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Want to influence government policy on the environment? You can by writing congress. Most representatives read (or more likely have aides that help read) all their mail. A person who takes the time to write to their congressperson has more influence then ten people who don't. Most well-written, thoughtful letters will be read and some will be responded to. Congressmen and women want to be reelected, and, technically, you are their boss. They will listen to an intelligent argument. So how do you go about writing that letter? Here's how.

Know Your Representative

It is important to know who to write to. If you are uncertain, go to Congress.Org to find your representative based on zip code. Don't forget to act on a state and local level as well. The smaller the area the more impact you'll have. In the case of US influence, if you want quicker action, write your house representative. If they don't help you, you can always work your way up. Senators service a larger area than congress people. They are more influential as well.

For increased alacrity, address your letter to the representative's staffer who is in charge of environmental issues. You can find this information by calling the Capitol Switchboard (202) 224-3121. The more specifically you can address the letter, the faster you will see results.

Be Concise and Be Polite

You may be steaming mad about pollution or climate change, but you're going to have to speak politely to your representative and his or her staff. A letter filled with cuss words and scorn will most likely end up being discarded. Don't get emotional. It didn't work for Howard Dean, it's not going to work for you. Also, be concise. Don't write a thirty page treatise. Don't go off on tangents about your cat or the weather or that nasty man who bags your groceries. A representative and his/her staff has a ton of correspondence to get through. Get to the point.

Use Facts, Evidence, Short Anecdotes

Evidence is always the best way to convince. Make sure that your facts are checked. If you write a letter that makes a false or outrageous claim, it will likely be ignored. A representative can't act on bad information. Anecdotal evidence may not be as empirical as a bunch of scientific data, but it can make an emotional appeal. It also makes your letter memorable, and a unique anecdote will keep your letter from looking like a form letter.

Make a Request, Ask for a Reply

You may want to increase regulations on coal plants. Pay attention to the bills that are being voted on. This is a lot of work, but democracy is worth it. Request that the congressperson works to aid a bill that's to be voted on in the next week. That's a specific and undertakable request. A specific request is more useful to a congressperson than a vague request. You can ask your representative to work against climate change. But how? If you don't tell them, they'll probably ignore your letter and respond to a better thought-out one.

Ask for a reply. If your come off as well-spoken and smart in your letter, you will probably get a reply. Ask for your representative's stance on the issue. If they like ethanol and you don't, your congressman probably won't help pass anti-ethanol bills. At that point, you may want to write a different official. See above.