We usually would not want to be thought of as Lobbyists. The profession is not associated with strong ethics or high moral standards. Professional lobbyists are “hired guns” who sell their ability to gain access to those in power to the highest bidder. They are paid advocates, like lawyers, who seek to win the day for a client. Too often the question of what is best for our nation does not override the pursuit of billable time.
When 900 volunteers, all private citizens, invest their own time and money solely because they passionately care about the environment, it’s an entirely different sort of lobbying. None of us are registered lobbyists. We joined Citizen’s Climate Lobby (CCL) to protect our children and grandchildren from the disastrous effects of increasing the greenhouse gasses that blanket our atmosphere. It’s a problem that can only be addressed effectively by government. The purpose of Citizens’ Climate Lobby/Citizens’ Climate Education is two-fold: to create the political will for a livable world and to empower individuals to exercise their power as citizens.
The CCL conference was designed to train us on to meet with our legislators and their aides in an appreciative, clear, and focused manner and then to equip us with the supporting research for the proposed Carbon Fee and Dividend (CF&D) legislation. Armed with facts and “laser talks,” our teams of 5-6 citizen-lobbyists communicated with almost every Congressional representative and Senator.
Our teams generally included constituents, but not always. Because CCL members have earned the reputation of being respectful, non-partisan, and well informed we did gain access in all but a few cases. More about our experience in the meetings we attended later, but first a brief explanation of CF&D.
Carbon Fee and Dividend
We’ve all heard or read about “Carbon Tax” proposals that would levy a tax on any industrial product that contributes carbon dioxide or other greenhouse gasses to the atmosphere. The concept is not to unfairly tip the scales against fossil fuels but to put all energy sources on a level playing field, each paying the full costs of the energy it produces. Fossil fuels are “free riders” at present because prices do not include the collateral social and environmental and resource depletion costs. A carbon tax harnesses market forces to encourage investment and innovation in renewable energy technology, while reducing the use of fossil fuels year-by-year over a 20-year period.
The Carbon Fee we advocate would have this effect, but instead of the fee revenue going to grow government, it would be distributed directly to every American household on an equal basis. This dividend approach has many advantages over a tax:
• It offsets the incrementally rising price of fuel and other products that contain carbon for those who most need it. About two-thirds of US households, those in the middle and lower income brackets, would break even or be money ahead, receiving monthly checks of $288 for a family of four with 2 adults by 2025 and $396/monthly by 2035.
• It is not a “new tax” and thus is not repugnant to conservative Republicans.
• It allows market forces to accomplish the needed reduction of emissions, eliminating the cost and intrinsic unfairness of regulatory and enforcement action. (A $10/ton fee would cause CO2 emission to decline 33% after 10 years and 52% after 20 years.)
• It can be efficiently administered without adding layers of bureaucracy.
• It creates a net gain in jobs (2.1 million jobs in 10 years and 2.8 million jobs after 20 years)
• It stimulates the economy, increasing GDP by $70-$80 Billion from 2020 on, with a cumulative increase due to CF&D of $1.375 Trillion
• It saves lives (13,000 lives per year after 10 years due to the drop in CO2 and other greenhouse gasses)
• It allows businesses and investors to adapt to and plan for the new energy environment, allowing for incremental, systematic change by starting with a low fee ($15/ton) and increasing $10/ton each year for 10 years.
These legislative advantages appeal to both progressive and conservative values. Both sides of the political divide could and should get behind this approach. But how do we know it can deliver?
Regional Economic Modeling Inc. (REMI) is a company that has developed a model for projecting the economic impact of policies and events. They work for businesses, nonprofits and governments and don’t skew their findings to please their customers. CCL commissioned them to simulate the effects of implementing a $10 per ton at-the-source fee on carbon adding yearly increases of $10 a ton. The model tabulates the changes from the baseline (doing nothing) so that we see what effect the carbon fee has on Gross Domestic Product, jobs, income, etc.
In addition to the national predictions mentioned above, the model projects the effects on smaller geographic areas so that a Congressional representative can see what the impact on his or her constituents would be.
Over the past four years the Carbon Fee and Dividend idea has been thoroughly discussed and debated to identify objections and address them. We were impressed at the research that has been done to answer both obvious criticisms and narrower local concerns. The work is summarized in a series of briefing papers. By internalizing the content of these laser talks, we CCL volunteers were able to address objections with confidence, and if a question arose that we couldn’t answer, we were equally confident that it can be answered in a follow-up communication.
Though not all of us were fully conversant with all of the laser talk materials, someone on the team could usually respond to questions. This allowed us to pitch our idea convincingly, and make our request (the “ask”) in a powerful and professional way.
Our Personal Experience
What’s it like to be a citizen-lobbyist? Individually most of us couldn’t have pulled it off, but in our teams, it was exhilarating, eye-opening, deeply satisfying—and surprisingly inspiring. CCL had recommended we asked fellow constituents who couldn’t come to Washington to make a phone call the day before we lobbied saying, “I support action on climate change, and I want to see Congress do something about it,” and, if they agreed, to also mention their support for the proposed Carbon Fee & Dividend legislation.
Each member of our team had an assigned role so that we stayed focused and used the time we were allotted effectively. The staffers (mostly talented, smart, politically savvy people in their 20’s-40’s) received us respectfully, asked good questions, took notes, and represented their understanding of their elected officials’ position which could range from “climate deniers” to “enthusiastic change agent.” If they couldn’t (yet) support CF&D, we came prepared to make a secondary ask that would allow them to consider a smaller step.
Our timing was the best. The Pope released his long-awaited Encyclical on Climate Change the week before we arrived in Washington. We also had a book of “faith-based” statements on Climate Change that represented the spectrum of reasons that different religions had for supporting action on climate change: “care for creation” to “seeking environmental justice” to “threat of global warming/climate change” from all branches of Christianity, Hindus, Islam, Judaism, Native Americans, and ecumenical and inter-faith groups. There were also massive thunder, lightning and hail storms the day we arrived and the day we departed.
Now we’re home, tired but gratified by the experience, armed with plans to follow-up when our members of Congress return to their home districts on break, while we citizen-lobbyists return to our homes, our children, our jobs, our lives.
We know our work isn’t over until Carbon Fee & Dividend becomes the law of the land. But the experience of walking the halls of Congress and meeting with the people who make our laws gave us renewed faith in our capacity as citizens to influence government. It was, for us, the lab course for Civics 101.