Make Your Voice Heard in Congress

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Tompkins Weekly 7-27-15

By Miranda Phillips

You probably believe either or both of the following:  1. Congress will never act on climate. 2. We have little influence in the matter.

I’m writing to argue the very opposite: Congress is right now very interested in climate solutions, and wants to hear from you.

What makes me think so?    If you’ve read the July 10 op-ed in the Ithaca Journal, “Re-think what you know about Republicans and their stance on climate change”, you already know something of this.

For those who haven’t, I’ll recap: Citizens’ Climate Lobby, a non-partisan grassroots organization I volunteer with, sent 800 of us to meet with over 500 congressional offices in D.C. in June.  We began many of our meetings with this statement, “We’re here today to talk about a policy that would add jobs, grow the economy, save American lives, and cut emissions substantially. That policy is called Carbon Fee and Dividend – a proposal to place a steadily rising fee on fossil fuels and return all revenue to American households.” What was the response? Counter to popular belief about Republicans and climate change, few argued about the science. The majority were keenly interested in the solution we offered, which — being market-based and revenue-neutral – is in line with their values. Members on both sides of the aisle also seemed particularly pleased to hear that the policy protects the poor and middle class.

If Congress is interested, where’s the catch?

Great as it is, this policy would require a leap of faith by each party.

Republicans would have to take a risk, standing up for legislation they’re unsure their base would support. Not too long ago, when former Republican Congressman Bob Inglis advocated for a carbon fee, he lost his next election.  His colleagues remember this well, no doubt. That’s why they want to hear from you, now: to reassure themselves that constituents would support this legislation.

Not a Republican constituent?  Your leaders in Congress need to hear from you, too — to know that Democrats also want this.  In one of those above-mentioned June congressional meetings, a Republican staffer raised this question exactly: “This is great!” he said of Fee and Dividend. “Do you really think Democrats can get behind this?”

You might think this sounds funny.  Why wouldn’t Democrats support pricing carbon?   Previous carbon pricing bills by Democrats have always directed at least some proceeds to government projects.  Republicans prefer that government keep no revenue and instead return it to the public as an economic stimulus. Carbon fee and dividend would do the latter, returning all revenue to households.

With Republicans in charge of both houses, climate legislation isn’t going anywhere unless it pleases Republicans.   Democrats would have to be ok with this, or climate solutions are off the table. That’s where liberal constituents come in: your leaders need to hear that you want this legislation revenue-neutral, with all proceeds returned to households. (By the way, returning all proceeds to households is the key to many of the benefits of this policy — the economic boost, job creation, protecting consumers from higher energy prices. Also, political saleability: who wouldn’t want a monthly check in the mail?).

How could you show your support?   It would be meaningful to your members of Congress to know you endorse either:

–Climate action generally (

–Carbon fee and dividend (

Interested, but have questions? Check out the above links, then these FAQ:

Feel free to put any remaining questions to me (Miranda Phillips,

Are you (or someone else you know) part of a business, faith or other civic association that might consider endorsing either of the above? Would they want to learn more first? A volunteer from our local chapter of Citizens’ Climate Lobby can present to your group. (Call Peter: 607 266-9059)

Know any local elected leaders? Know folks outside of Tompkins County but still in our district? Conservative or Progressive, they can find something compelling in this policy: in the first 20 years, 50% less carbon, 1.375 trillion in additional GDP, 2.8 million new jobs, and 13,000 lives saved annually. Also, powerful local benefits: 200,000 jobs in our mid-Atlantic region in the first 5 years, especially in healthcare, retail, and real estate. Plus, mitigating the frequency and intensity of damaging storms.

The above are reasons why Congress is interested, on both sides of the aisle. NY-23 should be, too; and we should tell Congress so, before September. Why? The Pope will address a joint session of Congress on September 24. Congress knows this would be a powerful time to introduce climate legislation. But they’d need to hear from you first to make that happen.

Miranda Phillips is a volunteer with Citizens’ Climate Lobby NY-23 Chapter.


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