On Nov. 13, one week after Election Day, dozens of environmental protesters occupied the office of Nancy Pelosi. They were there — uninvited — to demand that the Democratic speaker-in-waiting take up a progressive climate agenda once she again holds the House gavel.
Elsewhere on Capitol Hill that same day, however, hundreds more activists were visiting other congressional offices, asking them to address climate change but with a notably softer touch.
These activists had scheduled their meetings ahead of time. Many of them brought handwritten notes.
Over 600 volunteers from a group called the Citizens’ Climate Lobby (CCL) came to Capitol Hill last Tuesday in a bid to unite Democrats and Republicans on an issue that has turned bitterly partisan over the past decade.
The environmental group, whose lower-profile work was unrelated to the Pelosi protest, scheduled 423 meetings last Tuesday with members of Congress or their staffs from both parties and both chambers.
Their long-term aim: To convince members to back plan to place a fee on carbon dioxide emissions and periodically cut taxpayers a check with the revenue.
Eventually, that is. CCL counts a conversation with a conservative lawmaker that does not veer into outright hostility as a success.
“Don’t make climate a wedge, make it a bridge issue,” said Don Kraus, a retiree from Asheville, N.C. and CCL volunteer.
Many economists say a fee-and-dividend plan is the most effective way of reducing the buildup of planet-warming gases in the atmosphere. In recent years a handful of senior Republican statesmen, like former secretaries of state George P. Shultz and James A. Baker, have advocated for such a plan.
But activists pushing that proposal are not your typical Washington energy and environmental lobbyists.. Many of them, like Janet Petri of Northfield, Minn. are often constituents of the lawmakers they're visiting.
The activists hope the fact they're from a members' home district will aid their cause. In the past, Petri, for example, took to her congressman’s office a printout with photographs of recent, record-breaking floods in her town, about 40 miles south of Minneapolis, juxtaposed with a picture of her granddaughter, Esme.
“That's what everybody always says: We want a better world for our grandchildren,” Petri said in the hallways of the Hart Senate Office Building, where dozens of other lobbyists-for-the-day were milling about the cavernous atrium there with blue-and-white nametags.
On the other side of the Capitol, CCL volunteers congregated in the cafeteria of the Rayburn House Office Building to take lunch and trade notes between meetings.
Samantha Panchèvre, a Georgetown University student from San Antonio, said one staffer told her they pay more attention to handwritten letters.
“It might even make it to the desk of the representative,” Panchevre said while eating with her mother, Maricela, who came in from Texas to lobby. “I didn’t know that there was so much power in a handwritten constituent letter.”
The CCL has been perfecting tips like that since just 25 of its volunteers started meeting with members of Congress in 2010. In the process, the organization has collected reams of data on members in an effort to find the best way to appeal to each of them.
After every biannual “congressional education day” — one in June and another in November — Daniel Richter, the organization’s vice president, reads and analyzes hundreds of the volunteers’ notes to see what messages work, and with whom.
The details he offers get very granular, very quickly. The effects of climate change on farmers, for example, comes up more often during Senate meetings than House meetings, Richter told CCL volunteers during a video webinar about two weeks before the November meeting.
“I do want to highlight: Nobody else has this information in the world,” Richter claimed, referring to the small details his group's volunteers get at individual meetings.
For Republicans, the message is often about the military. The Pentagon remains one of the few parts of the federal government under President Trump seriously studying how to adapt its operations to a warmer world. It cannot plan upgrades to coastal bases, for example, without thinking about rising seas.
“For conservatives, it’s more relatable,” said Drew Eyerly, a former U.S. Army medic from the suburbs of Augusta, Ga. who talked to the offices of defense-minded Republicans. “They want to know more about the national security implications.”
The organization says its own internal data suggests Republicans have grown more receptive to the idea of putting a price on carbon. But a lot of House Republicans who previously told CCL they were serious about climate change lost their reelection bids this month. Among them are many members of the bipartisan 90-member Climate Solutions Caucus, which CCL helped organize.
At the same time, other environmental groups, which endorsed a slate of nearly all Democrats in 2018, are emboldened by the midterm election results to try to win back the Senate and White House in 2020. They don't want to compromise with Republicans.
Many prominent environmentalists like Michael Brune, executive director of the Sierra Club, see the caucus as providing undue political cover to Republicans who vote in favor of building the Keystone XL pipeline or of opening 1.5 million acres of Arctic wilderness in Alaska to oil and gas drilling. Some GOP members of the caucus voted in favor of a resolution saying the sort of carbon tax CCL is pushing would be “detrimental to the United States economy.”
“We can’t have climate action in name only,” Brune said at a post-election news conference. “What we need to see is stronger action, not just a few good speeches given once a year.”
Even with the House flipping, CCL is sticking to its bipartisan approach. Volunteers repeating that “bridge”-vs.-“wedge” line as their mantra. They say they are realists.
“Now that Democrats control the House, we can have all kinds of bills proposed,” said Kelli Lewis, a volunteer from Minnesota. “But if they don't have a chance of making it through the Senate, it is a waste of time.”
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— EPA regional administrator out: Trey Glenn, the Environmental Protection Agency official overseeing the Southeast, resigned after being indicted on ethics charges last week. Glenn, who oversaw eight states as the EPA’s Region 4 administrator, “faces charges of using his office for personal gain and soliciting or receiving a ‘thing of value’ from a principal or lobbyist,” The Post’s Brady Dennis reports. In his resignation letter, Glenn wrote, “Stepping down now, I hope removes any distraction from you and all the great people who work at EPA as you carry out the Agency’s mission” adding he intends to “focus on my family, fight these unfounded accusations and ultimately clear my name.”
— Bernie Sanders plans climate town hall: The newly reelected independent Vermont senator will host a live-stream town hall on climate change next month. A 90-minute summit is planned for Dec. 3 and will be live-streamed over social media channels and by “seven progressive media outlets,” HuffPost reports. “We need millions of people all over this country to stand up and demand fundamental changes in our energy policy in order to protect our kids and our grandchildren and the planet,” Sanders told HuffPost. “The good news is the American people are beginning to stand up and fight back.”
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— Congressional Democrats weigh in on Grand Staircase-Escalante and Bears Ears' cases: On Tuesday, 118 Democratic lawmakers submitted a friend-of-the-court brief to join lawsuits from environmental and Native American groups against the Trump administration’s decision to shrink two national monuments in Utah. Sen. Tom Udall (D-N.M.) and Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-Ariz.) led the group in filing the documents.
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Why this may be odd: “While spouses occasionally accompany cabinet members on foreign work trips, ethics experts said it’s unusual for them to participate in official functions,” per the report. University of Minnesota law professor Richard Painter, who was a chief White House ethics lawyer under former president George W. Bush, said “It’s just not an area where spouses have traditionally been involved…We don’t have a first lady to the Treasury Secretary.”
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Hard to connect: As phone towers and power lines were damaged in wildfires, mobile phone services saw increased outages, too. Those limitations in a fire situation “reveal a downside to the wireless communications upon which Americans are increasingly dependent: Mobile service falls short of old-fashioned landlines when it comes to surviving catastrophic events,” Bloomberg News reports.
Evacuees seek refuge: More than 10 days after tens of thousands of people evacuated their homes to escape the devastating flames and seek shelter, the temporary accommodations “are being overwhelmed by overcrowding and disease,” The Post’s Frances Stead Sellers, Scott Wilson and Tim Craig report. “Four of the six emergency evacuation shelters are full, as those who have been camping outside in subfreezing nights begin to look for indoor shelter with rain in the forecast,” they write, adding “tens of thousands of Californians are facing months, if not longer, without permanent housing in a region that borders some of the most expensive in the nation.”
Blame game: During an interview with Breitbart News on Sunday, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke said now is “not the time for finger-pointing” on what led to the fires.
But: A moment later in the same interview, the Cabinet official blamed “environmental radicals” for poor forest management that led to the fires. “I will lay this on the foot of those environmental radicals that have prevented us from managing the forests for years. And you know what? This is on them,” Zinke said.
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Maybe interesting to work with Daimler/Mercedes on an electric Sprinter. That’s a great van. We will inquire.— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) November 19, 2018
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- The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee holds a hearing on addressing America’s surface transportation infrastructure needs on Nov. 28.
- The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee holds a hearing on the nomination of Alexandra Dunn to be Assistant Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency on Nov. 29.
- The Women's Council on Energy and the Environment holds an event on incorporating intelligent water systems in U.S. water utilities on Nov. 29.
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