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E2 Trip to Washington D.C.
As we wrote in the December 2005 newsletter, we felt that the negative trend in Congress on environmental issues had bottomed out in the months following Hurricane Katrina and we expected to see some progress in 2006. Our goal for this trip was to support this progress in Congress by meeting with a broad set of legislators from both parties and both houses. Our legislative focus was on energy policy, global warming, ocean protection and cleantech.
The meetings E2 had this year reflected Capitol Hill’s increasing recognition of us as a resource as well as an eagerness to hear our message. We continued to build relationships with offices we’d met with in previous years, while also breaking new ground in both Congress and for the first time, the Department of Commerce. In total, E2 visited 37 offices, 17 of which were Republicans and 16 of which were member meetings. We were able to get our first-ever meetings with 13 offices: Bartlett (R-MD), Bass (R-NH), Bono (R-CA), Bradley (R-NH), Dicks (D-WA), Engel (D-NY), Gerlach (R-PA), Martinez (R-FL), Menendez (D-NJ), Murkowski (R-AK), Peterson (D-MN), Pombo (R-CA) and Strickland (D-OH).
The following are all the offices we met with:
The overall tone in Congress has improved since last year. It was evident in all of our meetings that Congress is now motivated to address oil security, although the legislative path was not clear. E2 promoted the "Vehicle and Fuel Choices for American Security Act" (S. 2025 and H.R. 4409) as a legislative vehicle to reduce our oil demand through efficiency measures, alternative fuels and new technologies. The bill seeks to reduce oil consumption by 10 percent over 10 years through a variety of incentives and programs. It has very broad, bipartisan support. E2’s goal was to get more offices to co-sponsor the legislation.
Most of the members of Congress we met with agreed with the provisions of the bill, but no one had a strong sense of whether the bill could move as stand-alone legislation or would be attached to another bill. It was also fascinating to realize that the politics around this issue no longer breaks down along party lines, and that the bill has both unexpected supporters and detractors.
Interest in biofuels and other oil alternatives is growing. Unfortunately, drilling for oil and natural gas on public lands continues to be pushed by Congressional leadership as a higher priority. We were delighted to see that the coastal states were able to block drilling of the outer continental shelf shortly after our trip. To learn more about oil savings and energy security see E2 ADVOCACY PROJECTS: Oil Savings
There is minimal activity on global warming legislation in the House of Representatives. We continue to ask for co-sponsors for the Climate Stewardship Act (H.R. 759, Gilchrest and Olver) as a way to show support for addressing the issue. House leadership has no plans to bring the bill to a vote.
In the Senate, we tried to build momentum from last year’s "Sense of the Senate" vote, where a majority of senators (53 - 44) said, "It is the sense of the Senate that Congress should enact a comprehensive and effective national program of mandatory, market-based limits and incentives on emission of greenhouse gases that slow, stop, and reverse the growth ..."
On April 4, the Energy and Natural Resources Committee heard statements from leaders representing eight big energy companies, including General Electric, Shell, and the two largest owners of utilities in the U.S., Exelon and Duke Energy. Six of the eight called for Congress to provide certainty for the market by introducing mandatory caps on greenhouse gas emissions. The nation’s largest retailer, Wal-Mart, also spoke in favor of carbon caps.
While activity has increased, which is good, there is no clear consensus on what the legislation should be to address the issue. In fact, the best way to move the global warming debate forward might very well be to focus on oil savings and alternatives to oil which have significantly less global warming pollution. In our conversations, that line of reasoning (addressing our oil addiction while reducing global warming pollution) carried more interest than global warming as a stand-alone issue.
To learn more about Congressional activities on climate see E2 ADVOCACY PROJECTS: Global Warming Legislation
One of E2’s top priorities for 2006 is to pass a strong reauthorization of the Magnuson-Stevens Act (S. 2012, Stevens and Inouye) which protects fisheries and contains provisions for rebuilding depleted fish stocks. E2 has developed excellent relationships with the Senators working on this legislation and in our meeting with Senator Stevens’s staff, we continue to hear that a strong bill will pass the Senate by unanimous consent.
The challenge is in the House of Representatives, where two bills are being developed. The bill by Pombo (R-CA) and Frank (D-MA), H.R. 5018, would significantly weaken protections for over-fishing and fishery rebuilding requirements. In its defense, it does offer a few good, new ideas. Another bill by Gilchrest (R-MD), H.R. 5051, is closer to the Senate bill, but still needs work to eliminate special interest voting and remove sections that limit public access to information and opportunities for participation. E2 urged Representatives to work with Gilchrest’s office to develop a bill that is more similar to the Senate bill. This could be achieved if moderate Republicans and Democrats come together to push in this direction.
To learn more about oceans legislation see E2 ADVOCACY PROJECTS: National Ocean Policy
We asked members of the E2 delegation to offer their own thoughts on our trip:
Ethan Podell: Our 20 minutes with Rep. Roscoe Bartlett (R-MD), gave me a new perspective of the diversity of political opinions in Washington. Rep. Bartlett is an 80 something-year-old conservative with a strong but unpredictable green streak. He believes that nothing short of a massive national mobilization - of the kind that brought the entire civilian and military populations of the country together to fight the Second World War - will solve our looming energy crisis. He is against the energy conservation and climate change bills now pending in Congress because they are, in his words, "delusional," as they soft-pedal the extent of the hydro-carbon crisis.
Bill Unger: I found several meetings where the staffers and the elected representatives did not seem on the same page, the staffers actually seemed to be a bit behind. To me this meant that the issues we came to talk about are not being completely delegated, and are beginning to be a top priority. We’ll see if this lasts if gas prices come down, but I was encouraged that the discussions were often non-partisan, deep, timely and driven by good questions.
Roger Ullman: Two very positive developments since my last E2 DC trip two years ago: First, I felt a remarkable change in tone. The general level of sympathy for, and knowledge of, environmental topics has increased dramatically. Second, the interest in E2’s message is more clearly bipartisan now, with even some of the most unlikely legislators expressing interest in our issues - and some of them even sponsoring excellent legislation!
Dan Goldman: It was clear from this trip that clean energy and climate change are very high on the agenda of lawmakers. Moreover, compared to past years, there was an improved level of receptivity to ideas from the business community related to the enormous impact that policy decisions will have for our economic and environmental well-being. Notwithstanding concerns about the political process, I was pleasantly surprised by the imperative for climate change action from both sides of the aisle.
Chris Kaneb: We met with an impressive cross-section of policymakers, some of whom eagerly awaited our arrival while others clearly took a more defensive - sometimes antagonistic - posture to our presence. Most striking was our group’s consistent ability to articulate thoughtful, balanced, and well-researched arguments in support of our various positions, and it was particularly rewarding when our message resonated with those members who previously had viewed the interests of the business community as incompatible with those of the environmental community.
Berl Hartman: The people we met with seemed to be listening to us more carefully this year. It may be because its an election year or because we were talking about ’top of mind’ issues, but I’d like to think that perhaps its because our reputation is spreading on the hill.
Three years have passed since our first E2 visit to Washington, D.C. We now have enough name recognition, and appreciation for our message and our work, that we can get key meetings with members of Congress from both parties. We have the potential to help both the ocean protection and oil savings bills become law. If we are able to do this in this session of Congress, it will leave us well positioned to help advance meaningful energy, ocean and, ultimately, global warming legislation in the next Congress.
Thanks go to the E2 members who invested considerable time in making this trip possible and to all involved in the follow-up that will be needed in the coming months.