OPED: State of the Climate in Congress

Jon Clark, Mid-Atlantic regional coordinator
Citizens Climate Lobby
Jon Clark, Citizens Climate Lobby

October 2015 set a new record for hottest month on record globally, and it crushed the old record.  “The planet’s temperature departure from the long-term average of 1.04 Celsius in October is the greatest of any month ever recorded by NASA. It marked the first time a monthly temperature anomaly exceeded 1 degrees Celsius in records dating back to 1880,” according to the Washington Post.

This year will undoubtedly break last year’s record of hottest on record globally. Temperature records are continually being broken and stories about them are starting to sound like, well, a broken record.

For the next two weeks, world leaders are meeting in Paris at climate talks aimed at getting commitments from countries to reduce greenhouse gases which are damaging our climate. Here in the U.S., one of our commitments to protecting future generations is the EPA’s Clean Power Plan. The Clean Power Plan will reduce greenhouse gases coming from power plants using dirty, outdated fossil fuels.

In November, about 140 volunteers from Citizens Climate Lobby went back to Capitol Hill to meet with about 170 Congressional offices. The meetings were mostly with members on the Ways and Means and Energy and Commerce committees in the House and Finance and Energy and Natural Resources in the Senate. We gave them important information we had gathered at 487 meetings on the Hill in June.

We also responded to top questions and concerns of the Congressional offices about the climate change issue or about our “fee and dividend” proposal to reduce greenhouse gas emissions here at home. “Fee and dividend” would put a steadily-rising fee on carbon-based fuels, and the revenue generated would be returned back to consumers equally. This is a market-based approach to reducing the carbon pollution which is damaging our climate and is a conservative alternative to EPA regulations.

After reading the meeting reports filed by CCL volunteers at those 487 meetings in June, CCL Legislative Director, Danny Richter, categorized the top concerns expressed by offices and we shared this information with offices in November to give a “State of the Political Climate” report to members. There were many interesting findings from these meetings and I’ll highlight a few of them.

Overall the top three concerns expressed by Republican offices were Border, Dividend, and the EPA, in that order. If there was mention of China, WTO compatibility of fee and dividend, or how a border tax adjustment (which would protect American businesses from imports from countries without fee on carbon) would work, it would fall under the category of Border. If there was mention of how the revenue collected from a fee on carbon would be administered, it fell under the Dividend category, and if EPA regulations were mentioned, it fell under EPA. With Democratic offices, the top three concerns were EPA, Dividend, and Jobs, in that order.

Of most interest was that Dividend had the highest level of concern when talking to both parties, with 109 offices total showing concern (typically where the revenue would go).  This is very encouraging news and gives a sense that Congress, in general, is now moving on from talking about whether or not climate change is happening to talking about the solutions being proposed.

Another interesting highlight was the growing level of interest in fee and dividend by Republican offices. According to CCL Communication Director, Steve Valk, “in 2014, there were 124 GOP offices that showed clear and genuine interest versus 41 that were clearly hostile to our message, a ratio of 3 to 1. In 2015, there were 152 offices showing clear and genuine interest versus only 25 that were hostile, the good meetings outnumbering the disappointing by 6 to 1.”

Also, we asked Republicans to co-sponsor House Resolution 424, or “the Gibson Resolution.” The resolution introduced by Rep. Chris Gibson R-NY states, “If left unaddressed, the consequences of a changing climate have the potential to adversely impact all Americans.” And concludes that the House should commit to “working constructively, using our tradition of American ingenuity, innovation, and exceptionalism, to create and support economically viable, and broadly supported private and public solutions to study and address the causes and effects of measured changes to our global and regional climates, including mitigation efforts and efforts to balance human activities that have been found to have an impact.”

It’s encouraging to hear another Republican recently signed onto the Gibson Resolution. Rep. Tom Reed from New York recently signed on as co-sponsor, joining 11 other House Republicans who are speaking out on the need for Congress to address our changing climate.  The political climate to talk about climate change solutions in Washington is certainly changing for the better.

While visiting the office of one of the Gibson Resolution co-sponsors in November, I had the chance to shake the Representative’s hand and thank him profusely for his leadership in his party. He responded with a huge grin on his face, “You’re welcome. I wish I’d done it sooner.”

Jon Clark is Mid-Atlantic Regional Coordinator for Citizens' Climate Lobby and lives in Dover.