USCAN Organizing Meeting Held in D.C.
By Keith Schneider
As leaders of the House of Representatives voted on June 26 to narrowly approve the American Clean Energy and Security Act, Massachusetts Senator John Kerry and California Senator Barbara Boxer were already busy in the Senate holding weekly meetings with swing state lawmakers from the Midwest and Rocky Mountain region who were nervous about the bill’s consequences for their constituents.
In a 20-minute address that opened a two-day planning conference, convened last week by the U.S. Climate Action Network and the C-Campaign, Senator Kerry told more than 150 organizers from across the nation that the early and persistent engagement with his colleagues is essential. Sen. Kerry said the climate and energy proposal, which seeks to set limits on greenhouse gas emissions and invest in the clean energy sector, is the most economically significant and politically challenging legislation he’s confronted in a 26-year Senate career.
Noting his work on nuclear proliferation, diplomatic treaties, budgets, and important environmental legislation, including the 1997 floor fight to ratify the Kyoto Treaty, Sen. Kerry said, “This is bigger. We will have a battle royale. This is bigger and what you are engaged in over the next weeks and months is bigger.”
Professionals confer on how to effectively advocate for a clean energy economy
Activists Setting Strategy for Senate Debate
The conference was convened to prepare a campaign strategy and effective messages that motivated Americans to urge Senate lawmakers to support the climate and energy bill. Among the many advocates who spoke at the conference were Maggie L. Fox, the chief executive officer and president of the Alliance for Climate Protection, Jessy Tolkan, the executive director of the Energy Action Coalition, and Robert Diamond, national chair of the Veterans for Obama.
Fresh from the House victory, the conference participants and speakers consistently described their conviction that America supported the climate and energy bill and the economic transition it will foster. National public opinion polls have consistently showed overwhelming support for strong action on climate change and clean energy investments across every age group, and by voters in both parties.
Translating that broad support into a visible and active national movement is essential to the bill’s passage in the Senate, Sen.Kerry said. Not only is the bill now before the Senate the most important vote lawmakers will take in their careers on the environment, said Sen. Kerry, it is also the most important they will take on American prosperity and economic opportunity.
American Energy Dynasty Defeated
While much of the reporting and commentary on the close 219-212 vote focused on the deal-making that some contended diluted its effectiveness to curb climate change, the more significant political result was that for the first time the energy dynasty that has ruled energy policy in the United States for more than half a century was toppled in the House.
The Senate battle, said Sen. Kerry, will be much tougher. There are 25 or so swing state senators, Democrats and Republicans, who need to be convinced that voting for limiting emissions on carbons and investing in clean sources of energy to power America is the most salient strategy for modernizing the economy and securing the nation’s safety.
Opponents of the legislation – big oil, the coal industry, many utilities, and their political allies intent on dealing President Obama a significant political defeat -are as keenly aware of the stakes as supporters. In the days leading up the House vote, according to lawmakers, the regional and Washington offices of swing state Congressmen were besieged by thousands of messages – email, phone, and fax – in favor and against the bill.
“We must fight against fear,” Sen. Kerry told advocates at the conference.
New Jobs, Lower Costs, More Opportunity
Sen. Kerry took issue with the opposition’s message that the bill would harm the economy, cost American jobs, and was tantamount to a tax on incomes. In fact, he asserted, passing the climate and energy bill will generate millions of new American jobs, spur innovation, and enhance the country’s safety by reducing the reliance of imported oil and simultaneously respond to the multi-faceted threat of climate change.
“If we move this ball forward and get this deal out of the Senate, energy markets will change sufficiently. It will move the capital markets and the greatest return on investments will be in clean energy technology. ” He said that among the important industrial companies that understand the market opportunities and support the bill are Florida Power and Light, Dow, and Dupont.
“The next step is to show them how easy the first grab is. Most of the carbon reductions over the next 20 years pay for themselves,” said Sen. Kerry. “We have to fight back against fear. Nobody knows better than me about fighting back against fear and lies. We have to make this a voting issue.”
Keith Schneider, a journalist and communications strategist, is director of media and communications at the U.S. Climate Action Network. Reach him at email@example.com.