What better way to get hands-on policy experience than to go to our nation’s capital and lobby members of Congress for a proposed carbon fee and dividend legislation! Thanks to Student Government Association funding,
Citizens’ Climate Lobby
, and support from Schmid College faculty and staff, five Chapman students were able to go to Washington D.C. and do just that.
On November 13, our group, consisting of environmental science and policy majors (with minors and second majors in political science, economics, business, english, and integrated educational studies) Nikki Burtis, Kyvan Elep, K.C. Hoppel, Lotus Thai, and Sara Wanous, landed in Washington D.C. After arriving in the nation’s capitol, we met with Chapman alumnus, Clayton Heard ‘16 and toured the city. We visited the local farmers’ market, rode the metro, visited numerous monuments and museums (including the National History Museum, Lincoln and Washington Monuments), and stopped by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) office.
The following day was Citizens’ Climate Lobby’s education and training day. Citizens’ Climate Lobby (CCL) is a non-profit, non-partisan, grassroots advocacy organization focused on policies to combat climate change. At the training, we met veteran and fellow newcomers of CCL including fellow Chapman alumna Taylor Krause ‘16 (who now interns for the organization), heard inspiring speeches, learned about the carbon fee and dividend proposal, and were trained on proper lobbying etiquette. Part of CCL’s modus operandi is to take an unbiased approach by simply illustrating the facts of the legislation and how it will affect the environment, economy, and people, as opposed to pushing a political view. The organization also focuses on building relationships with the elected officials, instead of merely pressing the issues. It was a long day, but we felt much more prepared after the session – especially because a few of us were chosen to lead our respective lobby groups the following day!
Here are a few of the things that we learned:
Their Carbon Fee and Dividend proposal is well thought out. It is currently the only bipartisan carbon fee bill being looked at. The fee starts at $15 per ton of carbon emitted and is charged at the source (i.e. Coal mine, oil refinery) making it one of the more moderate but also most effective price points among carbon fee bills. Each year, the fee increases by $10 which provides a stable and predictable increase that will give investors an indicator of market prices. Because of this fee, normal consumer goods will increase. To combat this, the money accumulated from the fees will be split evenly among American households. All of the money is returned, less only the administrative costs of returning the money; therefore, the size of government does not grow at all. As a result, half of low-income families will break-even or have extra money in their pockets.
Be interested, not interesting – listen to the members of Congress, wait for them to question you.
How to converse with Congress members/people of authority, and how building a relationship with the Congress members was just as important as elucidating the details of the proposed legislation.
Thomas Jefferson said, “We in America do not have government by the majority. We have government by the majority who participate.” – One of the many inspirational quotes we heard during the week, but one that resonated with all of us.
Sen. Bernie Sanders (VT) has a cardboard cutout of a cow wearing a Washington Nationals hat in his office.
November 15 was lobbying day! Before we left for D.C., we received emails stating which offices
we would be meeting with and the other volunteers that would be in our meeting. CCL split us up based on our districts, so we mostly talked to representatives that were from, or near, our home towns. As a group of entirely Chapman students, we met with Loretta Sanchez’s office (Chapman ‘82 and representative of California’s 46th district in which the city of Orange resides). The rest of the day we met with numerous other members of Congress and Senators on teams with other CCL members.
It was a very intriguing time to be in the nation’s capital as it was right after the Presidential election. We saw offices changing, people moving in and out, constant phone calls from constituents, and even protests in the streets. We all had different experiences lobbying, but for the most part, it went a little something like this:
- We would go to the office of the representative and a majority of the time spoke with a staff member (e.g. Legislative Director, Energy & Resources Aid, Tax Aid)
- We then introduced ourselves and opened the conversation with a message of appreciation (For example, Lotus had a representative from Texas whose district relied heavily on the fossil fuel industry for jobs, having voted to reduce the EPA’s funding and did not support efforts against climate change. The message of appreciation given to him was “thank you for protecting American jobs.”)
- Then we talked about the proposed legislation and how it benefits Americans at all income levels, citing statistics and data and invited them to a briefing about how it would affect their specific districts demographics later in the week
- Many staff members noted how it was nice to see the younger generation involved in the policy process
Taking It All In
The next day, we were able to tour the White House with a little help from Chapman alumna Joanna Rosholm ‘07, Press Secretary to First Lady Michelle Obama. Before leaving, we contacted her to meet and she was able to schedule us a White House tour. Unfortunately, she was called into a meeting so we weren’t able to meet her, but the White House was beautiful, full of history, and overall stunning!
CCL has invited us back again for their international conference and lobby day in June of 2017. They really appreciated having a group of college students with them – we definitely stood out in the crowd of mostly retirees. CCL is working on recruiting and retaining more college level students to demonstrate to Congress that young people care about their future, and therefore, so should they.
We are incredibly grateful to have been given the opportunity to experience lobbying members of Congress and Senators firsthand, and very thankful that an organization as organized and helpful as Citizens’ Climate Lobby was there to schedule and setup everything for us, the volunteers. The abundance of knowledge and information provided by the multitude of staff members and guest speakers during the training day fully prepared us for the exciting day on Capitol Hill, and the unparalleled practical knowledge and skills we acquired during our trip will help prepare us for any future political endeavors we may embark on.