Interview: Amanda Pitzer, Citizen Advocate & Executive Director of Friends of the Cheat

How did you become a lobbyist in WV?

I am not a lobbyist but I am an advocate who occasionally lobbies for or, mainly, against specific bills. Friends of the Cheat (FOC) is a 501(c)3 non-profit organization, so our lobbying efforts must be limited, but we can loudly and persistently advocate for general issues important to our mission, which is to “restore, preserve, and promote the outstanding natural qualities of the Cheat River watershed.” Therefore, issues ranging from clean rivers and safe drinking water to livable communities and outdoor recreation are important to us. There are many more issues that are personally important to me as a West Virginian woman, so I try to keep an eye on that stuff too – which can get pretty overwhelming.

Issues you are advocating for during the 2018 session.

It isn’t easy being green in West Virginia. Since I have gotten involved with environmental issues in the state, we have largely been focused on preventing bad bills from taking hold instead of promoting legislation that would have a positive impact on the river community. There is always at least one or two bad water bills pushed by industry lobbyists. This year we were very disappointed to see the definition of “completion of reclamation” removed from the state’s mining laws. Legislators claimed that the definition was confusing and didn’t really mean anything but cleaning up pollution from abandoned coal mines can make one reasonably skeptical. Therefore, the motivation behind the removal of this definition, and a few other changes in this rule, is suspect.  We understand the desire to clean up rules and regulations; but if the use of this phrase is unclear why not just clarify it? What this really feels like is an attempt to prevent enforcement of federally-enforceable water quality standard…and that is not good. I also spent a lot of time rousing up grassroots opposition to SB270, the now dead State Park logging bill. That was a good win for everyone involved. Playing defense all the time can jade a person, so this session I made it a point to try and find a few bills FOC could support too. Unfortunately, none of those bills saw much action.

Why is lobbying & advocating important to you?

I am not the type of person who can sit on the sidelines and let someone else call the shots, particularly when the calls suck. The more I learn about the WV Legislature the more I am drawn into the process and players. I have learned that there are shockingly few lobbyists out there playing for “my team”. So, I write letters, emails, social media posts, and snarky articles; trying my best to support my community without losing my mind.

What’s something interesting that has happened to you as an advocate?

There is always something interesting happening at the Capitol! And, I always get lost despite the taxidermy-bear landmarks. 

What qualities make a good advocate?

You must be a quick-learner and good communicator. Persistence is key and, I hear, wedge high heeled shoes…although I can’t believe some of the shoes I see pounding those merciless marble floors.

What’s the best way for someone to become an advocate in WV?

Anyone can be a citizen lobbyist. I would suggest focusing on one or two issues that are important to you and dig in!

Amanda Pitzer is the Executive Director of Friends of the Cheat based in Kingwood, WV. More info can be found here.