soon, she will present to her peers at Twindly Bridge the AYEA mission. Next year Knapp wants to do presentations at other schools around the Valley.

Knapp said she is waiting for details from AYEA, but that she believes she needs sponsors and five or six youth to join to start a chapter.

Her own school has already confirmed it would like to sponsor the chapter.

&#8220Hopefully I'll have a couple more sponsors and students this summer,” Knapp said.

An advertisement in the local newspaper first brought Knapp into contact with AYEA. The ad described the annual Alaska Youth for Environmental Action Civics and Conservation Summit.

Held in Juneau, attendees take classes for a few days and then have meetings with their legislators.

&#8220I've only worked with the Juneau chapter, but they're dynamic, amazing young people. It's really great to see them so engaged. Not many high schoolers go on a field trip to lobby their state legislators,” said Beth Peluso, media coordinator for the Southeast Alaska Conservation Council.

Besides the 3-2-1 campaign, AYEA is also working on legislation for a tax on plastic shopping bags to encourage a reduction in plastic use, Peluso said.

While in Juneau, Knapp said she learned to write effective letters and talk effectively with the media and legislators.

&#8220Pretty much everything and anything with regard to lobbying,” Knapp said.

Knapp said she helped track the plastic bag tax bill now in the Senate, and the Fire Island wind farm bill, which is in the House.

&#8220It's been three years in the running and nobody has passed it,” Knapp said.

Knapp was able to get at least one of legislators, Rep. Mark Neuman, R-Big Lake, to sign the 3-2-1 pledge.

&#8220I think [lobbying] is a very effective tool if you know your stuff,” Knapp said.

Knapp said she is worried about the future of the Earth.

&#8220Though youth may not have the political impact adults do,” Knapp said, &#8220if more youth were involved and educated about this stuff, we can definitely make an impact. It doesn't matter who is communicating the message as long as it gets out there.”

For more information about a Mat-Su chapter of the Alaska Youth for Environmental Action, contact Hannah Knapp at 892-8106 or at ms_ayea@yahoo.com.

To sign the 3-2-1 pledge visit www.ayea.org.

Contact Russell Stigall at

352-2267 or russell.stigall@ frontiersman.com.

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