Our careers in public life both began with conservation advocacy. Before we ever came to Washington, we were fighting at the local level to protect the environment for future generations.
Chris first became involved in politics as a 24-year-old member of his local Planning and Zoning Commission who decided to run for a seat in the state legislature because he opposed locating a power plant on threatened community wetlands. He won, and the first bill he introduced was legislation granting local governments more control over wetland development.
Prior to being elected to Congress, Martin served as the director of the Coalition for New Mexico Wilderness and won federal protection for the Ojito Wilderness, and worked as New Mexico's Natural Resources Trustee to ensure that polluters paid to clean up contaminated public lands. Early in his career, Martin trekked thousands of miles across the Southwest as the executive director of the Cottonwood Gulch Foundation, a conservation education and outdoors program for youth.
In the House of Representatives, we both had the chance to bring our passion for conservation to the federal level. As co-chairs of the bipartisan House Land Conservation Caucus, we've worked to protect open space across the nation from overdevelopment, ensuring that all Americans have access to public lands, whether they are hunters, hikers, campers, kayakers, or anglers. We worked to ensure full funding of the Land and Water Conservation Fund, and when efforts were made to roll back protections for wilderness areas and other important wildlife habitat, we fought back.
We represent constituents on opposite sides of the country. Martin has worked to protect New Mexico's treasured landscapes and bolster his state's clean energy economy, while Chris has made protecting Connecticut's threatened forests and trails a priority.
Even today, our states are facing distinct challenges. In New Mexico, we've witnessed the destructive impact of intense wildfires like the Las Conchas fire, which destroyed more than 156,000 acres, making it the second largest wildfire in state history. And that may be just the beginning; scientists recently concluded that over the next four decades, climate change will likely result in the demise of 70 percent of New Mexico's trees through drought, insect infestation, and catastrophic wildfire.
In Connecticut, Hurricane Sandy pounded our coastline, causing widespread flooding and power outages, and inflicting immense damage on homes, beaches, and wildlife. Scientists warn that these kinds of extreme weather events, too, will only become more common in a warming world.
But what unites us is our commitment to protecting our environment and public health. Now, we are bringing our commitment to clean energy and combating climate change to the U.S. Senate.
We recognize that the common link behind many of the extreme weather events happening across America is climate change. And we are continually reminded of the challenge that we face, most recently by the newly-released National Climate Assessment draft report and the finding by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) that 2012 was the warmest year on record in the continental United States. The science on this issue has spoken, and we need to act.
As our constituents' voices in Washington, we are committed to promoting legislation that will limit greenhouse gas emissions and invest in clean energy sources like wind and solar.
Our commitment to conservation played a large role in our Senate campaigns, and voters sent a strong message that they share our commitment to protecting public lands, investing in clean energy and addressing the threat of climate change.
The environment shouldn't be a partisan or regional issue, it should be a national priority. We're going to work with our new colleagues in the Senate -- and in Martin's case, on the Energy and Natural Resources Committee -- to ensure that Congress keeps investing in our clean energy economy and combats the climate crisis. We owe our constituents -- and the planet they've been entrusted with -- no less.
Martin Heinrich represents New Mexico and Chris Murphy represents Connecticut in the United States Senate.
The joint op-ed was placed in the Huffington Post.