At 8 a.m. June 13, I had my first view of the U.S. Capitol under a clear blue sky. I wasn’t expecting the strong emotional response I had. I stood before the Capitol dome with so many stories and dreams connected to it. It was awe-inspiring. I met more than 1,000 members of the Citizens’ Climate Lobby on the Capitol steps. We then set off to the offices of Congress.
CCL members come from across the nation and all walks of life. We’ve experienced the effects of changing climate; fires consuming beetle-kill forests because of lack of cold winters; disastrous flooding on coasts from rising ocean temperatures; droughts, excessive heat and more. These experiences, and misgivings about our legacy to future generations, motivate us to act and speak with members of Congress.
CCL volunteers spoke with staff at 500 Congressional offices that day, sometimes personally meeting members of Congress. We talked about carbon fee-and-dividend, a legislative proposal endorsed by Republicans and Democrats to address climate change.
Carbon fee-and-dividend would place a steadily rising fee on fossil fuels at the source, the mine or well. The fee would help cover “externalities,” the hidden costs of fossil fuels not apparent in the market price. Polluted rivers, land degraded from mining and the effects of transporting fuel are examples. Fuel refineries emitting toxins that cause asthma and cancer, and the impacts of sea-level rise are others.
All funds from the carbon fee would be placed in a Carbon Fees Trust Fund then distributed to U.S. households as a monthly dividend. Two-thirds of U.S. households would break even or receive more than they would pay in increased prices. This would add billions to the economy, assist family spending and allow people to make better choices about energy usage. This process also would build demand for alternatives to high-carbon products.
Fees also would be levied on carbon-based fuels imported from countries with no carbon fee. U.S. industries exporting to those countries would receive rebates, deterring businesses from moving where they can emit more CO².
An independent study found the revenue neutral carbon fee-and-dividend proposal would reduce CO² emissions 52 percent below 1990 levels in 20 years. Consumers spending their dividends would stimulate the economy, adding 2.8 million jobs. Carbon fee-and-dividend wouldn’t increase the size of government or require new bureaucracy. The dividend would increase household disposable income and protect personal spending decisions.
Some CCL members have traveled to Washington, D.C., to lobby for eight years. As a rookie on Capitol Hill, I benefited from the mentorship of experienced citizen lobbyists. I’ve also learned from CCL trainings a outreach, lobbying, media and other topics.
After a long walk through the broad halls of the Hart Senate building, our team had the opportunity to meet Sen. Michael Bennet. We told him about the 42 member bipartisan Climate Solutions Caucus in the House of Representatives, which he hadn’t heard about. That caucus serves “as an organization to educate members on economically-viable options to reduce climate risk and protect our nation’s economy, security, infrastructure, agriculture, water supply and public safety.” We encouraged Bennet to consider initiating a similar group in the Senate and spoke of some potential Republican allies.
After that meeting, I left the Hart building and, in the 90-degree humid heat of D.C., I walked across the expansive lawn in front of the Capitol to the House office buildings. Six of us met with Congressman Tipton’s legislative director.
He appeared tense at the outset, but his manner eased as we spoke about our proposal. CCL training in respect and attentiveness is effective. We learned some important information because one member of our group knew of a congresswoman Tipton spoke about. Clearly, the team approach pays off.
I believe the challenge of our changing climate is the most important issue confronting humanity today. It was inspiring to be with a thousand others of like mind. CCL provides an empowering opportunity to address this through lobbying at the U.S. Capitol.
We also take local action by conducting community and media outreach, seeking endorsements, writing letters, lobbying at local Congressional offices and developing our Durango chapter. With more than 350 chapters in the U.S. taking similar actions, ours are powerful pieces of the larger CCL objective.
Members of Congress welcome CCL lobbyists because we don’t come to win arguments; we come to solve a problem together. Please join us and perhaps you’ll be walking the halls of Congress next spring.
Andrew Zeiler is a group co-leader for the Durango chapter of the Citizens Climate Lobby. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.